The history section is meant to give the casual reader and serious researcher a quick overview of the history of the League of German Girls, similarly to a Cliff-Notes style overview that one might find in a history book. This will give you a general idea how the League was founded, who was placed in charge, and other relevant facts and figures.
In order to make things easier to find, I split the history sections into smaller sub-categories. This should make it easier for the serious researcher to access relevant information quickly, and help the casual reader gain an overview of what the League of German Girls was and did.
In 1918, Germany emerged as one of the losers of the First World War and found itself in a desperate position.
Not only had Germany used up many of its resources fighting a two-fronts war from 1914 until 1918 and lost much of its generation of young men, but it now faced a horrible depression, high unemployment rates, and the strict sanctions imposed on it by the victorious nations.
Within Germany's borders, civil unrest ruled the day. Some of its territories West of the Rhine were occupied by French troops, while in other areas, communist groups sought to take control of the unstable Nation. Clashes between communists, socialists, nationalists, and police, military, and paramilitary forces in the street and during demonstrations were common.
During all of this, the German Youth Movement went through a revival and many new youth groups and clubs were formed. Some were political in nature, while others were scouting movements, and yet others were nature or hiking clubs such as the Wandervogel movement. With the youth culture in full swing, it comes as no surprise that even in the very early days of the National-Sozialistische Deutsche Arbeiter Partei, the National-Socialist German Workers' Party, the youth played an important role as well.
At first, most of the party's youth groups formed locally, and were not centrally organized in any way by the party. However, numbers started to grow, continued growing, and eventually grew into the organization Hitler Youth, which was active under that name as early as 1923. Once the boys of the Hitler Youth started to get organized, their female counterparts were quick to follow. The majority of the early female youth members had been introduced to national-socialism by their older brothers, and soon began to form their own groups which were dubbed Hitlerjugend Schwesternschaften, or Hitler Youth Sororities.
Although Hitler Youth groups already existed, the Hitler Youth as an organization was only officially founded at the 1926 party congress. During this time, the girls groups still remained widely overlooked. It was not until 1930 that the organization now known as the League of German Girls was founded, and only in 1932 did it become a part of the overall Hitler Youth. Although the group was now official and offered a lot of activities that attracted teenage girls, membership was much lower than in the male organization, and throughout its existence, the League of German Girls would never reach the same amount of members as the male Hitler Youth. On the other hand, however, the group also did not enforce membership as stringently as their male counterparts did.
From the official inception of the Hitler Youth in 1926 and the integration of the League of German Girls in 1932, Baldur von Schirach served as its leader and held the title of Reichsjugendfuehrer, National Youth Leader. Von Schirach reported directly to, and was responsible only to Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler. The fact that the League of German Girls was to be integrated into the Hitler Youth did not sit well with the women of the women's organization of the Nazi party, the Frauenschaft, who believed that any female youth groups should fall under the leadership of the Frauenschaft. Hitler, however, decided otherwise.
The highest leader of the League of German Girls was the BDM Reichsreferentin, or National Speaker of the League of German Girls, who was advised by and reported to Baldur von Schirach, but was able to otherwise govern the League of German Girls autonomously without having to wait for approval from Von Schirach. According to Dr. Jutta Ruediger, who served as National Speaker from 1937 until the end of the war in 1945, both Baldur von Schirach, as well as his successor, Artur Axmann, let the heads of the League of German Girls run their own organization without interference, but offered advice and an open door whenever there were concerns.
The League of German Girls was the female part of the overall national-socialist youth movement known as the Hitler Youth. Its proper title was The League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth.
Until the year 1936, when membership became officially compulsory under the First Hitler Youth Law, membership was strictly voluntary for girls who were at least ten years old, and eligible to join. The group did not have an official age limit, and young women could remain with the League of German Girls as long as they did not get married or have children. If a girl married or became pregnant, she was no longer considered "youth" and had to leave the organization. Most of the BDM's leaders were ladies with university educations of finished job training who ranged in age from their mid-twenties until their late forties.
Membership requirements were fairly simple: prospective members had to be at least ten years of age, hold German citizenship, and could not be more than one-eight Jewish. Members also had to be physically as well as mentally healthy. In this, they different some from the male Hitler Youth which had special formations for boys who were deaf or blind.
