Book Review: The Hitler Youth

The Hitler Youth:  Origins And Development 1922-1945, by H.W. Koch

I have to say that this book was not the most enjoyable to read from a stylistic standpoint.  That said, it certainly had a variety of worthwhile and interesting information and is quite relevant in discussing the problems of radicalizing boy scouts organizations and the way that totalitarian regimes (including leftist ones) seek to gain control of efforts to propagandize and motivate young people.  This book is a dry academic tome written by a German academic (and translated into a very stilted sort of English) for an academic audience, one that does not demand sensational conclusions but is willing to be impressed by the author’s obvious study of various archival information about the people who were trying to lead Hitler’s Youth from its founding, largely in order to improve their own positions in the Nazi hierarchy and use the Hitler Youth as a way of feeding ideologically radicalized men into the SS and German Army.  There are definitely some poignant aspects to this book as well when one reflects upon the young boys who were sent to fight on behalf of Germany when the inevitable end came and the men of Germany had been ground up in warfare on the Eastern front.

This book is over 250 pages long and is divided into various topical chapters about the Hitler Youth and its activities and especially the leadership squabbles involved in its operation from its start in 1922 to the end of World War II.  The author begins with illustrations and a preface that notes the fragmentary state of archival information about the Hitler Youth.  After that the author discusses the traditions of youth movements devoted to political causes in German history (1) as well as the beginnings of the Hitler Youth in postwar Germany (2).  This leads to a discussion of the reformation (3) and birth of the Hitler Youth (4) as an adjunct to efforts by the SS and Nazi party to govern Germany.  There is then a discussion of dominance (5) of the organization by Nazi elites as well as the ideology that these leaders sought to inculcate in children (6).  There is a discussion of the literature (7) and education (8) efforts that were not very well organized as well as some discussion of the role of middle class elites (9) in youth leadership and the thorny problem of dissent (10) towards Nazi ideology from within the Hitler Youth.  Finally, the author provides a discussion of what happened during World War II (11) and its aftermath (12) for the Hitler Youth, before a glossary and abbreviations, diagrams, reference notes and sources, bibliography, newspapers and periodicals, and index close the volume.

Although this book is very serious in its tone, there are definitely some moments of humor as well, such as when the author comments upon the way that youth leaders could sometimes be fifty year old men dressed comically and pretending to be young, something one sees when it comes to youth movements on the part of the left in the United States and other Western countries.  I would have appreciated this book a lot more if it had sought to convey what it meant to be a member of the Hitler Youth as well as a look at the motivation of the children themselves in joining the organization, as there are a great many people who after the war claimed to do so in order to gain more food rations.  That said, this is still an interesting book that has insights into the way that Youth brigades work in a highly politicized environment.  As we live in very politicized times, there is certainly some worth in hearing about this sort of matter and understanding how it is that we can better understand the ways that children are viewed by dictators and would-be dictators and not appreciated on their own terms.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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