People in all countries have always been attracted to youth groups because they can identify with the activities of that group. This paper will demonstrate how one youth movement called the Wunderbirds created a place to belong for many German youth after World War I. The idealism and propaganda used by such German Youth groups created an identity by reacting to a common enemy in the years leading up to the war (1922-1939). The Youth of Germany were challenging the status quo; reacting against an older generation of Germans that were accused of the country’s social problems after World War I. This paper will demonstrate how the Nazis created a similar identity for the Hitler Youth who used more powerful propaganda and idealism against the Catholic Church to by using a new policy of totalitarianism against the Catholic Church.
In the lead up to World War II, there was a slow integration of German Youth groups into the Hitler Youth and nationalist movement of the Nazi party. There is no official record of the number of young people who became a part of the German youth movement after World War I however the groups were numerous and diverse. The groups were political, religious, recreational and quasi military depending on the timing to the lead up of the war. Roberts (1934) gives an eyewitness account of the general environment and sheer number of youth groups that were working in Germany. He recounts youth groups conducting military drills while others were focused on building bridges, or participating in sporting or recreational activities. The propaganda seemed an obvious feature of the German Psyche. The writer observed hotels and shops with portraits and photographs of Hitler everywhere in the country.
Intentional Propaganda is a use of suggestion and is a systematic attempt by an interested individual to control the attitudes of groups of individuals through the use of suggestion. The most common theme throughout the eyewitness account of pre World War II Germany was the use of propaganda that was either intentional or in many cases unintentional. Many youth group featured some kind of symbols such as flags, music, bands, uniforms, slogans and posters. One such group was the Wandervogel (wander birds). They carried guitars and mandolins, played peasant songs, did peasant dances and were visibly different to an older generation of Germans. The propaganda of the group may have been unintentional but suggested that the group had to conform to the meanings of the flags, uniforms, symbols and music.
Doob (1935) believes there are eight major principles of propaganda including intention, perception, type (revealed, delayed, concealed) related attitudes, desired integration, and sphere of unpredictability, counter propaganda and persuasion. There is evidence to suggest that the Wundervogel groups fulfilled many of the eight principles of propaganda just like the Hitler Youth would in later years. The propaganda may have been unintentional and the group unaware of the social effects however many older Germans would not have identified with all the intentions of the group. The groups would often sing in the fields of peasants late at night without permission or go to hostels to air their grievances about older Germans. The group either intentionally or unintentionally identified with many of the dominant values of the country, like German’s identification with nature, peasant songs and dances. It is possible that propaganda competed with the established norms and dominant values of the country through the repetition of songs and dances. Conversations about how older generations had forsaken their future by sending them to World War I and the social problems that affected them after the war may have also had this effect. Concealed propaganda such as fashion, songs and dances in nature exposed other Germans to new attitudes of the group’s aim of a newer fresher version of Germany. The action of the group propaganda came about by making hostels in the country where people could sing and do peasant dancing, Marching and doing productive things were also done by the group which could integrate with the values of the country generally. Any disputes about the group’s ideas and propaganda could be dealt with by the group arguing the positive social values of the group are similar to the rest of the country. Similarly any arguments against the group’s propaganda could have been discounted repeatedly by arguing that the universal nature of their actions would lead to a world of freedom, less possessions and no need for working.
Further to the use of propaganda was the use of idealism to express the group’s grievances and to help to communicate the faults of a common enemy. Idealism emphasizes how human ideas especially beliefs and values shape society. Groups such as the Wandervogel were reacting against the status quo in Germany at the time and were shaping their own beliefs about what Germany should be. Their idealism seemed to coincide with the idea of returning to a rural kind of Germany that was anti materialist, anti capitalist, free, wild and would return the youth back to nature. Such groups started on the university campuses and weren’t content to just talk about theory. They believed in action. The Wandervogel idealism of setting up youth hostels in the country for the purposes of singing in and joining together with peasants in the country is one such example.
Many of the students were in the pre world war youth movement and were also soldiers in World War I that were disappointed by their return to their home land. The Treaty of Versailles was a forced on the defeated German Empire by the Allies after WWI. Germany lost a large amount of its territory and had to pay a huge reparations bill, totalling $6, 600, 000 (32 billion marks). Many of the men also probably believed that they had been led into war by members of the older military who were seen as not very successful at anything except bringing about the death of a great many young men. This gave the group a common enemy to express their grievances about and to unite the group. Further to the military expertise, such men were facing difficult social problems of unemployment and therefore many may have felt that all that had been fought for during the war was for very little.