In addition, higher leaders had to be able to trace their ancestry until the year 1800 to prove that they were of non-Jewish descent. However, exceptions were made for leaders who had distinguished themselves in their service yet were not able to prove non-Jewish heritage back to 1800.
In 1936, membership in the League of German Girls became officially compulsive. While this was a rule that was often very strictly enforced with the male Hitler Youth, where the boys and his parents faced stiff penalties if he did not join when he was old enough to do so, the League of German Girls did not actually enforce the Hitler Youth Law until the year 1940 because voluntary membership already included the majority of girls who were eligible to join. According to a Hitler Youth publication on the Jungmaedel service, over 7 million girls were already members of the League of German Girls at this point.
Even though the Hitler Youth Law officially made membership compulsive, it also served to officially recognize the Hitler Youth as a part of the National-Socialist Party, which opened the doors for many monetary contributions from local and regional governmental offices. Without these sources of government funding, a lot of the Hitler Youth's opportunities and programs, particularly those allowing groups of the League of German Girls and the male Hitler Youth to travel, would not have been possible.
An important part of life in the League of German Girls was to help the girls build character, and to prepare them for what were supposed to be their future tasks within the Nazi Volksgemeinschaft, or people's community, by getting them involved in programs that were for the "good of the people", such as collecting for the Winter Relief, helping with the harvest or collecting medicinal herbs in the fields.
But to the girls, many of the League of German Girls' activities looked like lots of fun and like something they really wanted to participate in along with their friends. Many of the activities were not unlike what youth organizations offer today: BDM members could see movies or plays at reduced rates, go on field trips, or go away to camp during their school holidays. They were also able to compete against one another locally, regionally, and nationally in sports and other competitions.
The smallest of the local League of German Girls groups, the Maedelschaft was made up of approximately fifteen girls, who usually were from the same part of town or even the same neighborhood, and held meetings twice a week. One of the meetings was called the Heimatabend (social evening), during which the girls met at a local community center or in a room of the local "Braunes Haus" (brown house - the local national-socialist party building). The home evening was planned and led by the group leader, the Maedelschaftsfuehrerin, who was an older girl who had attended a leadership school, and it was in large part up to her what the group did during their meeting. Most groups enjoyed singing and arts and crafts, but most had a required curriculum of political lessons that most members considered "boring" and something you just "had to sit through". The other meeting during the week was a sports afternoon during which girls played games and did athletics or gymnastics. Please check the peacetime activities section for more information on this topic.
The League of German Girls also placed big importance on finishing school and getting training in a profession. Prior to this time, job training for women was still fairly uncommon in Germany as well as elsewhere in the world. While girls from good families were able to attend school and later on university, girls from lesser families who had to enter the workforce in order to support their families until they got married, generally worked as untrained help or secretaries. The League of German Girls tried to have its leaders, many of whom came from better families, set an example to the younger girls - most of the regional and national leaders were successful women who held degrees and doctorates. It was expected of leaders to serve as an example for the other members, and leaders were discouraged from wearing loud makeup, or smoking and drinking in public.
An aspect that appealed to many of the teenage girls in the League of German Girls was that the BDM openly advertised jobs and job training for women, which was very progressive and even emancipating for its time. In the Hitler Youth, girls were able to partake in most activities that their male counterparts participated in, such as travel, sports, and vocational training. In everyday German life back then, it had been previously unheard of for girls to go to camp or travel without their parents for longer periods at time. As a matter of fact, travel in general was often very limited, particularly in working class families. Only a few Hitler Youth activities remained closed to girls, such as the motorized HJ. According to former leader Dr. Jutta Ruediger, "If a group of girls had expressed an interest into an activity that was not yet offered to them where they were at, for example, glider flying, it could have been made available to them provided there was enough interest and the financial capacity to make it a reality."
It was not until the end of the 1930s and the establishment of the Belief and Beauty Society, which was meant to serve as a tie-in between the League of German Girls and the female part of the Nazi party, the Frauenschaft, that more feminine programs and activities were added to the girls' curriculum - such as home economics and classes on caring for children. While the traditional role of woman and mother was always considered the ideal for girls in the League of German Girls (when they came of proper age, of course), the training and vocational programs offered them opportunities outside the roles of wife and mother.
