This commentary is based on the classroom activity: German League of Girls
Q1: Read the introduction and source 2 and explain how the German League of Girls (BDM) was organised.
A1: Girls from ten to fourteen girls were known as Young Girls (Jungmädel). At the age of fifteen they joined the senior section of the organisation. Between the ages of seventeen to twenty-one they formed a special voluntary organization called Faith and Beauty (Glaube und Schonheit).
Q2: Study sources 1, 5, 8, 13, 17, 21 and 24. Describe the uniform of the BDM.
A2: These visual sources show that members of the BDM wore navy blue skirts, black scarfs, leather scarf holder, white blouses and brown jackets.
Q3: Use information from the sources to describe the kind of things that the members of the BDM did at meetings.
A3: List of things done at BDM meetings.
(a) Taught to have as many children as possible and not to use birth-control. (sources 4, 10, 11 and 23)
(b) Received information about Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Philosophy and how Germans were the "Master Race". (sources 4, 7, 9, 10, 20, 23, 25 and 27)
(c) Sung Nazi and old German folk songs. (sources 9, 10 and 27)
(d) Warned against smoking or wearing make-up. (sources 2 and 10)
(e) Received athletic training. (sources 10, 15, 16 and 25)
Q4: Read sources 6, 9, 18, 26 and 27 and explain why the BDM caused conflict between parents and children.
A4: Great pressure was put on girls in Nazi Germany to join the BDM. Many parents did not support the Nazi Party and feared that their daughters would be brainwashed at meetings. Ilse Koehn (source 9) describes how her father reacted when she asked if she could join the BDM. "Join an organization of those pigs? Listen it may be true that all they do is sing and play games. But their very songs and games are designed to teach you the Nazi philosophy. And you know that we do not believe in it. Young people are impressionable and the Nazis use their enthusiasm for their own ends. There are things that you are too young to understand."
Helga Schmidt (source 18) was also not allowed to join the BDM because of her father's dislike of Adolf Hitler. "Therefore, even though the school exerted a bit of pressure on us to join, I was among those who were not in the League of German Girls (BDM). And it was not pleasant for the older child to have to stand on the sidelines, because that is not one's inclination."
Most girls did join the BDM and this sometimes caused conflict with their anti-Nazi parents. Hedwig Ertl (source 26) points out: "As a young person, you were taken seriously. You did things which were important (in the BDM) ... Your dependence on your parents was reduced, because all the time it was your work for the Hitler Youth that came first, and your parents came second... All the time you were kept busy and interested, and you really believed you had to change the world."
Renate Finckh (source 6) makes a similiar point: "At home no one really had time for me... at the BDM I finally found an emotional home, a safe refuge, and shortly thereafter also a space in which I was valued... I was filled with pride and joy that someone needed me for a higher purpose.... We Hitler girls belonged together, we formed an elite within the German Volk community."
Inge Scholl (source 27) was an ethusiastic member of the BDM. So was her brother and sister, Hans Scholl and Sophie Scholl. Her father, Robert Scholl, was totally opposed to Hitler. He told his children: "Don't believe them - they are wolves and deceivers, and they are misusing the German people shamefully." However, as she pointed out, "Father's words were spoken to the wind, and his attempts to restrain us were of no avail against our youthful enthusiasm." Later all three children joined the German resistance to Hitler and Hans and Sophie were captured and executed in 1943.
Q5: Girls in the BDM did a great deal of hiking and camping. Read sources 3, 7 and 25 and then explain if all the girls enjoyed these outdoor activities.
A5: Susanne von der Borch (source 25) liked these outdoor activities: "It fitted my personality because I had always been very sporty and I liked being with my friends... I always wanted to get out of the house. So this was the best excuse for me. I couldn't be at home, because there was always something happening... riding, or skating, or summer camp. I was never at home."
However, others, such as Christa Wolf (source 3) disliked the strict discipline of the camps: "In the Jungmädel camp, the leader or her deputies inspect the dormitory, the chests of drawers, the washrooms, every morning. One time the hairbrush of a squad leader was publicly displayed because it was full of long hairs." Elsbeth Emmerich (source 7) agreed: "We had to get up early each morning, standing to attention in the freezing cold and singing whilst the flag was being hoisted... My holiday was mainly doing what other people told you to all the time, like standing to attention and raising our arms for the Sieg Heil."
Q6: Sources 10 and 27 show that some girls were willing to question what BDM leaders told them. What questions did these girls raise and how were they dealt with?
A6: Members of the BDM were told that it was their duty to marry and have a lot of children. Marianne Gärtner (source 10) asked: "Why isn't the Führer married and a father himself?" Her team leader did not reply and instead "strafed me with a murderous look".
Inge Scholl (source 27) recalls that at one meeting one of the girls said: "Everything would be fine, but this thing about the Jews is something I just can't swallow." This time the women in charge did deal with the question: "The troop leader assured us that Hitler knew what he was doing and that for the sake of the greater good we would have to accept certain difficult and incomprehensible things."
