A troop of boys, members of the Hitler-Jugend (HJ), stand to attention as their leaders make the Nazi salute. The photo is probably from a soldier’s album, documenting his life before entering the Reichsarbeitsdienst and then Army service. The Hitler Youth had its roots in groups in the early 1920’s, but got its name in 1926. It organized boys aged 14-18; those aged 10-14 belonged to Deutsches Jungvolk. After the Nazi rise to power in 1933, membership was voluntary, but access to higher studies, sports sites, etc, was much easier if one was a member. From 1936 onwards, membership was compulsory for “Aryan” boys. The purpose of HJ was twofold: to indoctrinate the German youth into Nazi thinking, and to condition them for Army service. Classes in Nazi ideology were an important feature, and through camps like the one in the photo above, where the boys marched and took part in field competitions, they got used to solve tasks in groups. When it was time for Army service, most of them were already prime recruit material.
As the war progressed, many members left HJ to volunteer for service in the Waffen-SS. Indeed, in 1943, the 12. SS-Panzerdivision “Hitlerjugend” was created, the bulk of the division made up from HJ members born in 1926. The division gained a reputation for ruthlessness and fanaticism, which was in part a result of their indoctrination. In many other places across Germany, HJ members made up the crews of antiaircraft guns, and when enemy forces closed in on the German borders, young boys were handed old rifles and Panzerfaust antitank weapons to stem the enemy advance. I knew a German who was 15 years old when the war ended. He and his comrades received training in the use of the Panzerfaust, but somehow he managed to avoid combat when the Red Army reached his village. Some of his friends weren’t that fortunate…
The video clip below is from the 1972 movie “Cabaret”, which is set in 1930. It captures some of the Nazi thinking, where the youth was destined to lead the country into the future. “Give me the child for the first seven years and I’ll show you the man” is a quote attributed to Aristotle and also the Jesuits. By taking children and indoctrinating them, totalitarian movements have aimed to shape the future. This is a chilling reminder of that. Never trust a regime which does that.
The third man from the right in the photo, standing slightly higher than the others, is Generalarbeitsführer Hans Baumann. The rather cumbersome title translates as “general work leader”, the equivalent of an Army Generalmajor. He’s an officer of the Reichsarbeitsdienst, the National Labor Service. The other uniformed people in the photo are a gaggle of RAD officers, as well as a black-uniformed Allgemeine-SS lieutenant and a portly Nazi Party official. The photo is probably from around 1937 or 1938, as evidenced by the “Deutsche Wehrmacht” armband worn by the RAD Arbeitsführer (major) and the black SS uniform. The location is probably München (Munich).
Hans Baumann was born in 1875 and joined the Bavarian army in 1894 after the completion of his studies. He rose in the ranks, and served as a battalion commander in Bavarian reserve infantry regiments during World War 1. Baumann was a member of the paramilitary Freikorps Epp during the unrest after the war. In 1919 he joined a small party on the extreme right, the Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (German Workers’ Party). Another war veteran who joined the party was a certain A. Hitler, who quickly emerged as a prominent orator. The DAP soon became the NSDAP, and the march towards the pinnacles of power began. History had taken a dark turn.
Hans Baumann had been discharged from the army, which was to be severely reduced in accordance with the Versailles Treaty. He worked as a farmer, but he had a second career as a politician and regional leader in the Freiwilligen Arbeitsdienst, the forerunner to the RAD. He became a member of the Reichstag (parliament) in 1933, a position he held until 1945. Baumann was promoted to Obergeneralarbeitsführer in 1940, making him one of the 20 or so highest ranking officers of the RAD in the Third Reich. While being one of the old guard, it appears like he wasn’t prosecuted after the war, and seems to have faded into obscurity. He died in 1951, aged 76, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he was an unrepentant Nazi to the very end. Today he is all but forgotten.
The better part of an infantry battalion is visible in this photo, which gives us an idea of the number of men, horses and wagons in such a unit. I believe the machine gun (heavy weapons) company isn’t in view, which would add another 200 men or so. A German infantry battalion had one commander, usually a lieutenant colonel or major, but later in the war often a captain, 13 officers, 1 official, and 846 non-commissioned officers and enlisted men, plus 131 horses. There was the battalion staff unit, a signals unit, an engineer platoon, three rifle companies, a machine gun/heavy weapons company, combat supply troop, and a pack train.
The table above is from a 1944 US manual on the German infantry battalion, found on the excellent Lone Sentry online collection of WW2-era information and documents.
The table of organization was one thing, reality another. Combat meant losses, and it wasn’t unusual for battalions to shrink to company size. That was true for most armies, where units in the front line often suffered many casualties. When a battalion was too weak to function as a unit, it was usually pulled from the front line and sent for rest and refit in the rear. Reinforcements from the regiment’s replacement battalion brought the battalion back up to strength, and it was sent into the fray again. I’ve read memoirs by soldiers from both the German and the Allied side, and it was apparently common for some battalions to have just a handful of its original soldiers left after a year of combat. There are many accounts where the veterans don’t bother with learning the names of the new guys until they have survived the first fight or two. Life in the frontline was hard and unforgiving.
1 May – the Nationaler Feiertag des Deutschen Volkes (“National Holiday of the German People”) – celebrated with an eagle-and-swastika-adorned May pole. The date was deliberately chosen, as it used to be the International Workers’ Day. In line with the nazification of all aspects of life, the previous holiday of the trade unions and leftist parties was renamed in 1933, shortly after Nazi rise to power. The trade unions (which were to be replaced by the regime-friendly Nazi equivalents) and leftist parties (soon to be disbanded) were banned to celebrate the day, and from 1937, Jews weren’t allowed to show themselves in the streets during public holidays. Just like the Christian church took over pagan holidays, the NSDAP put its own crooked cross on national holidays in order to indoctrinate the people even further.
