What are the main ideas in Hitler Youth: Growing Up in Hitler's Shadow?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Many of the main ideas in Bartoletti's work show the way Nazi control impacted the lives of millions of young people. 

On many levels, Bartoletti's analysis displays how the embrace of Nazism among the German youth was reflective of adolescence.  She agues that young people found Hitler to be an appealing source of power.  As Germany suffered after World War I, young people faced a landscape of “weak, unstable government, high unemployment and widespread poverty."  Hitler provided an alternative of strength and resolve.  Bartoletti suggests that as many of their parents criticized Hitler, young people embraced Hitler as an act of adolescent rebellion. Children like Melita Maschmann saw Hitler as bold and exciting.  In 1938 after hearing Hitler speak, Alfons Heck said that he “belonged to Adolf Hitler, body and soul.”  Bartoletti makes the case that young people viewed Hitler as a larger-than-life figure. German youth saw an allure and style to Hitler and the Nazis of which they wanted to be a part. 

This desire to belong represents another main idea. The need to "fit in" was significant in explaining the rise of the Hitler Youth.  The Nazis saw young people as a target demographic that could enhance their brand.  Hitler suggested that the young needed to "fall under the spell of National Socialism in order that they may never be spiritually seduced by any of the old generation."  Accordingly, young people took loyalty oaths, had to prove they were "pure" Germans, and were given uniforms and weapons as part of "membership."  

As Nazi targeting of Jewish people and other "enemies" increased, Hitler was able to turn to young people as willing soldiers.  For example, Bartoletti talks about how members of the Hitler Youth took part in Kristallnacht, "the Night of Broken Glass," where many Jewish people were harassed and their property destroyed.  She asserts that many young people did not see the entire policy of anti-semitism of Hitler and Nazi leadership.  They simply wanted to belong.  This need for acceptance or Gleichschaltung, German for "conformity," was a critical element in young people's involvement in the Hitler Youth.

Bartoletti's work also discusses Nazism in education. She addresses how the Nazis targeted schools and curriculum as a way to increase their reach to children.  Photographs of Hitler adorned all classrooms. Students began each day with saluting anthems of "Heil Hitler!" Course content focused on Nazism and Nazi principles.  Children were encouraged to become scholars of Nazism and monitor the loyalty of their teachers and parents.  This helped to win over "the hearts and minds" of young people on a wide scale.

Many young people committed atrocities in the name of the Nazis, while many more sacrificed their lives and hearts for the Nazi cause. However, Bartoletti suggests that not all youth embraced Nazi practices and policies.  Some spoke out and suffered.  Bartoletti uses the cases of Helmuth Hübener and Hans and Sophie Scholl as examples of young people who defied Nazism.  She establishes ample evidence to suggest that many young people were manipulated to become part of the Nazi machinery of death.  However, it has to be stated that some did speak out.  In a world of terrifying conformity, these young people showed that resistance to state sponsored terror is possible even when it seems like it isn't.

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