Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team
Early Nazi Leaders
Nazi Racial Laws
Sinti & Roma
Baldur von Schirach
Reich Youth Leader
Baldur von Schirach was born in Berlin on the 9 March 1907, the son of an aristocratic German father and an American mother whose ancestors included two signatories of the Declaration of Independence. On his father’s side descended from an officers’ family with artistic tendencies and a cosmopolitan background, Baldur grew up in a pampered, well-to-do environment.
One of the earliest members of the Nazi Party, he entered the party in 1924 while attending the University of Munich, where he briefly studied German folklore and art history, he was soon a member of its innermost circle, despite his youth.
Von Schirach became a convinced anti-Semite after reading Henry Ford’s The International Jew and writings by Houston S. Chamberlain and Adolf Bartels. The aristocratic von Schirach was also a militant opponent of Christianity and of his own caste.
Throwing himself body and soul into organising high school and university students for the Nazi Party, von Schirach proved himself an outstanding organiser and propagandist of National Socialism.
With his infectious enthusiasm and power to inspire youth with the ideals of comradeship, sacrifice, courage and honour, von Schirach was highly regarded by Hitler who also appreciated his blind devotion as expressed in hero-worshipping verses and sycophantic sayings.
In 1929 von Schirach was put in charge of the National Socialist German Students League and two years later he was appointed Reich Youth Leader of the NSDAP, a post he held until 1940.
In 1933 he organised the gigantic youth march in Potsdam, in which wave upon wave of youngsters greeted Hitler. Already before the Nazi seizure of power, von Schirach ceaseless propaganda, his idealism and organisational flair for mobilising youth had succeeded in winning over hundreds of thousands of young Germans to Hitler’s cause.
In May 1933 he was made Leader of the Youth of the German Reich at the age of twenty-six and in the next few years his cult seemed second only to that of Hitler himself. He married Henriette Hoffmann, daughter of Hitler’s official photographer. Placed in control of the Hitler Youth, which by 1936 already comprised of six million members, von Schirach used a powerful mixture of pagan romanticism. Militarism and naïve patriotism to build up recruits for Hitler’s war machine.
Young Germans were to be drilled into acceptance of Nazi concepts of character, discipline, obedience and leadership as set out in von Schirach’s book, Die Hitler – Jugend published in 1934, they were to be moulded into a new race of “supermen.”
Von Schirach who fancied himself as a writer and poet, published two books which were best-sellers in 1932, Hitler wie ihn Keiner Kennt, with photographs by his father –in –law, Heinrich Hoffmann (Hitler’s official photographer) and Triumph des Willens.
The following year, his collection of poems, Die Fahne der Verfolgten and the short biographies of Nazi leaders, Die Pionere des Dritten Reiches, were published. Von Schirach taught German youth that their blood was better than that of any nation and devoted his lyricism to hollow worship of the Fuhrer’s genius.
Towards the outbreak of the Second World War, his position was being undermined by the intrigues of Martin Bormann and other enemies. Jokes about his effeminate behaviour and his allegedly white bedroom furnished in a girlish manner, were legion and he was never quite able to live up to his own ideal type of the hard, tough quick Hitler youth.
At the beginning of 1940, von Schirach enlisted as a volunteer in the German army, serving in France for a few months as an infantry officer and receiving the Iron Cross – Second Class. In 1940 he organized the evacuation of 5 million children from cities threatened by Allied bombing.
Later that year, he joined the army and volunteered for service in France, where he was awarded the Iron Cross before being recalled. Schirach lost control of the Hitler Youth to Artur Axmann, and was appointed Gauleiter of the Reichsgau Vienna, a post in which he remained until the end of the war.
His unorthodox cultural policies in Austria soon aroused Hitler’s distrust, with promptings from Bormann, and after a visit to the Berghof in 1943, where he pleaded for a more moderate treatment of the eastern European peoples and criticised the conditions in which Jews were being deported, he lost all real influence.
Nevertheless, he was on record in a speech on the 15 September 1942 as saying that the “removal” of Jews to the East would “contribute” to European culture.” The deportation of 65,000 Jews from Vienna to Poland during his tenure as Governor was a major indictment against von Schirach at the Nuremberg trials.
The war crimes tribunal conceded that he did not originate the policy but had participated in the deportations from Vienna, though he knew that the best the Jews could hope for was a miserable existence in the ghetto’s in the East.
During his trial, he underwent a change of heart, recognizing that he had misled German youth and contributed to poisoning a whole generation. He stated: "I put my morals to the side when, out of misplaced faith in the Führer, I took part in this action. I did it. I cannot undo it."
With regard to the death camp Auschwitz he said: "It was the most all-encompassing and diabolical genocide ever committed by man .. Adolf Hitler gave the order .. Hitler and Himmler together started this crime against humanity which will remain a blot on our history for centuries .."
Von Schirach admitted that he had approved the “resettlement” but denied all knowledge of genocide, denouncing Hitler from the dock as a “million –fold murderer,” and calling Auschwitz “the most devilish mass murder in history.”
Von Schirach was sentenced on the 1 October 1946 to twenty years imprisonment for crimes against humanity in which he served out in the company of Rudolf Hess and Albert Speer in Spandau prison.
In his memoirs Ich Glaubte an Hitler, published one year after his release from Spandau prison in Berlin, von Schirach tried to explain the fatal fascination which Hitler had exerted on him and on the younger generation.
He now considered it his duty to destroy any belief in the rebirth of Nazism and blamed himself before history for not having done more to prevent the concentration camps.
After his release on the 30 September 1966, von Schirach lived a secluded life in south-west Germany. He died in his sleep at a small hotel in Kroev an der Mosel on the 8 August 1974.
Who’s Who in Nazi Germany by Robert S Wistrich, published by Routledge, London 1995
Holocaust Historical Society
Leaders and Personalities of the Third Reich by Charles Hamilton published by R. James Bender 1984
Copyright: Victor Smart H.E.A.R.T 2008