Hitler Youth and Italian Fascists

Italian Fascist scouts meet a member of the Hitler Youth in Padua, October 1940: a picture explained by Roger Hudson.

A member of the Nazi Hitler Youth (centre) and two Balilli, from the Italian Fascist equivalent for younger boys, demonstrate their comradeship and show off their uniforms for the camera in Padua, north-east Italy in October 1940, four months after Italy entered the Second World War.

The aim of both these paramilitary perversions of Baden-Powell’s scouting movement was to involve and indoctrinate the younger generations of each country, teaching blind faith in Hitler and Mussolini and unquestioning obedience to the dictates of their regimes. By 1939 7.3 million out of 8.9 million young Germans were members; in Italy membership became compulsory that year; but if you wanted the chance of a scholarship or job, it had been wise to join long before that. However, any idea that this was a purely right-wing rather than simply a totalitarian manifestation is belied by the way the Soviet Union quickly organised its own Young Pioneers. There was much camping, sport, gymnastics, gruelling country hikes, drilling with dummy rifles and scaled-down real ones, community singing, lectures and veneration of early Fascist or Nazi martyr figures, as well as the Führer and the Duce. In Italy you began as one of the Figli Della Lupa, Sons of the She-Wolf – shades of Romulus and Remus – at eight you transferred to the Balilla and at 15 to the Avanguardisti. Balilla was the nickname of the young boy-hero who started a revolt in Genoa against the Habsburgs in 1746. In Germany there was a similar progression, from the German Young People’s Organisation, then to the Hitler Youth between the ages of 14 and 18. Thereafter it was labour service followed by military conscription. There were equivalent organisations for girls.

Part of the attraction lay in the uniforms: the belts, boots, braid, piping, badges, headgear, black shirts and brown shirts. Together with drums and flags these were all components of what has been labelled the Aestheticisation of Violence.