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 rough­neck 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 three para­mili­tary organi­za­tions of the Nazi Party: the Deutsches Jung­volk (for boys ages 10 to 14), the Hitler­jugend (14-to-18-year-old boys), and the Bund Deutscher Maedel (League of German Girls).

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 German Lutherans in which Dietrich Bonhoeffer—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.

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 the 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 were required 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 Maedel) 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 main 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 “Blitzmaedel,” or female combat soldiers.

Right: Deutsches Jungvolk (German Youth) recruits line up for roll call at a rally in Berlin in 1934. For boys ages 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.

Henry Metelmann on the Impact of Nazism on Young Germans. A BBC Production