Twelve-year-old Boys – the Cannon Fodder of Last Resort 1

From Moral Cripples to Cripples for Life. 2

A Regiment of Hitlerjugend Boys Died to Buy Hitler Another Few Minutes. 5

Twelve-year-old Boys – the Cannon Fodder of Last Resort

 

Hitler-Jugend troops with boys as young as 12 were widely used in the battle of Berlin as cannon fodder to buy a few hours to Nazi criminals busily fleeing to Switzerland, Argentina, Chile and Uruguay. The boys were dying in the last days and hours of war as obedient, loyal pawns when the fate of the Nazi state was sealed, and their parents, if still alive, damn well knew it.  But the parents had been long ago removed from control.

 

A soviet tank commander recalls: the tanks had limited maneuverability on the narrow streets of Berlin. Suddenly you see a young boy jump on the street in front of the tank. You see a child in the harm’s way and your gut reaction is to cease fire and stop the tank, dead in its tracks. It’s a child!!! – Next thing you know, his faustpatrone[1] has just turned your tank, you and your crew into a raging inferno, all in a span of a second or two.

 

On March 19th, his 56th birthday, Hitler ventured outside his Reich Chancellery bunker for a solemn reception he gave to a contingent of twenty youths. They were 12-13-year-old boys brought in from the German provinces of Pomerania and Silesia, and each of them was presented as a little hero, having single-handedly knocked out a tank with his Panzerfaust or having killed Russian soldiers.  The extraordinary event was captured on a propaganda film and provides some of the most enduring images chronicling the collapse of Hitler's “thousand-year Reich.”

 

The youngest of these boys was Alfred Czech, a twelve-year-old from Upper-Silesian Oppeln, who had been decorated for rescuing twelve wounded Wehrmacht soldiers and catching a “Soviet spy.” All boys wore the Iron Cross. “You already know what battle is like from your own experience,says the tottering, senile, hunched-over Führer to the little boys staring at him with worshipful admiration, and you know that this struggle is for the German people, to be or not to be. In spite of all the hardships at this time, we shall emerge victorious from this battle, especially as I am looking at German youth –  at you, my boys.”  “Heil, mein Fiihrer!” shouted the boys, brainwashed out of their wits, and out of their childhood, with their eyes agleam with fanaticism. They were then sent back out into the streets to fight and die for the old sociopath-bastard who turned them into his obedient Zombies.

When the Czech insurgents took control of Prague city center, they—who were now drowning, hanging, and burning German civilians by the hundreds— singled out the Hitler Youth boys taken prisoner after a gunfight. “Approximately forty Hitler Youths, blood-stained and with swollen, beat-up faces, were driven into the human square. In front of the assembled prisoners, after unspeakable cruelties, they were finished off with knives and clubs.”[2] These boy-soldiers had been the easiest to brainwash. Their brainwashing started at an early age. They were happy to die for the Reich. They often engaged in hopeless battles. In the eyes of the allied command these kids were beyond redemption. Taken prisoner, in the heat of a battle many of them were summarily executed “attempting to escape,” as were SS-men. Americans in this respect were no better than Russians.

 

From Moral Cripples to Cripples for Life

 

On the 3d of March 1945 Wermaht Chief of Staff, Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel, ordered conscription of any male born in 1929 or earlier.[3] These were 16 and older. Those boys born in 1929 and 1930 were to serve in Volkssturm brigades or in Axmann’s HJ special anti-tank divisions, stationed in or near endangered German towns. By the end of March those brigades were often staffed by boys who had already done much fighting elsewhere and, exhausted and sometimes wounded and maimed for life, represented reserves of the last resort. “Here they are,” wrote Vienna HJ leader Ringler in his diary on March 28, “Willi with his artificial lower leg, Hubert with his shot-off thigh, Hannes with his damaged foot, Schorschi with a prosthesis and head bandage, Karl with his empty sleeve, and all the others, those already recuperated or barely so.”[4]

 

In the East, by the middle of January 1945, Königsberg was the first important target of the Red Army. There were many Hitler Youth troops on the East Prussian front, in defense of that one-time bastion of the Teutonic Knights. Stalin had intelligence reports of a German atomic program, had intelligence reports of the A-9/A-10 ICBM and futuristic jet air planes ready to unleash Hitler’s vengeance, not to mention continuous mobile V-2 ballistic missile launches into London. The dominant theme for the Red Army’s all-out thrust into Germany was formulated by Marshal Vasily Chuikov, “time is blood” and its marching orders were “to crush” German defenses and take over Berlin at all costs, without delays, ignoring  losses, crushing the remnants of the Germany’s war machine.  The Red Army was advancing 40 km a day, pulverizing any resistance with tank assaults supported by shock infantry troops and heavy artillery.

