44 Unsettling Images Of Life Inside The Hitler Youth, The Nazis’ Army Of Brainwashed Children

Published March 23, 2022
Updated June 15, 2022

From the rise of the Third Reich and into the post-war era, the Hitler Youth were molded to be faithful devotees of the Nazi regime — and to turn on even their own parents if they spoke ill of Hitler.

Despite the Nazis’ surrender in May 1945, a small but violent faction of the Hitler Youth known as the Werwolf fought on against the Allied powers.

So-named for a German novel of the same name, Werwolf — or “war wolf” — was comprised of some members of the Nazi SS, as well as some volunteers, but also a significant number of the Nazis’ youngest fighters sourced from the Hitler Youth.

While most modern historians contend that the Hitler Youth group was largely ineffectual and valuable mostly as a propaganda tool, the small force may (though reports are thin and varied) have succeeded in carrying out a handful of bombings and assassinations of Allied personnel in Germany in the months and even years immediately following the war.

But why, of all people, would children have the zeal to forge ahead to the bitter end for such a violent cause even after defeat?

That story begins more than 20 years earlier with the formation of the Hitler Youth.

Hitler Youth Photos
Hitler Youth Parade
Hitler Youth Street Cleaning
Hitler With Child
44 Unsettling Images Of Life Inside The Hitler Youth, The Nazis’ Army Of Brainwashed Children
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The Origins Of Hitler Youth

Birthed in its first incarnation in 1922 and officially christened the Hitlerjugend ("Hitler Youth") in 1926, this was the only official youth group of the Nazi Party. By 1939, "official" became "mandatory," increasing the group's ranks to some 8 million and leaving just a tiny fraction of eligible members who managed not to join despite immense social and legal pressure.

With so many members in the fold, the Hitler Youth's purpose was to indoctrinate boys into the Nazi worldview, prepare them for combat, and thoroughly transform them into effective cogs in the Nazi machine.

As Adolf Hitler himself said in 1938:

"These boys and girls enter our organizations [at] ten years of age, and often for the first time get a little fresh air; after four years of the Young Folk they go on to the Hitler Youth, where we have them for another four years ... And even if they are still not complete National Socialists, they go to Labor Service and are smoothed out there for another six, seven months ... And whatever class consciousness or social status might still be left ... the Wehrmacht [German armed forces] will take care of that."

Indeed, the aim of the Hitler Youth group was to take an incoming 14-year-old and systematically mold him into the person that the party needed him to be by the time he was 18.

How These Programs Worked

That molding took many forms, some of them much more benign, even pleasant, than others: weapons training, physical exercise, camping, officers' training, athletic competitions, academic schooling, music performance, and more.

Through these activities and Hitler's own personal addresses to the children, the Hitler Youth became some of the most committed members of the Third Reich.

"Hitler said we will be one people, one nation, and you, my youths, you are going to be that people and that nation," recalled one former Hitlerjugend. "After he had uttered this sentence, I belonged to Hitler, body and soul."

Indeed, Hitler deftly motivated his nation's youths to fight for him by starting with them as elementary schoolers, teaching them race theory in class and eventually requiring them to join in other nationalist youth activities.

"Two months after Hitler became the chancellor of Germany I started elementary school," that same former Hitlerjugend remembered. "I believe this is an aspect that is totally overlooked in our history books. Almost immediately, the Nazis exercised their very first priority, which was to captivate the young."

Indeed, and when it came time for Hitler to call on these youths, they were eagerly awaiting him.

Mobilizing The Children Into Combat

While the Hitler Youth started out by emphasizing more of the benign activities — the group even took some early inspiration from the Boy Scouts — they began to privilege the more violent and hateful ones as the war drew closer and ultimately dragged on toward its destructive end.

As the war reached Germany's borders and the fading Nazi war effort grew more and more desperate for bodies to throw at the approaching enemy, the Hitler Youth placed more and more emphasis on military training and even began sending some of its children, even those as young as 10, into battle.

By the time D-Day rolled around in 1945, Hitler was becoming desperate. One of the last times Hitler appeared in public before killing himself was to address his youth groups, telling them that they were the only Germans he still trusted to die for him.

And so, despite their age, many of these young soldiers fought until the very end — and some, like those who made up the Werwolf, continued to fight even after that, preferring to die than to live in a world without their Führer.

After years of intense indoctrination, it's easy to believe that these boys, even with the war over, knew little else besides fighting for the cause in which they'd been immersed for virtually their entire lives.

See what life was like inside the Hitler Youth in the photos above.

After learning about the Hitler youth, have a look at 33 photos of everyday life in Nazi Germany. Then, view this collection of Holocaust photos that reveal both the tragedy and perseverance of this horrific historical period.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Leah Silverman
A former associate editor for All That's Interesting, Leah Silverman holds a Master's in Fine Arts from Columbia University's Creative Writing Program and her work has appeared in Catapult, Town & Country, Women's Health, and Publishers Weekly.
Cite This Article
Kuroski, John. "44 Unsettling Images Of Life Inside The Hitler Youth, The Nazis’ Army Of Brainwashed Children." AllThatsInteresting.com, March 23, 2022, https://allthatsinteresting.com/hitler-youth-photos. Accessed April 19, 2024.