Himmler realised only too well that it was essential that the best minds among the youth of Germany should be cultivated to ensure a continual pool of talent willing and able to fill the highest positions in the hierarchies of the SS and National Socialist state. University lecturers and school teachers were actively encouraged to join the Allgemeine-SS, and Fritz Wächtler, the head of the NS-Lehrerbund or Nazi Teachers’ League, was given the rank of SS-Obergruppenführer. The ultimate aim was that the most selective schools and colleges should be dominated by the SS.

On 20 April 1933, Dr Bernhard Rust, Reich Minister for Science, Education and Culture, set up the first of a series of special residential schools to train the future Germanic élite. They were termed National Political Educational Institutes, or Nationalpolitische Erziehungsanstalten, commonly abbreviated to NPEA or Napolas, although the latter term was unpopular because it sounded too Italian. Three were opened during the course of 1933, at Plön in Schleswig-Holstein, Potsdam in Berlin and Köslin in Pomerania. Five more (Spandau, Naumburg, Ilfeld, Stuhm and Oranienstein) followed in 1934, with a further eight (Bensburg, Ballenstedt, Backnang, Rottweil, Klotzsche, Neuzelle, Schulpforte and Wahlstatt) the next year. Favourite locations were old army cadet schools, requisitioned monasteries or refurbished castles.

The motto of the NPEA was ‘Mehr sein als scheinen’, which is perhaps most meaningfully translated as ‘Be Modest, but Always Excel’. The end product of these schools was to be a political soldier who could be entrusted with the leadership of any type of public service activity. Each establishment received an average of 400 applications for admission annually, of which around 100 were successful. A comprehensive academic education encompassing history, geography, music, the arts, languages, politics, mathematics, biology, physics and chemistry was provided for boys between the ages of ten and eighteen years, and there was also a strong emphasis on physical training. Specialisation, both academic and sporting, was encouraged. Some Napolas aimed at producing scientists, others linguists, and a number of pupils were allowed to concentrate on developing their skills in rowing, boxing, fencing, riding, skiing, yachting, gliding, and so on. The boys came from all walks of life, and where parents could not afford payment of tuition the fees were usually waived.

One of the more original features of the NPEA was the importance placed on practical education. The younger boys had to spend six to eight weeks of each year working on a farm, while the older pupils served down mines or in factories. The idea was that they should discover the ‘nobility of manual labour’ and avoid the temptations of class exclusiveness. The knowledge and experience gained found their practical application in spring and autumn paramilitary exercises, holiday hikes and organised travel abroad. The structure of each school was patterned after the military. Some establishments carried on the traditions of certain famous German army regiments, and the teachers lived in the schools with the pupils. NPEA boys were known as Jungmannen, and were divided into Hundertschaften, or companies, of one hundred. Each of these was subdivided into three Züge, or platoons, with about thirty boys. In turn, each Zug was split into three Gruppen of about ten boys apiece. The Hundertschaftsführer, Zugführer and Gruppenführer were pupils who fulfilled the combined functions of a school prefect and a military academy Cadet NCO. NPEA graduates were highly sought after by the Wehrmacht as potential officers, and those who went on to university could rely on the NSDAP to assist them financially.

From the outset, control of the NPEA schools was hotly contested by various party bodies. The original mentor of the NPEA system, Joachim Haupt, was an SA officer, and he fell from favour after the ‘Night of the Long Knives’ in June 1934. Dr Robert Ley, head of the Labour Front, then tried openly to attract the Napolas into his own sphere of influence, but his project encountered such strong opposition from the Ministry of Education that he relented and set up the rival Adolf Hitler Schools with the support of Baldur von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth. As always, Heinrich Himmler acted unobtrusively but with the utmost skill. From the time of the first public festivities organised by the NPEA in 1934, he took pains to be invited along and presented to the staff as an honoured guest. In July of that year, the Reichsführung-SS volunteered to assume the responsibility of paying for Napola clothing and equipment, and also began to provide scholarships and tuition fees for ethnic German students. On 9 March 1936, SS commitment to the schools was rewarded with the appointment of SS-Obergruppenführer August Heissmeyer as Inspector-General of the NPEA. He set up his own HQ, the Hauptamt Dienststelle Heissmeyer, and subsequently required all NPEA personnel to enrol in the Allgemeine-SS. By 1940, the SS had completely taken over the Napolas, with full powers of decision in matters relating to curriculum and staff appointments. The selection of new Jungmannen was determined by RuSHA, and the NPEA commandants and teachers were subjected to SS discipline.


