12. The Indoctrination of Children
The Nazi youth organization was divided into the Hitler Youth proper for boys aged fourteen to eighteen, and a junior branch for boys aged ten to fourteen. German girls from ages ten to eighteen were placed in a parallel organization, the League of German Girls. Youngsters were taught Nazi doctrine, and encouraged to report those who went against it – including their own parents, if they criticized Hitler or the Party. Children were also taught to link those designated enemies by the state – such as Jews – with societal decline, and with German defeat in WWI. Fittingly for a totalitarian regime, the Hitler Youth was an all-encompassing and immersive experience.
Children imbibed Nazi ideology, racism, speech, and fashion. Eventually, membership became obligatory. The parents of children who were not signed up fell under suspicion and were often questioned or otherwise harassed by the authorities. In the meantime, their children were subjected to peer pressure and ostracism by schoolmates and teachers. It worked. At the end of 1932, the Hitler Youth had 108,000 members. By the end of 1933, the Nazis’ first year in power, that number had shot up to 2,300,000. By December 1936, there were more than five million Hitler Youth.