Prof. Mahlendorf's memoir, Chapter 5 (14 pages)
“You’ll be in a leadership training squad this coming year,” Lotte addressed us. “You have proven to us that you have leadership ability. Marga and I will train you this next year to be squad leaders. Another few girls from other troops around town will join you after the summer. We will ask more of you. You will have to attend HJ twice a week now, Wednesday afternoons and Saturday afternoons. If you do well, some of you will be promoted and lead your own squads. We’ll go on a number of camping weekends. And we’ll end our training with a week-long camping trip. You will have to ask your parents if you can participate in the trip.”
I do not know how the lower echelon leadership of the various branches of the HJ in localities or regions other than my hometown was chosen or trained. I do know though that almost all local non-paid HJ leaders were middle or high school students. They had Wednesday afternoons free till age sixteen or eighteen while primary students went to work at age fourteen and were treated as adults. They had neither the time nor did many have the inclination to lead a group of youngsters. The very contingencies of schooling and working made it inevitable that local Nazi youth leadership, once HJ included all children from 10-14, became middle-class regardless of the ideology of social equality within the Volksgemeinschaft.
Books on Hitler Youth speak only about the training institutions set up for the higher echelon of leaders who aimed for careers working with youth. Soon after his appointment in 1933 as the National Youth Leader, Baldur von Schirach created a number of leadership training institutions. The first, located in Potsdam close to Berlin, was to serve as a model for all the others. By 1934 Schirach claimed that twenty-one had been opened. By 1938 a full training program had been developed, modeling what the Nazis expected of their leaders in general and the HJ leadership in particular.
A member of the HJ could be asked to apply for leadership training if he or she could bring proof of being of pure German, Aryan descent and excellent physical health without any trace of hereditary illness. The applicant had to display the proper National Socialist attitudes, have served successfully as a local HJ leader, be physically and mentally fit, and have completed occupational/ professional training or be matriculated at a university. The suitability of the applicant was to be tested in a preliminary training course; after successfully completing the course, the candidate had to finish the required labor service as well as military service. For young women, leadership in the Jungmädel, the BDM, and the Labor Service opened up a wide spectrum of entirely new careers with prospects of rising in the HJ hierarchy all the way to the highest level, the Reichsjugendführung, the national youth leadership.
The actual leadership training program was to consist of the following: A four month practicum in a regional HJ administrative office; a two month training course at the Potsdam Leadership Institution; a yearlong period of study at the Academy of Youth Leadership in Braunschweig, Northern Germany; a three week practicum in an industry in the candidate’s home region; a six month training program in a foreign country with a German minority; and at the end, a final examination. Needless to say, the war foiled these ambitious plans because personnel and resources became increasingly scarce. For that reason, HJ leadership training at all levels was haphazard, and local groups very unevenly led. For instance, in my hometown where Lotte held the reigns for theJungmädel, and a young SS man and judge at the juvenile court for the Jungvolk, discipline was rigorous and organization tight. But at the villages in the counties where I spent my summer vacations, attendance was not enforced and organization was nonexistent.
Of my squad, only Erika was called up and we remained the only primary school girls of the new leadership squad. I was glad that I knew at least one in the new group. Then I recognized another girl, Gretl Hartmann who had left our class for high school. Gretl had never turned up her nose at me as Bärbel andGittel had, and so I looked forward to being in a group with her. I recognized a few other middle school and high school girls from sight. Lotte motioned to Marga: “She will be your leader.”
Then Lotte called up another ten or so names. “You’ll be in the Spielgruppe (the entertainment squad). You will learn how to perform plays for our wounded soldiers.” Remedial School next to Stone School recently had been converted into an army hospital. “You’ll also practice folk dances and folk songs to entertain the soldiers. You’ll have the opportunity to learn an instrument so that some of you can accompany your choir. You will also serve your country.”
I envied the girls called up for the entertainment squad; they would have fun, learn songs and dances, play charades, participate in choir, act and put on plays for our soldiers and for special occasions like rallies or the song competition Marga had taken us to a few weeks earlier. Heaven knows what we would learn.
Lotte must have read my disappointment and turned to us. “You are the future leadership of the HJ. You will guarantee the success of HJ’s mission to train the German youth of the future to be strong in body and spirit. Many new tasks on behalf of our nation await you. I know you’ll do your duty competently and enthusiastically.”
I was to hear speeches about our being the “future leadership” over and over again from Lotte and from numerous HJ leaders at any and all occasions; they became the theme song of my early teens. I never questioned them, they fired my enthusiasm ,but the responsibility they demanded also weighed on me. At the moment, though, I felt proud to be chosen and eager to participate. I dreaded Mother’s reaction to my asking if I could join the leadership training group. I knew she would say, “We don’t have the money for camping trips, you know that.” And she did do exactly that.
“Why can’t I use the money in my savings book? “ I countered her objection, knowing full well what she would say.
“That money is for your dowry. In time, you’ll be grateful that I made you save it.”
Nevertheless, Lotte’s appeal to our vanity elated me, and I decided to start saving the tips I made from delivering dresses to Mother’s customers. I don’t remember if I told Mother how excited I was about being chosen for leadership group, but I must have because since my bout with scarlet fever last year, I sometimes did talk to her about my enthusiasms for friends, leaders, and HJ. Usually she just listened without saying anything. If I pressed her to join the Women’s League or become a Party member--as I began to do, seeing that other girls’ mothers participated in Party activities--she waved me off. After Marga asked us, “The Women’s League needs women who can sew. They took on making coats from the furs we collected. Do ask your mothers if they can help.” I hesitated, still smarting from Mother’s silence after my cutting up her and my coats. But I finally did ask her.
