The History Place - Personal Histories

From Hitler Youth to U.S. Air Force
by Hubert Schmidt

Section Two of Ten

Hitler Smiled at Me

Hitler mania, bordering on hysteria, was now sweeping Germany. It was late 1934, and at my impressionable age of 6 years, my father determined that I was old enough to share in the exciting times. For days, announcements on the radio exalted an important upcoming address to the German people by our new Chancellor, Adolf Hitler. Knowing that he would travel in a motorcade, my father decided to witness the procession. The Unter den Linden Boulevard would be the best location to see this spectacle. The Unter den Linden is a well-known, wide boulevard in Berlin with a graveled center promenade, straddled by rows of linden trees. The promenade in the center resembled a wide center-divide of a six-lane street. Extra wide sidewalks, between the streets and buildings, made this boulevard showy and suited for such occasions. My father assured my proper dress code for the occasion. He made sure I wore my new Hitler Youth style uniform: a brown shirt with a black neckerchief, a brown leather knot to hold the neckerchief and black shorts. A black belt with shoulder strap, light beige colored knee socks and shiny black shoes finished the uniform.

When we arrived at the famous boulevard, a large enthusiastic crowd had already gathered on both sides of the street, filling the sidewalks. It was about noon. We were experiencing a beautiful sunny fall day. My father swung me onto his shoulders with my legs straddling his neck and my hands firmly attached to his forehead. Although difficult, he found a spot to give us both a good view. We waited patiently for quite a while. People were four to six rows deep and on both sides of the boulevard. When my father set me down to rest, he could not stop me from moving to the front of the crowd, all the way to the curb. Brown Shirt troopers were handling crowd control. In my Hitler Youth uniform, one of the troopers spotted me, picked me up, carried me across the street, and placed me on the edge of the center promenade.

I felt a little strange standing there alone. But when I looked back at my father, he waved assuredly. Knowing that I would be very close to Hitler’s car when it came by created apprehension for me, and I wished he would hurry up. Sure enough, shortly later I could hear the sound of exhilarated people, increasing in intensity. As the sounds moved closer, I could recognize the repeated shouts of Heil, Heil, and many more Heils. Then the car approached, a big car, black and without a top. I had never seen a car like this. By now, the car was very close and I could feel the presence of Hitler. The people were waving little flags and cheering loudly. Hitler was standing in the car, his left hand resting on the front windshield, his right hand raised in typical Nazi salute. And then to my great astonishment, he actually looked directly at me and smiled. My raised right hand did not come down right away. A thrilling moment, not easily forgotten.

Off to School

A goody cone for me.In Germany, starting at the age of six, all children begin their education in elementary school, which is co-educational for the first two years. I became increasingly anxious about my first school day. Traditionally on the first school day, parents gave their child a large decorated paper cone filled with sweets and fruits. My parents made sure that I would not be disappointed and presented me with lots of goodies.

In recent years, I came across my very first report card. Actually, it was more like a letter, written by a female teacher. The message was simple: "Hubertus is very bright, he excels the entire class in calculating, but he is easily distracted."

My parent's plans for my schooling included the transfer to high school after completing my primary schooling. Only if higher education was the goal of the student, was the transfer to high school necessary. Customarily, after completing eight years of primary school, a graduate would progress to an apprenticeship in a blue-collar vocation. To work as a craftsman, you had to have a certificate showing the completion of an apprenticeship. To receive a Master certificate, a highly desired certificate, required many years as a craftsman. Finishing high school for me would result in a qualification test to attend a university.

Both of my parents were still a working couple. After my mother sold her share in the store, she decided to go solo and sell her wares at an outdoor market. The market's location required her to travel by S-train, an elevated commuter train. She made the trip three times a week, unpacking the goods onto benches of a tarpaulin-covered booth. During the off days, her goods were stored by a service available at the market. She did this for many years, rain, shine or snow, on hot or terribly cold winter days. Salespeople would come to our home, bringing the goods she had ordered.

