Music amongst the Hitler Youth

By 1945, the Hitlerjugend (HJ, or Hitler Youth) included almost every German boy in the Reich; hundreds of thousands of girls were incorporated into its sister organisation, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, or League of German Girls).  The physical and mental training of German youth was one of the Nazi party’s greatest priorities, and much importance was placed on childhood activities and education. The primary organiser and leader of the HJ, Baldur von Schirach, was considered to be one of the most important Nazi officials in the Reich.  Within the system of military exercises, educational programmes, marches, camping and community service that made up the HJ’s activities, there was a prominent emphasis on music, in particular group singing.  According to an internal HJ memo, it was

precisely during celebrations and singing events [that] we have an excellent opportunity to have a political effect wide beyond the typical formation … Songs possess the strongest community-building power.  Thus we use them deliberately at those moments when we want to waken the consciousness of being part of a community, in order to deepen the power of such an experience.

The Hitlerjugend was first created in the early 1920s, when the Nazi party was still a  fringe movement.  With the Nazi rise to power in 1933, von Schirach took control of the HJ and oversaw a large expansion of the group in terms of both membership and activities.  In December 1936, the Hitler Youth law was declared, and membership in the HJ became mandatory for all youth in Germany.  (This was achieved in part by banning other youth groups and incorporating their membership into the HJ.) The organisation’s aim was to instill discipline and a love for Germany, and to educate youth along Nazi lines:

Beyond the influence of parents and school, the entirety of German youth is to be exclusively educated, in body, mind and manners, in the spirit of National Socialism, for the service of the people and the people’s community.

Together with his music chief Wolfgang Stumme, von Schirach emphasized the power of music and song in the context of the HJ’s educational endeavour, and himself wrote several HJ songs.  Music featured prominently in the HJ curriculum, and children were given regular classes in formal music training (vocal and instrumental).  Hundreds of HJ music groups were established, which performed at birthday parties for high-ranking Nazi officials and at Nazi festivals; some even performed internationally.  Group singing was considered particularly important as a means of building group cohesion and obedience, and numerous songbooks were published for this purpose. Ironically, these activities integrated many musical practices common to banned communist and leftist youth groups – the emphasis on group music-making rather than solo performances; the importance of folk songs; the use of music to build group solidarity – and often also used the very same songs, simply changing the lyrics to promote a Nazi world view. The HJ also incorporated a great deal of instrumental music, particularly brass bands.

One former HJ member remembered:

in the songs that we sang, in the poems that we recited, everything was bright, shiny and clear, the sun and earth were ours, and tomorrow so, too, would be the whole world.

Sources

Kater, M.H., 1997. The Twisted Muse: Musicians and their Music in the Third Reich, Oxford: Oxford University Press.  

Heister, H. ed., 2001. "Entartete Musik" 1938-- Weimar und die Ambivalenz: ein Projekt der Hochschule für Musik Franz Liszt Weimar zum Kulturstadtjahr 1999. , Saarbrücken: Pfau.  

Meyer, M., 1993. The Politics of Music in the Third Reich, New York: Peter Lang.  

Niedhart, G. & Broderick, G. eds., Lieder in Politik und Alltag des Nationalsozialismus, Frankfurt/M: Lang.  

Peterson, P. ed., Zündende Lieder - Verbrannte Musik: Folgen des Nazifaschismus für Hamburger Musiker und Musikerinnen, Hamburg: VSA-Verlag.  

Potter, P., 1998. Most German of the Arts: Musicology and Society from the Weimar Republic to the end of Hitler's Reich, New Haven: Yale University Press.  

www.dhm.de/lemo/html/dokumente/hjgesetz/index.html (text in German of the declaration of the Hitler Youth from 1935).