I believe that one should note at this point that the view that women traditionally should get married and care for their families, rather than go to work and stay single (or even go to work while being married), was not at all limited to the Third Reich, but was, in fact, considered to be the correct thing to do for women elsewhere, including in the United States.
On December 1, 1936, the First Hitler Youth Law was passed. This law made membership in the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls mandatory for all youths who were eligible for membership - which means, they were at least ten years old and no more than one-eight Jewish, as well as in good healthy physically and mentally.
The Hitler Youth Law
The future of the German people depends on its youth. Therefore, all of the German youth must be prepared for its future duties. The nation's government has therefore decreed the following:
1. All German youths within the borders of the German nation will be incorporated into the Hitler Youth.
2. All German youths are to be educated in the Hitler Youth, as well as in their parents' homes and in their schools, physically and morally, in the spirit of national-socialism, to the service for people and community.
3. The task of raising the German youth in the Hitler Youth will be given to the National leader of the NSDAP. He is therefore the Youth Leader of the German Nation. He holds the position of a high government office with location in Berlin, and he is directly under the command of the Leader and Nation's Chancellor.
4. The laws and general administrative regulations necessary to the implementation and correction of this law are governed by the Leader and the Nation's Chancellor.
Berlin, 1 December 1936
The Leader and Nation's Chancellor
Two additional laws about the Hitler Youth were passed in 1939 and 1941, respectively, setting down more guidelines and harsher punishment for those who had not yet joined or whose parents had kept them from joining. The 1939 Hitler Youth Law, which was passed on March 25, 1939, is called the Second Hitler Youth Law and its full text is found below.
The Second Hitler Youth Law
On the basis of Article 4 of the First Hitler Youth Law of 1 December 1936, I order:Article 1
Duration of Service
1. Service in the Hitler Youth is honorary service to the German people.
2. All youths from the tenth until the end of their eighteenth year are obliged to serve in the Hitler Youth, namely:
1. Boys between the ages of 10 and 14 in the Junior Hitler Youth (DJ)
2. Boys between the ages of 14 and 18 in the Hitler Youth (HJ)
3. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 in the Girls Junior Hitler Youth (JM)
4. Girls between the ages of 14 and 18 in the League of German Girls (BDM)
3. Students of elementary schools who have already completed their 10th year of age are deferred from service in the Hitler Youth until they leave elementary school.
4. Students of middle schools who have already completed their 14th year of age remain, until their discharge from school, members of the Junior Hitler Youth (DJ and JM).
All boys and girls of the Hitler Youth are subject to a public legal educational authority according to the provisions of regulations, decreed by the Leader and Nation's Chancellor.
(1) These youths are ineligible for membership in the Hitler Youth and thus are excluded from the community of the Hitler Youth:
1. Those who commit dishonorable acts,
2. Were dismissed from the Hitler Youth before this law came into effect because of dishonorable acts,
3. Who cause offense by their moral behavior in the Hitler Youth or in public, and therefore discredit the Hitler Youth
(2) Furthermore, youths are excluded from membership in the Hitler Youth if they are in official custody.
(3) The Youth leader of the German Nation can permit exceptions.
(1) Youths who have been found, in the opinion of a medical officer of the Hitler Youth or of a physician commissioned by the Hitler
Youth, to be unfit or only partially fit for service in the Hitler Youth must be relieved altogether or partially from service in the
Hitler Youth according to the medical decision.
(2) The cooperation between health offices and the execution of other hygienic measures will be regulated by the Youth Leaders of the German Nation in agreement with the Leader's Deputy and the Nation's Minister of the Interior.
Deferment and Exemption
(1) On request of the legal guardian or the Hitler Youth leader, youths can be deferred or
exempted from service in the Hitler Youth
up to the duration of one year, if:
1. They are retarded considerably in their physical development,
2. In the judgment of the school principal, they cannot fulfill the demands of school without exemption.
(2) In individual cases, a request for deferment or exemption from service in the Hitler Youth can also be granted when the conditions of part 1 do not exist, but if there are other urgent reasons which justify the temporary or permanent absence of a youth from service in the Hitler Youth.