“I cannot afford the time for anything except making a living for us, and I certainly would not want to sew fur coats without being paid,” she explained. I did not argue the point since she often worked late into the night putting the last touches on a dress, particularly as weekends approached. Yet her refusal to become involved continued to irk me.
When I was sixteen and the regime ended, she told me that she had worried about my being so enthusiastic about the HJ. Her belated concern angered me. You are too late with that worry, I thought sarcastically. I took care of myself just fine. Now, at seventy-five, I still wish she had done more than merely listen. Would I have heard her? Did she know what we were indoctrinated in and how she might have countered it? I do not know. But since she did not, at that time, have either a philosophical, religious, or political position from which to counteract that indoctrination, I doubt that she could have done more than dampen my fervor. Given my ever-ready distrust of her, she might even have increased my commitment to the HJ.
I received a different message about my enthusiasm for HJ when I got to the Schultes for the summer break. Immediately after arrival, I asked Uncle Richard’s secretary if there was an HJ group in the village I could join. “I don’t think you need to do that, “she replied. ”You’ll do your part for the war effort by working in the fields.” When I boasted about being chosen for leadership training, Uncle Richard, who was excused from army service as an indispensable farming administrator, answered me by turning away from me as if he had not heard me. To my regret, I noticed that my relationship with him had changed. He no longer took me for evening rides to plan the next day’s work. He stopped telling jokes about Hitler and the Party bigwigs at the dinner table. The year before, not knowing that telling jokes about Hitler could have dire consequences, I had enjoyed the scatological pun in a Silesian dialect joke that he told, more because of the shocked look Aunt Helen shot him than because the joke was that funny. He exaggerated the Silesian difficulty in pronouncing umlauts. The dialect employs long ee sounds for the umlauted ü, and therefore the word for leader Führer sounds identical to the word for a four o’clock train Vierer.
“An old man stands waiting on one of the platforms of the Breslau station,” he began. “He yells loudly, ’Shit on the Feerer (Führer), shit on the Feerer’. A crowd gathers around him and looks at him in shock. ‘Shit on the Feerer,’ he yells again,” Uncle Richard drew out the long ees and relished the shits.” ‘Shit on the Veerer (the four o’clock train). I’ll take the five o’clock.’”
“Richard!” Aunt Helen admonished him as he chuckled.
This summer, when Uncle Richard had important guests from estates in the neighborhood, Aunt Helen asked her apprentice, Herta, and me to eat supper in the kitchen. She did not say that we were not welcome but rather, “You’ll be bored by the conversation, and besides there is not enough seating space in the dining room.” Sometimes when I entered the living room, the adults stopped talking. I felt but did not understand their disapproval and withdrew into reading when the fieldwork did not claim my time.
Gradually, as I worked in the fields with Wanda and Anita, HJ life receded. It simply was not relevant. Given Fräulein Balzer’s sermonizing when we had harvested potatoes the previous fall together with guest workers and forced laborers, I knew that I, a proud German girl, should not fraternize with Poles (Italians, being allies were still acceptable), and acted as most of the adults did: I denied to myself that Wanda was Polish and befriended her, joked around, and let her help me, as she had the previous year. I did not notice other forced laborers though I now know their number must have increased because there were fewer Italian guest workers. Wanda became for me the good Pole with whom I shared my sandwich at afternoon break while I kept my distance from the other laborers. My dishonesty did not strike me till years later in my early twenties. At the time, I thought of myself as loyal, honest, and loving. I would have been horrified at anyone’s thinking me otherwise. I enjoyed the summer less than the previous one, though, and was glad to get home. It was only when I wrote of this summer that I understood the full significance of a mental habit that I began to acquire then. Like many of my countrymen, I learned to dissociate the discrepant realities I lived. Increasingly I learned to overlook connections, separated what I thought from what I did, what I felt from what I acted on. I forgot who Oma had wanted me to be and did what was expedient. Except for feeling uneasy at times, I adjusted to the current HJ requirements without giving any thought to or having any awareness of what they meant. It took me years of my adulthood to understand the full dimensions of this mental habit and to wean myself from it.
I fell ill right after I got home from Zülzendorf just as I did after every summer vacation for the rest of the war years. I do not know if I got sick because that was the only way to get Mother’s attention or if I was so exhausted from the physical and emotional demands put on me all year that I caught any infection that was around. Each time my illness earned me an additional four to five week vacation from school and HJ.
After I went back to school, HJ meetings took more and more time as leadership group had started. We met not only from 2-6 pm on Wednesday afternoons but also Saturday afternoons and Sunday mornings. Marga and Lotte assumed different roles in our training. Marga took charge of all practical training such as teaching us how to lead a squad in singing, or how to enforce discipline in a squad by reward and punishment. She took us on most of the hikes and instructed us in how to take care of our squads on excursions.
Lotte saw to our ideological training and spoke to us about what the country and the Führer expected of us as leaders, future wives, and mothers. She lectured us on the Party’s ideological positions. And of course, like all Jungmädel, we still participated in recycling, in rounding up children’s clothing and household utensils for bombing victims, and in working in the fields at harvest time. With winter approaching, we collected wool clothing for our soldiers in Russia from our families, neighbors and friends. We usually went from house to house in groups of three and competed against each other to see who could collect the most. I emptied my family’s closets of any wool object that we did not immediately need. In addition to the fur collar that I had appropriated earlier, Mother unwillingly contributed a fur boa she had worn before she was married. With loud protests, my seven-year old brother Werner sacrificed a favorite pair of pants he had outgrown for bombed out children. We delivered the collections we amassed at Middle School. I now wonder if they ever reached the front or the bombing victims. But I felt we were helping the war effort.
