Hitlerjugend: An In-Depth History: 1900-1922 - From Wandervogel to Jugendbund and Jungsturm
by Arvo L. Vercamer

The end of the First World War had a profound effect on the youth of Germany. Many youths eagerly followed Kaiser Wilhelm II into battle just a few years earlier. For the next four years, German men and German boys were slaughtered, often by the millions, in many senseless battles in places such as Verdun, Sedan, Galacia, the Ukraine, the Palestine, Windhoek and Tsingtao. When the war ended, nearly everything they had believed in, in 1914, was essentially destroyed. Germany's youths, as much as Germans themselves, now had to rebuild their defeated nation. Young post World War One German boys and girls reached out for organizations, which would give them the social and political stabilities they found lacking in the Kaiser's time and/or which were destroyed during the war. For the most part, they were disillusioned with the Catholic Church sponsored youth organizations of the pre-World War One era such as the 1901 established the "Wandervogel, Ausschuss für Schülerfahrten" youth association; the 1904 "Altwandervogel" movement; the "Jungwandervogel" group; the 1905 established "Bund Deutscher Wanderer" and other similarly minded apolitical groups.

Out of all of these groups, the "Wandervögel" probably had the greatest impact on Germany's pre-World War One generation of youths. The major philosophy of the "Wandervögel" was to reject many of the social and materialistic trappings, which accompanied Germay's industrial revolution. They preferred to go back to a more "basic" way of living, such as going on outings or weekend camping excursions, singing old German folk-tunes, dressing way down in a normally very formal German Empire, etc. A key to the organizational strategy of the "Wandervögel" was to have an only slightly "older" youth be in charge of only slightly "younger" youths. This way, the "Wandervogel" organization would truly be a "youth" organization. Interestingly, whenever "Wandervögel" members met, they were expected to greet each other with the words "Heil"! In 1913, a large rally for youths took place in Germany. There, the "Meissner formula" was announced, which pushed the notions of inner freedom for youths. It was also a rebellion of sorts, a reaction against the complacencies, prejudices and restrictions of German middle-class life.

As can be imagined, World War One had a tremendous effect on not only German citizens, the war had an impact on people from nearly every nation in the world. In 1914, a large number of Germany's youths rushed to join the Kaiser's army as joining the military was expected to quickly bring glory and honor to all who participated. But the visions of a quick victory rapidly faded as the stalemate on the western front set in. In reality, millions of Germany's youths died senseless deaths in the battlefields of Africa, Asia and Europe during four years of hard fighting. By 1918, political and social instabilities led to riots in many German cities. In November of 1918, the Kaiser abdicated - Germany was defeated and the nation was in turmoil. In the immediate post-World War One era, four primary youth movements emerged as the leading centers of youth activity in Germany. They were: - The "Bündische" youth movements; a society or collection for more liberally minded individuals. - The Catholic (and other) Church sponsored youth groups. - The German Communist and Socialist Party sponsored youth movements. - The "Völkische" movement, which was sponsored primarily by the German Nationalist-Socialists (and other right wing parties).

In addition to these main groups, numerous other center, left and right wing clubs as well as many lesser para-military organizations also took hold in postwar Germany. One such group was the "Jungdeutsche Bund", a strongly anti-Communist and racially oriented right-wing group.

To counter the right-wing youth groups, the German Communists established the pro-communist "Freideutsche Jugend". Many other communist youth groups were in fact established right after Germany's November 1918 debacle, such as, but not limited to the "Bismarckjugend" and the "Kommunistische Jugendverband Deutschlands". The Socialist party youth group also had an early start in the form of the "Sozialistische Arbeiterjugend". German moderates, under the primary leadership of the Centrists formed the "Windthorstbund" youth movement. The "Hindenburgjugend" became an appendage of the "Deutsche Volkspartei" (DVP).

In this early period (1918-1922), there was great mobility between the first three large groups; that is, the Bündische movement, the Church sponsored movements and the Communist/Socialist movements. Germany's youth was just trying to "find itself" after the humiliations associated with being defeated in 1918. However, many of these youth groups lacked clear goals and/or vision and thus they quickly lost influence on their members. On a similar note, many of the existing youth groups elected to adopt a more militaristic look and feel to themselves. This too "turned off" many new members.

