Hitler Youth groups educated young people according to Nazi principles, and the encouraged comradeship and physical fitness through outdoor activities
Lesson

Youth in Nazi Germany (UK)

Students learn about the experiences of young people in Nazi Germany through a variety of firsthand accounts and identify the range of choices that they faced.

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This resource is intended for educators in the United Kingdom.

At a Glance

Lesson

Language

English — UK

Grade

6–12

Duration

One 50-min class period
  • The Holocaust
  • Human & Civil Rights

Overview

About This Lesson

Students are beginning to understand how the Nazis used laws and propaganda to compel and persuade the German public to accept, if not support, their idea of a ‘national community’ shaped according to their racial ideals. In this lesson, students will continue this unit’s historical case study by looking at how the Nazis trained young people, through schools and youth groups, in an effort to build a foundation for the future of that ‘national community’. Students will learn about the experiences of people who grew up in Nazi Germany through a variety of first-hand accounts that show the appeal the Nazi programme held for many youth and the limits of that appeal for others. This lesson also reveals some of the dilemmas and isolation experienced by those young people who were deliberately excluded from the Nazi national community.

The lesson both begins and concludes by providing students with the opportunity to discuss the role of young people in any society and the proper goals and methods for their education.

What does learning about the choices people made during the Weimar Republic, the rise of the Nazi Party, and the Holocaust teach us about the power and impact of our choices today?

  • How did the Nazis attempt to enlist young people in their efforts to create ‘in’ groups and ‘out’ groups in German society in the 1930s? How did young people respond to these attempts?
  • What were the consequences for young people who were excluded from the Nazi vision for a ‘national community’?
  • What is the role of education in preparing young people for their role as citizens? What might be the difference between preparing students to live in a dictatorship versus a democracy?
  • Students will identify the range of choices that young people faced in Nazi Germany and understand how the Nazis used schools and youth organisations to mould young people to embrace their nationalist and racist ideologies.  
  • Students will also develop their ideas about the role young people should play in any society and how they should best be educated for the future.

This lesson is designed to fit into one 50-minute class period and includes:

  • 3 activities
  • 4 teaching strategies
  • 3 handouts
  • 2 videos
  • 1 PowerPoint
  • 1 extension

In his book Mein Kampf, written in the 1920s, Hitler said, ‘Whoever has the youth has the future.’ As the Nazi Party grew during the Weimar era, they devoted substantial time, effort, and resources to winning over Germany’s youth. Hitler hoped, once he was in power, that ‘these young people will learn nothing else but how to think German and act German. ... And they will never be free again, not in their whole lives.’ 1

Schools had a key role to play in the Nazi efforts to inculcate in German youth a philosophy centred on the idea of a racially pure ‘national community’. Throughout the 1920s, German schools adhered to a conservative educational philosophy, emphasising social hierarchy and obedience to authority, that was already consistent with the Nazi world view. After they came to power in 1933, the Nazis quickly passed new laws to make public education further reflect and teach their nationalist and racial ideologies. Jewish teachers were fired from their posts, and other teachers were encouraged to join the National Socialist Teachers League; by 1936, over 97 per cent of teachers were members. Nazi leaders also created new curricula and textbooks to be used throughout the country. All students took classes in ‘race science’, while Nazi racism infused materials in every class, including literature selections in reading and word problems in maths.  

The Nazis also sought to win over Germany’s children and teenagers through party-sponsored youth groups. In the 1920s, the Nazis had already begun to organise groups that would train young people according to their principles. By 1936, all ‘Aryan’ children in Germany over the age of 6 were required to join a Nazi youth group. At 10, boys were initiated into the Jungvolk (Young People), and at 14 they were promoted to the Hitler Youth. Their sisters joined the Jungmädel (Young Girls) and were later promoted to the League of German Girls. Although membership in the Hitler Youth organisations was compulsory, many young people did not have to be forced to join. In fact, they were eager to do so, because membership in Nazi youth groups offered a feeling of excitement, belonging, and even power.  

However, support for the Hitler Youth was never as widespread and strong as Nazi leaders would have liked. Young people skipped some meetings and activities, even though attendance was compulsory, and their loyalty could be inconsistent. Their reasons for losing enthusiasm for Hitler Youth activities were not always political or moral; sometimes young people grew tired of the many requirements or just got bored. In 1939, the Social Democratic Party, which had been outlawed by the Nazis and was operating in secrecy, published a report on German youth that described some of this discontent. It said that ‘young people are starting to feel particularly burdened by the lack of freedom and the mindless drills practiced by National Socialist organizations. So it is no wonder that signs of fatigue would be particularly prominent in their ranks.’ 2

The resources in this lesson explore more deeply both the allure of the Hitler Youth to some young Germans and the reluctance felt by others. Examining these resources closely reveals not only the range of reactions but also a range of choices available to German youth in response to the Nazis’ efforts to win them over in the 1930s – and a range of consequences for those choices, as well.