Aside from these war-related activities, I remember long afternoons in a Middle School classroom in political instruction. Together with Marga we studied the biographies of Nazi leaders we had learned by heart previously. She taught us the poems of Nazi and nationalist poets, such as the poems to the Führer by Will Vesper and the historical ballads of Borries von Munchhausen so that we could recite them to our squads at solstice or other festivals. I still remember fragments of a Vesper poem to Hitler that legitimized his leadership by putting him, the most capable son of his people, into the framework of ancient Germanic hero worship.
Let our ancestors’ customs be valid
So gelte denn wieder Urväter Sitte
Marga demonstrated to us how you lead a group in singing and how to keep the beat. We practiced conducting in ¾ time and in 4/4 time. My dread of being called on to conduct the squad’s singing replaced my dread of marching in formation; I was equally inept in both and totally lacked a sense of rhythm. We memorized Party history and Party organization and hierarchy. It is curious to me that I have forgotten most of the biographies and the hierarchy of the Party, most likely because the former were such sentimental, monotonously propagandistic trash and the latter dry and uninteresting. Yet some of the poems with their easy rhymes and rhythms stuck. Years later when I analyzed with my students how seductive appeals to nationalist sentiment can be, I could still recite samples of what I learned then.
Lotte’s instructions centered on the basic principles of Nazi ideology, most importantly on issues of personal and what we called national hygiene, on the leader principle, and on Aryan supremacy. They reinforced ideas I had run across in Norse sagas, in nationalist WWI literature about male heroism, and in Nazi “Blood and Soil” literature about German hunger for farm land and the need for conquest and settlement of the territories to Germany’s east.
A sample of Blood and Soil peasant and nationalist Great War literature still sticks in my mind. It may be a generic plot line, since I have not been able to ascertain its exact title or author, but it contains Nazi ideology and its buzz words in their purest form: a Westphalian farmer, after having fought bravely and barely escaped death, returns home from the Great War, his face badly disfigured by shrapnel. He finds that his drunkard father has become heavily indebted to a Jewish land speculator. For many years the veteran works day and night to purchase enough seed and fertilizer to increase the land’s productivity and to free the farm from debt; but drought one year, floods another, and hail still another do not allow him to pay even the, of course, usurious interest. His debt keeps mounting. Yet the stubborn peasant clings on, acquiring a wife and child after child to help him in the struggle for his ancestral land. The author heaps misfortune upon misfortune, threat upon threat to foreclose by the Jewish debtor, until the farmer has relinquished to him all but one final, barren field. A new law is enacted that Jews cannot own land in Germany and therefore the usurer has to return the land to its rightful owner. The grateful farmer and his family celebrate their victory over adversity and the farmer joins the Nazi Party.
Novels like this abounded with sturdy Nordic types and their Jewish or foreign antagonists. The tongue-tied hardiness of their protagonists hides the self-pity implied by the improbable chain of misfortunes. Moreover, extravagant nature descriptions of the vast and heroic expanses of the Westphalian heath appealed to my deluded eyes more than the gently rolling hills of our pastoral Silesia. The novel’s ancient gabled farm house with Wotan’s horse heads shielding its roof and with its giant open hearth provided an atmosphere of primeval ponderousness appropriate to the Nazi ideals I came to espouse. And, of course, Hitler’s assuming power in 1933 brought ‘justice’ and resolved all undeserved misfortune!
I am still mortified that I felt edified by such trash without being nauseated. Yet, truth to tell, these examples of Nazi and pre-Nazi literature with their nature descriptions engaged me more than the equally propagandistic, sentimental HJ examples of urban heroism like the story of Hitlerjunge Quex, the Berlin twelve year old murdered by the Reds. For long periods of time, reading such novels, I completely forgot I was a girl who, by virtue of her gender, was excluded from all these heroics. I identified with the stubborn farmer, and never once saw myself as the selfless, morose wife who returned to toil on the field the same day she gave birth to a child.
Of course, I learned from the Germanic sagas that women participated in heroism as mothers and wives. Unafraid, they stood right behind their men in battle and cheered them on to victory. But mothers who preferred their fathers, husbands, brothers and sons dead rather than cowardly seemed monstrous to me even then. The female roles that Lotte advocated for us bored me, and most of the time I thought that I would rather be a soldier and fight like a man. The story of a sixteen year old suited me —I no longer remember its author and title. This adventuresome teen, dressed as an ensign, joined her brothers in the war of 1813 against Napoleon; she led the advance and died holding the Prussian flag.
Yet one day, possibly noticing the lack of enthusiasm of some of us for the roles she proposed, Lotte took a few of us aside, Gretl and me among them. “Leadership in the Jungmädel and BDM, “ she began, “ for some of you with natural leadership ability can lead to a career. With the opening up of new territories in the east, you may be asked by the Führer to staff the organizations for German girls and women who chose to settle there. Some of you, I have seen, have been disappointed that you were too young to participate in the Führer’s struggle for power. There are equally great, heroic tasks waiting for you and for all of us in the future.” From that day on, I redoubled my efforts to please her and Marga.