(3) The Youth Leader of the German Nation will issue further regulations.
German citizens of non-German national origin
(1) Youths of German citizenship whose father or both parents belong, according to
their own statement, to the Danish or Polish
ethnic groups, are to be exempted from membership in the Hitler Youth on request of those who are charged with their care. If several
persons have the right and duty to care for the youth, and not every one of them makes the request, the youth may be exempted.
Illegitimate children may be exempted from membership in the Hitler Youth on request of those who are charged with their care if their
mother belongs to the Danish or Polish racial group according to her own statement; they are to be exempted if the guardian agrees
to the request.
(2) The request is to be made to the lower administrative authorities. The higher administrative authority will investigate whether there is an acknowledgement of membership in the Danish or Polish ethnic group. More specific administrative rules will be issued by the Minister of the Interior in agreement with the Youth Leader of the German Nation.
(3) The Minister of the Interior exercises the supervision over youth organizations of the Danish or Polish ethnic groups. New foundations need his permission.
(4) No compulsion may be exercised by anyone toward the membership of a youth organization of the Danish or Polish ethic groups.
Jews (Article 5 of the 1st proclamation to the law of citizenship of November 14, 1935, RGB1, page 1333) are excluded from membership in the Hitler Youth.
German citizens residing abroad
Youths of German citizenship who reside abroad and who are only temporarily in Germany are not obliged to serve in the Hitler Youth.
Registration and Induction
(2) The legal guardian of the youth is liable for the registration.
(3) Induction into the Hitler Youth takes place on April 20 of each year.
(4) The Youth Leader of the German Nation will issue more specific regulations about registration and induction into the Hitler Youth.
(1) The following will be discharged from the Hitler Youth:
1. Males after the expiration of the period laid down in Article 1, and girls who marry,
2. Youths who are excluded from membership in the Hitler Youth according to the regulations of this law,
(2) Article 3, part 3 apply accordingly to Number 2 and 3.
(3) Male and female leaders remain members of the Hitler Youth after the period fixed in Article 1 has expired. Their discharge will take place by special regulations. They are to be discharged on their request.
Leave of absence during service in the Hitler Youth
(1) Membership in the Hitler Youth becomes inactive for the duration of active military service.
(2) Members of the National Labor Service may not be active in the service of the Hitler Youth.
(2) Whoever malevolently prevents or attempts to prevent a youth from serving in the Hitler Youth will be punished with prison and a fine, or with one of these punishments.
(3) Legal punitive action will only be taken on request of the Youth Leader of the German Nation. The request can be withdrawn.
(4) Youths can be forced by the respective local authorities to fulfill the duties with which they are charged on the basis of this law, and of the implementative regulations issued for it.
Berlin, 25 March 1939
The Leader and Nation's Chancellor
The Deputy of the Leader
Reich's Minister and Chief of the Chancellery
To make keeping track of the history of the League of German Girls a bit easier for students and researchers, we are providing an abbreviated timeline, beginning with the League's official founding date in June 1930. If you think that we have left out any significant events, please email us and let us know.
Inception of the League of German Girls as the female section of the Hitler Youth which had been founded in 1926 and was under the overall leadership of Baldur von Schirach.
June 7, 1932
The League of German Girls becomes the only official girls organization in Germany. After some argument by the female part of the Nazi party, the Frauenschaft, the BDM becomes part of the Hitler Youth.
National Youth Leader Baldur von Schirach introduces the sports proficiency badge for the (male) Hitler Youth.
Inception of the League of German Girls householding schools, where one-year courses were given on child care and other aspects of home economics, many of which were taught by members of the Frauenschaft.
December 1, 1936
The First Hitler Youth Law makes membership compulsory for all German boys and girls over the age of 10.
Inception of the Belief and Beauty Society, a new voluntary group for BDM members between the ages of 17 and 21.
January 1, 1939
Inception of the Pflichtjahr, which was a year of mandatory civil services for all unmarried women below the age of 25. The service year could be spent as a live-in nanny, a farm worker, an air raid warden, and in several roles supporting the military, such as communications (signal helpers, for example) or troop support activities similar to USO activities in the United States.