Meanwhile, those young Germans who were excluded from the ‘national community’ by the Nazis had markedly fewer choices and faced difficult and often dangerous dilemmas. Jewish children were prohibited from joining Nazi youth groups and excluded from that social world so central to many of their classmates in the process. Their supposed inferiority was pronounced repeatedly before them and their peers in school every day. The seemingly infinite number of laws and rules that singled them out in Nazi Germany – insitutionalised by the Nuremberg Laws of 1935 – emphasised their ‘otherness’ in the eyes of true ‘Aryans’ in painful ways. The resources in this lesson include reflections by both a Jehovah’s Witness woman and a Jewish man who attended school in Nazi Germany, both of whom faced excruciating dilemmas related to their use of the ubiquitous ‘Heil Hitler’ greeting.

  • 1Max von der Grün, Howl Like the Wolves: Growing Up in Nazi Germany (New York: W. Morrow, 1980), 118–19.
  • 2‘SOPADE: Reports on German Youth’ (1938), in The Third Reich Sourcebook, ed. A. Rabinbach and S. L. Gilman (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013), 252.

Preparing to Teach

A Note to Teachers

Before you teach this lesson, please review the following guidance to tailor this lesson to your students’ contexts and needs.

The first activity in this lesson includes the Four Corners teaching strategy. We recommend that you set up the room for this activity before class begins. Create four signs that read ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’, and hang them in different corners of the room.

In this lesson, students will be using a variation of the Big Paper strategy, ‘Little Paper’, to analyse accounts of the lives of young people in Nazi Germany told from a variety of perspectives. It is not practical for every student to analyse every document in this lesson, so this activity is designed to enable each student to look at accounts of perhaps four or five different experiences. One thing to keep in mind with this activity is timing. Some students may be slower readers, or take longer to comment on a text, while others are faster. To account for these differences, consider asking students to swap readings with another student who finishes at the same time as them, rather than rotating the handouts clockwise. In addition, you’ll want to ensure that students have plenty of margin space to comment on and annotate their little papers, so make sure you have stuck the texts into the middle of A3, flipchart or sugar paper in advance. 

  • In the extension, the image Antisemitic Children’s Book, and others within the Visual Essay: The Impact of Propaganda, portray inaccurate, offensive stereotypes of Jews. Teachers have the responsibility to acknowledge that these images contain stereotypes and to prepare their students to discuss the material in a thoughtful and respectful manner.
  • You might set this tone by asking students to refer back to the concept maps they created for stereotype in Lesson 3: Single Stories, as well as their journal responses to Chimamanda Adichie’s The Danger of a Single Story, before working with the images in this lesson.

The following are key vocabulary terms used in this lesson:

  1. Educate
  2. Indoctrinate
  3. Disillusion
  4. Comradeship

Add these words to your Word Wall, if you are using one for this unit, and provide the necessary support to help students learn these words as you teach the lesson.

Youth in Nazi Germany (UK)

Use these slides to help students learn about the experiences of young people in Nazi Germany through a variety of firsthand accounts and identify the range of choices that they faced.

Each lesson in this unit includes a PowerPoint of student-facing slides.

The PowerPoints are intended to be used alongside, and not instead of, the lesson plans because the latter include important rationales, context, and detailed activity instructions that teachers should familiarise themselves with before teaching the lesson.

The PowerPoints include basic content and student-facing prompts from the lesson plans but are minimally designed because we expect teachers to adapt them to fit the needs of their students and class.