Such idealism, propaganda and a common enemy could be exploited easily by a totalitarian state in which those in power delved into every existing human activity; it was the Nazis that now controlled all the thoughts, opinions and the facts and truths of the country. Any sort of criticism, open disagreement, freedom of opinion, or political opposition could be quashed.
With the country mobilising and moving towards change; the idealism and propaganda used by groups such as the Wandervogel could now be totally controlled by the Nazi Party. Youth could now be mobilised against a new common enemy and could be recruited into larger more militaristic youth groups or the military. Idealism and propaganda were even used to recruit Catholics with control over large sections of Catholic youth organisations into the Nazi state religion. One such example is the totalitarian Reich youth association which was led by pagan leaders, that recruited many Catholics between the ages of ten and eighteen.
Hitler’ ideologues such as Goebbels, Himmler, Rosenberg and Bormann believed that Germany should be anti catholic, or at least distort the theology of the church to the Nazis . Therefore there were many examples of Catholics being persecuted in Germany through other means of propaganda. Catholic children were often terrorised into joining into Hitler Youth organisation or risk being accused of dishonesty and treason and told it is against commandment duty of gratitude of parents not to join. Parents were unaware of the secret instructions given to their own children to spy on parents and disbelieve their priests
The Catholic Church was slowly disintegrated not necessarily by direct and brute force but by other means which would stifle the church youth groups or make the youth group join the Hitler Youth. The propaganda was intentionally aimed towards prominent members of the church with control over assets and the financial means of the church or large numbers of youth. Doob (1935) believes that an important element of propaganda is persuasion on people with prestige toward other people with a submissive attitude. In other words the party was trying to pick powerful leaders that could implement policies that would recruit Catholic youth or disband their organisations and at the same time provide financial support to the party. This also included making ransoms to members of the Church with families outside of the country. Accusations could then be made by distributing pamphlets or sending propaganda through state controlled radio. For example a US $12000 ransom letter was sent to a priest with family in America who would be able to ensure release although there was no guarantee given by the Nazis.
The accusations against the church leaders no doubt made Catholics stand out as the enemy, a necessary step in propaganda. Furthermore many types of propaganda were concealed like the camps that helped the youth adopt new attitudes and draw children toward the Hitler Youth. Other types of propaganda were more revealed with direct suggestions such as accusations against church leaders or against Catholic children.
The Hitler Youth helped by working in Catholic institutions and convincing Catholics to adopt the dominant attitudes of the state religion as opposed to Catholic one. The Brown Sisters confirmed this desire integrating the practice of state religion into the organisation. Idealism was present during the dispersal of propaganda about the church. The Brown Sisters infiltrated the institutions of the church and took on an oath to the Third Reich that will eradicate Christian institutions. They were put, in charge of hospitals, schools, children’s homes and orphanages.
Taking control of radio and newspapers set a dangerous precedent for the erosion of democracy, freedom of the press and for freedom of speech in general. The Nazi party used propaganda continually to claim the legitimacy of their government by the public and radio became the ideal propaganda tool to suppress information and could easily have made accusations against the church to distort the truth about anyone they deem to be threatening. Integrating the Catholic youth group into the Hitler youth would have been one such example of the effective uses of radio propaganda.
The totalitarian view of being involved with any state matters directly means that ownership would have been in the states hands and any broadcasting competition would simply be forced out of business through taxation or through state licensing. The Nazis silence and not revealing the truth for fear of imprisonment or death means that any editing or propaganda that did not meet the requirements for the Nazi ideas of the truth would of meant death or imprisonment.
In conclusion we can see that the Nazi Party was able to recruit Hitler Youth because the conditions were mostly created before the war in the years 1922-1939. Young disillusioned men weary of the World War I reacted against the establishment by using propaganda that changed attitudes in the country intentionally or often unintentionally. Such idealism and a need for a common enemy meant that the groups were easily exploited by the Nazis when their policies of totalitarianism came about. It was unlikely that youth would say no to joining for fear of the repercussions. The same ideas were used to persecute Catholics by the Hitler youth. The difference was in the amount of control that the Nazi’s could enforce through new propaganda tools like radio.
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