My mother enjoyed the independence, and over the years, she built up a repeat clientele. She would never come home from the market without something good to eat in her bags and it was my job to meet her at the station. I used my scooter for the couple of miles to the station. Hanging her two filled bags onto the scooter's handlebar was the usual procedure. I recall, during cherry season, she would bring home a few pounds of Bing cherries. Customarily, mother would give each of us two siblings an equal portion. My sister would open each cherry to check for worms. Sure enough, she found a big worm in two of the first four cherries. She stopped right there and I ended up being the happy recipient.

My mother's sales job would not stop her from cooking, making preserves, washing and many more household chores, too numerous to name. She was a remarkable woman with a tremendous heart, energetic, and I can not recall that she ever sat down to do nothing. I saw her on winter days sitting on the arm-rest of her upholstered armchair, resting her back against the warm tile oven, peeling fruits, cracking nuts, mending clothing, or many other chores suitable for her nimble fingers. I remember such winter evenings for their homey atmosphere. My father would read the paper. My sister was in her room. And I played on the floor with my erector set.

Family Celebrations

My mother as seen in 1942.Ma was a very witty woman who loved parties and found ready excuses to celebrate. Saturday meant party day. Usually my mother had a great number of friends who loved to visit. She would bake and prepare food to assure a successful celebration. It was customary in our home to have sugared jelly-filled doughnuts on New Year’s Eve. You could bet that a few doughnuts would have cotton balls or hot mustard in the middle in place of jelly, and that she had special victims in mind.

Celebrations required spirits. The bathtub had to substitute for an icebox. Bottles of beer or wine would be kept under running cold water in the filled bathtub. Hard liquor in bottles would decorate the table, freely available for anyone to try. During the festivities, my favorite uncle would sometimes sneak a sip of beer to me.

I remember only laughter, maybe raucous, but never arguments during any party. Sometimes, when my father lost his inhibition after drinking a little too much wine, the others would urge him to sing one of his sad songs about the forest and animals. Inevitably, he would start to cry and say, "All is well." I was too young to find it funny. I thought it was mean.

Another customary event on New Year's Eve, in addition to fireworks, included pouring molten lead into a bowl of water, creating an unusually formed solidified piece of lead, with my mother being the official interpreter of each individual's artwork. She would have to prophesize events to come based on each person's lead sculpture. It was not unlike reading tea leaves.

My sister and I experienced a short period of being latchkey children. I was now seven years old and my sister had her 12th birthday seven months earlier. Her good looks with her pale white skin and shiny black hair made her very attractive to boys. On her dates, I had to be the chaperon. Our mother strongly suggested, "Take Bubi along." Naturally, I was receptive to bribes, and for a small token, I kept my distance discretely.

Our latchkey period ended when my mother invited my grandma to stay with us. We had become good friends, ever since my stay in her little town. Now, when I came home from school, a nice lunch was waiting for me, and I could go outside to play anytime. Naturally, my grandma's presence also relieved my sister of the responsibility to watch over me. The only drawback was that my grandma would call me Booby when I did not respond to Hubertus. "Bo--oby, Bo--oby," she hollered at the top of her voice, while hidden behind the balcony flowers, and the whole neighborhood knew who she was calling.

My grandma helped my mother around the house with cleaning and cooking. However, when it came to cooking, my mother was the best. She told me that as a young girl she worked as a cook for a large family, resulting in so much knowledge that she never consulted a cookbook. In later years, when I asked her for the recipes of some of my favorite dishes, it was always like "a pinch here and a handful there" and everything else approximately. Her cooked red cabbage dish would easily have won a prize. And she could whip up a coffee cake in no time at all.

One Christmas I received a BB gun as a present. My father then mounted a bullet catching metal box at one end of our hallway, allowing some target shooting indoors. That gun was quite powerful with an adjustable sight.

