This article argues that the history of teen combatants in war needs to take into account the role of the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend or HJ) in the Second World War. It traces the development of the HJ from a youth movement to the conduit for wartime personnel. Germany had a long and proud tradition of youth movements—this article maintains that the place of the HJ in this was distinctive. An overtly military ethos came to be exemplified in the Hitler Youth, encompassing a hard, martial masculinity much different from other types of maleness embodied in traditional institutions such as the family, school and church. This article begins with an exploration of the history of the HJ, in order to put the wartime period into context. It then explores HJ training and wartime experiences and the transformation of HJ boys from youth group members into soldiers. The Third Reich was a regime that sought territorial expansion and Lebensraum (“living space”): the HJ generation had a significant part accorded to the Volksgemeinschaft (“national community”), the war and the conquest of empire. At the height of the war, German boys (and girls) were drafted into anti-aircraft (flak) work. Moreover, HJ boys went into the Wehrmacht and into the SS. Towards the end of the war, young boys entered the Volkssturm (people’s militia), defending the National Socialist state until the bitter end in 1945.
By Lisa Pine