Interestingly, both the 1918 established "Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" (DAP) and its re-named successor organization, the "Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei" (NSDAP), showed a relatively minor interest in harnessing the power of Germany's youth after 1918 - even though the DAP/NSDAP ceaselessly claimed that it was the party of the youth of Germany. That said, one man, Adolf Hitler, had a different vision. Hitler's end goal of seizing control of Germany, the Machtergreifung, was supposed to occur with the overwhelming support of Germany's youth (and led by Hitler in the process). It is indeed ironic that in the early days of the DAP/NSDAP, the youth of Germany was all but ignored.

Although Adolf Hitler, as the leader of the newly created NSDAP, ordered the party to create a youth organization in 1920, the NSDAP did not create its first true youth movement, the "Jugendbund", until 1922. Up until that time, any German youth who wanted to join the NSDAP, had to do so by joining the more adult oriented "Sturmabteilung" (SA). And once the prospective youth was in the SA, he was held to the same discipline and organizational standards, as were its adult members. This often caused some problems since it was often difficult to distinguish an adult or younger looking SA trooper from his "Jugendbund" counterpart - they all wore the same style uniforms.

If it were not for one Adolf Hitler, the organizationally troubled DAP would have most likely withered away in the early 1920's and history may have taken a totally different course. Hitler however took the small political party and, for better or for worse, essentially immortalized it. Hitler quickly dazzled all with his skilled political organizational abilities, his public speaking talents and his uncanny understanding regarding the optimal use of propaganda techniques. Hitler also quickly assumed direct control of the NSDAP by using his own brand of "Führerprinzip" as the guiding principle of leadership.

Although the exact origins of the "Jugendbund" are still somewhat shrouded in mystery, most historians accept March 8th, 1922, as the "Jungbund"'s founding date. That is the day that Hitler published an article in the "Völkischer Beobachter" calling on all of Germany's youth to join the NSDAP's youth organization - the "Jugendbund".

There is a story that states that on September 12th, 1920, one Gustav Adolf Lenk, tried to join the NSDAP. As the story goes, Gustav Adolf Lenk (born October 15th, 1903) and his father attended a Nationalist-Socialist party meeting at the Stadtkeller tavern in Munich. Upon being advised that he could not join the party because he was underage (he was below 18), Lenk asked if he could join an affiliate NSDAP youth organization. Told that there was none, Lenk then asked those attending if he could start one. This idea appealed to all very quickly.

Given his evident enthusiasm, Gustav Lenk was given permission to organize a Nationalist Socialist youth movement. However, the young Mr. Lenk was not the most ambitious of individuals. Much to the dissapointment of the top NSDAP leaders, Lenk did not carry through with his stated plans right away. In 1922, Hitler took the matter into his own hands and published his article on the "Jungbund" in the party's newspaper, the "Völkischer Beobachter".

One of the early goals of the "Jugendbund" was to promote the cause of the NSDAP in Germany. New "Jugendbund" recruits were to be thoroughly indoctrinated on NSDAP political philosophies and they were to actively (and physically) challenge the dominance of the youth groups of other right wing organizations. Of note is that Gustav Lenk wanted "his Jugendbund" youth organization to be as independent as possible from the party's political control. This point did not sit well with Hitler who viewed the "Jugendbund" as a special personnel pool for the selection of future German leaders. On March 13, 1922, Hitler reached a compromise with Gustav Lenk. Hitler acknowledged Lenk's command of the "Jugendbund" - but he placed Lenk under the direct control of the present commander of the Sturmabteilung (SA), Johann Ulrich Klintsch. While some frictions clearly existed between Lenk and Hitler and the SA, both somewhat sidestepped the more sensitive issues for the moment. Lenk continued with his duties as the leader of the "Jugendbund". In March of 1922, Lenk published the "Jugendbund"'s first goals: - to increase membership based on "Völkisch" (racial) principles. - to fight for and support "Völkisch" ideals. - to educate Germans regarding the "love of their "Heimatland". - to educate Germans regarding the love of the German "Volk". - to maintain a high regard for moral and civilized values. - to have a strong contempt for "Jewish-Mammonist" ideals.