At twelve, we were still too young to be sent to leadership schools or to be inducted into the rank and the lore of the wives. As Lotte held, we were women and wives-in-training, and that training for us was called personal hygiene and for the time being meant minding cleanliness and purity. As a ten year old, I had been very casual about cleanliness. I simply could not keep food spots and the dust and dirt of our unpaved front yard off my weekday dress that had to last me the week before being washed Saturday night. Afraid to draw Marga’s or Lotte’s disapproval, I now began to wash my clothes myself and to take daily sponge baths, so much so that I annoyed Mother with the amount of scarce cleaning supplies I consumed. Purity to the twelve year old meant curbing my curiosity about sex and restricting my thinking to heroic deeds and the beauties of nature. Garbled Nietzsche passages like, “The purest shall be lords of the earth,” or “Man is a bridge between beast and over-man,” quoted by Lotte and other HJ leaders when they spoke of our heroic future, fueled my obsession with unworldly purity. Attempting to avoid mundane contamination, I did not participate with the other girls in class or in my squad in their bantering about cosmetics, dresses, boyfriends, and dances. I began to despise them as “the rabble” who did not strive to become leaders and “supermen.” Of course, I was familiar with the dirty talk of the street. I had, after all, played with the street kids for years. I understood what the boys meant when they yelled after Agatha and me, sneering, laughing, “Girls, let’s go fuck in the outhouse,” while they accompanied their words with suggestive thrusts of the pelvis.
Fortunately for me, Nazi ideology as taught by Lotte allowed the cultivation of a love of nature. Whenever my HJ duties did not claim me, I took solitary hikes into the woods or went for twilight walks over the fields. As I walked through the meadows and fields, I indulged myself in turning the familiar landscape into a fantastic landscape of jagged, wild mountains, glaciers and waterfalls. Even with all the activities that filled my daily life, I was desperately lonely and yearned for friendship with a like-minded soul. Simultaneously, made arrogant by my membership in the leadership group and by recently acquired theories of racial superiority, I believed that I belonged to an elite that had nothing in common with ordinary townsfolk, the ‘rabble’.
One afternoon late fall 1941, we, the children of the neighborhood, played dodge ball in the playground of Red School. We got heated up and I threw a particularly hard ball at Gittel, the teacher’s daughter and my former friend who lived up on the third floor. She returned my shot with one equally fierce that hit me so hard in my lower abdomen that I doubled over with pain. We played on and finished the game. When I went inside, I noticed that my panties were wet and that I was bleeding. I was baffled and, as usual, feared that an injury might mean a doctor’s visit and Mother’s scolding about needless expense. That evening, when the bleeding still had not stopped, I told Mother. She looked at me in consternation and horror, and I had the feeling that I had done something terribly wrong.
I offered an explanation about the ball game which she brushed aside with, “No, you will need to wear napkins once a month; you must not bathe or swim during this period; it will probably be painful; you must not be alone with men.” My belly started hurting the moment she mentioned pain. For the rest, I was utterly bewildered but judging by her look, I did not dare ask any questions and felt guilty. She gave me some folded rags and several safety pins and told me to fasten them to my panties. I had no one whom I could have asked what was wrong with me, nor any person, either female or male, who could have explained my mother’s reactions, or the bleeding itself. The closest I could figure out was that this condition was something she was ashamed of, something despicable, sexual, and therefore lower class. It would not even have occurred to me to ask Marga or any of the girls in leadership group.
Desperate and perplexed during the next few weeks, I found myself watching my classmates to see if any of them had blood-soiled panties. After two months of agonizing, I decided to question Frau Gurn’s kitchen help, a farm girl named Martha, if she knew what was the matter with me. We had always teased her about necking with her boyfriend on the park benches of the Marienberg. She seemed less intimidating to me than anyone else. She laughed at my naiveté, “Didn’t anyone tell you that you are a woman now? Women have their period. When your boyfriend fucks you, you might get pregnant. So you’ll have to be careful.” It took me another year or so until I acquired a basic understanding of female reproductive function and the meaning of Mother’s remark about “being alone with men” from books in the local lending library and Mother’s health encyclopedia. She had replaced the forbidden encyclopedia on the bookshelf after providing her awkward instructions.
As for Mother’s other advice, I did what I had learned to do earlier: test by trial and error if she was right. I loved swimming, and next spring I went to the pool, period or no period. Since it did me no harm, I figured that bathing was probably all right too. I went to bed with a hot water bottle for a few months on the first day of my period. Then, one day I had to participate in a broad jumping meet, and in the excitement of the competition forgot all about being unwell. From then on, I sought vigorous physical exercise on the first day of my period. What I did lose, at this time, was the enjoyment of my body, its suppleness, the confidence with which I had moved in playing, running, swimming, and riding my bike. As my breasts started to develop and my figure changed, I shrunk into myself and tried to make myself invisible. The uniform we wore for the Jungmädel served a new purpose and I now wore it almost constantly; its very rectangularity drew attention away from breast and hips. The feeling of being dirty, of not being acceptable, poisoned my adolescence and young adulthood.
My enjoyment of sculpting the human form during my late thirties led me back to the comfort and ease I had felt about my body until my teenage years. Worst for me at twelve, however, was that my isolation and alienation from others increased because the silence about physical and sexual intimacy extended to emotional intimacy. I could not express when I was confused, angry, or frightened. I could not find words for affection and love. Even Erika and I never talked about anything emotionally meaningful to either of us.
When I no longer needed it two years later at age fourteen, I did receive a lecture about intercourse and impregnation, Nazi style. All fourteen-year-old HJ girls, about forty of us, met with Lotte in a Middle School classroom. She had our immediate attention when she began with how difficult it was for mothers to talk to their daughters about sex. Most of us nodded our heads in assent. For that reason, she was going to talk to us about sex and our future function as wives of German men and as mothers of a new generation. “Some of your families will doubtless not want me to talk about these matters.” We understood this to mean, don’t talk to them about what I am going to tell you.
