Wednesday, March 25, 2015

German Youth - 1946

A PW poll conducted late in July in the towns of Friedberg and Offenbach in the province of Hesse of 254 young people between the ages of fourteen and eighteen—139 boys and 115 girls—did not confirm the optimistic assessment by the Mainz young poet Hermann Butz of the democratic potential among German youth. The poll revealed that the girls had undergone more thorough Nazi indoctrination than the boys (who confronted mobilization into the Volkssturm and eventually into the Wehrmacht), but all the young people exhibited effects of their Nazi education. The poll demonstrated that the major problem we confronted with German youth was not a persistence of Nazism among them, with attendant resistance to, and defiance of, the Allied authorities. German youth had lost their old leadership, and, ‘‘for the time being at least, Americans appear to be the substitutes for the Nazi leaders in the totalitarian-trained minds of these young people.’’

American Military Government, however, appeared to have no youth policy. Despite vigorous efforts by individual Americans reinforced with Coca-Cola and chewing gum, German youth continued to prefer soccer to the American national sport, and whatever benefits might have been anticipated from the introduction of baseball failed to materialize.

In Bad Homburg, a spa some fifteen miles from Bad Nauheim, with two of my colleagues I organized a discussion group of some twenty-five to thirty young people, nearly all of middle-class backgrounds. They were skeptical of any statements we made about denazification, democratization, and reeducation, but we were encouraged by their recognition of the necessity of their participating in the reconstruction of their country. They could, they admitted, join in collecting firewood, in assisting expellees from the East, in organizing programs for children, in helping to repair damaged dwellings. But when we asked when they would undertake such tasks, we met silence.

‘‘We’d hesitate to gather wood,’’ ventured one of the young people, ‘‘because we’d know that some would do all the work and others would do nothing.’’
‘‘We need someone to lead us,’’ protested another. ‘‘If you would take over, maybe we’d do it. Everyone is too involved with his own problems to bother about anyone else.’’
‘‘You know, we have been told so many lies,’’ declared a teenager in a tone of utter weariness, ‘‘we don’t believe anything anymore. It’s all a swindle!’’

We could not effectively respond to this despair. Despite the fanfare about denazification, young Germans saw Nazi bigshots escaping punishment and even retaining high positions. They heard rumors that Nazis in detention centers enjoyed larger rations than the rest of the population, including Kzler. Antimilitarism? A judge in Bremen had just sentenced a young man to two years in prison because he deserted from the Wehrmacht during the last months of the war. Ex-sergeants who exchanged Wehrmacht for police uniforms ordered civilians about with the arrogance of the Nazi police.

‘‘All we know,’’ I wrote, paraphrasing remarks I heard repeatedly from German young people, ‘‘is that we haven’t enough to eat, we haven’t a chance in the world to rebuild our homes, to clothe ourselves, to find decent jobs, and what’s more, we’re probably going to have another war that will destroy everything that’s left. We’ve always been efficient and industrious, but with you here, we don’t get anything done at all.’’

Local MG officials reported criminal activity by gangs of desperate adolescents and young adults under the leadership of former Hitler Youth leaders or of demobilized soldiers, often romantic paratroopers or charismatic SS men. - ARTHUR D. KAHN

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