This is an odd photo, with no explanation written on the back. The guy to the right has a couple of bike pedals mounted on his “Cross of Iron”, which makes me think that the soldiers are from a bike-riding infantry unit, probably during the first years of the war. And now on to…
The Grand World War 2 in Photos Contest!
This is my 300th post, and it’s time to celebrate with something special! Why not a little contest? As you might have noticed, I like to make puns and references to movies, books, and songs, and a number of the headlines in my posts are just that. So the challenge is the following: find as many of those puns and references you can. The three best contestants will win genuine German photos from WW2.
The contest ends on 31 May 2018, 24:00 CET.
To enter, the contestant has to register as a follower of this blog (the WordPress page). A contestant cannot enter more than once. Failing to register as a follower or trying to enter more than once are grounds for disqualification.
The contestant who can identify the greatest number of sources for my puns and references will win. Two more contestants will win the 2nd and 3rd prizes.
Points are scored by properly identifying the source or inspiration for a blog post headline. This could be a book, movie, TV series, song, or game. There are about 50 such headlines, counting from the beginning to 30 April, 2018. Any post made during the time for the contest (1 – 31 May, 2018) aren’t part of it and doesn’t count towards that total. Each correct answer scores one point.
A post headline were the source is identified in the post doesn’t count. (Example: “Kiss Me Goodnight Sergeant Major”, as the song is clearly mentioned in that post.)
Write down the headline of the post and what you believe is the inspiration or source for the pun or reference. (Example: If there’s a blog post about field bakeries in WW2 named “The Baked and the Bread”, the answer should include that headline and the source, which is the novel “The Naked and the Dead” by Norman Mailer.)
Make a single list of your answers and send it to bjorn.hellqvist[at]comhem.se before the contest ends. Once the answers have been submitted, you can’t make additions to the list.
The 1st prize is 30 photos, the 2nd prize is 20 photos, and the 3rd prize is 10 photos, worth about 5 USD/Euro per 10 photos (sorry, no photos of tanks or other cool stuff). If two or more contestants get the same score, they’ll receive an equal number of photos. Two 1st prize winners get 25 photos each, the 3rd winner gets 10, or in the case of two 2nd prize winners, the 1st prize is 30 photos and the two 2nd prizes 15 photos each. If all three get the same score, they’ll win 20 photos each. In case there are more than three contestants with the same scores, those who sent in their answers first will win.
It’s 20 April, 1941, which is the Führergeburtstag – Hitler’s birthday (his 52nd). Soldiers – probably wagon-drivers – are all dressed up with little bouquets in their chest pockets. The guy in the center wears the SA sports badge and the Reiterabzeichen (horse rider’s badge). It isn’t clear whether the flowers are to celebrate der Führer, or if the troops are about to depart on a journey (the back of the photo says something about “abreise”), and have received flowers from locals.
There’s a subtle hint that things aren’t all good in Hitler’s Reich, though… The soldiers wear laced boots and old-style Wickelgamaschen (puttees or leg-wraps). The German soldiers were known for their traditional, black, hobnailed jackboots (or Marschstiefel), but by this time leather had been scarce for a year. First the boots were shortened, then they were only issued to combat troops. By 1941, new recruits weren’t issued jackboots, and in late 1943 production ceased altogether. However, as late as fall 1944 depots were encouraged to issue Marschstiefel to infantry and artillery, to the extent they were available. The boots became a sign of experienced combat troops. Instead, low, laced boots were issued together with short canvas gaiters (Gamaschen), and became increasingly common from 1941 onwards.
The soldiers in the photo wear a different kind of Gamaschen, which I think must’ve been a stop-gap solution while the canvas gaiters were in production. The leather shortage was a minor problem, though, compared to the shortages in fuel that hampered operations and was one of the reasons Hitler wanted to take the oil fields in the southern part of the USSR.
Part of living in a militarized state is the martial pageantry, and Nazi Germany excelled at that. Parades served several purposes: they showed off the might of the military forces, they established the power of the state, and they served as a focus for displays of patriotism. By the heavy use of the swastika, which was a party symbol turned into a national emblem, the NSDAP was effectively telling the people that – to paraphrase Louis XIV – “the state is us”.
The photo above shows a parade in some major German city. I haven’t been able to identify the building, but none of my Berlin maps and guidebooks from 1923 – 1936 show a stately building like the one in the picture. A company of sailors march past the tribune, which is full of military top brass and Party functionaries. Men in Sturmabteilung uniforms salute the troops, as do the civilians out in the streets to gawk at the display.
The initial victories were celebrated with parades through Berlin, but as the war progressed and the victories dried up, the parades were more Party business than military. The enthusiasm shown in the newsreels shouldn’t be interpreted as the Germans were 100 % Nazi, but that many years of hardship and humiliation were exchanged for successes that promised a brighter future.
Carefully orchestrated propaganda reinforced national pride, and laid the credit for the victories at the feet of the Führer. As in all 20th century dictatorships, the image of the strong leader was a priority. The fact that the “true believers” were convinced that miracle weapons and the genius of Hitler would turn the fortunes of war even as the Allies crossed the German borders in 1945, just goes on to show how effective the propaganda was.