In November of 1922, a Mr. K. Friedrich visited Harvard University to speak to their Liberal Club about post-war Germany.
He gave an animated account of a new phenomenon: the "Youth Movement" or "Gugenelbewegung."
"'The Youth Movement' expresses the new spirit in Germany. It feels that the old life was cold, hard and unprofitable, stifling all the better instincts of the young people of the nation. The old militaristic system could not be called culture.
"It was merely a mechanical perfection, wholly lacking in spontaneity. The 'Youth Movement' is embracing a different theory of values in the educational standard. The tendency is constantly towards a more liberal ideal. Its studies are more and more in the realm of Philosophy, Literature and Religion. The old shackles are being cast off by a new and spontaneous enthusiasm." (1)Mr. Friedrich was not being dishonest. When we think of a German Youth Movement at that time, we automatically think of the Hitler Youth, and the disturbing images of indoctrinated children proudly giving the infamous salute.
But that would not have been representative of this movement then, which actually began long before the war, as a vehicle for young people to commune with nature and escape the oppressive regime of Wilhelm II. Their hikes were in many ways intellectual and cultural endeavours, as they shared poetry; discussed and debated philosophy, current events and politics. And while many groups had uniforms, more common would be musical instruments and books.
During the war, the movement gained momentum, when shortages in essentials, resulted in many schools being closed; so for children and young adults, these hikes provided their education.
After the war, the groups began to organize and many became more political in nature; some even sponsored by political parties. But the vast majority represented liberal ideals, though a growing number were also supportive of communism*.
But the largest of these groups, that would include teens, disgruntled ex-soldiers and workers, would become known as the "brown shirts", headed by the most unlikely heroes, Adolf Hitler.
Adolf Hitler and the Brown Shirts
After being released from hospital, Adolf Hitler remained in the army, where he was given domestic surveillance work. There was a growing number of radical extremist groups, who opposed Germany's surrender and the Treaty of Versailles, that demanded that Germany take full responsibility for the war, and pay reparations to their former enemies.
A revolution had taken place that ended the war, resulting in Kaiser Wilhelm's abdication and the formation of the Weimar Republic, a liberal democracy.
But not everyone was happy with this turn of events, and it was up to Hitler to infiltrate these groups and report any sinister 'plots' to the military command.
But what the brass had forgotten was Adolf's own radical leanings, and he soon found his place in the beer halls of Germany:
As those around him, and Hitler himself, came to recognise an unusual talent for articulating the most vulgar populist prejudices and resentments in the most demagogically appealing fashion, the self-awareness and self-confidence of the political agitator began to take shape. It was the start of his emergence from anonymity. (2)The new group that Hitler attached himself to was the German Worker's Party, an extreme nationalist-racist band of young men, who pounded out their ideas while pounding their beer mugs on the counters of Munich's drinking establishments.
And before long Adolf was initiating the very uprisings he was supposed to be helping to suppress. Time magazine reported in April of 1923:
Ten thousand undaunted warriors followed their great leader, Adolph Hitler, into battle. The occasion was the first military maneuvers held by the Bavarian Fascista Army, wholehearted supporters of the monarchy. All day long a bloodless battle raged around the villages of Starnberg and Oberwiensfeld just outside Munich. The men were a motley crew, some attired in civilian clothes, some in their old Reichswehr (Defence of the Realm) uniforms. But all were determined compatriots in the cause of the Vaterland. The men were equipped with revolvers and brass knuckles.Hitler also had the support of WWI veteran, Erich Friedrich Wilhelm Ludendorff, who believed that the radical young man may be Germany's best hope to return the monarchy to power**. Time suggested that their readers should view with alarm "The intimate relations of Ludendorff and Hitler." They were right.
... The men were supplied with slings for the latest one-man machine guns, but the weapons themselves were not visible. An air of reality was given to the sham fight by the dashing cavalry and by the motor cycle messengers. The Fascista organization is so strong in Bavaria that the Federal authorities are unable to check the movement, which has now established itself openly as a political force. Adolf Hitler, replying to charges made against him by the Munich Post, said: "I have never combatted the republican democratic form of state because I regard the present German Reich as neither a democracy nor a republic, but a Marxist—Jewish-International pigsty!" (3)
The pair were a force to be reckoned with, and would soon display their contempt for authority, when several members of their movement were summoned to appear before the Supreme Court on charges of conduct prejudicial to the safety of the republic:
Adolph Hitler, Fascist leader, also expects a summons to appear in Leipzig before the Supreme Court. He told his supporters that he would not go and exhorted them "to stand hard as steel by our movement***. We won't talk."The writing was on the wall, or at least in Time Magazine, as a new youth movement was about to take over.
General Ludendorff inspected several detachments of the Fatherland League troops (unofficial royalist army). After the men had goose-stepped past him, he addressed them: " The time is soon coming when the whole German people will be called on to free our country from the foe, when we can again serve in the good cause of our old ruling house, which we formerly so loyally and honorably served." (4)
Chapter Thirteen Continued: The Black Shirts
* In 1930 Hitler's 'brown shirt' fascist party won 107 seats and the Communist Party under Ernst Thalmann, won 77; of 577 seats. When Hitler gained power in 1933, he had Thalmann arrested and held in solitary confinement for 11 years, before finally giving the order to have him shot.
** When Hitler's fascist party had their first real election victory in 1930, winning 107 seats, Prince August Wilhelm von Hohenzollern, a son of Wilhelm II, sat in the Visitors' Gallery watching the opening of the German Reichstag. Papers had reported that the prince was a supporter of Hitler and had contributed large amounts of money to their election campaign. (4)
*** This confrontational attitude of these populist movements was quite common. When Stockwell Day was teaching at the Bentley Bible schools and the Alberta school board determined that the school's teachings were racist and anti-Semitic, Day told his followers that to accept the board's findings meant that they recognized their authority. (5) When a Parliamentary committee was investigating the irregularities into the election financing scheme of the Reform-Conservatives, dubbed "In and Out", Stephen Harper told witnesses to ignore subpoenas (6). When a committee was looking into the Afghan Detainee issue, he once again told his people to refuse to attend (7) and even before that, former diplomats who were called to speak at the Military Police Commission's inquiry, were threatened with legal actions if they dared. Only one Richard Colvin, felt duty bound to appear.
1. MR. FRIEDRICH TELLS OF "YOUTH MOVEMENT" IN GERMANY, the Harvard Crimson, November 22, 1922
2. Hitler: Profiles in Power, by: Ian Kershaw, Longman House UK, 1991, ISBN: 0-582-08053-3, Pg. 2
3. Bavarian Fascisti, Time magazine, April 07, 1923
4. Germany: Br, Time Magazine, October 27, 1930
5. Bentley, Alberta: Hellfire, Neo-Nazis and Stockwell Day, By: Gordon Laird, NOW Magazine, July, 2000.
6. Harper Invokes "Executive Privilege" in Elections Scam, By: Joan Russow, Pacific Press, August 15, 2008
7. Conservative boycott shuts down Afghan detainee hearing , By: Steve Chase, Globe and Mail, December 15, 2009
8. Federal lawyers pressure diplomat at detainees probe: lawyer, By: Tu Thanh Ha, Globe and Mail, Tuesday, October 6, 2009