Author: Guido Knopp
There is also a documentary film series, Hitler’s Children, which may be viewed on YouTube at no charge. DETAILS ARE AT THE BOTTOM OF THIS PAGE. Dr. Koenigsberg believes that this is one of the most revealing documentaries ever made on the Nazi era—and strongly suggests you take a look.
Nazi ideology revolved around submission to the Fuehrer and absolute obedience—unto death. Trained to be aggressive warriors—and often viewed by the world as the essence of violence and aggression—young Nazi men were actually among the most pathetic and abject human beings: compelled to submit absolutely, and to die when Hitler asked them to.
Upon joining various Nazi organizations, Germans took “oaths,” vowing loyalty to Hitler and Germany. A member of Hitler Youth swore to devote all of his energies and strength to the “savior of our country, Adolf Hitler,” and to be “willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me God.” Joining the armed forces, the young man swore that he would render “absolute obedience to the Fuehrer of the German Reich and people,” and would be prepared as a courageous soldier to “offer my life at any time for this oath.”
The famous oath of the SS-man went as follows: “I swear to you, Adolf Hitler, as Fuehrer and Reich Chancellor, loyalty and bravery. I vow to you, and to those you have named to command me, obedience unto death, so help me God.” The Organization Book of the NSDAP for 1943 stated that obedience must be “unconditional.” Convinced that National Socialist ideology must reign supreme, he who is possessed by it “subjects himself voluntarily to the obligation to obey.” Every SS-man had to be prepared, therefore, to “carry out blindly every order which is issued by the Fuehrer or which is given by his superior, irrespective of the heaviest sacrifices involved.”
Willingness to blindly carry out every order, unconditional obedience, and vowing to die when asked to—these concepts lay at the heart of Nazism. Himmler explained to his SS-men: “Your life does not belong to you, but to the Fuehrer & the Reich.” For many young men growing up in Nazi Germany, indeed, their bodies did not belong to them. Their bodies (as well as their hearts and souls) belonged to Hitler and Germany.
A documentary film series and Guido Knopp’s book, Hitler’s Children (2002), allows us to witness precisely how young Germans were acculturated—brought into the fold. Interviewees in the films—older Germans who had survived Nazism and war—look back and reflect upon their experience: how they were seduced, educated and trained to become faithful, devoted Nazis.
They explain that the education and training they received was designed to break down individuality. The watchword—the essence of the Nazi message—was, “You are nothing, your nation is everything.” The individual no longer counted. All that counted was the community. “You’re nothing—your life is worthless. To die for the people, the Fuehrer and the fatherland—this is what they trained us for.”
Hitler’s Children conveys the process of indoctrination: young people are brought into a world of excitement and idealism uniting them with their comrades. Much of what we see occurs outdoors in the countryside, frequently involving physical activities such as hiking, camping and campfires, singing, and athletic competitions. One gets the impression of an outing at a summer camp, joyous and exhilarating.
The Nazis’ program was seductive and easy to embrace. Yet—suddenly—the good times ended. War followed closely on the heels of the outdoor paradise, becoming the culmination of everything the young people had learned. Acceptance of the Nazi appeal to their youthful idealism, several interviewees realized, “sentenced them to death.”
Martin Bormann was Hitler’s personal secretary. Interviewed in the film, his son recounts Bormann’s response to a question he asked his father: “What is National Socialism?” Taken aback, Bormann reflected a few moments, then replied: “National Socialism is the will of the Fuehrer.”
The best way to understand Nazi Germany is to view this period of history as the enactment of Hitler’s desires and fantasies, which were contained within his ideology of attachment to and glorification of the German nation. In asking young Germans to give up their lives for him—to become obedient unto death—Hitler was asking them, as one interviewee put it, to “sacrifice everything for their master.” All of their education—and training that they endured—had one aim: to compel them to “die a hero’s death.”
5-Part Documentary: Hitler’s Children
Never has a generation been so completely taken over by a totalitarian state as was the case in Hitler’s Third Reich: at the age of 10 children joined the “Jungvolk” movement, at 14 they joined the Hitler Youth, and at 18 they joined the party, the “Wehrmacht”, the SA, or the SS.
This 5-part documentary by Guido Knopp and the ZDF Contemporary History Department is the first comprehensive film portrayal of the young people in the Third Reich.
With in-depth witness statements and some previously unpublished archive material, the documentary demonstrates how Hitler succeeded in gaining power over “his children” through years of manipulation.
The documentary consists of five parts, and may be viewed at YouTube: