Nazi brainwashing started with Germany's youths

The Tuscon Citizen/August 15, 2006

By Peggy Larson

Hitler proved it. A government or other organized entity can have a profound influence on what people believe and how they act on those beliefs. Particularly is this true for young people. An award-winning book for teenagers and adults provides proof in the chilling "Hitler Youth: Growing Up In Hitler's Shadow" (Susan Campbell Bartoletti, Scholastic, 2005).

The author relates information regarding the means that the Nazi party used to mold the German youth through popular youth organizations, special activities, propaganda, and appeals to support their fatherland. The defeat and consequences the German people had suffered at the end of World War I left a citizenry anxious to regain pride in their country and a more favorable economic future. Hitler and the Nazi party provided them with hope and a cause to embrace with total commitment.

One of the many means the Nazi party used to influence young people was the organization known as the Hitler Youth, officially formed in 1926 with 6,000 members. In a mere 13 years, this and related organizations, including those for young women, influenced a generation of teens and preteens to an unbelievable degree. By 1939 when Germany invaded Poland, Hitler Youth membership totaled 7.3 million and its ranks had contributed greatly to the formidable German Army.

A wealth of photographs from archives illustrate this well-researched book, which provides facts, but also presents the stories of a number of the teenagers who grew up during this period. Of these, most were drawn into the Hitler Youth, some joining despite their parents disapproval. The organization urged its members to report their parents if they did not support Hitler.

Elisabeth Vetter is one example of a youth who did so and her parents were arrested. Stories of others who resisted joining are also related.

"Adolf Hitler," the author writes was "responsible for the deaths of over 53 million people." And she quotes another author, Karl Paetel, stating that the Nazis, "rode to power on the shoulders of politically active youth."

"Soldier X," a fictionalized account of two actual people, relates the engrossing story of a teenager who was a member of the Hitler Youth (Don Wulffson, Scholastic, 2001, $3.99). In 1944, at age 16, he was sent to the front, where he was soon engaged fighting the Russians, was wounded, and then masqueraded as a Russian soldier in order to survive. In this well-written story, one follows the transition of a young person who has been brainwashed into one belief system, to ultimately rejecting it and building a new personal perspective and value system.

Two fine books based on actual people, detail the effects of one of the Nazi's infamous goals drilled into their young people - persecution of the Jews. During WWII, 270,000 Jews were forced to settle in Poland's Lodz ghetto ("Yellow Star," Jennifer Roy. Marshall Cavendish, 2006). At the end of the war, there were a mere 800 survivors. Of these, only 12 were children. This is the true account of one of those dozen.

Esther Nisenthal Krinitz was a survivor of the Holocaust in Poland and a noted needle worker ("Memories of Survival," Bernice Steinhardt, Hyperion Books, 2005). Krinitz's daughter has published her mother's account of that horrendous time through the older woman's exquisite hand-stitched embroidered panels, which tell the story of her loss of family and her suffering during the Holocaust.

Hitler stated, "My magnificent youngsters! Are there finer ones anywhere in the world? What material! With them I can make a new world." In view of contemporary events, are there lessons here to be learned?

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