While using my BB gun, I learned a lesson. When my father found out that I used birds as targets, he gave me a lecture. If I had to shoot at birds, I was only to aim at the common house sparrow. He also made me promise that if I injured an animal, ending its misery was "a must." As it turned out, a few weeks later, I wounded a sparrow. That poor thing was hurt badly, flying a little, then sitting still again. I followed the bird. As I got close, a blood of drop at its beak was clearly noticeable. I knew then what I had to do. Ending its life was very painful for me to do. I carried the bird to an area away from people and buried it. I swore to myself that I would never shoot any living thing again, unless I had to defend myself.

My sister and me, the reluctant poser.The years until the age of ten, I must say, were happy years for me. My parents allowed me to be a boy with little direct supervision. Naturally at times I would do things I should not have done. Once my mother found out, punishment was certain. A displeasing look or a scolding word would usually suffice. A few times, I received a little whack on the back of my head the moment I came in the door. No democracy. I was guilty as charged without trial. One time, when I did a forbidden thing, she punished me, but I was able to convince her that I was truly innocent. She shrugged the supposedly wrong punishment off with the words like: "You got the whack for the times you did not get caught." But as far as I can reminisce, I was a relatively obedient son.

My friend Siegfried and I confined our playing to within our building complex. Most of the time we played near the sandboxes. Foliage around the sandboxes gave us some privacy. When we needed a stick to throw, the poplar trees had to sacrifice a few branches for the common good. I enjoyed building sand sculptures, mostly castles. At the end of the day, Siegfried and I would attack the castles with sand balls.

Naturally, the basement and attic also became areas to explore. When the landlord found out about us roaming around, he locked the doors. Since the latchkeys to those doors were very simple, it was just a matter of time until I could make an implement to unlock the doors. The basement was always quite spooky. Electric light was only near the steps. All other light down there came through small windows. It did not take much to make me feel weird, and I preferred the attic for our adventures. We would follow the steps of the chimney sweep and climb the ladder all the way to the roof hatch. It took many trips before we even ventured to open this hatch, stuck our heads through and looked down. It took many trips to lessen the funny feeling in the belly while looking down. Little did we know that this helped us later in the war when we had to replace blown off roof tiles.

The front doors of our tenement building had small glass panes. When the door was propped open, it created a space between the door and the wall. One day I climbed over the door and found myself hanging behind the door but unable to touch the floor. When I released my hands, I went into a knee bend. When I hit the floor, my right knee and one glass pane interfered with each other, breaking the glass and creating a big gash underneath my kneecap. I released the door quickly, ran to our first floor door, rang the doorbell and screamed, leaving behind a trail of blood. My father opened the door, looked, grabbed me and rushed me next door to our physician, Dr. Lohman. He was able to stitch the wound successfully, but it left a wide scar at my right knee. He said that I was lucky not to have severed a tendon. By the way, he owned a Mercedes. His car was the only car among the whole complex of 240 families. Often we watched him going to his car, parked under a street gas light. It appeared he studied his house-call route before driving off.

During winter, when it snowed quite heavily, I would sometimes help the landlord with snow removal from the sidewalk. When we had a heavy snow cover, a bunch of us neighborhood children would start an ice slide on level ground. When enough shoes slid on the snow, after a while, the snow would harden and within hours, the slide would be very icy. Not only would it be icy but it also got longer and longer. At times, some of those slides lengthened to over 100 feet. When the street sweepers arrived with their equipment, they would quite often scatter salt. At the first sign of the sweeper, all of us would quickly cover the slide with snow. As soon as the sweeper passed, we used our gloves or caps and removed the salt from our precious slide. Our street had very little traffic of any kind, allowing us the pleasure of the slide. A large park, only 20 minutes away had two snow slopes, perfect for sled rides. One slope received the name devil's slide. It had a banked curve and became icy very quickly, causing spills and broken bones.

Joining the Hitler Youth

Finally, my tenth birthday was near. Two events were about to occur; I could join the Hitler Youth organization and start high school.

With the arrival of my tenth birthday, I became eligible to join the Hitler Youth, or better, I should say, join the Young Folks' (Jungvolk) movement. The Young Folks were a junior extension of the Hitler Youth for boys aged 10 to 14. After I had my parent's permission to join, nothing could stop me from fulfilling my dreams of joining. I became a proud member of the Hitler Youth Young Folks.