 

Hitler Youths were everywhere in the defense of Königsberg, often armed with machine guns. Soviets would shell them and eventually overrun their positions killing them off in brutal hand-to-hand combat.

 

In the spring of 1945 the entire eastern front, which the Soviet army was pushing steadily to the West, was sustained in large part by the newly created Hitler Youth battalions, all the way to Vienna.[5] Among them were former flak helpers who had been rushed there from everywhere in the Reich and granted the status of soldiers (their on-going dream) to protect them under the Geneva conventions. When recalling this time, Rolf Noll named comrades as young as thirteen, and he recalled how Russian tank drivers would spot these “soldiers” in hastily created dugouts, then rush their tanks over them, turning on the spot, crushing the boys underneath,[6] as after all is expected in war.  Hitler Youth regiment “Frankfurt/Oder” was fighting in Brandenburg under HJ commander Kiesgen trying to delay the Russian onslaught on the capital.  In Silesia there were also such regiments, one in Breslau called “Regimentsgruppe Hitlerjugend,” under HJ leader Herbert Hirsch. Altogether, 1,000 boys were fighting there in two battalions, at least half of those child soldiers perished[7].

 

There were eye-witness’ accounts, of course, describing more age-appropriate behavior. A detachment of eighty uniform-clad boys ambushed a column of Soviet tanks and infantry, but things went wrong: the Soviets immediately returned fire, killing and wounding several of HJ. The remaining children, shocked by the swift violence of the action, ran, tossing away their rifles, some crying hysterically, and were mostly captured by the Soviet motorcycled infantry.  One youngster, still carrying his Panzerfaust, was asked why he did not shoot it. He replied that he joined the action just to be with his comrades, and that his mother forbade him to shoot, ever.

 

By the end of March more and more Hitler Youths were being put in trenches, bunkers and machine-gun encasements in strategic spots in Berlin’s suburbs, moved here from places like Brandenburg, Luckenwalde, and Oranienburg. By mid-April 1945, at least 6,000 of them were in the city, under the nominal command of Reich Youth Leader Artur Axmann.  Many more were brought in by the end of April.

 

A Regiment of Hitlerjugend Boys Died to Buy Hitler Another Few Minutes

On April 23rd, a regiment made up entirely of Hitlerjugend boys was ordered to defend the Pichelsdorf Bridges  by the Havel River. Five thousand boys, wearing man-sized uniforms a few sizes too large, and helmets flopping around on their heads, took positions around the bridges. Armed with rifles, which some of them were barely able to shoot, machine guns and Panzerfausts, they felt invincible and adventuresome in their youthful eagerness to become Hitler’s heroes. Hitler personally planned the operation: bridges were to be defended at all costs, needed for General Wenck's “relief” XII army, advancing from the south-west.

The twelfth Army had a legendary reputation: In the beginning of war, the Army of Greece, which humiliated Italians for 6 months, fell to the same German twelfth’s army. But that was in 1941. Now, it was ordered to break through the Soviet Army, which by the end of the war, in 1945, was a juggernaut. The twelfth Army was ordered to leave the Western front and establish a corridor into Berlin. There was but a minor problem with Hitler’s otherwise “brilliant plan” of the surprise attack from the West – the Soviet 2nd Ukranian front, although surprised at first, quickly bogged down the advance of the twelfth Army and began driving it back.

Amply supplied with Panzerfausts and Faustpatrone, the Hitlerjugcnd boys lay alone or in pairs at irregular intervals in the trenches and foxholes on either side of the Heerstrasse in front of the Pichelsdorf bridges. The boys held off the Soviet tanks for 5 days, their mission senseless, their lives sacrificed for naught: the twelfth army was not fighting eastward into Berlin – it was fleeing westward. The Soviet tanks streamed into Berlin from all directions, via numerous alternative routs, leaving a contingent behind before the Pichelsdorf Bridges. It was methodically destroying the Hitlerjugend regiment, shelling its positions from a safe distance. Out of 5000 HJ troops, less than 500 survived by day 5 of bombardment. They were offered to surrender several times; they refused. When the Soviet Army took over their positions in a final hand-to-hand assault, only a handful was taken alive, still defiant, facing battle-hardened men, some of them the age of their fathers. A Soviet medical officer, while tending to a wounded 10-year-old, remarked in German, “Look what a mess you got yourself into, boy. You should have stayed home with your grandparents.” The HJ spat in the doctors face, hissing, “Heil Hitler!”  While these kids held the bridges, Nazi bosses were using the bridges to escape from Berlin, leaving their brave tin soldiers to die.

