Ph.D. Defense 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend
October 11th, 2019, 11 AM, International Conference Hall of Valahia University
Author: Dragoș Defta
Ph.D. advisor: Silviu Miloiu
The 12th Pz. Div. “Hitlerjugend” was one of the few Waffen-SS corps which extracted its Mannschaft from Hitler Youth Organisation exclusively. Membership to the newly formed division (initially assigned as ‘panzer-grenadier division’) was opened to young German males, with a minimum height of 170 cm, born in 1926 who, at the time of conscription, were 17 years old. The Leadership Corps of Hitler Youth (die Reichsjugendführung) had already reserved some 30,000 Hitler youth available to undertake a selection process in Health Offices that evaluated them medically and physically. The Admission Committee, responsible with their final evaluation, sent the recruits to the special military training camps known as ‘WEL’ – Wehrertüchtigungslager, where a 6-week intensive military training was to be delivered by Waffen-SS and Heer professionals (qualified officers). The young recruits were also to be exempted from the compulsory service in the ‘RAD’ – Reichsarbeitsdienst, or Reich Labour Service . The establishment of the WEL’s outlined one of the first factors that would later create the distinct nature of this Waffen-SS formation by the fact that all recruits had to perform a full session of military training prior to their actual assignment of the SS-Hitlerjugend Division.
There were a number of issues that put the last touches on the overall specificity of the Hitlerjugend panzer-division: apart from the youngsters who had all completed military training programme before being conscripted to Waffen-SS, there were the veteran officers corps which had been extracted from Leibstandarte Division, hereafter called as ‘mother-division’ of the Hitlerjugend. These front-hardened, genuine warfare professionals, who had reached notable military achievements on the eastern Front, took over the Division’s physical, psychological and technical preparation and implemented a set of values consisting of team spirit, combat motivation, commitment and determination through a leadership style unique of its kind, which imitated the authoritarian model specific to family-type of relationships. Another factor, that brought formidable contribution to the soldiers’ typical feature, came from the intensification of political and ideological lessons that added significant supplements to the indoctrination they had already been submitted to. The salient features of the World War II in Germany during 1944-1945 and, in particular, the specificity of the Invasion of Normandy were elements that influenced and shaped the Hitlerjugend fighters in a special way that will be also further explored. Although few people had initially been willing to accept, the conflagration in the West would soon prove of the same ferocity as in the East, or even worse. All belligerents were strongly animated by well-cultivated hatred against each other as a result of a long-term, elaborated and perfectly designed indoctrination. While the Allied troops were convinced they were fighting a non-human enemy, their German counterparts were sure they were opposing a sub-human enemy; this particular state of affairs created a specific feeling of mutual annihilation yearning. The specificity of the war in the West was perhaps best illustrated by the astonishing availability of both sides to commit outrageous war crimes and derailments from the international conventions regarding the treatment of the prisoners of war. Both sides benefited from circumstantial factors that enabled them to approach sensitive issues in a casually manner, since the immunity of unarmed civilians (or prisoners of war) were de-tabooed and thus became of lesser importance. Having said this, we strongly warn against the immorality of any moral equivalence exercise. Above all, the typical Hitlerjugend soldier displayed a unique psychological construct due to a series of causes: early childhood and home environments, subsequent political National-Socialist education, conscription to ideologically designed Hitler Youth camps and military training institutions, social environment contorted by savage bombardments of his homeland and eventually the impact of his own experience in dealing/fighting against the Allied enemies.
The problems of this study emerge from the peculiar characteristics of this élite military unit of the Third Reich’s Armed Forces and strive to answer some specific questions of it. In order to understand the military achievements or the noticeable combat motivation of the young soldiers belonging to Hitlerjugend Division, we need to firstly describe the Hitler Youth’s spirit and to identify those key issues that resulted into the creation of their special ethos. The youths of the Hitlerjugend Division were undoubtedly among the most relevant examples of a generation that grew and developed ethically, politically and ideologically in the purest spirit of National-Socialism and therefore this study also strives to answer whether the implementation of the entire palette of Nazi ideas resulted into a military machine that acted in a particular way, different from other Waffen-SS and Wehrmacht fighters. Did the National-Socialist system succeed or fail in the production of the best trained and ideologically suited warriors? In this line of logic, another subsequent question needs to be answered: had the National-Socialist dictatorship been able to successfully transfer the Nazi ideals into the Hitlerjugend soldier’s ethos? It is also to be further analysed whether, at the basement of what we commonly define the Hitlerjugend ethos, stands the Nazi propaganda alone, or the later development of war with its appalling atrocities inflicted upon the German unarmed civilians have also played a significant role in the creation of the typical Hitlerjugend soldier? Further questions on controversial matters need close examination: was their indisputable heroism an outcome of an insidious process of inducing fanaticism? How exactly their alleged fanaticism manifested and what consequences did it cause? How can we reconcile unquestionable proofs of fanatical behaviour with praised soldierly attitudes, comradeship relationships and other similar behaviours that animated these young warriors? And last but not least here opens the question of fanaticism itself: is fanaticism well described by popular approach that ‘one person’s hero is another person’s fanatic’ or the approach to fanaticism lay in more complex ethical context and must be applied accordingly? Since the ‘fanaticism phenomenon’ seems to have been attached particularly to Hitlerjugend Division perhaps to a much larger magnitude than to the case of other Waffen-SS formations, I approach this issue from different perspectives and therefore it will appear in several stages of our analysis dedicated to the typology of Hitlerjugend soldier. The question of fanaticism has been tackled in conjunction with a series of other peculiarities of the Hitlerjugend soldier, such as his battle performance, combat motivation and ideological acquirements; from the interplay of all these factors, the very issue of fanaticism, typical to Hitlerjugend soldiers to maybe a greater extent, can be studied thoroughly.