League of German Girls, the Nazi Organisation To Teach Girls Their Duties As Bearers Of Aryan Heirs (Pictures)
The League of German Girls, in German Bund Deutscher Mädel, or BDM was the girls’ wing of the Nazi Party youth movement. It was founded in 1930 as the only female branch of the Hitler Youth movement. The League consisted of three sections Young Girls for ages 10 to 14, the League Proper for girls aged 14 to 18 and the Faith and Beauty society for girls ages 17 to 21.
After the Nazi’s were defeated the organization ceased to exist and was outlawed by the Allies in October 1945.
What follows are pictures of the BDM during the early stages of Nazism up to 1943.
BDM Girls march in a parade with 80.000 BDM and Hitler Youth in the Lüstgarten in Berlin, 19 August 1933
BDM Girls put up a recruitment poster, it says “Girls join us, you belong to us” in 1933
BDM Girls and boys from the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) celebrate Midsummer in 1933.
BDM Girls are sewing clothes in an “Arbeitsraum”, work room in 1933.
August 1942, the BDM girls are sewing clothes. Not the Hitler poster on the wall wit the caption “we follow you”.
BDM grirls in a forest outside Worms looking for May Beetles, 1933.
Portraits of a BDM Girls, 1933 / 1935
BDM Girls getting ready for a parade at an unknown location, 1933.
BDM Girls march in a parade in Worms, 1933.
One of the more sinister pictures, BDM girls visit Dachau Concentration camp in 1936
BDM Girls and Hitler Youth in the Olympic Stadium in Berlin celebrate Labourday – May 1st 1937
On the same day in Worms, different Hitler Youth and BDM girls present the Hitler salute.
BDM and Hitleryouth on a visit to Wuxi, Jiangsu, China. The German Caption says they are on a Easter egg hunt at the second picture.
The BDM was also used in more formal settings, here a BDM girl presents flowers to the Italian Dictator Mussolini on the railway station in Munich. Also visible are Goring (right) and Hitler (right center) . 30 September 1938.
September 1939, the war has started so many men are at the front. The BDM is called upon to help work the land and replace the men.
In 1943 when Hitler was fighting his “total war” more men were needed thus it was necessary for the German mothers to have as many children as possible. Here a mother is presented the “Ehrenkreuz der deutschen Mutter”. The cross of honor for German Mothers was presented in Bronze for having 4 children, Silver for 6 children and Gold for 8 children. May 15th 1943.
A signed certificate and a closeup of the “Cross of Honor for German Mothers”.
A large family as the Nazi party loved to see it, a Nazi official, the mother wearing the Mother Cross and their 12 kids. 5 of them in the German Army (wehrmacht) and 1 in the Reichs-Arbeidsdienst, the German Workers force. The oldest girl is a member of the BDM.
Hitler Youth Movement
The Hitler Youth was a logical extension of Hitler’s belief that the future of Nazi Germany was its children. The Hitler Youth was seen as being as important to a child as school was. In the early years of the Nazi government, Hitler had made it clear as to what he expected German children to be like:
“The weak must be chiselled away. I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel.”
Nazi education schemes part fitted in with this but Hitler wanted to occupy the minds of the young in Nazi Germany even more.
Movements for youngsters were part of German culture and the Hitler Youth had been created in the 1920’s. By 1933 its membership stood at 100,000. After Hitler came to power, all other youth movements were abolished and as a result the Hitler Youth grew quickly. In 1936, the figure stood at 4 million members. In 1936, it became all but compulsory to join the Hitler Youth. Youths could avoid doing any active service if they paid their subscription but this became all but impossible after 1939.
The Hitler Youth catered for 10 to 18 year olds. There were separate organisations for boys and girls. The task of the boys section was to prepare the boys for military service. For girls, the organisation prepared them for motherhood.
Boys at 10, joined the Deutsches Jungvolk (German Young People) until the age of 13 when they transferred to the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth) until the age of 18. In 1936, the writer J R Tunus wrote about the activities of the Hitler Jugend. He stated that part of their “military athletics” (Wehrsport) included marching, bayonet drill, grenade throwing, trench digging, map reading, gas defence, use of dugouts, how to get under barbed wire and pistol shooting.
Girls, at the age of 10, joined the Jungmadelbund (League of Young Girls) and at the age of 14 transferred to the Bund Deutscher Madel (League of German Girls). Girls had to be able to run 60 metres in 14 seconds, throw a ball 12 metres, complete a 2 hour march, swim 100 metres and know how to make a bed.
“Every girl belongs to us”
League of German Maidens poster
The whole Hitler Youth movement was overseen by Balder von Shirach.