Two schoolboys from NPEA Naumburg taking pictures during the winter solstice celebrations in 1941. Note the SS-inspired Sig-Rune insignia worn on the left arm.


Proficiency Badge for ten-to fourteen-year-olds in the Deutsche Jungvolk, the junior branch of the Hitler Youth. The SS influence on the runic design of this award is unmistakable.

The rhythm of Napola life was thereafter based on that of the SS. Conventional religion was abolished from the curriculum and replaced by the study of pagan Germanic rites. The celebration of Julfest, the SS Christmas, brought the pupils together to worship the Child of the Sun, arisen from his ashes at the winter solstice. New school songs commemorated the struggle between day and night, and praised the eternal return of light. The night of 21 June became the Night of the Sun, when the boys mounted a ‘Joyous Guard’ awaiting the sun’s triumphal reappearance. Lectures were given on racial superiority and SS ideology, and emphasis was placed on duty, courage and personal obligation. The SS influence on the NPEA was also apparent in its dress, with the adoption of SS-style daggers and insignia. After 1940, a new scheme of ranks which was entirely SS in form was introduced for NPEA staff, as follows:


Probationary teacher




Senior Teacher


Deputy Head of Department


Head of Department


Deputy Headmaster




Local School Inspector


National School Inspector

With the needs of Lebensborn and similar SS organisations in mind, the first all-girl NPEA school was opened in 1941 at Achern in Baden, to be followed shortly thereafter by two more. Some of the previously allmale schools subsequently admitted female pupils and staff. No less than twenty-seven new Napolas were founded between 1941 and 1942, and with the enormous expansion of the NPEA programme during the war SS influence became paramount. For example, VOMI ensured that the school at Rufach included a substantial number of young Volksdeutsche from Bessarabia and Bukovina in the student body. Three schools known as NPEA Reichsschulen were set up in the occupied western territories specifically to take in non-German Nordic pupils, the future leaders of the Germanic-SS. The Reichsschule Flandern at Kwatrecht in Flanders, opened in September 1943, was equipped to accom-modate some 800 boys, although it never managed to enrol more than 120, all under the age of fourteen. It was commanded by SS-Obersturmführer Paul Steck. The Reichsschule Niederlande für Jungen at Valkenburg in Holland took Dutch boys and was ‘twinned’ with its nearest German counterpart, the NPEA Bensburg, with regular exchanges of students and staff between the two establishments. The closely associated all-female Reichsschule Niederlande für Mädchen was located at nearby Heithuijsen, and was run by a pro-Nazi Dutch baroness.

In December 1944, by virtue of his successes with the NPEA and Reichsschulen, and his position as Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, Himmler was appointed by Hitler to be supervisor of all schools from which future Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS officers could be recruited. In theory, that put him in charge of almost every educational establishment in the Third Reich and conquered countries!

Himmler’s long-term plans made it desirable that the SS should control not only junior and secondary schools, but also the centres of higher learning. Nazi students’ groups had been formed at some German universities as early as 1922, but these were simply gatherings of students who had enrolled in the NSDAP. It was not until February 1926 that a separate student organisation, the National Socialist German Students’ League (Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Studentenbund or NSDSt.B), was established at Munich University under Baldur von Schirach. He organised the NSDSt.B into ten districts, each under a Kreisführer, and membership was extended to include students at Technical Colleges, Trade Schools and Business Colleges. Ultimately, the proportion of NSDSt.B members at university was lower than that of those attending the other centres of further education. They were encouraged to join the SA and take part in military sports, but less than half did so, many balking at the thought of associating with the party’s rougher elements. By January 1933 the NSDSt.B still had only 6,300 male and 750 female members. Even after the Nazi assumption of power, enrolment in the organisation was not made obligatory for all students. On the contrary, membership was deliberately selective and restricted to 5 per cent of the student body. As the NPEA accepted only the cream of German school pupils, so the NSDSt.B would take on only the best and most reliable students in further education. Each university or institute of higher learning had an NSDSt.B Stamm-Mannschaft, or regular company, limited to not more than sixty individuals, all of whom had already to be members of the NSDAP, SA, SS, NSKK or HJ. They signed on for at least a year, and their task was to act as political leaders among their fellow students.

