In observance of International Youth Day on August 12, Secretary-General António Guterres stated, “Young people are on the frontlines of the struggle to build a better future for all.” No one would disagree, but widespread disagreement on what “a better future” looks like calls to mind a sober warning by President Ronald Reagan: “Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. It has to be fought for and defended by each generation.”
Never has the truth of Reagan’s warning been more obvious than it is today as the battle heats up for the hearts and minds of our youth. No longer do our public schools teach our foundational—and transcendent—truths that “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Instead, from the moment our children enter the first grade, they are bombarded with the likes of critical race theory, gender theory, and comprehensive sex education.
For President Joe Biden, however, the first grade is not early enough for such massive indoctrination. In his outlandishly misnamed American Families Plan, Biden proposes—at a cost of $1.8 trillion over 10 years—to create a partnership with states to provide “free, high-quality, accessible and inclusive preschool” to all 3- and 4-year-olds.
Chester Finn, a senior fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, responds, “Preschool support, sure—Biden’s plan, no.” Its misleading title notwithstanding, says Finn, what the Biden plan would really do is impose “heavy-handed federal regulation of preschooling, with an emphasis on expanding downward the age of entry into public schools.”
Those who study history will hear a familiar ring. “I begin with the young,” declared Adolf Hitler when he became Chancellor of Germany in 1933. “With them, I can create a new world.” And he did—a world of unprecedented devastation and destruction and suffering. And he could not have done it without the Hitler Youth, Hitlerjugend (and its female counterpart, the Bund Deutscher Mädel, or BDM).
The harrowing history of the Hitler Youth is one of tyranny, indoctrination, and the wholesale marshalling of an entire generation to transform Germany into an evil dictatorship and to fuel the Nazi war machine which would wreak havoc on the world. The Hitler Youth rapidly expanded during Hitler’s chancellorship, growing into the millions by the end of 1933 under the Nazi mandate that all German youth be “educated” in the spirit of National Socialism. Meanwhile, as told in Susan Campbell Bartoletti’s award-winning book Hitler Youth,
Desperate to hold on to its young people, the Catholic Church struck an agreement with the Nazi government. The agreement permitted Catholics to practice their faith, but it forbade activities that the Nazis considered to be functions of the state. For instance, the Catholic youth groups were not allowed to wear uniforms, to take excursions into the countryside, or to print or distribute journals. Despite the agreement, the Catholic Church suffered constant harassment from the Nazi Party. Hitler’s secret police, the Geheime Staatspolizei, or Gestapo, hounded Catholic priests, nuns, and other church officials, instructing priests what to say in their sermons and classrooms. They censored Catholic magazines and newsletters. Priests who criticized the Nazi Party were sent to prison or concentration camps or were murdered outright. A priest who told an anti-Nazi joke was arrested and executed.
The Catholic youth groups were among Germany’s more than four hundred youth groups, all of which—except Hitler Youth and its female counterpart—were soon disbanded due to Nazi persecution.
As a result of such pressure, the Hitler Youth and BDM quickly grew into the largest and most powerful organization for young people ever known. By 1935, it numbered nearly four million members—nearly fifty percent of all German youth, age ten to eighteen. But Hitler wanted more. On December 1, 1936, Hitler passed a law requiring all healthy young Germans (excluding Jews) “to be educated physically, intellectually, and morally in the spirit of National Socialism.” The new law ended any agreement between Hitler and the Catholic Church. Now, parents who prevented their children from joining the Hitler Youth were threatened with heavy prison sentences. Three years later, a tougher second law warned parents who did not comply that their children would be taken from them. As a result of the two laws, nearly eight million children donned the brown uniforms of the Hitler Youth in 1939.
The younger members underwent a trial period after being inducted in a solemn ceremony involving the “Blood Banner,” a flag that was supposedly dipped in the blood of martyrs.
First, a Nazi Party leader gave a short speech. Then, one by one, each boy and girl stepped forward to take the Hitler Youth oath. Karl recalled how he had gripped the Blood Banner with his left hand and raised three fingers of his right hand and recited the oath: “In the presence of this Blood Banner, which represents our Führer, I swear to devote all my energies and my strength to the Savior of our country, Adolf Hitler. I am willing and ready to give up my life for him, so help me, God.” When all Jungvolk and Jungmädel had recited the oath, the trumpets blared a fanfare, and a military band burst out in National Socialist songs. The children were now trial members of the Hitler Youth. During the trial period, each boy and girl had to pass a written examination to make sure they had mastered Nazi ideas about race and politics. They also had to prove their racial background.
The Hitler Youth became an extension of Nazi tyranny in every facet of German society, including public education.