To the outside world, the Hitler Youth seemed to personify German discipline. In fact, this image was far from accurate. School teachers complained that boys and girls were so tired from attending evening meetings of the Hitler Youth, that they could barely stay awake the next day at school. Also by 1938, attendance at Hitler Youth meetings was so poor – barely 25% – that the authorities decided to tighten up attendance with the 1939 law making attendance compulsory.
Children in Nazi Germany
As with women, Nazi attitudes towards children were derived chiefly from their leader. Adolf Hitler believed that securing the loyalty and obedience of children was essential if Nazism was to survive beyond the current generation. As a consequence, children in Nazi Germany were subjected to intensive propaganda through mediums of education, training and social groups.
Even in the early years of the Nazi Party, when leading the nation was a distant dream, Hitler placed great emphasis on the importance of children. Unlike other political leaders, Hitler did not disregard young people or underestimate their political value. His vision of an enduring Third Reich was based not just on the loyalty and obedience of adults but also their offspring.
Hitler wanted the National Socialist movement to appeal to all levels of society, including the young. He wanted to provide children in Nazi Germany with a sense of purpose, achievement and community, something conspicuously absent during his own listless childhood.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, Hitler’s youth policies aimed at filling the minds of young Germans with ideas about racial purity, Aryan supremacy, German expansion and future military conquests. In 1933, Hitler wrote of Nazi policy:
“My program for educating youth is hard … weakness must be hammered away. In my castles of the Teutonic Order, a new youth will grow up, before which the world will tremble. I want a brutal, domineering, fearless and cruel youth. Youth must be all that. It must bear pain. There must be nothing weak and gentle about it. The free, splendid beast of prey must once again flash from its eyes…That is how I will eradicate thousands of years of human domestication…That is how I will create the New Order.”
As a consequence, education and training became important tools and children in Nazi Germany were subjected to intensive propaganda. The NSDAP government used the state education system to disseminate Nazi ideology, enhance loyalty to Hitler and prepare millions of German boys for military service.
During the mid-1930s, the Nazis gradually implemented a party-controlled education system. It began by forming its own teachers’ union, the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund (Nazi Teachers’ League). Teachers of Jewish origin, liberal or socialist political beliefs were bullied and frog-marched out of the profession non-Nazi teachers were pressured to join the Nationalsozialistischer Lehrerbund or face losing their jobs.
As the Nazis infiltrated schools, they shaped the curriculum to convey their own values and political beliefs. At the forefront of the Nazi syllabus was racial education, ‘enlightening’ children about Aryan supremacy and the despicable traits of untermensch (sub-human people and races).
The most important subject in this process was history, which was used to convey and reinforce Nazi values and assumptions. Pro-Nazi histories reinforced the myth of Aryan supremacy in Europe. They were filled with tales of Germanic heroes and warriors, political leaders and military conquests.
Nazi beliefs were also reinforced in the geography syllabus. In this subject, German children learned about the unfair division of territory in the Treaty of Versailles, the inappropriate re-drawing of European borders and the need for lebensraum (‘living space’) for the German people.
Physical education and sport were also priorities in the Nazi curriculum. Other academic subjects, such as mathematics and the sciences, were neglected in contrast.
Nazi youth groups
The Nazis did not rely solely on schools for the indoctrination of children. Much better known to history are groups like the Hitler Jugend (Hitler Youth), a Nazi-run organisation partly inspired by the British scouting movement.
Like many NSDAP departments, the Hitler Youth was not systematically organised but evolved and changed over time. The Nazi movement had contained a handful of youth groups since 1922, organised at local levels by individuals from the Sturmabteilung (SA). There was even a degree of competition between these groups, with each claiming to be the NSDAP’s ‘official’ youth movement.
In July 1926, a young party member named Kurt Gruber established the Hitler Youth. He then worked to integrate it into the Sturmabteilung or SA. By 1930, the Hitler Youth contained more than 25,000 boys between the ages of 14 and 18. It served as a valuable feeder group for the SA. Some older members of the Hitler Youth also participated in SA-orchestrated protests, pogroms and street violence.
Hitler Youth under Schirach
Hitler’s rise to the chancellorship in 1933 prompted a significant spike in Hitler Youth membership. The Nazi leader appointed Baldur von Schirach as Reichsjugendfuhrer (German youth leader) and tasked him with expanding and organising the group on a national level.
Under Schirach’s leadership, the Hitler Youth adopted and embraced the same symbols, culture, psychology and appeals to nationalism employed in the SA and Schutzstaffel (SS). Schirach also worked to expand the Hitler Youth and streamline the movement of its older members into Nazi paramilitary groups.
As German schools were infiltrated by Nazi propaganda in the mid-1930s, they were also used to promote and expand the Hitler Youth. Many schools became feeder groups for the Hitler Youth, with children pressured into joining.
The Nazis also funnelled children into the Hitler Youth by banning alternative or rival groups, such as the Boy Scouts and various Catholic youth leagues. The membership of these banned groups was often acquired and swallowed up by the Hitler Youth.