”But rather than your hearing about sex in the gutter talk of the street, as you no doubt will in future years,” Lotte continued, “I will provide you with factual information.”
I am sure that by this time, most of us had some information from parents or contemporaries; we were, after all, fourteen years of age.
“You will enjoy having many children for the Führer, and that is why you must keep yourself pure.” Of course I knew what that meant. Don’t talk and think about sex, and keep clean.
“When your future husband makes you a mother, he will put his member into you like a sword thrusts itself into its sheath and his seed will impregnate the ovum in your belly.”
Silence--and that was it!
I still have difficulty understanding how a young teacher could be as alienated from her own body as to use such a violent, obscene metaphor. I still cannot believe that a sane adult could delude herself into thinking that she was doing us some good. Despite her prohibition, some of the girls did speak to their parents, but they had a better relationship to their mothers than I did. Several parents lodged complaints with the Middle School principal about this strange attempt at sex education, and that ended any future essays into the subject.
Throughout the year in leadership group, we continued following war events in our war diaries at grammar school, cutting out pictures from the Strehlen Daily and supplying our paste-ins with explanations. I remember the invasions of Greece and Yugoslavia and their quick surrender in late spring 1941 particularly vividly because Greece as well as our Axis ally Italy had played an important role in my imagination ever since I read Schwab’s Tales of Classical Antiquity. They were the lands where actual gods used to live —heathen gods to be sure, as my former Bible School teacher had said, and not real gods like our Lord and Christ. When our troops raised the German flag on Mount Olympus, the seat of the ancient gods, the radio and the illustrated papers rejoiced, “Greek antiquity in our hands!” I pasted a picture of this scene into my war diary and wrote beneath it: “Greece is Ours.”
All through 1941 -1942, we celebrated one victory after the other. An enthusiastic smile replaced Fräulein Balzer’s usually sour mien as she helped us chose illustrations for our diaries and suggested wordings for our descriptions of the pictures. The victories also had concrete material consequences. Fruit we had almost forgotten existed from the warmer regions of Europe appeared in the greengrocer’s store, oranges and lemons from Greece and Italy and water melons from the Balkans and Crimea. Since Mother had more customers now—coupons for new ready-made dresses were scarce and women kept their wardrobe up-to-date by alterations—she had the money to buy at least the cheaper water melons. We were so intoxicated by our triumphs, that we hardly worried or even noticed that America, as we called the US, entered the war on the Allies’ side in December 1941. For me, America just like Japan, our ally, was so distant that it simply did not count. Caricatures of Churchill and Roosevelt in the illustrated magazines showed them as bungling and laughable cartoon characters like Laurel and Hardy or rather their German, pre- WWII equivalents, Pat and Patachon. “Our U-boats will sink the cargo ships America is sending to Britain,” sneered Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda. And, indeed, Special Report after Special Report during 1942 announced: “Attention! Attention! Here Radio Germany! Führer Headquarters: Our proud Navy has destroyed…” and then followed the names of the ships sunk and the tons of cargo that had gone to the bottom of the Atlantic.
Lotte’s favorite subject in her occasional lectures was national and racial hygiene. We learned that our nation just as we ourselves had to keep itself physically and mentally healthy and our blood pure. “Only a nation that allows the fittest to reproduce will have a glorious future!” she sermonized. “Mental as well as physical illness, alcoholism, vagrancy and criminality are hereditary illnesses passed on to off-spring by Mendelian Law.” We understood that to mean that she was talking about unquestionable scientific fact.
“If even one of your ancestors has been mentally ill, you may have inherited a gene for mental illness and might pass on the illness to one of your children even though you yourself are healthy. That is why you should know your family’s heredity and have your parents research your family’s history,” she added personalizing her message. “Most of you, no doubt, are of pure German blood. But you must be able to prove by a genealogy going back to the early 19th century that you are of sound Aryan stock.” Then she returned to a generality. ”If mental illness or a physical deformity is frequent in a family, people should not have children and contaminate the Volksblut—the people’s blood. They should be sterilized or not marry.”
Was suicide a mental illness? I worried. After all, Father’s sister Magdalene had killed herself. Did I have the gene? Could I go mad? Then I looked at Lotte speaking up front. Was she talking to me? She’d known my family when my aunt killed herself. For weeks after that lecture, I worried. I looked into the mirror obsessively as I tried to find out. Who am I? Am I mad? In my adolescent quest for identity, my eyes opened wide. I looked back at myself with desperate intensity. Was that insane?
On another occasion Lotte spoke of the cost of mental illness and physical deformity to the nation. People confined in mental institutions suffer, I understood her to say. They are a burden to themselves, to their families, and to the state. The money used to care for them could be better used to raise healthy children, children who would contribute to the welfare of the nation. She challenged us with, “Are the incurably ill, like schizophrenics or Mongoloids, not better off relieved of their suffering? That is what euthanasia, mercy killing, is about. ” I thought of the Mongoloid daughter of my mother’s friend and knew what her death from pneumonia had been about. The sudden death of a healthy teen had been murder. This time, at age twelve, I was not horrified and indignant as I had been earlier. I no longer had empathy for her. But the disquieting question stayed: Did I have bad genes? Did Lotte know I did?