Both Himmler, who had a degree in agriculture, and the NSDAP Deputy Führer Rudolf Hess, a history graduate and SS-Obergruppenführer, took a keen interest in NSDSt.B matters. Hess spoke of it as ‘a sort of intellectual SS’, and Himmler hoped that it would furnish the future élite of the party. They saw it as a natural extension of the NPEA system, which would continue to oversee those boys and girls from the Napolas who had proved themselves capable of further education. The two were instrumental in the setting up of a new office, the Reich Student Leadership (Reichsstudentenführung or RSF), in November 1936. It had ultimate control over both the NSDSt.B and the ordinary German Student Association (Deutsche Studentenschaft or DSt.) to which all German students automatically belonged. Command of the RSF was given to SS-Obergruppenführer Dr Gustav-Adolf Scheel, who was nominated Reichsstudentenführer. From that time on, student affairs began to be heavily influenced by the SS. NSDSt.B members were soon kitted out in a dark-blue uniform derived from the garb of the Allgemeine-SS and the Hitler Youth. Scheel set up the NS-Altherrenbund der Deutschen Studenten, a new Nazi alumni organisation, and forced the existing associations of former students to affiliate with it on pain of otherwise being barred from further participation in student affairs. Only the Catholic alumni bodies refused to capitulate, and they were subsequently outlawed by Himmler. As a result, all financial contributions and legacies from ‘old boys’ had to be channelled through the Altherrenbund, and so were controlled by the RSF and, ultimately, the SS.

After 1939, most NSDSt.B leaders departed to join the Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS, thus leaving political indoctrination of students in the hands of less committed individuals. Moreover, the actual composition of the student body was altered radically. Whereas before the war only a small percentage of students had been women, by 1943 they accounted for more than 35 per cent of the student population. That factor alone greatly reduced the influence of the SS, still basically a male organisation, over student life. Himmler actively encouraged potential Germanic-SS leaders from Flanders, Holland, Norway and Denmark to study at German universities and technical colleges through the Langemarck Scholarship scheme, which commemorated the young German student volunteers who had fought so heroically at the Battle of Langemarck near Ypres in November 1914. However, the second half of the Second World War saw Nazi interest in, and dominance over, the universities fall away, and in some cases they even became staunch centres of anti-Nazi resistance.

While the majority of ordinary German youngsters never had any associations with the NPEA or NSDSt.B, most either belonged to, or had friends in, the Hitler Youth (Hitlerjugend or HJ) and its female equivalent the League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel or BDM). After 1933 the HJ was a main source of recruitment for the Allgemeine-SS, and as the power and prestige of the SA declined so those of the SS and HJ increased. In 1936 it was decreed that the whole of German youth was to be ‘educated, outside the parental home and school, in the HJ, physically, intellectually and morally, for service to the nation and community’. The HJ initially found it hard to meet the great demands made upon it, and for that reason obligatory membership was delayed for several years. Even so, voluntary enlistment resulted in the number of Hitler Youths reaching 8 million (i.e. 66 per cent of those eligible to join) at the end of 1938. Compulsory HJ service for all male seventeen-year-olds was introduced on 25 March 1939, and in September 1941 membership finally became obligatory for both sexes from the age of ten onward. Many of the activities, trappings and insignia of the HJ were derived from those of the SS, with much anti-Semitism, neo-paganism and use of runic symbolism, and co-operation between the SS and the HJ became ever closer until by the end of the war the two had merged their interests almost completely. By that time, the ultimate aim of every Hitler Youth was acceptance into the SS.