Now, not only did I need a full uniform with all its paraphernalia, but I also needed camping accessories. My wish list included a backpack with a blanket, a pup tent canvas, a mess kit, a compass and more importantly a knife in a sheath with a Young Folks' symbol.

During our weekly Young Folks' meetings, older Hitler Youth members organized and conducted our get-together. There was no question that they impressed on us the importance of the Third Reich’s future, highlighting the need for purity and social improvements of an upcoming generation. The indoctrination emphasized love of one's country, respect of spiritual and ethical values and unquestioning loyalty to our Führer.

Most of our meetings started with the singing of our national anthem which began, "Germany above all…" followed by a National Socialist Party song, "Raise high the flag…" One of us youngsters would stand at attention next to the lectern holding on to a pole displaying the swastika flag. We had to learn at least one new marching song every time we got together. Group singing was highly enjoyable, and once we started marching it never failed for the group leader to call for a song. Besides singing, we received lectures about good sanitation and cleanliness of body and mind. We were enlightened to the fact that our Führer depended on us to strengthen and perpetuate the Third Reich.

In addition to the more or less boring subjects, we planned outdoor adventures like camping trips, playing hide and seek between red and blue teams and finding your way after being lost in the wilderness. We played games and the comradeship was evident and enjoyable.

The words of the songs we learned would not have won today's Pulitzer Prize, but the message came through loud and clear. Sacrifice yourself, if necessary, for the good of the country and hold honor and courage in high esteem. Every so often, we would go on overnight outings in the countryside. We learned to pitch tents and how to build campfires. Some very subtle political indoctrination was unavoidable, and especially the message concerning Adolf Hitler was clear. Our leader, the supreme commander’s words and actions, were irrefutable.

In recent years, I heard controversy about a particular song we had learned. That song had words stating that only Germany hears us now, but tomorrow the whole world will. The German words of that part in the song were as follows: Denn heute da hört uns Deutschland und morgen die ganze Welt. Not gehört which means belonging. That was the way I learned the song. Some scholars have suggested that we sang: "tomorrow the whole world will belong to Germany" instead of the world will hear us. I am sure that we, the youth, did not communicate suggestions through this song that Germany would own the world.

My sister also belonged to a youth movement, called the Bund Deutscher Mädchen (Organization of German Girls). I heard only scant words from my sister, but it appeared that honor and love for the country appeared to be their central message also. The Führer expected the girls, so they said, to remain pure, pledge in marriage only to Aryan boys, and create many babies for the Fatherland.

Early in 1938, with my primary schooling completed, I looked forward to attending high school. My parents made it perfectly clear that I had to quit fooling around and get down to studying. School homework, customarily handed out for most subjects, now received preferential treatment over any other activity.

Our class size normally consisted of 24 to 30 boys. Within an assigned classroom, we had the freedom to select our seat location. I preferred a seat about in the middle, not liking to sit right in front of the teacher, but close enough to read the blackboard clearly. Most of the time our school started at 8 o’clock and most classes lasted 90 minutes. We had 4 classes per day, 5 days a week, and 3 classes on Saturday. The teachers would come to our room instead of the students going to a teacher's room. Almost all teachers would hand out homework, and I had no problems keeping up with the assignments except for a couple of subjects.

Luckily, during the first two years, we had no language classes but I had history classes taught by a disagreeable teacher, Mr. Lustig. I found out that I had problems memorizing historical dates, especially Mr. Lustig’s. Looking back, I am sure that his presentation also lacked some continuity or whatever.

Anyway, it appeared boring to me, and soon my history grades sank. Had I not excelled in mathematics and physics, I would have been in significant trouble. I strongly disliked Herr Lustig, my history teacher. He had a half-inch diameter, three foot-long bamboo cane. Standing in front of me, he would ask me what happened in Germany on April 24, 1547. Sure, ask another question. I had not the faintest idea. He would then whack that cane merciless on my upper arm while bombarding me with other dates and events. Even if I had known any of the answers, I surely would have been unable to handle any answers under those circumstances. This teacher's behavior haunted me for many years, especially when I had to take a test.