For Hitler, education had one purpose: to mold children into good Nazis. As soon as the Nazis came to power, they took control of the public schools, called National Schools. They threw out old textbooks and implemented new ones. They rewrote the curriculum from top to bottom, so that it only taught Nazi-approved ideas. Soon, the Nazi flag and Hitler’s portrait hung in every classroom. “In the morning, we stood at attention, and there was the Nazi flag,” said Karl Schnibbe. “We always had to start class with ‘Heil Hitler!’ There was no more, ‘Good morning, children.’” The Nazis wanted to ensure that the teachers were politically reliable and supported the National Socialist Party and its principles. To accomplish this end, teachers were given a choice: Either join the National Socialist Teacher’s Alliance and train the students in National Socialism or be dismissed. The Hitler Youth enjoyed the power they had over teachers and other authority figures. Dressed in full uniform, entire Hitler Youth squads—as many as one hundred boys—showed up at classroom doors to intimidate teachers who did not espouse the Nazi worldview.
Not all teachers were willing to go along, but those who did became instruments of Nazi propaganda themselves.
The Nazi Party pressured teachers for 100 percent Hitler Youth membership, and the teachers, in turn, pressured the students to join…. Some teachers quit rather than join the Nazis. Those who refused to quit were dealt with harshly…. Nazi teachers changed the curriculum, adding two new subjects: racial science and eugenics. In racial science lessons, children were taught Aryans belonged to a superior master race that was intended to rule Europe. In eugenics lessons, children were taught that Aryans should marry only healthy Aryans. They were told not to “mix their blood” by marrying non-Aryans.
Hitler Youth also assisted in the persecution of Jews.
Hitler Youth and Storm Troopers plunged into nightclubs, theaters, and cafés, dragging out every customer who looked like a Jew and beating him bloody on the sidewalk. As the Hitler Youth marched through neighborhoods, they sang hateful songs with lyrics such as, “When Jew blood spurts from the carving knife/ Oh, it’s that much more okay!”
As the violence and bloodshed escalated, the Hitler Youth were there to help.
Riots broke out in cities all over Germany and in nearby Austria, where a large number of ethnic Germans lived. Storm Troopers, SS men, and Hitler Youth banded together, attacking Jews and destroying their businesses, synagogues, and homes. In Hamburg, Karl Schnibbe saw the broken glass from smashed windows. Expensive furs and clothing and other goods lay dumped in the gutters. “Everything was wrecked,” said Karl. “It looked as though a war had started.” Bert Lewyn, now fifteen, couldn’t believe the news about the attacks. Why would the German people attack Jews? Destroy their businesses? Burn their synagogues? Club old men? He and the other Jews were good citizens who even followed the growing number of Nuremberg Race Laws. Distraught, Bert wanted to see the destruction for himself. He headed for downtown Berlin, where he saw large mobs swarming around Jewish-owned department stores, smashing the display windows and looting. They stole furs, jewelry, silver, clothes, and furniture, anything they could carry. People tossed goods out of the upper-story windows to friends waiting down below. Smoke from burning synagogues filled the air.
The parallels between all this and the America of today are too obvious to miss. Who would have thought that our youth would be targeted by those who hate America and our Founding principles of freedom and faith? Who would have thought that our schools would be swept up in an indoctrination campaign based on race and politics, forcing teachers to resign and parents to withdraw their children? Who would have thought that religious institutions would be under attack and that American society would be torn asunder by vitriol and division? Who would have thought that violent mobs would wreck and plunder our cities? Indeed, who would have thought that the Hitler Youth movement would serve as a warning to America?
At this pivotal time in our history, time is of the essence. In Mark Levin’s American Marxism, his list of specific recommendations about taking back public education is prefaced by a plea that “In every school district in America, local committees of patriotic community activists must organize” and “get involved in virtually every aspect of local public education. We can no longer leave the education of our children and the well-being of our community to ‘the professionals.’”
But we must do more, much more, than just win the battle over public education. Among other things, including a number addressed by Levin, we must also proactively teach our youth—at home, at church, in our communities, on social media, and in every venue and by every means available—the fundamental truths (some we have already discussed) that form the foundation of freedom and faith and family. We must win their hearts and minds and enable them to see through the kind of seductive lies that devastated an entire generation of German youth—and with them much of the world.
Will this be the one generation Reagan spoke of in which freedom becomes extinct? Here is what he predicted will happen if we don’t fight for it, protect it, and hand it on.
Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected, and handed on for them to do the same, or one day we will spend our sunset years telling our children and children’s children what it was once like in the United States where men were free.