The League of German Girls (Bund Deutsche Mädel or BDM) was part of the Hitler Youth movement in Nazi Germany. The League of German Girls was for girls aged between 14 and 18 and followed on from the Young Girls League that was for girls aged between 10 and 14 years.
The whole idea of having a solely girls organisation within Nazi Germany started in the 1920’s. Hitler had already formulated his belief that young girls had to undergo training to make them fit and strong enough to be good German mothers to ensure the survival of the 1000 year Reich. While the Nazi Party was still a relatively weak political party prior to the 1929 Great Depression, it did have the Sisterhood of the Hitler Youth. In 1932, the name was changed to the League of German Girls. But initially membership of this youth movement was purely voluntary.
On June 17th 1933, all youth movements other than the components of the Hitler Youth were ended by law. Some were closed down for good while others were absorbed into the Hitler Youth. The policy of Gleichshaltung (coordination) extended to Germany’s youth. Hitler wanted all German children to follow the same path, be it physical or spiritual.
Once the Enabling Act had been passed in March 1933, Hitler was free to ensure that such organisations were no longer run on a voluntary basis – membership of Nazi youth movements became compulsory for boys and girls in December 1936.
The leader of the Hitler Youth movement, and therefore the BDM, was Baldur von Shirach. However, in 1934, specific responsibility for the BDM was given to Trude Mohr. She answered directly to Shirach. Mohr got married in 1937 and as a result had to give up her position in the BDM as no BDM leader was allowed to marry or had to resign if they did. She was succeeded by Dr. Jutta Rüdiger who led the organisation until it was ended in 1945.
Girls in the BDM received what would have been perceived then as the traditional training and education they would have needed to be good wives and mothers. A great deal of what they did was geared towards this. However, the older girls also received training for some jobs.
Members of the BDM went on weekend camps while a long summer camp was available and subsidised for those families who could not afford to pay the full cost of such camps. They were taught about National Socialism and what it meant to Germany. After a day at school, BDM members went to evening classes where they consolidated their knowledge on domestic issues. Most weekend meetings of the BDM were spent on hard physical activities to ensure that they were physically fit when they got married. Long distance marches, running and outdoor swimming would have been common. Girls in the BDM were also required to take part in community events and “political activities”.
“Young girls from the age of ten onwards were taken into organisations where they were taught two things: to take care of their bodies so they could bear as many children as the State needed and to be loyal to National Socialism.” (Martha Dodd in “My Years in Germany”)
The successful completion of your time in the BDM meant that a girl was partway entitled to go to university or into a job. However, before this could be done every girl who wanted to go on to further education or a job, had to compete a year’s land service – the so-called ‘Landfrauenjahr’. This again was an extension of Hitler’s belief that true Germans were associated with the land – the belief in ‘blood and soil’. An alternate route – one taken by Sophie Scholl who was in the BDM – was to work with children in a kindergarten. Again, this fulfilled part of Hitler’s belief that young women needed to be associated with children and what better way than to look after them when they were very young.
Some young ladies chose to stay in the BDM in a group called ‘Belief and Beauty’, which was for 17 to 21 year olds. This further developed their knowledge of domestic life and how to be a ‘good’ wife.
“Our (BDM) camp community was a reduced model of that which I imagined our national community to be. It was a completely successful model. Never before or since have I had the experience of such a good community. The fact that I experienced this model of a national community intensely created in me an optimism to which I held on stubbornly until 1945. Surprised by this experience I believed in the face of all the evidence to the contrary that this model could be extended infinitely.” Melissa Maschmann in ‘Account Rendered’.
During World War Two, BDM girls were called on to help out in a number of ways. They collected old clothing that could be used to clothe those who had lost everything in Allied bombing raids. They also collected paper to make into fuel. BDM girls also helped out in hospitals and at train stations where they helped wounded soldiers. BDM choirs also toured hospitals to entertain wounded troops. As World War Two intensified and more and more German cities were bombed, BDM girls were used on the searchlight crews. Some were sent to Occupied Poland to help ‘educate’ young Polish girls who had been selected to live with German families because of their closeness to racial purity. By the time these young girls arrived in Germany, it was expected that part of the task of ‘Germanising’ them had been completed by BDM girls.
It is also known that a very small number of BDM girls helped to defend Berlin against the Red Army – such was the fear of the ‘Plague from the East’ – when they joined the Home Front. It is not known how many were killed in doing so and Rüdiger denied supporting this or ordering it when she was questioned after the war.
The Allied Control Council formally ended the League of German Girls on October 10th 1945.
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