Political propagandizing from our teachers was not on the curriculum. Even during my first year in the Hitler Youth movement, political indoctrination was relatively benign, with some mentioning of how the Jews were destroying our country.

All that changed on the night of November 9/10, 1938. I was now 11 years old and had one year of lectures from the Hitler Youth movement behind me. I was convinced of my leader's wisdom, and believed in the goodness of the Nazi doctrine.

Night of Broken Glass

On the morning of November 10, 1938, we saw a broken display window of a Jewish business with words painted on the side of the building like "Jews get out" and other similar words. The Star of David became the graffiti of that time, painted on Jewish property. We had experienced the Kristallnacht or "The Night of Broken Glass." None of this made any sense to me. I heard someone say that no one should buy anything from the cheating Jews. A Brown Shirt storm trooper stood in front of the broken storefront window. At first, I thought he was protecting the store occupants or store contents. But in reality he discouraged anyone from even thinking of buying anything from this store.

Until now, I was completely innocent relating to the "Jewish Problem." I received a little enlightenment and understanding when my mother told me not to mention to anyone about her doing business with a Jewish salesman. One day, that salesman did not show up to meet my mother for their pre-arranged appointment.

Should I have seen the sinister character and evil in Hitler’s Germany? All I remember from the early days of the "Jewish problem" was noticing isolated anti-Semitic incidents. I guess our neighborhood had only one vandalized Jewish store. It appeared to me, at that time, to just be vandalism, not the much greater scope hidden below the surface. I must have been naïve.

Everything I saw or heard prevented me from noticing the evil. Our leaders now tried to convince us that Jews were evil, and we would have it better if they all left Germany. Soon we rehearsed a new song that stated to throw the Jews out of Germany, but hack off their legs first or they will come back. That song should have at least raised some eyebrows. However, it did not. I do not know why not, but I guess we did not take it seriously. We did not take it literally. We were boys.

The "Jewish Problem" mysteriously disappeared and I believe that for the average German, Jews became somehow non-persons. It might also be that I was really too young to grasp the enormity of the Jewish persecution. Looking back, my parents apparently had no Jewish friends. We did not see any roundup of people, nothing like what I saw many years later in movies, although rumors of deportations of undesirables were floating around. Occasionally, we heard words about Germany retaining its Aryan purity. At that time, however, I had no idea what that message intended and what I could do about it. My parents never mentioned, in my presence, any such messages.

My activities during the next two years were that of a normal pre-teenager. Most Sundays, my mother would give me an allowance for movie tickets and ice cream. She knew that I needed a little extra so that I could treat my friend Siegfried. The Laurel and Hardy movies were our favorites. After the movie, we had enough money left for an ice cream cone. Siegfried Urban and I were inseparable playmates. He was one year my junior and his blond hair and his disarming smile made him easily likable. Hardly a day would pass that Siegfried and I would not get together. Playing with my erector sets, however, required great patience when little screws and nuts took three or four tries to engage them with a structure. Patience was not Siegfried's forte.

A Close Call

During a time when I was a latchkey boy, Siegfried and I experienced a scare while we were in my parent’s apartment. We had a near disaster, which would have changed both of our lives forever.

My sister's future husband had placed a small silver revolver in her desk drawer. I found the revolver, including some ammunition. Being very smart, not letting on that I knew nothing about guns, I wanted to show Siegfried the gun and demonstrate its operation. I put a bullet in the chamber just in front of the hammer. I was certain that a round in front of the hammer would be in a safe position since it was not behind the hammer. Then I flipped a small lever on the revolver, stating that I had engaged the safety.

