Berlin, Germany · September 23, 1934

On this date in 1934 Ludwig Mueller, a crew-cut former naval chap­lain, was installed as the new Reich Bishop in a gaudy spec­ta­cle at the swas­tika-bedecked Berlin Cathe­dral. The year before, Ger­man chan­cellor Adolf Hitler had pro­posed, as part of an admin­is­tra­tive over­haul of the Ger­man Evan­geli­cal (Lutheran) Church, creating the office of Reichs­bischof. The over­haul was intended to bring together the loose feder­a­tion of 28 inde­pen­dent regional church bodies into a uni­fied church that resembled the Church of Eng­land under its senior bishop, the Arch­bishop of Can­ter­bury. Hitler wanted the new Reichs­kirche (Ger­man church) ordered along Nation­alist Socialist lines. This Gleich­schaltung, or synchroni­za­tion as it was known in Ger­many, was really for­cible coor­di­nation. So it was that the rough-neck Mueller, a Nazi Party mem­ber since 1931, was Hitler’s man for the job. He led the effort to merge the church’s youth groups, Evan­gelische Jugend (600,000 strong in 1934), with the Deutsches Jung­volk (for boys aged 10 to 14), the Hitler Jugend (14-to-18 year old boys), and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of Ger­man Girls)—all three para­mili­tary organi­za­tions of the Nazi Party. (Mem­ber­ship in these groups was com­pul­sory after 1936.) Mueller was tough on theo­logy, too. An anti-Semite, he cham­pioned a revi­sionist view of “Christ the Aryan,” or a “heroic Jesus.” He made plans to cleanse Ger­man Chris­tianity of what he termed “Jewish corrup­tion” and en­dorsed purging large parts of the Old Testa­ment. Not sur­prisingly, Mueller was the chief nemesis of the Con­fessing Church (Beken­nende Kirche), an opposing synod of Lutherans in which Diet­rich Bon­hoeffer—Ger­man theo­logian, pastor, and author (The Cost of Disciple­ship, or Nachfolge in German)—played a leading role. The Con­fessing Church rejected the Nazi­fi­ca­tion of the Ger­man church and its pseudo-Chris­tian con­gre­gants, called “Ger­man Chris­tians” (Deutsche Christen). Mueller’s star began fading in the mid-thirties as the Lutheran schism prompted the Nazi Party to take a more aggres­sive stance toward the resis­tant Christian clergy. Mueller tried re-inveigling him­self into the good graces of the Party by allowing the Gestapo (Ger­man secret police) to monitor his churches. The 1945 apoca­lyptic finale of the Third Reich saw the end of Reich Bishop Mueller, too, who took his life on July 31, 1945.

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German Church Leader Ludwig Mueller and Nazi Paramilitary Organizations for German Youth

Installation of Reich Bishop Ludwig Mueller (at podium), September 23, 1934Hitler Jugend on Eastern Front, February 1945

Left: Already a Landesbischof of a regional Lutheran synod, Ludwig Mueller is shown behind a swastika-adorned lectern addressing Ger­man Christians (Deutsche Christen, actually pseudo-Christians) following his installation as Reichs­bischof (Reich Bishop) of the Ger­man Evan­gelical Church (Deutsche Evan­gelische Kirche), Ber­lin Cathe­dral, Septem­ber 23, 1934. Mueller (1883–1945) was an ardent advo­cate of “dejudaizing” the Ger­man church (Reichs­kirche) and indoc­tri­nating its youth with Nazi racist ideo­logy through paramilitary organizations.

Right: Membership in the paramilitary Hitlerjugend (Hitler Youth) for 14-to-18 year olds was com­pul­sory after 1936. In 1939 the law was amended to make mem­ber­ship in the Deutsches Jungvolk (10-to-14 year olds) and Hitlerjugend man­da­tory for all Ger­mans males between 10 and 18 years of age. Parents could be fined or impri­soned for failing to regis­ter their chil­dren. With the out­break of war mem­bers in the Hitler Youth were fed into the German Wehr­macht (armed forces) or the National Labor Service (Reichs­arbeits­dienst), where 18-to-24 year olds had to serve six months before entering mili­tary service. In this photo­graph, a Hitler Youth com­pany of the Volks­sturm (home guard) is at the Ger­man-Soviet front in Pyritz, Pomerania (today Pyrzyce, north­western Poland), February 1945. During the Battle of Berlin (April 16 to May 2, 1945), Hitler Youth and even some pre-teen Deutsches Jung­volk formed part of the last line of Ger­man defenses and were reportedly among the fiercest fighters.

Members of the League of German Girls during 1939 harvest seasonRoll call at a Deutsches Jungvolk rally for 10-to-14 year olds, Berlin, 1934

Left: The League of German Girls (Bund Deutscher Mädel) used camp­fire roman­ticism, sum­mer camps, folk­lore study, tradi­tion, and sports to edu­cate girls with­in the National Socialist belief system, and to train them for their roles in Ger­man society: wife, mother, and home­maker. Sports included swim­ming, running, long jump, somer­saulting, tight­rope walking, and marching. Before entering any occu­pa­tion or advanced studies, the girls, like the boys in Hitler Youth, had to complete a year of land service (Landfrauenjahr). Although working on a farm was not the only approved form of ser­vice, it was a com­mon one; the aim was to let city young­sters experi­ence life in the country­side, hoping they would then stay there in ser­vice of Nazi “blood and soil” (“Blut und Boden”) beliefs, which placed a high value on the virtues of rural living. After the out­break of war, many young women became “Blitz­mädel,” or female combat soldiers.

Right: Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth) recruits line up for roll call at a rally in Berlin in 1934. For boys aged 10 to 14, Deutsches Jung­volk was a sec­tion of the Hitler Youth move­ment. Through a pro­gram of out­door activities, parades, and sports, it aimed to indoc­tri­nate its young mem­bers in the tenets of Nazi ideo­logy. Mem­ber­ship became com­pul­sory for eli­gible boys in 1939. By the end of World War II, some Deutsches Jung­volk had become child soldiers.

Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer: The Cost of Discipleship