The élite branch of the Hitler Youth organisation was the HJ-Streifendienst, or Patrol Service, created in December 1936. It was in effect an internal police force for the HJ, and kept order at Hitler Youth rallies and camps, controlled transport movements, supervised HJ hostels and counteracted juvenile crime. Each member was issued with a special pass and an SS-style cuff title and, as needs demanded, a small calibre rifle. In August 1938, under an agreement between Himmler and von Schirach’s Reichsjugendführung, the HJ-Streifendienst was reorganised as a sort of preparatory school for the SS. Its training was placed entirely in SS hands, and boys were expected to graduate into the SS or police after leaving the service.


Volunteers for the ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division swear an oath of loyalty before the Sig-Runes, flanked by Hitler Youth flags, in 1944. The smart M36 uniform of the helmeted officer contrasts sharply with the more basic M43 dress worn by the recruits.

Another HJ formation closely associated with the SS was the Landdienst or Land Service, the purpose of which was to provide voluntary agricultural assistance, particularly in the eastern provinces of the Reich. The Landdienst was formed in 1934 and sent urban HJ volunteers on to farms for one year, the so-called Landjahr, to give them agricultural experience. At the outbreak of war, the service had 26,000 members. In February 1940, the Siedlernachwuchsstelle Ost, or Eastern Young Settlers Office, was created under a joint agreement between the SS and HJ to train youngsters as Wehrbauern, peasant guards who would populate and defend the conquered east. Volunteers were racially scrutinised by RuSHA and had to register with the RKFDV. To further this aim, the Landdienst concept was extended in 1942 to include youths from the Nordic countries of Flanders, Holland, Norway and Denmark, who volunteered for employment with the newly created Germanic Land Service, or Germanischer Landdienst. Its badge was the Odal-Rune, and its motto was ‘Schwert und Scholle’ (‘Sword and Soil’). With the turn of the tide of war, however, the Germanic Land Service was officially wound up in March 1944 and many of its male personnel were transferred to the Waffen-SS.


A ‘Hitlerjugend’ MG42 team alongside a ‘Panther’ tank in Normandy, June 1944. All wear standard helmet covers and smocks, with baggy Italian-pattern camouflage trousers. The panzer’s number, ‘326’, denotes the 6th tank of the 2nd platoon of the 3rd company, 12th SS-Panzer Regiment.


During their first week of action in Normandy, these three soldiers of the ‘Hitlerjugend’ Division won the Iron Cross.

From 1936, the HJ ran weekend courses in field exercises (Geländesport) and rifle shooting. Initially it relied on its own personnel and the Wehrmacht to furnish instructors, but increasingly the SS became involved in Hitler Youth paramilitary training. In 1939 toughening-up camps, or Wehrertüchtigungslager (WE-Lager), were established in which boys between the ages of sixteen-and-a-half and eighteen were put through a three-week course culminating in an award of the K-Schein, or War Training Certificate. By 1943 there were around 150 such camps, which included among their trainees and instructors volunteers from Flanders, Holland, Norway, Denmark and Latvia. There was a sound practical reason why the SS took a great interest in the WE-Lager system, for it furnished Himmler with a means of circumventing the Wehrmacht’s monopoly on military recruitment. The Waffen-SS possessed no powers of direct conscription among German nationals, but if a young man could be persuaded to volunteer for the Waffen-SS before reaching his twentieth year, the normal age for conscript service, his preference for that branch of the fighting forces was normally respected. The SS therefore strove to persuade WE-Lager boys to volunteer for service in one of its combat divisions after they had obtained their K-Schein.