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Lesson Plan

Activities

  • Tell students that in this lesson, they will be looking at the experiences of young people in Nazi Germany, and especially how the Nazis attempted to enlist many of them in the process of building a ‘national community’ that excluded non-Aryans. Firstly, students will engage in an activity to help them think about and discuss the role of young people in society more broadly.
  • Pass out the handout Youth in Society Anticipation Guide and give students a few minutes to respond to each statement.
  • Then lead a Four Corners activity in which students position themselves in corners of the room near signs reading ‘Strongly Agree’, ‘Agree’, ‘Disagree’, and ‘Strongly Disagree’ to indicate their opinion about each statement.
  • Discussing every statement on the anticipation guide could easily take the entire class period, so choose two or three of the statements that you think are of especially high interest to your students for the activity. Read one of the statements and instruct students to move to the corner of the room that represents their opinion.
  • Then let students from each corner explain their opinions. Make sure at least one person from each corner has the opportunity to speak, and tell students that if they are persuaded by the argument of a classmate in another corner, they may change their mind and move.
  • Repeat this process with as many statements as you can discuss in about ten minutes.
  • Tell students that they will now examine a variety of first-hand accounts from people who were teenagers in Nazi Germany. Many of the ideas they responded to on the anticipation guide in the opening activity will come up in these readings.
  • Begin by projecting and previewing the following questions for students, which they will respond to in their journals after watching a short video. You may also want to print out the questions for the students to refer to.
    • What messages were being sent to young Germans about the proper way to think and act in Germany in the 1930s? What messages were sent about how young people should think about who is deserving of respect and protection by the government and society? 
    • Why might these messages have appealed to some German youth? Why might they have frightened, angered, or confused others?
    • What options did young Germans have about how they could respond to the pressures they faced? What factors may have expanded or shrunk the number of options available to them?
    • How were young people from groups targeted by the Nazis affected by the changes in German society in the 1930s?
  • Next, show students the following video testimony, Changes at School under the Nazis (4:13): testimony by Kurt Klein. You may also choose to show Friendship and Betrayal (2:55): testimony by Ellen Kerry Davis, or watch it instead. 
  • After watching the video(s), briefly discuss how the Klein or Davis testimonies help to answer the questions above.
  • Tell students that they will now use the same series of questions to respond to a variety of documents about youth in Nazi Germany in a ‘Little Paper’ activity (a variation of Big Paper).
  • Divide the class into table groups, then give each group either Youth in Nazi Germany Reading Set 1 or Youth in Nazi Germany Reading Set 2. Each student should start with one reading from their group’s assigned reading set. As students read, they should annotate the text by highlighting or underlining portions that help to answer the questions above. They can also write comments and observations in the margins about young people’s experiences.  
  • After a few minutes, students will then pass their handouts to the person on their right, and they will repeat the process with the new handout. This time, however, they can respond to the comments and annotations the previous student made. Repeat this process at least once more, or (time permitting) until students have had a chance to work with each handout in their group.
  • When the process is complete, have students return each handout to the student who read it first so that the student can see the written discussions that followed his or her initial comments.
  • Finally, bring the class together as a whole group and debrief the activity with the following questions:
    • How did the Nazis attempt to educate young people to accept, if not support, the dictatorship? How would education be different if the goal were to teach young people how to be citizens in a democracy?
    • What did you notice about the variety of ways young people responded to education and youth groups in Nazi Germany? Did any of the responses surprise you?
    • What options did German teenagers have in terms of how they could respond to the pressures they faced? What were the consequences of some of those choices?
  • Ask students to review their responses to the anticipation guide they completed at the beginning of the lesson. 
  • After they review the anticipation guide, ask students to select two of the statements from the list and copy them into their journals. After each statement, they should write a short reflection explaining how the first-hand accounts they studied in this lesson connected to, extended, or challenged their initial opinions about them from the beginning of the lesson.

Extension Activity 

This extension introduces students to the methods and impact of Nazi propaganda. By analysing propaganda images that appeared in Germany during the Nazi era, students can reflect on the impact of media and political messaging in their lives today as well.

Before you do this extension, you may want to ensure that your students understand what propaganda is. Tell students that when governments or politicians use media to persuade people, we often call that propaganda. Explain that Hitler established the Bureau of Propaganda and Public Enlightenment in 1933 and appointed Joseph Goebbels as its leader (see the reading Shaping Public Opinion for further information). Consider providing students with the following definition:

Propaganda: Information that is intended to persuade an audience to accept a particular idea or cause, often by using biased material or by stirring up emotions.

Use the following steps to analyse examples of propaganda with the class:

  • Tell students that they will analyse propaganda images used by the Nazis (please see Notes to Teacher to ensure this task is approached sensitively). 
  • By analysing such images, students can see that the Nazis created some propaganda that denigrated Jews and other so-called inferior races, while they created other propaganda that glorified ‘Aryans’. The goal of both approaches was to influence the beliefs, feelings, and actions of individuals in Germany about who should be included and excluded from the ‘national community’ (Volksgemeinschaft). 
  • The Nazis used this idea of a Volksgemeinschaft to advance the idea of a racially pure and harmonious national community united in its devotion to the German people, their nation, and their leader. In their effort to reshape the ‘national community’ according to their racial ideals, the Nazis enacted hundreds of laws, policies, and decrees, and created propaganda, some of which the students will be looking at now.
  • Give students images from the Visual Essay: The Impact of Propaganda. The images Hitler Youth Propaganda and Antisemitic Children’s Book are particularly relevant, though there are other images too.
  • Have students analyse the image using a strategy such as Crop It or See, Think, Wonder. After students have analysed images, lead a class discussion. Consider drawing from the following questions:
    • Do you notice any themes or patterns in this group of propaganda images?
    • Why do you think the Nazis created propaganda that targeted children? 
    • Based on the images you have analysed in this lesson, how do you think the Nazis used propaganda to define the identities of individuals and groups? What does the propaganda suggest about the ‘national community’ they sought to create?
    • How did the Nazis use propaganda to further their goal of creating this ideal ‘national community’?

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Materials and Downloads

Quick Downloads

These are the handouts that students use throughout the Youth in Nazi Germany (UK)  lesson plan.

Download the Files

Handout
Youth in Society Anticipation Guide - PDF
Use these statements about the role of youth in society to complete a Four Corners activity.
Handout
Youth in Nazi Germany Reading Set 1 (UK)
Have students read and annotate passages on the experiences of youth in Nazi Germany.
Handout
Youth in Nazi Germany Reading Set 2 (UK)
Have students read and annotate passages on the experiences of youth in Nazi Germany.

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