The publicly stated philosophy of the "Jugendbund" was that only all (proper) Germans, regardless of background, were good - everyone else was not. Membership into the "Jugendbund" was only for qualified Aryan German youths who were between 14 and 18 years of age. All foreigners, adherents of the Jewish faith and other racially "inferior" people were automatically excluded from joining. The "Jugendbund"'s organizational structure essentially mimicked the organizational structure of the NSDAP party. Every approved "Jugendbund" member had to swear his personal allegiance first to Adolf Hitler, then to the 11 covenants of the "Jugendbund" and then to the political program of the NSDAP.

The "Jugendbund" of 1922/23 contained three sections:
  • Jungmannschaften: For boys aged 14 to 16 years.
  • Jungsturm "Adolf Hitler": For boys aged 16 to 18 years.
  • A section for young German girls.

On May 13th, 1922, Hitler and his small band of followers officially announced the creation of the youth movement of the German Nationalist Socialist Workers Party. At that gathering, the Munich "Ortsgruppe" of the "Jugendbund" elected to call itself the "Jungsturm Adolf Hitler". Although the venue, Munich's Bürgerbräukeller, was packed to maximum capacity, it did not attract many youth listeners. One thing was however clear, at this stage, the party's youth movement would be subortinated to the Sturmabteilung, the SA.

With Hitler's (somewhat apprehensive) acquiessence, the "Jugendbund Reichsführung" was now (officially) headed by Gustav Lenk from his Munich office at Corneliusstr. 12. This also happened to be the national headquarters of the NSDAP at that time. Because both Hitler and Lenk resided in Munich at this time, the first "Jugendbund" chapters were logically established in the city of Munich. Within a short period of time, affiliate "Jugendbund" chapters (Ortsgruppen) were established throughout (mostly southern) Germany (and even a few in Austria), even if the "Landesverband" (national chapter) only had but a handful of active members.

There was competition to the "Jugendbund" in the early years. Concurrent to the political activities and growth of Adolf Hitler and the NSDAP, other right-wing political entities also established organizations for youths to join. In the Sudeten region of Czechoslovakia, Eugen Weese founded a right-wing youth group. In Austria, Adolf Bauer and Walter Gattermeyer also organized a right-wing youth group, which spanned most of the provinces of Austria including the city of Vienna. Many lesser right-wing youth groups were also established. Since taking the organizational lead, Lenk worked hard as the leader of the "Jugendbund", even if he was not the best of organizers. He worked on expanding his "Ortsgruppen" by having Weese, Bauer and Gattermeyer agreeing to hold discussions for a larger scale merger of the larger "Nationalist Socialist" youth movements.

Political friction quickly arose, as the "foreign" youth groups did not wish to make themselves subservient to Gustav Lenk and the NSDAP. Lenk did open affiliate posts in both Austria and in the Sudetenland region of Czechoslovakia and the Austrian and Czechoslovakian German youth groups did send representatives to attend NSDAP activities in Munich and Nürnberg. However, no further actions were taken by the foreign youth-groups by the time of Hitler's putsch attempt on 08/09 November 1923. In Germany, Lenk tried hard to broaden the appeals to German youths. Lenk helped publish the "Jungsturm"'s first newspaper, "Der Nationale Jungsturm, Nachrichtenblatt der Nationalsozialistischen Jugendbundes". Unfortunately for Lenk, this paper did not last too long as an independent publication. It quickly had to fold. After August 12th, 1922, the so-called "Jungsturm newspaper" was re-formatted and it became a weekly supplement to the "Völkischer Beobachter".

The "Jugendbunds'" earliest public appearance appears to have occured on September 2nd, 1922, at the Sedan (remembrance) Day in Nürnberg. It is estimated that about 900 "Jugendbund" members attended this event. On October 14/15, 1922, in the city of Coburg at a party rally of the NSDAP, the "Jugendbund" also participated as an official organ of the NSDAP. At this rally, Lenk and his Munich "Ortsgruppe - Jungsturm Adolf Hitler" marched past Adolf Hitler and other high-ranking NSDAP party leaders. During the course of the day, Adolf Hitler presented his "Jugendbund" with its first flag. It consisted of a white pennant containing a gold anchor and swastika as its center motif. Lenk then reported to Hitler that the "Jugendbund" now contained 39 "Ortsgruppen" (local branches). Youth membership was close to 1.200. But disaster was only a few months away. A short while later, as members of the new "Jugendbund" were fighting other political activists on the streets of Munich, the Munich police intervened and confiscated the pennant.