In February 1943, following the loss of the 6th Army at Stalingrad, manpower shortages became so acute that Hitler authorised a programme to encourage voluntary enlistment of seventeen-year-olds, boys who would not have been subject to conscription until 1946. The SS saw this as a golden opportunity to build up its own forces. Negotiations between Himmler and the Reichsjugendführer, Artur Axmann, began at once, as a result of which it was decided to raise an entirely new Waffen-SS division from Hitler Youths who had completed their courses at the WE-Lager. By mid-summer the required number of 10,000 volunteers had been mustered. In October the division was officially named 12th SS-Panzer Division ‘Hitlerjugend’ and it went into action following the Allied invasion of Normandy. The fanatical young soldiers, keen to demonstrate their worthiness to wear the honoured SS runes, threw themselves into battle without regard for losses, which were devastating. Over 8,500 of their number were either killed or wounded, and by the end of the war a single tank and 455 men were all that remained of one of Germany’s foremost armoured divisions.

The SS also made use of HJ volunteers on the home front. By the middle of 1943, there were some 100,000 young Germans in the Auxiliary Flak organisation, run by the Luftwaffe, but the demand for anti-aircraft gunners and searchlight operators was such that Göring and Axmann approached Alfred Rosenberg in March 1944 with a request that the youth of the occupied eastern territories should also be enrolled as Flak Helpers. This would apply, as in Germany, to boys and girls from their fifteenth birthday until they were old enough to be drafted into their respective ethnic legions. Since these foreign legions were controlled by the SS, the youngsters from the east likewise came under Himmler’s jurisdiction. Over 16,000 boys and 2,000 girls were eventually recruited from the Baltic states, Byelorussia and the Ukraine. They were first called SS-Helfer, then Luftwaffen-Helfer, and finally SS-Luftwaffen-Helfer, and were required to operate throughout the Reich. Service in the Flak batteries was fully combatant, with over forty foreign Flak auxiliaries being killed in action and two winning the Iron Cross. Each youngster wore the SS runes on a black triangle on the upper left arm, in the manner of the standard HJ district insignia.

The other area where SS and Hitler Youth came into close contact was fire fighting. In June 1939, SS-Gruppenführer Dr Johannes Meyer, commander of the Feuerschutzpolizei, met HJ leaders to discuss the participation of the Hitler Youth in fire defence. The HJ-Feuerlöschdienst (HJ Fire Fighting Service) was subsequently established, and the following December it was integrated into the HJ-Streifendienst. In March 1941 its official designation was altered to HJ-Feuerwehrscharen (HJ Fire Defence Squads), and the HJ uniform was replaced for members by a modified version of that of the Feuerschutzpolizei. As the war progressed, the distinction between the specially trained HJ-Feuerwehrscharen and other HJ units became blurred. By 1943, age restrictions had been jettisoned and all members of the youth services acted as volunteer helpers in air raids. In mid-1943 there were 700,000 boys engaged in fire defence, and in the course of that year alone thirty-two were killed, 607 wounded and 300 decorated with the Iron Cross or War Merit Cross.

Late in February 1945, when the advancing Russian Army was closing in on Berlin, special units of saboteurs and partisan guerrillas were formed from the German populace for the purpose of harassing the approaching enemy. In the event of the capture of the capital, members of these units, known as ‘Wehrwolf’ or the ‘Freikorps Adolf Hitler’, were to function behind Allied lines in the occupied zones creating what havoc they could. It fell to Himmler, as Commander-in-Chief of the Home Army, to set up the Wehrwolf organisation and he put it under the command of SS-Obergruppenführer Hans Prützmann, with SS-Brigadeführer Karl Pflaumer as his deputy. However, with all able-bodied personnel already at the front line or in the Volkssturm, Wehrwolf had to rely on very young members of the HJ and BDM to make up its numbers. A variety of duties was entrusted to these boys and girls, including the salvaging and concealment of arms and ammunition, minor acts of sabotage such as puncturing tyres, and the conveying of messages and distribution of Nazi propaganda. Older Wehrwolves seconded from the Waffen-SS and All-gemeine-SS set up secret radio transmitters, took part in assassinations and infiltrated enemy headquarters. Without doubt, the Wehrwolf organisation inflicted substantial damage and, even after the surrender, marauding groups of SS and Hitler Youth participated in acts of sabotage against the American, British, French and Russian occupation authorities.

By its indoctrination of youth through interaction with the NPEA, NSDSt.B, HJ and BDM, the SS ensured that the ideals of Himmler and Hitler survived long after their demise.

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