By the end of 1937, the leadership of the Hitler Jugend claimed it had as many as five million members or 64 per cent of all German adolescent boys.
Hitler Youth members prepare for a march
Life in the Hitler Youth
The Hitler Youth was dominated by physical training and ideological indoctrination. In time, it became a de facto paramilitary group for boys aged 14-18, a means of preparing them for entry into the armed forces.
The Hitler Youth had uniforms, ranks and insignia similar to those of the SA. Its organisational structure was also similar: local units, regional divisions and national leadership.
Most units of the Hitler Youth met once through the week and again on weekends, under the guidance of adult party members. They engaged in a range of physical activities and skills training, including sports and games, hiking, orienteering and map-reading, knot-tying and bushcraft. Weekends and school holidays were an opportunity for units to camp or bivouac, or attend larger regional rallies.
From the mid-1930s, the group’s training regimen became more militaristic, with more emphasis on marching and drills, weapons training, obstacle and assault courses, camouflage and combat tactics.
These physical activities were accompanied and underpinned by racial and ideological teachings. Hitler Youth chapters attended lectures and instructional sessions about Hitler’s life, Nazi ideas and racial theory. New recruits were required to take an oath of loyalty to Hitler, while many members recited a bastardised form of the Lord’s Prayer:
“Adolf Hitler, you are our great Fuhrer.
Thy name makes the enemy tremble.
Thy will alone is law upon the earth.
Let us hear daily thy voice order us by thy leadership.
For we will obey to the end and even with our lives.
We praise thee! Hail Hitler!”
Fuhrer, my Fuhrer, give me by God.
Protect and preserve my life for long.
You saved Germany in time of need.
I thank you for my daily bread.
Be with me for a long time, do not leave me, Fuhrer.
My Fuhrer, my faith, my light, Hail to my Fuhrer!”
Groups for younger children
Beneath the Hitler Youth were several organisations for younger boys and girls. Pimpf was the most junior branch, its membership open to boys between the ages of six and ten. Pimpf boys completed community service, physical activities and outdoor skills such as camping.
Like their comrades in the Hitler Youth, members of Pimpf were also subjected to lessons about Nazi values and political views. They had to memorise the group’s handbook, Pimpf im Dienst (‘Young Ones in Service’) and pass exams before ‘graduating’.
At age ten, Pimpf members could join the Jungvolk, the precursor group to the Hitler Youth.
There were also separate groups for girls, including the Jungmadelbund (the ‘German Girls’ League’, for girls aged 10-14) and the Bund Deutscher Madel (BDM, or the ‘League of German Maidens’ for girls aged 14-18).
While the Hitler Youth prepared boys for military service, the various girls’ groups prepared their members for lives as wives, mothers and homemakers. There was a significant emphasis on the importance of German mothers, both as racial progenitors and the nurturers of Aryan children.
Girls in the BDM completed activities like sports and callisthenics, intended to enhance fitness, strength and beauty. There were also classes on grooming, hair and make-up, needlework, German traditions – and, of course, Nazi ideology and values.
1. Adolf Hitler placed great value in German children. He viewed them as essential for ensuring loyalty for the NSDAP and securing the future of his imagined Third Reich.
2. After taking power the Nazis began infiltrating schools and education, removing Jews, socialists and others from the teaching profession and revising the curriculum to include Nazi ideology and values.
3. Nazi youth policy also revolved around several party-run youth groups, such as the Hitler Youth for boys aged 14-18. These groups began haphazardly but were eventually organised on a national level by NSDAP leaders.
4. Nazi youth groups combined paramilitary style training and skills with National Socialist teachings and indoctrination, such as worship of Hitler and the significance of racial purity.
5. There were also several NSDAP-run girls’ groups, such as the Bund Deutscher Madel or BDM. These groups also circulated Nazi ideology and reinforced traditional conceptions about the roles of women.
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Native Americans in US, Canada, and the Far North
Northeast Woodland Tribes and Nations - The Northeast Woodlands include all five great lakes as well as the Finger Lakes and the Saint Lawrence River. Come explore the 3 sisters, longhouses, village life, the League of Nations, sacred trees, snowsnake games, wampum, the arrowmaker, dream catchers, night messages, the game of sep and more. Special Sections: Iroquois Nation, Ojibwa/Chippewa, The Lenape Indians. Read two myths: Wise Owl and The Invisible Warrior.
Southeast Woodland Tribes and Nations - The Indians of the Southeast were considered members of the Woodland Indians. The people believed in many deities, and prayed in song and dance for guidance. Explore the darkening land, battle techniques, clans and marriage, law and order, and more. Travel the Trail of Tears. Meet the Muscogee (Creek), Chickasaw, Choctaw, Mississippians, Seminole Indians and Cherokee Indians.