Lotte’s teaching reflected Nazi policy and was not just Nazi ideology. Beginning with a 1933 law, the Party conducted an extensive mass sterilization program in which children and adults who were physically deformed or disabled, epileptic or mentally ill underwent sterilization. In the early 1940s, about the time Lotte was talking to us, institutionalized patients in psychiatric hospitals such as Leubus, Sonnenstein or Brandenburg were killed by injection, starvation, overdose for being what the Nazis called “unfit life.” Hitler ordered the cessation of the program by the end of 1941 because of protests by the churches and relatives. Yet the informal killings in institutions of the chronically ill or disabled continued to 1945 and beyond. I am certain that Lotte knew of the program and approved of the policy at the time she talked to us about euthanasia. She defended it to me as late as 1947 when we paid a visit to an institution for epileptics.
Lotte’s discussions of “racial types” provided another reason for obsessing. She described each of the types in terms of their mental, psychological, and physical characteristics. “Germans derive their characteristics from a mixture of five distinct racial types, “she lectured. “The Nordic type is the best: They are creative and spiritual. They are tall and slender, athletic and courageous. They are fair-skinned, red haired or gold blond, blue and grey-eyed. Their skull is elongated.” She pointed to illustrations of the types on the walls of the Middle School class room. Her pointer traced the geographical regions in which the Nordic type constituted a majority on the map of contemporary Europe: Northern Germany along the North Sea, all of Holland, Scandinavia and Southern England. “Nordics are contemporary descendants of the Germanic tribes about whom your history books tell us,” she concluded.
Her piercing eyes scrutinized our expectant faces, but then she turned to the next type when none of us seemed to measure up to the Nordic type. Pointing to the next illustration, she continued, ”He is the Westphalian type. Soulful and slow of speech, he dominates in middle and Northwest Germany. Westphalians are heavyset, with a large frame, have darker blond hair and blue eyes. They are stoic and loyal.” Next came the Slavic type. Small framed but heavy, round-headed, grey, green or amber eyed, with ash blond to dark blond hair and with prominent cheekbones, the Slavic type was decidedly inferior to the first two types. ”His mind is deceitful and his psyche slavish. Germany east of the Elbe River and, of course, your home province, Silesia, has the heaviest concentration of the Slavic type,” she summed up.
She consoled us, “A Silesian can be a mixture of many types, since Silesia is old German settlement territory. During the Middle Ages, the kings of Poland called on Swabians, Bavarians, Dutchmen and Westphalians to settle on both sides of the Oder River. They came in great numbers and intermarried with the native Slavs. I have told you who the Dutchmen and Westphalians were. Who then were the Swabians and Bavarians? They lived in Austria and Southern Germany all the way to the Main River; they were descendants of Nordic and Westphalian Germanic tribesmen who intermarried with the Romans, who occupied all of that territory during the second and third centuries AD. We call them Dinarians. They are hawk-nosed—no, they are not Jewish”—she added. “Of tall and slender frame, they may be blue or brown eyed; they have dark or auburn hair and have keen senses and intellect. Hitler is a Dinarian.”
I cannot recall the name of the last type. It must have been the Latin type, the descendants of the Romans who had settled in the south German regions and who had remained pure-blooded. She described the Latin type as dark-haired and dark-skinned, small framed and dark eyed, sensuous and light-hearted. It still amazes me how a person like Lotte who had some education in biology and the sciences could have taken such nonsense for scientific fact. Of course, Nazi biology textbooks promulgated this ‘racial theory’ as legitimate science. When I got to know her better as my tutor after the war, I used to wonder. Did she, with her jet-black hair and sallow complexion, her huge, piercing, grey-yellowish eyes, hawk nose, and scrawny body, fancy herself a Dinarian like Hitler? As a twelve-thirteen year old, it would not have occurred to me to wonder. I took in this unholy brew of racialized biology, geography and Nazi mythologizing as gospel truth.
It was a gospel that caused me some uneasiness at the time, and not only on account of my fears about a ‘madness gene.’ I don’t know if other girls my age spent as much time as I did in front of a mirror trying to determine if I was Nordic or Westphalian—I did not even consider another type. I was blond, grey-eyed, tall for my age, sturdy and athletic. I think it was my mother who pointed out to me, observing my obsession with the mirror and finding out its cause, that our high cheekbones definitely put some Slavic or Mongolian ancestors into the picture. I was angry about her ironic skepticism.
The racial types occupied us in grade school as well as in Hitler Youth. In the upper two forms of primary school, during my 13th and 14th year, a new teacher for history, the new principal of Red School, replaced Fräulein Balzer. By 1942-43, all male teachers under age fifty had disappeared into the army, and therefore Herr Schmidt stuck out as the only male left. Erika, whose father had served at the front since 1939, called him a draft dodger and Party bigwig. He was the only teacher who wore a uniform to school that identified him as a member of the SA. He added some illustrations of Mendelian genetics to his discussion of the types of the Germans for extra scientific weight. These illustrations showed two pea flowers of different color and the percentages of differently colored offspring if you cross-fertilized a red with a white flower. He threw around words like genotype and phenotype but I don’t think anyone of us understood what he meant. Having never had a male teacher, and growing up without a father or any other meaningful male figure in my life, I was fascinated by him. His subject, history, interested me even more than he did, though I, agreeing with my classmates, snickered behind his back because of his ridiculous bearing. His mustard-colored Jodhpur breeches and the black riding boots displayed his bowlegs prominently. He had the voice, the oily black hair, the sallow complexion, and small stature of Dr. Goebbels, the Minister of Propaganda, and he identified with him down to the leather gloves. Needless to say, I would have been blind to these features if Erika and the other working class kids had not brought them home to me and if I had not overheard Mother’s customers call him, like Goebbels, ‘the unbleached, shrunken Teuton.’
