Months before the end of the war, Allied troops plunging first into
Poland and later into Germany came upon sights that made battle-hardened
men weep. The liberation of concentration camps in Germany and extermination
centers in occupied Poland shocked the unprepared troops who entered them.
On April 12, 1945, Generals Eisenhower and Patton visited Ohrdruf, a
sub-concentration camp of Buchenwald, the first camp liberated on the Western
Front. After viewing the carnage and listening to accounts by survivors,
Eisenhower insisted that a filmed record be made, saying he believed that
in the future there would be those who would say such things never happened,
given the magnitude of the crimes.
A few weeks later, Dachau, located near Munich, was liberated by Americans
who became so enraged at what they found that they began conducting on
the spot executions of captured SS men until they were halted by senior American
At Dachau Concentration Camp ex-Hitler Youths are escorted by Americans to view train cars filled with bodies of prisoners who died from starvation and disease on the trip from outlying concentration camps in the war's final days. Below: German children playing amid a massive pile of war rubble find an intact hand grenade.
Below: Severe shortages of all consumer goods in postwar Germany requires an improvised solution for the growing feet of former Jungvolks.
Below: Communist Era--Young Pioneers in East Germany attend a political rally in 1951, displaying their unique bent-elbow hand salute, designed to contrast with the former straight-armed Hitler salute.
Allied soldiers then made a practice of forcing captured Hitler Youths
and nearby townspeople to view the carnage inside liberated camps up close
and also made them bury piles of decomposing, emaciated corpses. Germans
not living near the camps, especially young people, were later forced to
watch Allied documentary films at their local theaters.
The scope of Nazi mass murders committed throughout Europe soon gave
rise to the question of justice. The SS itself was declared a criminal
organization. All over Germany, surviving Nazi leaders were
hunted down. The Hitler Youth organization, however, was written off by
the Allies as consisting of misled young people. Therefore, as a group, its members were not targeted for prosecution.
Schirach on Trial
On November 20, 1945, the first Nuremberg War Crimes Trial began with
four Allied nations (Soviet Russia, USA, Great Britain, France) charging 22 principal
Nazi leaders with crimes against peace, against humanity, and against defenseless
civilians. Former Hitler Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach was among those
Evidence included the Allied films of concentration camps showing scenes
such as a bulldozer pushing enormous piles of bodies into a mass grave.
The footage had an extraordinary effect on the accused Nazis, directly
confronting them for the first time with the atrocities of Hitler's regime,
and also with the realization that they would likely hang for such offenses.
Witnesses for the prosecution included Auschwitz Commandant Rudolf Höss
and Hermann Graebe, a German businessman who stunned the courtroom with
his first-hand account of an SS Einsatz unit systematically shooting Jewish
families in Lithuania.
To the surprise and scorn of his fellow Nazis, Baldur von Schirach expressed
remorse upon taking the witness stand, bitterly denouncing Hitler and labeling
Auschwitz as "the most devilish mass murder in history."
"The murders were ordered by Adolf Hitler," Schirach testified.
"That can be seen from his last testament. That last testament is
genuine. He and Himmler together committed that crime which for all times
is the darkest blot on our history. It is a crime which is shameful to
"It is my guilt," said Schirach, "which I will have to
carry before God and the German nation, that I educated the youth of that
people; that I raised the youth for a man who, for many years, I considered
impeccable as a leader and as a head of state; that I organized youth just
as I did. It is my guilt that I educated German youth for a man who committed
murder by the millions."
Schirach had also overseen the deportation of 65,000 Jews from Vienna
to ghettos in occupied Poland, following his appointment as Gauleiter (Nazi Governor)
of Vienna. Evidence against Schirach included a speech he had given in
1942 stating that the "removal" of Jews to the East would "contribute
to European culture."
On October 16, 1946, sentences were handed down. Schirach got twenty
years, found guilty of crimes against humanity for educating German youth
in the spirit of National Socialism and subjecting them to an extensive
program of Nazi propaganda. Eleven former top Nazis including Hermann Göring
were sentenced to be hanged.
Life Among the Ruins
Outside of the courtroom and throughout Germany, people hardly took
notice of the fate of their once-vaunted leaders. They were now engaged
in a desperate daily struggle for survival. Germany and much of Europe
lay in absolute ruins following Hitler's war, the most destructive conflict
in the history of humanity, in which an estimated 50,000,000 persons had
died. For the average German, basic necessities such as food, water, and
a safe place to sleep, were now the overriding concerns.
Living among the ruins, former Hitler Youths used survival skills they
had learned during the war to stave off starvation. They became efficient
scavengers, always looking for bits of coal and wood for heating their
homes, and delighted in stealing food and cigarettes, or anything, from
In October 1945, compulsory schooling was reintroduced, in part just
to get them all off the streets. Most of them had been poorly educated during
Hitler's Reich. When school resumed, it was not unusual to see 16 and 17-year-olds
sitting in grammar school classrooms.
Among university students there was now a great thirst for knowledge.
German universities had once been ranked among the finest in the world.
Now, absent the corrupting influences of Nazi ideology, students once again devoured
reliable knowledge and instruction.
Postwar Germany itself was divided in half – with the western portion placed under American, British and French jurisdiction.
East Germany came under the control of Soviet Russia. Remnants of the
Hitler Youth in communist East Germany eventually became the FDJ, the Free German
Youth, trading their brown uniforms for new blue uniforms and marching
under Soviet Unity Party banners amid pictures of Hitler's former nemesis, Josef
Divided Germany became the front line in a new conflict, the Cold War, between
the two postwar superpowers, the United States and Soviet Russia, casting a shadow over the lives
of all Germans until the collapse of the Soviet Union and reunification of Germany
in 1990. The demise of communism in East Germany ended the long era of mandatory participation in state-sponsored political youth groups, freeing young Germans to join any traditional group they pleased or belong to none at all.
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