Plains Indians - What was life like in what is now the Great Plains region of the United States? Some tribes wandered the plains in search of foods. Others settled down and grew crops. They spoke different languages. Why was the buffalo so important? What different did horses make? What was coup counting? Who was Clever Coyote? Meet the Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Comanche, Pawnee, and Sioux Nation.
Southwest Indians - Pueblo is not the name of a tribe. It is a Spanish word for village. The Pueblo People are the decedents of the Anasazi People. The Navajo and the Apache arrived in the southwest in the 1300s. They both raided the peaceful Pueblo tribes for food and other goods. Who were the Devil Dancers? Why are blue stones important? What is a wickiup? Who was Child of Water?
Pacific Coastal Northwest Indians - What made some of the Pacific Northwest Indian tribes "rich" in ancient times? Why were woven mats so important? How did totem poles get started? What was life like in the longhouse? What were money blankets and coppers? How did the fur trade work? How did Raven Steal Crow's Potlatch?
Inland Plateau People - About 10,000 years ago, different tribes of Indians settled in the Northwest Inland Plateau region of the United States and Canada, located between two huge mountain ranges - the Rockies and the Cascades. The Plateau stretches from BC British Columbia all the way down to nearly Texas. Each village was independent, and each had a democratic system of government. They were deeply religious and believed spirits could be found everything - in both living and non-living things. Meet the Nez Perce
California Indians - The Far West was a land of great diversity. Death Valley and Mount Whitney are the highest and lowest points in the United States. They are within sight of each other. Tribes living in what would become California were as different as their landscape.
Native Americans of the Far North: What trick did the Kutchin people use to catch their enemies? How did these early people stop ghosts from entering their homes? Why was the shaman so powerful? What is a finger mask? Play games! See and hear an old Inuit myth! Enter the mystical world of the people who lived in the far north in olden times. Algonquian/Cree, Athapascan/Kutchin, Central Canada, Inuit, The Shaman
Federation of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF) (1894-1933)
Federation of German Women’s Associations (Bund Deutscher Frauenvereine, BDF) was founded in 1894 as an umbrella organization of the middle and upper-class women’s movement in Germany and existed until the Nazis came to power in January 1933. As an association it sought to unite women’s groups with different political, social and religious background and agenda from the liberal to the national-conservative political spectrum. It did not welcome the social democratic women’s organization, founded in 1891, in its ranks. The BDF grew quickly before 1914: In 1895 it had 65 chapters, in 1901 already 137 with 70,000 members and in 1913 more than 2200 chapters with 500,000 members. It became one or the largest women’s organizations in Europe before the First World War.
The social and political composition of the BDF influenced its politics. The BDF was more focused on charitable causes related to the ‘women’s sphere.’ It members pressured for a wide range of issues including equal rights in family and marriage, equal access to education and social reform. They also demanded equal political rights with men. In 1910, Gertrud Bäumer was named president of the BDF. Her election was the result of maneuvers by Bäumer’s close friend Helene Lange, who worked to oust the former president Marie Stritt, who she saw as politically too radical. One issue of the conflict in the BDF was the question which form suffrage right it should support: equal suffrage with men or universal suffrage for all men and women, including working class men and women. Another issue of conflict were women’s reproductive rights. Bäumer and other national-liberal and conservative women denounced feminists in the ranks of the BDF, who supported a liberalization of the prohibition of birth control and abortion in the Penal Code of 1871. With the onset of the First World War, Bäumer also denounced women’s groups who opposed the war and supported pacifism. She pushed the BDF to actively support the war effort. Gertrud Bäumer served as BDF president for nine years, although she excreted major influence over the organization for over twenty through her editorship of the BDF journal Die Frau (The Woman), published since 1894. Under her leadership, the organization became steadily more conservative, a trend that continued during the Weimar Republic. After the Nazi Party came into Power in January 1933, the BDF leadership decided to dissolve the organization, before it was disband like all other non-religious women’s groups, and replaced by the general Nazi women’s organization, the German Women’s Front (Deutsche Frauenfront).
During its existence, the Federation of German Women’s Associations worked to unite many different smaller organizations that were working towards a common goal, women’s education and rights. Although these different groups each had their own specific stated purpose or represented different parts of population, the BDF provided a forum for these women to assemble, pool their resources, and let their voices reach a wider audience. The model the BDF used to organize and efficiently manage these different associations could be replicated by similar groups today. Modern day organizations could also take note of the strong moral convictions of leaders of the BDF, like Gertrud Bäumer who refused to surrender the names of the Jewish members to the Nazi regime.
About the Author of This Entry
Chloe Gruesbeck, Political Science and Contemporary European Studies, Class of 2020
Literature and Websites
- “Bäumer, Gertrud (1873–1954).” Women in World History: A Biographical Encyclopedia, 2002. https://www.encyclopedia.com/women/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/baumergertrud-1873-1954 (Accessed April 12, 2018).
