Propaganda was once a more neutral term that simply meant to present information in a way that is persuasive and influential to an audience. Its negative connotations today are primarily due to its association with Nazism.
As part of Hitler’s program to reshape German minds, the children of the regime were indoctrinated from a very early age. They were taught to focus on external “enemies” like Jews and communists, to believe in the pseudoscience of eugenics, to live up to German physical ideals, and to take pride in the German race. Propaganda was also used to bolster the cult of personality surrounding Adolf Hitler himself. And this process of brainwashing was helped by influential organizations like the Hitler Youth.
Read on for 10 disturbing examples of Nazi propaganda aimed at school children.
10. “Youth Serves the Leader: All 10-Year-Olds in the Hitler Youth”
This poster shows a young Aryan-looking member of the Hitler Youth looking up to an idealized, God-like version of Adolf Hitler. The message was that children as young as 10 years old should serve the leader by joining the organization. For Hitler believed that devotion should be fostered as early as possible.
Young, impressionable members of the Hitler Youth were brainwashed by Nazi ideology and were made to take part in strenuous physical activity. The idea was to create dedicated, unquestioning soldiers for Hitler and the Nazi regime.
In the closing years of WWII, the Hitler Youth was seen as a kind of reserve pool of German soldiers. In fact, during the 1945 Battle of Berlin, which spelled the end for the Third Reich, Hitler Youth members were thrown into battle and virtually wiped out. It’s reported that only two members of the organization who were involved survived in the entire city.
9. “People’s Degeneration = People’s Death”
This “instructional” poster illustrates Hitler’s beliefs about the degeneration of Germany. It was created as part of a series designed to teach children about eugenics.
The title reads, “People’s Degeneration = People’s Death,” which was a pseudoscientific idea that theorized that moving from the countryside to the city had weakened and reduced the “Aryan race.” It was also tied to the notion that hereditary diseases were weakening Germany.
These concepts may have been responsible for programs like Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD), which was a public work scheme for the unemployed that often involved working the land – from digging ditches to planting new forests.
But more disturbingly, such ideas may have also led to the Nazis adopting sterilization programs for those with hereditary diseases, and later to the mass killings of people suffering from birth defects – in the name of “euthanasia.”
8. “Children, What Do You Know of the Führer?”
This Hitler Youth poster shows Adolf Hitler interacting with a group of young Germans. The caption reads, “Children, what do you know of the Fuhrer?” In the poster, the usually much more sternly portrayed dictator is depicted as an approachable figure – although still an authoritative one – who is friendly towards children.
Hitler understood that his power depended on every German citizen regarding him as infallible and following his word above written law – the so-called “leader principle,” or Führerprinzip. This commonly led to Hitler being portrayed as a messianic, almost god-like figure.
7. 1933: Jewish students and teachers expelled from schools
This poster references the expulsion of Jewish teachers and students from German schools. From 1933, the numbers of Jewish students in public schools was limited, supposedly due to overcrowding.
In this picture, we can see that the Jewish characters have been given negative stereotypical characteristics like large noses, bent postures, and generally undesirable demeanors. These strategically planned caricatures were designed to distinguish Jews from the Aryan ideal and to create an image of inferiority and untrustworthiness. The idea of the evil Jew was also promoted in children’s books like Der Giftpilz, which compared Jewish people to poisonous mushrooms and called them “the Devil in human form.”
In 1936, all Jewish teachers were expelled from German public schools, and by 1937 Jewish pupils had been banned from schools altogether as well. Still, although terrible, this was of course minor compared to what was to come.
6. “Every Girl Belongs to Us”
This poster shows a smiling young member of the League of German Girls, an organization designed to indoctrinate young women by instilling them with the values of Nazi Germany and preparing them for motherhood. Like their male counterparts, the girls also had to be able to partake in strenuous physical activities.
German children were particularly important propaganda targets, especially through the institutions of schools and education. By 1936, 97 percent of German teachers belonged to the National Socialist Teachers League. Children, meanwhile, belonged to government organizations from the age of 10.
