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Hitler Youth

Hitler Youth

Michael H. Kater

ISBN 9780674019911

Publication date: 04/30/2006

In modern times, the recruitment of children into a political organization and ideology reached its boldest embodiment in the Hitler Youth, founded in 1933 soon after the Nazi Party assumed power in Germany. Determining that by age ten children's minds could be turned from play to politics, the regime inducted nearly all German juveniles between the ages of ten and eighteen into its state-run organization. The result was a potent tool for bending young minds and hearts to the will of Adolf Hitler.

Baldur von Schirach headed a strict chain of command whose goal was to shift the adolescents' sense of obedience from home and school to the racially defined Volk and the Third Reich. Luring boys and girls into Hitler Youth ranks by offering them status, uniforms, and weekend hikes, the Nazis turned campgrounds into premilitary training sites, air guns into machine guns, sing-alongs into marching drills, instruction into indoctrination, and children into Nazis. A few resisted for personal or political reasons, but the overwhelming majority enlisted.

Drawing on original reports, letters, diaries, and memoirs, Kater traces the history of the Hitler Youth, examining the means, degree, and impact of conversion, and the subsequent fate of young recruits. Millions of Hitler Youth joined the armed forces; thousands gleefully participated in the subjugation of foreign peoples and the obliteration of "racial aliens." Although young, they committed crimes against humanity for which they cannot escape judgment. Their story stands as a harsh reminder of the moral bankruptcy of regimes that make children complicit in crimes of the state.


  • Through the prism of the Hitler Youth organization, Michael Kater examines a wide variety of important issues confronting teenage boys and girls during the Third Reich. Faced with increasing pressures to adopt a racist ideology and stereotyped gender roles that conditioned them for war and genocide, they swayed between desire to conform and adolescent rebelliousness, which ranged from sexual promiscuity to (much too infrequent) political opposition. Kater's account, written with clarity and verve, moves freely between analytic generalizations and individual case studies, which cover the spectrum of political, emotional, cultural, and ethical responses to a vicious regime that tried-often successfully-to turn adolescents into its most pliant tools.

    —Peter Jelavich, Professor of History, Johns Hopkins University and author of Berlin Cabaret


  • Michael H. Kater is Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of History at York University, Toronto.

Book Details

  • 368 pages
  • 0-7/8 x 5-1/4 x 8 inches
  • Harvard University Press