Despite his ridiculousness, I listened to Herr Schmidt’s instruction attentively. I had read a lot of historical fiction of the völkisch variety by this time and was all too willing to take in what he had to say. He in his turn appreciated my interest. He used our physiognomy to exemplify the historical racial types. For him, I represented the Nordic/Westphalian type; Hanne, whose parents hailed from the Bohemian villages close to town, good-naturedly accepted the Slavic type designation.
His history instruction comprised the Nazi Party line down to the minutest detail. It began with the migration of peoples and the movements of the different Germanic tribes through Europe and Africa, and continued to the struggles between the Ghibelines and the Guelfs and a succession of popes during the middle ages. Herr Schmidt favored the Guelfs because they were Saxons, and “less corrupted by Italy” than were the Ghibelines. But based on the historical novels I read at the time like Otto Gmelin’s, I was intrigued with the Ghibeline emperors, particularly Frederic II, the courtliest of the Ghibelines who held court in sunny Sicily and his grandson, the tragic, sixteen year old prince Konradin who fought and died for his vision of the Holy Roman Empire. Despite Herr Schmidt’s efforts, I found Gmelin’s “Germanic passion for Italy“ much more appealing than Herr Schmidt’s brave and hardy Saxons. For me oranges, grapes, melons of our prewar years, decorative, splendid costumes, and the marble luxury of Sicilian palaces held much greater fascination than the wooden throne of the Saxon kings
Successors to the medieval emperors, I learned, were the Prussian kings, mostly military men, particularly Frederick the Great, who took Silesia away from Austria and made it part of Prussia and us Silesians, Prussians. Here Herr Schmidt’s instruction touched upon my earliest interest in the history of the Silesian Wars and my home town’s role in Frederick the Great’s campaign. From there his history instruction went straight to Hitler, who was “the final fulfillment of the ancient Germanic longing for freedom.” Freedom for him meant freedom from foreign domination. ‘Our’ oppressors had been the Romans, the popes (we were Protestants, to be sure), the French and the English. Herr Schmidt thought Slavic populations inferior peoples and Poles despicable cowards. He characterized the Russians as Bolshevik hordes driven at gunpoint into battle by Jewish commissars. Fräulein Balzer, who listened in during our instruction, praised Herr Schmidt’s teaching methods enthusiastically.
“He speaks straight from the heart. He does not confuse you with too many different points of view,” she gushed, then added, “When I was attending teachers’ seminary during the 1920s, our teachers held so many different, confusing opinions. How fortunate you are!” Fortunate indeed!
As our troops moved further into Russia in the spring of 1942, Herr Schmidt began to outline to us the Party’s settlement plans for the East in Poland and Russia. Exultantly he told us that as of this date—it was September 1942—Hitler had achieved the goal of the Hohenstaufen emperors to unite all of Europe under German hegemony.
“Our armies dominate Europe from Narvik, Norway in the North to North Africa in the South as Field Marshal Rommel helps the Italians win back their colonies,” he triumphed.
“They hold the East/West axis from Stalingrad and the Caucasus all the way to the French Atlantic coast. You, the younger generation, will never have to worry about Lebensraum (enough space to live). Large farms in the Ukraine and Southern Russia with fertile soil will be yours for the asking. Prepare yourselves to become settlers in the East!”
Three summers of helping to bring in the harvest had taught me one thing: I was not ever going to be either a field hand or a farmer in the East or anywhere else. Not that I did not enjoy being paid by Uncle Richard. But the talk of the field hands and my own observation on how they lived and worked provided enough instruction to tell me that farm life was not for me. Settlement in the East? Not for me. Maybe a farm of his own for my brother Jochen; it would provide him with a splendid opportunity. Africa and Rommel’s African campaign held greater appeal for me. Ever since Rommel went to assist the Italian army in Tunisia in March of 1941 I had followed the progress of his tanks through the desert. For my war diaries I cut out illustrations of German tanks and trucks moving over sandy hills. Would Rommel’s army reach Germany’s former colonies, Kenya and Togo? I thought of Father’s brother, Willi, who had gone down there to build roads. Maybe after the war I could join him there and live in Africa, marry a farmer, and have orange trees in my garden. Having read a fair amount about colonial life in Africa, I knew that whites did not work the fields. Blacks did that. Hence my willingness to contemplate becoming the wife of a white farmer.
As I think about my ideas about colonization then I wonder, did I really accept Herr Schmidt’s colonial fantasies? Did I not object to our stealing land from Russians, Poles, and Africans? Of course, I did not think about this in terms of stealing. I knew that it was wrong of Helga, my bench-mate of the first grade, to steal my pencil. After all, I had learned the Ten Commandments in our Protestant nursery school and in Bible lessons and took them to heart. Besides, I was much too frightened of the police to ever think of stealing. Was it the scale of the theft that made conquest an issue different from stealing? In part I think that is true. In part, however, I accepted Herr Schmidt’s colonialist argument that we were a superior race, an elite who would bring German culture to an inferior race of Slavs and Africans. By 1942-1943, I had forgotten my friendship with Wanda as well as the News Reels of 1939 showing the Polish refugees--and my compassion for them. It was only in the 1990s, when reading about the role BDM leaders like Melitta Maschmann had played in ethnic cleansing and driving Polish and Jewish farmers from their lands that I realized where Lotte’s appeal to my vanity to think of myself as a leader of women might have led me, namely to a leadership role in Germanizing the conquered east.