- Schaser, Angelika. “Bäumer, Gertrud.” International Encyclopedia of the First World War, at: https://encyclopedia.1914-1918-online.net/article/baumer_gertrud (Accessed April 12, 2018).
- Guido, Diane J. The German League for the Prevention of Women’s Emancipation: Anti-Feminism in Germany, 1912-1920. Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang, 2010.
- Greven-Aschoff, Barbara. Die bürgerliche Frauenbewegung in Deutschland 1894–1933. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, Göttingen 1981.
In Early 1800s American Classrooms, Students Governed Themselves
During your school days, the only monitor you ever encountered was likely in the hall or guarding some kind of pass in your classroom, such as for the restroom. But for several decades in the early 19th century, student monitors reigned supreme over their peers in American schoolsuse they were the de facto teachers.
At the time, there were not enough educators to go around in America’s burgeoning school system, so the few teachers outsourced many of their duties to the students themselves. They did so with the help of “monitors,” a select group of students teachers allowed to instruct other students𠅊nd not just pupils their own age.
The monitorial system, as it was called, was popular in much of the Northeastern United States in the first 30 years of the 19th century. Here’s how it worked: When school began, the teacher taught a lesson to the monitors, a cadre of students selected for their high exam scores or exemplary character. Then, these monitors would go back to their classes and impart the lessons to other students.
The system had practical benefits: It allowed one teacher to instruct huge groups of children, and in many cases did not even require the use of books. It was orderly and regimented. In the words of education administrator Ellwood P. Cubberley, “the teacher had only to organize, oversee, reward, punish, and inspire.” And given the shortage of schoolteachers in the early 1800s, it was even more attractive for towns and cities that needed to educate their children.
Students didn’t always govern themselves in early American classrooms. In the small one-room schoolhouses of the 18th century, students worked with teachers individually or in small groups, skipped school for long periods of time to tend crops and take care of other family duties, and often learned little. Others didn’t go to school at all, taking private lessons with tutors instead.
That laxity was unacceptable for a British teacher named Joseph Lancaster, who invented a system to counter it. By the early 19th century, his system had migrated to the United States𠅊nd convinced many cities that they could afford a school. Even before public school was required in Pennsylvania, cities like Harrisburg set up their own free schools using the system. Maryland briefly had monitorial schools statewide in the 1820s, and other states participated, too. Between 1806 and the 1830s, Lancaster and his monitors dominated classrooms in the U.S. The system was even used by missionaries to instruct Native American children through the 1840s.
A school run on the Lancaster principle looked different than any you’ve ever attended. Instead of being separated into different classrooms by grade or subject, students of all ages sat in rows in a single room. They were separated into classes not by age, but by their mastery of certain subjects.
Monitors were responsible for almost every aspect of classroom managementtching up kids who had missed class, examining students and promoting them to different classes, taking care of classroom materials, even monitoring the other monitors. Schools ranged in size from a few students to thousands. Monitors had heavy workloads, but aside from a few special privileges and some serious rank within their classrooms, they were unpaid.
In larger schools, the monitor’s lessons might take place at a designated “station” in the classroom, where monitors used pre-printed cards provided by their teachers and attached to the wall as visual aids for their fellow students. In smaller schools, students might simply gather around the monitor and learn the lesson by ear.
Once they had memorized their rote lesson or completed the assigned written work on a slate, class members would demonstrate it for the monitor. A new lesson would be assigned to the monitors and the school day would continue.
Lancaster compared the system to an army that produced mirable order.” A schoolmaster, he thought, was only as good as his monitor. Monitors rose to their rank after acing special exams and were given special privileges. Some wore special badges and the position was a mark of pride.
Senior boys instructing their juniors at a school under Joseph Lancaster’s Monitorial System in the East End of London. (Credit: Rischgitz/Getty Images)
There were other reasons to be proud in a monitorial classroom. When people moved up a class, they were rewarded with praise or small prizes they could “purchase” with tickets received for good conduct or correct lessons. However, moving down a classing demoted because of poor scholarship—was regarded as a humiliation.
At the time, teachers were not well respected or well paid. Schoolmasters (nearly all teachers and pupils in the system were men) were hard to come by and usually poorly educated themselves. Those who did have an education or teaching experience often ditched their careers early on for more lucrative professions until women took over the profession in the 1840s. Women were much less likely to leave their teaching jobs, as there were few other professional options for them.
That made Lancasterian schools (and Bell or Lancaster-Bell schools, named after a nearly identical system invented by Andrew Bell around the same time) particularly attractive to school boards. The system put the brunt of the work on monitors, not teachers.
But that didn’t sit well with some parents. They complained that their children were spending more time teaching than learning, and that the schools’ focus on rote memorization never taught them other skills.
Over time𠅊nd especially after the 19th-century reformer Horace Mann introduced the idea of professionalized education, common curricula and age-based class grouping—the idea died out. Monitors were relegated to halls and passes.