Pointing the gun at Siegfried, I was going to show that if I pulled the trigger, nothing would happen. However, somehow, I remembered my father's warning, not to point a gun at a person unless you plan to shoot that person. Therefore, I pointed it at the window. I guess, having gone through a mental process about where not to point a weapon, I then pointed the revolver toward the wall. I pulled the trigger and sure enough, ca-boom! The papered stucco/brick wall was damaged and gunsmoke engulfed us. What a shock! We both surely learned a lesson and I found out how stupid I was. I did some repair work to the wall and glued the wallpaper, good enough not to reveal the accident to my parents and my brother-in-law.

Siegfried and I explored everything there was to explore in our neighborhood. One of our excursions ended up on the roof. The four story building had a steep tile roof. A plank ran between the chimneys for the chimney sweep’s use. Having gone up to the roof a few times, we became brave enough to venture onto the plank. I guess we had to do this because it was there, like climbing Mount Everest. It convinced me that one could overcome acrophobia by gradually exposing the senses to height.

We were not quite teenagers, and we cared less that our Führer had annexed Austria in March 1938. When he invaded Czechoslovakia in March 1939, it was a ho-hum for us. However, when German troops invaded Poland on September 1st, 1939, we did sit up and take notice. We both expressed disappointment that we were too young to join the military.

With World War II now in progress, our Hitler Youth group meetings intensified, not only through propagandizing, but also by becoming more militarized. We marched more, ran more, did more push-ups, and sang more. In school, decreed by a higher power, we received one quarter liter of chocolate milk and a vitamin C tablet each day, supplementing my mother's homemade sandwich.

For me, the beginning of the war was minor to the problem I had with the detestable teacher, Mr. Lustig. Our curriculum included one class per week of Latin in addition to the history class. Mr. Lustig taught both classes. During our Latin lectures, I really tried to overcome my distraction caused by the presence of Mr. Lustig. He continued to harass me although he should have seen that I was totally intimidated by him. Telling my parents would not have worked, so I just had to endure it and make the best of it. When we had written tests, he would stand behind me, looking over my shoulder. Naturally, his presence would really fix me and the little knowledge I might have recalled was gone. I had no choice but to cheat during some of Mr. Lustig's written tests. I had in every pocket small pieces of notes and used them. I did not get passing grades, but instead of a "6," the worst grade. I sneaked by with a non-passing grade of "5" in History and a "4" in Latin. Having almost two fives in major subjects required an offset by two grades of two or less to advance. Since I had grades of "1" in mathematics and physics, I was able to advance, with a note that I must improve my grades in Latin and history. For hours, I would look at historic dates. But without a relative connection to the events, the dates did not make an impact on my brain. Learning Latin vocabulary gave me similar difficulty. Oh, I remembered "amo, amas, amat" but that was about my limit.

In the early days of the war, our family lifestyle changed little, except it became important to follow the Party line. Heil Hitler had to replace good morning or good day as the preferred greeting outside our home. We collected aluminum foil and other precious metals to conserve resources. My mother continued to sell stockings at the outdoor market. My father in his forester uniform went to the office as usual. My sister now worked as a secretary for a sparkling wine cellar.

My parent's social life was still very good. The completion of the war and occupation of Poland by our Army was labeled a Blitz Krieg (Lightning War) and had a minimal impact on our daily life.

Virtually every weekend, my mother would have her friends and relatives over for parties. As a matter of fact, my sister's salary from the wine cellar usually arrived as a delivery of champagne bottles.

With the declaration of war against Germany by England and France, we expected our life to change. Our leaders informed us that the invasion of Poland was necessary. Germany had a corridor through Poland between Germany and East Prussia by a treaty, they said, and Polish soldiers had attacked our trains traveling through this corridor. They violated a treaty, and Hitler had no choice but to act, so they said. That made sense to us. We could not understand why England and France had to declare war on Germany.

As a 12-year-old, I saw no possibility that I would be a soldier very soon. In school and during our Hitler Youth meetings, we heard words about helping out in the war effort, with little detail of how. The Polish incursion was finished, and England and France would not, or were not ready, to act upon their declaration of war. At least that was the message we received.

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