"He was totally convinced he was right. I think privately, I thought he was a nutcase. Or he was a little bit short of a full load. Because some of the things didn't make any sense. Like for instance, why get rid of the Jewish people? He said they were the best salesmen in the world. Well, at the same time there were companies like Bayer ... Germany produced an array of fantastic technology. He didn't like the Jewish people? He could have used them as salesmen. They would have been happy. The guy doesn't play with a full deck ... but a lot of people in history who are capable of leading a country ... [are] mentally unbalanced, is maybe the right word."
The idea that Hitler should have drafted an army of Jews because they're natural salesmen is obviously problematic, but it illustrates an important point: Nearly a century later, and Horst is still influenced by his indoctrination as a child. Oftentimes, even without realizing it.
While Horst didn't share in it, he certainly understood the appeal of Hitler:
"He was captivating because he was a totally different speaker than you have now. When you take a look at now heads of state, especially in England, they're half asleep when they talk. Hitler was different. You would call him mesmerizing. He was extremely motivational. And he didn't talk to some old point in history. What he was talking about was right now."
So if Horst (and many other Germans) thought Hitler was a psychopath, why didn't they speak up? Because they had eyes. They saw what happened to people who spoke up. Horst's grandfather was openly anti-Hitler. He was arrested, and very likely wound up dying in a concentration camp.
"I think ... he had a loose mouth; with everything that he did right, he should have kept his mouth shut. Because I kept my mouth shut, and I know what happened to me, and what happened to the people who didn't keep their mouths shut."
The Hitler Youth didn't teach Horst that Nazis were just the best; it taught him to stay quiet, and never trust anybody else.
"It takes a while when you are a kid to arrive at your own conclusion. There's a lot of introspection, self-inspection ... it takes some time and it takes some bloody losses before your eyes are really open to the fact that you're powerless ... I couldn't find my grandfather, you know. I knew if I'm careful enough, I would make it alive, but I know if I'd gone after the people who'd taken my grandfather, even careful wouldn't save me. It's kind of a rude awakening to become an adult under these circumstances."
The Hitler Youth Really Were Just Kids; They Could Still Be Completely Terrifying
The Nazi party relied heavily on the brainwashing of children to help fuel their growing Reich. The Hitler Youth were basically the Nazi Boy Scouts -- a bunch of fanatically loyal little mini-Hitlers with tight shorts and sharp knives. Right?
Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-1973-060-72 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
The shorts thing certainly checks out, at least.
Not entirely: Horst reached a fairly high level in the Hitler Youth. You know what his main duty was? Not sussing out hidden Jews, ensuring loyalty to the Reich, or even growing Aryan supermen in vats -- it was helping kids involved in Berlin's Kinderlandverschickung (KLV) program. The basic idea was sound: Berlin keeps getting bombed. Let's send all the kids away for six months at a time. The British did the same thing during the Battle of Britain, and that gave us Narnia. It was arguably a positive practice. The KLVs were basically a combination school/summer camp, and Horst did things like set up a window rotation during boat and train rides, so the weak kids wouldn't get bullied out of good seats, or reorganize the mail delivery schedule so everybody could get their letters from home at the same time.
That's not to say it was an idyllic summer camp: It was still run by Nazis, after all. Horst had to give adults the Sieg Heil, and was encouraged to snitch on anyone who didn't fully represent the Nazi party. He says he never actually turned in anyone for that. But he did turn people in for another crime against fascism:
"The way we were taught about Jesus was a wise man going through the desert in sandals. In the Hitler youth we rounded up people who were wearing sandals, they were Jesus imitators. Most of them got shot."
Horst had a hand in those deaths, there's no denying it. He wasn't proud when he told us:
"Most of them got shot."
But the old indoctrination kicked in again when he thought of those sandal-wearers he informed on, as a child:
"I mean, what the hell, 200 miles from the seashore walking in sandals, when you can have shoes? We didn't need Jesus imitators."
If you needed reminding that Horst is not a hero in this piece, and that even children just trying to survive day to day in Nazi Germany were complicit in some serious evil, well, getting people killed for their choice in footwear should do it.
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