But the idea of students teaching other students didn’t entirely fade. Peer tutors are still used in the United States, while “pupil-teachers” assisted teachers for half a century after Lancastrian schools disappeared in England. Eventually they were diverted into their own schools, which became England’s system of teacher’s colleges.
These days, Lancaster’s system seems misguided and impersonal, and the student-teacher ratio would make any school board blush. At the time, though, it seemed like an opportunity. Any education was better than none𠅎ven if a monitor, not a teacher, passed it along.
The youth organization of the National Socialist German Workers' Party (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei−NSDAP) was founded in Munich in 1922 and included only boys. It was given the name Hitler Youth (Hitler Jugend) in 1926, when a parallel organization for girls (Schwesterschaften) was established, which was known from 1930 as the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher MlM). By the end of 1932 the Hitler Youth had no more than 108,000 members, but when the Nazi Party came to power in 1933, the organization's growth potential and functions were decisively altered. Other youth organizations were prohibited, dissolved or taken over, and membership in the Hitler Youth rose to 2.3 million in 1933 and steadily increased in the following years: 3.6 million in 1934, 3.9 million in 1935, 5.4 million in 1936, 5.8 million in 1937, 7.0 million in 1938, and 8.7 million in 1939. From 1934 the Hitler Youth was the principal means by which the Nazi Party exerted its influence on German youth and was more important in this respect than the school system, which was not as fully controlled by the party. Its status in the Third Reich was emphasized in 1933 by the appointment of its leader, Baldur von Schirach, to the post of Youth Leader of the German Reich (Jugendführer des Deutsche Reiches), then by a law of 1936, which stipulated that the Hitler Youth, aside from parents and school, was the sole legitimate institution for rearing children, and finally by a law of 1939 introducing youth duty, which in effect made membership in the Hitler Youth mandatory for young men. Mobilization during World War II added further pressure to expand membership. In spite of these factors the Third Reich never managed to enroll all German boys in the Hitler Youth.
The task of the Hitler Youth was to politically indoctrinate and physically harden young people. Physical training played a paramount role, and the lure of camping trips, terrain sports, shooting practice, rowing, glider flying, and other activities was effective for recruitment. Its tasks were militarily organized, using uniforms, rank, and a division by age and geographical area. Ten-to thirteen-year-old boys were organized in the German Young People (Deutsche Jungvolk), while the Hitler Youth itself comprised boys and young men from fourteen to eighteen. Correspondingly, girls from ten to thirteen were enrolled in the Young Girls (Jungml), and girls and young women from fourteen to twenty-one in the League of German Girls. The organizations for both genders were organized hierarchically into regions at the top (Obergebiete and Obergau), counting up to approximately 750,000 members, which were successively subdivided down to the smallest units (Kameradschaft and Jungmlschaft) with little more than ten members.
The Hitler Youth, like other of the Nazi Party's subordinate organizations, was amply represented at the annual Nuremberg Party Rallies, where thousands of young people had the opportunity to personally experience, even at a distance, the presence of the party leader. The leader cult was at the core of the Hitler Youth's training program, and Hitler himself considered it the foundation of his "Thousand Year Reign." He wrote in Mein Kampf: Ȫ violently active, dominating, brutal youth–that is what I am after. Youth must be indifferent to pain… . I will have no intellectual training. Knowledge is ruin to my young men."
World War II brought new tasks to the Hitler Youth, both to the organization in general and to its specialized units, which had already captured youthful interest in flying, driving, sailing, gathering intelligence, patrolling, music,
and other activities. In 1940 Arthur Axmann was appointed Reich Youth Leader (Reichsjugendführer) and put in charge of committing youth to the war effort. The first assignments consisted in collecting blankets and clothes for soldiers and bones and paper for war production. As part of the mobilization for total war in the spring of 1943 combat units of Hitler Youth members, some of them no more than sixteen years of age, were formed. These units were sent into battle from the summer of 1944, often with huge losses due to inadequate training and experience. They surrendered to American forces in May 1945 along with the other German units.
The Nazi Party: The "Lebensborn" Program
&ldquoLebensborn&rdquo translates to &ldquowellspring of life&rdquo or &ldquofountain or life.&rdquo The Lebensborn project was one of most secret and terrifying Nazi projects. Heinrich Himmler founded the Lebensborn project on December 12, 1935, the same year the Nuremberg Laws outlawed intermarriage with Jews and others who were deemed inferior. For decades, Germany&rsquos birthrate was decreasing. Himmler&rsquos goal was to reverse the decline and increase the Germanic/Nordic population of Germany to 120 million. Himmler encouraged SS and Wermacht officers to have children with Aryan women. He believed Lebensborn children would grow up to lead a Nazi-Aryan nation.