The best part of the year’s leadership training was the many hikes and overnight camping trips we took as a squad. Since I knew the villages and towns as well as the countryside and the forests from my days as a biker, I often served as a guide or as a scout in the games we played. They were games that were designed to teach us map reading and to orient ourselves in the country without the help of a compass. I loved the long hikes, and did not mind being sweaty or exhausted. And I enjoyed learning about mushrooms, wild plants and roots that Lotte pointed out to us when she accompanied us. She designated some as safe to eat and others as poisonous. “You can survive in the forest in case you lose your way if you can identify what is safe to eat, “ she concluded. Sometimes I fantasized about our squad getting lost and me rescuing them. We stayed overnight in barns when their owners allowed us to sleep in the hay.
On such overnight trips, I loved our singing folksongs in the gathering dusk, huddled around a few burning logs in the safety of a farm yard, resting after our long hikes through meadows and woods. As we gazed lazily up at the stars, Marga sang the song with which we ended each such evening and we hummed along:
No land more beautiful
Kein schöner Land in dieser Zeit
In the darkness of the barn, one of the girls would start telling ghost stories, and others joined in. Since I had heard my share of them in the Gurn kitchen, I found it easy to contribute my headless horseman story. Such evenings—and there quite a few of them--came to mean Heimat, my Silesian home, to me. When I looked back after the war, my disillusionment with the HJ, and our expulsion from Silesia these evenings and the feeling of Heimat they had inspired seemed to me a seduction into a sentimentality that harbored a host of dangerous German illusions; the illusion of a special country, more beautiful than any other country, a land ours since time immemorial and for all eternity.
The culmination of our training was to be a weeklong stay at one of the youth hostels in the Silesian Mountains. Scheduled for the week before the summer vacation of 1942, our participation in the activities was to test our leadership abilities. I earned part of the money to participate by delivering dresses to Mother’s customers. Uncle Kurt, on my pleading, paid for the rest. I had looked forward to going with the group. I do not remember much about this trip except a few moments of intense discomfort, the reasons for which escaped me. Was it that we shared the hostel with squads from all over Silesia and were crowded? Was it that we all felt we had to compete against each other? Was I running short on the still unaccustomed and uninterrupted hail and hearty good fellowship feeling? I do not remember what we were tested in, or how I acquitted myself. But I must have passed because at the end of the week I was promoted to squad leader.
The hostel was located on the side of a hill overlooking the mountain ranges in the distance. We shared the large dormitory with several other groups. At morning rallies before breakfast, we raised the flag on the sports field next to the dark wooden building. Staring into the distance, I scarcely noticed the mountains I had so yearned to see nor paid attention to the ceremony of singing alternating with choral recitation of poems that usually moved me deeply. I just wanted to be away from the others, away from being cooped up in meetings and herded to sports competitions, away from the girls and their leaders, many of whom I did not know. I did not feel the comfort I had recently come to enjoy as I lost myself in the group of my comrades. Nor did I, at the end of the trip, take any pleasure in having beenpromoted or look forward to leading a squad as some of the other girls did.
When I started leadership training I had looked forward to what I would learn and had felt proud to be chosen to participate. And there is no doubt in my mind that the training and the good times on hikes increased my enthusiasm for Nazi causes. I believed that with the Führer as our leader, our country had achieved its mission to lead the world; that the cause demanded personal sacrifice and devotion to the HJ’s goals to train a youth that would keep its blood pure and be strong in body and spirit. My voice became shrill when I defended these goals to the occasional adult who expressed disapproval of HJ activities like some of Mother’s customers did who objected to Sunday sports-meets as substitutes for church. Cringing with embarrassment, I still hear my strident adolescent voice.
I had hoped that I would make new friends in the leadership group. The truth was that I lost what little intimacy I had with Erika and never got to know Gretl or any of the other girls. HJ comradeship did not allow for individual friendship of any depth. I became even lonelier than I had been earlier. I have no doubt that the depression that settled on me at the end of the training resulted from this isolation and from the continuous demand the HJ put upon us to be passionately involved on its behalf.
When I first read feminist studies on the role of gender and social class in the HJ,, in preparation for a class on Christa Wolf’s autobiographical novel of her Jungmädel experience Patterns of Childhood (1976), I was struck forcibly by how thoroughly I had absorbed Marga’s and Lotte’s lessons. Like most German girls at the time, I had early learned that I was “only a girl,” less valuable and loved than my brother. Early on I had dealt with the blow to my self-esteem by denial. Becoming a tom boy and sharing my brother’s and his friends’ activities, I proved to myself that I was not really a girl. In my reading as well, I identified with males, their adventurers, their work life, and their heroic exploits. My middle class elders had taught me to look down on the working class. The communal Wandervogel spirit I encountered in my first years as a Jungmädel allowed me to forget the realities of being female and my family’s having sunk into the working class. At the time I entered Jungmädel, I still smarted from my middle school friends’ rejections. Much of my intense involvement in Jungmädel, I came to see, resulted from my attempts to compensate for the hurt. By hiking and competing in sports, by marching in rallies and being recognized as a full member of the HJ, I could again identify with the boys even as I could dismiss my former friends’ snobbery as merely an “uncomradely” character flaw. I took comfort in the Nazi slogan that the HJ knows no social classes but only comrades. I could daydream, I’ll show you! I am just as good a Jungmädel as you and better—hence the extraordinary length I went to in practicing broad-jump. Being “chosen” for leadership group undid the blows to my ego inflicted by my former friends’ rejection and the humiliation of being left behind in grade school. I had leadership potential! I would be someone they would need to pay attention to! And of course, my beginning adolescent rebellion against my mother found ample reinforcement in the Hitler Youth ideology of the superiority of Youth. As my body became womanly like Mother’s, I could differentiate myself , the Jungmädel idealist leader in the service of the Führer, from her the realist concerned with “just” making a living. My deluded, thoughtless arrogance and ingratitude certainly did not strike me then.
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