Until the collapse of the Nazi system in 1945, many children had lived their entire lives on a perpetual diet of government propaganda. The situation was so bad that a prolonged period of “denazification” was necessary.
5. “Build Youth Hostels and Homes”
This poster features a young member of the League of German Girls collecting money for youth hostels and homes. The female wing of the Nazi Party’s Hitler Youth movement began with the League of Young Girls, which was for girls as young as 10 years old.
In the last days of the war, some members of the League of German Girls joined their male counterparts in “last-ditch” fighting against Allied forces, although this was never officially sanctioned by the regime. The girls mainly served an important secondary role – as this poster illustrates.
Interestingly, although the poster claims money was nobly being raised to build youth hostels and homes, in fact, most of the donations were spent on weapons production.
4. “The German Student Fights for the Führer and the People”
This propaganda poster features a young, swastika-waving German student with the caption, “The German student fights for the Führer and the people.” The central character is the physical embodiment of the Nazi ideal for the Aryan race: young, strong, blond and dedicated.
The National Socialist German Students’ League aimed to combine Nazi ideology with a University education and academic life. Members lived in their own Fellowship houses and wore brown shirts together with their own version of the swastika.
Here, the student’s military attire and rigid demeanor is typical of expressions of Nazi ideology. Meanwhile, his proud stance and beaming facial expression suggest that he is honored to be carrying the swastika.
Instead of idealistic thought and dreams, the Nazis preferred direct action. And serving your country by dying in battle was depicted as the ultimate sacrifice of honor.
3. Aryan Paper Drive
This poster was created to encourage Nazi children to take part in a paper drive to collect material for the German war effort. It was published in 1943, when WWII had already taken a turn for the worse for the Germans, following their catastrophic defeat at the Battle of Stalingrad and the ensuing Russian counter-offensives.
The romantic depiction of smiling, happy German children looks as though it was designed to promote cooperation and boost the morale of young Nazis.
The date of the poster is also significant. By April 1943, the German economy was finally beginning to gear itself up for total war. This meant that almost all of the country’s resources were dedicated to producing combat materials. And collecting and conserving raw material like paper would have been a very important part of keeping the war effort going.
2. “Youth Serves the Leader: All 10-Year-Olds in the Hitler Youth” (Girl Version)
Here we see the female version of the Nazis’ “Youth serves the leader” campaign, with the idealistic girl Nazi-in-the-making every bit as Aryan as her male counterpart.
Membership in both the male and female leagues was compulsory for eligible children. Besides learning about motherhood and Nazi ideology, members of the girls’ leagues took part in activities like camping, skiing, and working the land. The third tier of female indoctrination, the Faith and Beauty Society for 17–21-year-olds, was voluntary. It aimed to prepare girls for marriage, domestic life, and future career goals.
In line with the Nazi idea of rapidly increasing Germany’s population, the organization encouraged its female members to have as many children as possible. And as the war dragged on, the Leagues were increasingly called upon to help out, whether that meant collecting the harvest and serving as nursing aides, or fighting on the front lines.
1. “The Jewish nose is bent. It looks like the number six…”
This illustration comes from the book Der Giftpilz, which was published in 1938 and was intended for children. The book aimed to increase anti-Semitism by teaching youngsters negative myths about Jewish people.
In the scene, a class is taught how to recognize the supposed physical characteristics of Jews. They are taught that the Jewish nose is hooked like the number six. Other attributes mentioned in the story are puffy lips, fleshy eyelids, and a “deceitful” look. Towards the end of the book, it is also claimed that Jewish people were responsible for the murder of Jesus, who is called their greatest enemy.
The publisher of the book, Julius Streicher, was additionally responsible for the rabidly anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer. Streicher’s propaganda was so extreme that, following the war, he was judged to be responsible for dehumanizing the Jews in the lead-up to the Holocaust. He was found guilty at the Nuremberg trials and was executed in October 1946.