The purpose of this society (Registered Society Lebensborn - Lebensborn Eingetragener Verein) was to offer to young girls who were deemed &ldquoracially pure&rdquo the possibility to give birth to a child in secret. The child was then given to the SS organization which took charge in the child&rsquos education and adoption. Both mother and father needed to pass a &ldquoracial purity&rdquo test. Blond hair and blue eyes were preferred, and family lineage had to be traced back at least three generations. Of all the women who applied, only 40 percent passed the racial purity test and were granted admission to the Lebensborn program. The majority of mothers were unmarried, 57.6 percent until 1939, and about 70 percent by 1940.
In the beginning, the Lebensborn were taken to SS nurseries. But in order to create a &ldquosuper-race,&rdquo the SS transformed these nurseries into &ldquomeeting places&rdquo for &ldquoracially pure&rdquo German women who wanted to meet and have children with SS officers. The children born in the Lebensborn nurseries were then taken by the SS. Lebensborn provided support for expectant mothers, wed or unwed, by providing a home and the means to have their children in safety and comfort.
The first Lebensborn home was opened in 1936 in Steinhoering, a tiny village not far from Munich. Furnishings for the homes were supplied from the best of the loot from the homes of Jews who had been sent to Dachau. Ultimately, there were 10 Lebensborn homes established in Germany, nine in Norway, two in Austria, and one each in Belgium, Holland, France, Luxembourg and Denmark. Himmler himself took a special interest in the homes, choosing not only the mothers, but also attending to the decor and even paying special attention to children born on his birthday, October 7th.
By 1939, the program had not produced the results Himmler had hoped. He issued a direct order to all SS and police to father as many children as possible to compensate for war casualties. The order created controversy. Many Germans felt the acceptance of unwed mothers encouraged immorality. Eventually Himmler backpedaled, but he never condemned illegitimacy outright. Himmler himself had two illegitimate children.
Lebensborn soon expanded to welcome non-German mothers. In a policy formed by Hitler in 1942, German soldiers were encouraged to fraternize with native women, with the understanding that any children they produced would be provided for. Racially fit women, most often the girlfriends or one-night stands of SS officers, were invited to Lebensborn homes to have their child in privacy and safety.
Ultimately, one of the most horrible sides of the Lebensborn policy was the kidnapping of children &ldquoracially good&rdquo in the eastern occupied countries after 1939. Some of these children were was orphans, but it is well documented that many were stolen from their parents&rsquo arms. These kidnappings were organized by the SS in order to take children by force who matched the Nazis&rsquo racial criteria (blond hair and blue or green eyes). Thousands of children were transferred to the Lebensborn centers in order to be &ldquoGermanized.&rdquo Up to 100,000 children may have been stolen from Poland alone. In these centers, everything was done to force the children to reject and forget their birth parents. As an example, the SS nurses tried to persuade the children that they were deliberately abandoned by their parents. The children who refused the Nazi education were often beaten. Most of them were finally transferred to concentration camps (most of the time to Kalish in Poland) and exterminated. The others were adopted by SS families.
In 1942, in reprisals of the assassination of the SS governor Reinhard Heydrich in Prague, a SS unit exterminated the entire male population of a small village called Lidice. During this operation, some SS made a selection of the children. Ninety-one of them were considered good enough to be &ldquoGermanized&rdquo and sent to Germany. The others were sent to special children camps (i.e. Dzierzazna & Litzmannstadti) and later to the extermination centers.
As the allies advanced, children in the various Lebensborn homes were withdrawn to interior homes. On May 1, 1945, a day after Hitler&rsquos death, American troops marched into Steinhoering. They found 300 children, aged six months to six years. Most of the mothers and staff had fled. The British and Russians also found children at Lebensborn homes near Bremen and Leipsig. The majority of these children were either put up for adoption or sent back to their birth families. Some of the children kidnapped in other countries who were living with families throughout Germany were repatriated to their native countries. Unfortunately, many were too Germanic to fit in.
It is nearly impossible to know how many children were kidnapped in the eastern occupied countries. In 1946, it was estimated that more than 250,000 were kidnapped and sent by force to Germany. Only 25,000 were retrieved after the war and sent back to their families. It is known that several German families refused to give back the children they had received from the Lebensborn centers. In some cases, the children themselves refused to come back to their original family - they were victims of the Nazi propaganda and believed that they were pure Germans. It is also known that thousands of children were not deemed &ldquogood enough&rdquo to be Germanized were simply exterminated. During the ten years of the program&rsquos existence, at least 7,500 children were born in Germany and 10,000 in Norway.
Sources: The Forgotten Camps ABC News 20/20 Special Report &mdash Hitler&rsquos &ldquoMaster Race:&rdquo Nazi Program Attempted to Create Racially Pure Children (April 27, 2000).
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1. RecruitmentGerman Federal Archive
BDM Girls put up a recruitment poster, it says “Girls join us, you belong to us” in 1933.
Girls as young as 10 could join the “Young Girl’s League ” when they were 14 they would move on to the BDM.
From 1938 onwards, when they turned 17, they could join the “Faith and Beauty” group.