The Abuse of Children for Political Purposes
In her Author’s Note, Bartoletti discusses her shock at how children were brainwashed under the Third Reich. Many of Hitler’s policies consciously and explicitly worked to mold and shape German children to be used for the state’s benefit.
The Hitler Youth was formed in 1926. By 1939, the Hitler Youth had more than eight million members because of its popularity as well as government policies that forced membership on the public. The Hitler Youth were at first attractive to children because it offered them an exciting escape from their impoverished lives. Children could go on hikes, dedicate themselves to fitness and patriotism, and be initiated into a militaristic organization. Above all else, they were taught the value of sacrifice.
Over time, Hitler began to use the Hitler Youth organization more explicitly in support of government programs. Economically, Hitler saw the German children as a source of cheap labor. Girls were used for agricultural labor and boys built highways. Although the work was often grueling, many children felt that it was worthwhile to help restore Germany’s power and dignity. Over time, Hitler began to use the Hitler Youth for military purposes. Girls were trained as nurses. Boys began to be streamed into specialized services that led to the navy, the army, or the air force.
The use of the Hitler Youth did not stop at training, enforcing propaganda, and brainwashing. As the Allied forces began to send air raids over the Rhineland and German cities, the youth were put to work patrolling the streets to ensure that people had shuttered their windows and turned off their lights. They also supervised children in bunkers. Eventually, the boys were even called upon to man antiaircraft guns.
When the Allied forces landed in Normandy and began their advance on Germany in 1944, the Hitler Youth had been trained for combat and were sent to fight against the Allied forces. The German children made impressive soldiers. They were fierce, self-sacrificing, and merciless. Bartoletti points out that they even murdered Canadian prisoners of war. Hitler was proud of what he’d accomplished with the children of Germany. Bartoletti is critical of these abuses of children. After the war ended, it took a great deal of effort to help these children overcome their Nazi training. Bartoletti emphasizes that the German youth were not born Nazis.
(The entire section is 1021 words.)