The same fate befell those HJ’s defending the Olimpic stadium, and the HJ’s sniping from the bunkers and fortifications of Tiergarten (literally: animal park), the park that housed Berlin’s Zoo. The Soviet troops, in their assault on Berlin, found it difficult to inflict significant damage upon the flak towers, the massive futuristic fortifications erected in the Tiergarten and throughout Germany, impervious to bombing or shelling even with the use of the 203 mm Soviet concrete-busting howitzers, firing directly: over 100 direct hits hardly breached one of them. Soviet forces maneuvered around the flack towers to capture Reihcstag and Chancery on the 30th of April.

Unlike much of Berlin, the towers were fully stocked with ammunition and food supplies, and the gunners shelled and sniped the assaulting Red Army units, keeping them at bay. Some towers, including the Zoo Tower, remained in the small enclaves under German control even after the entire city of Berlin had already fallen to the Red Army. The towers were the last to fall to the Soviets, but not before German panzer units staged an all-out attempt to break out from the encirclement, an attempt that failed miserably, resulting in complete destruction of the task force, thus demonstrating absolute futility of further resistance. The Zoo tower remained defiant until capitulation of Berlin’s garrison on the morning of May 2, 1945.

For bravery, the Russian solders awarded the wild goat, which survived an epic gun battle on the grounds of the Zoo, the Nazi Iron Cross, taken off the body of a killed HJ, many of whom – unlike the goat – did not survive.

Hitler committed suicide on April 30th, 1945, when Soviet soldiers were about 200 yards away from the Reich Chancellery and his bunker. The Big Satan was dead. “Do not rejoice in his defeat, you men. For though the bastard is dead, the bitch that bore him is again in heat,” warned Bertolt Brecht.

After Hitler’s death, Martin Bormann (Hitler’s personal secretary) and Artur Axmann (the commander of all Hitlerjugend troops of all Germany) fled Berlin; Several attempts to cross bridges in Tiger tanks failed, but they snuck out at night of May 1. En route, they passed hundreds of corpses of boys, whose lives they wasted to save their own hide. They managed to cross river Spree under the cover of darkness. Bormann was cut down by the gunfire from the Soviet patrols, while Axmann was able to sneak through, and reached Southern Germany where he “was captured by the Allies in December of the same year. In 1949, he was tried as a supporter of the Nazis and sentenced to 39 months' imprisonment, but the court ruled that he had already served out his punishment in pre-trial detention.”[8]  Except a $24,000 fine imposed by the West German de-Nazification court, about half of his net worth at the time, he lived happily thereafter, working as a salesman in West Berlin.  It is really amazing how easy some of the world’s worst criminals get off and how capricious and random is lady Justice in her decisions.

 


All rights reserved ● Copyright ©  2011, Eric Ross, Ph.D.

 



[1] The smaller disposable Faustpatrone and Panzerfoust were variants of German self-propelled, disposable anti-tank grenade launchers with a warhead containing a 50:50 mix of TNT and tri-hexogen, the most potent high explosive charge penetrating up to 5 ½ inch armor from a distance of up to 30 meters (100 ft) ]

[2] Hermann Melcher, Die Gezeichneten: Das Erleben eines 16jährigen Kriegsfreiwilligen der Waffen-SS beim Endkampf um Prag und in sowjetischer Kriegsgefangenschaft, 1945–1950 (Leoni, 1985), 13 (quote); Böddeker, 206–207; Quoted also in Hitler Youth, by Kater; p. 228.

[3] Jahnke, Aufgebot, 89, 96, 106; Hans Wienicke, ed., “Schon damals fingen viele an zu schweigen . . .”: Quellensammlung zur Geschichte Charlottenburgs von 1933–1945 (Berlin-Charlottenburg, 1986), 151.

[4] Ralf Roland Ringler, Illusion einer Jugend: Lieder, Fahnen und das bittere Ende: Hitlerjugend in Österreich: Ein Erlebnisbericht (St. Pölten, 1977); P. 149

[5] For the Hitler Youths’ last stand in and around Vienna, see Ringler, PP. 142–144, 194–205;

[6] Kater. Hitler Youth. P. 222.

[7] Guido Knopp, Hitlers Kinder, 2nd ed. (Munich, 2000) 324–326; Hans-Dietrich Nicolaisen,

Die Flakhelfer: Luftwaffenhelfer und Marinehelfer im Zweiten Weltkrieg

(Berlin, 1981); 80-81.

[8] The New York Times. Artur Axmann, 83, a Top Nazi Who Headed the Hitler Youth. By ALAN COWELL. Published: November 07, 1996. http://www.nytimes.com/1996/11/07/world/artur-axmann-83-a-top-nazi-who-headed-the-hitler-youth.html