This interview was done with BDM member Christel Thunen in Schwerin, Germany in 1992. Thunen was a member of the BDM (League of German Girls) from 1933 to 1943 and a Glaube und Schönheit (Faith and Beauty) member from 1940-43.

What attracted you to join the BDM, is it true youth were forced to be a part of the youth groups.

Christel: I will answer backwards, you should have rephrased the question differently young sir. I will state to you very clearly and with conviction that no youth in Germany was legally forced to join the youth organizations. Germany had been a nation with a strong emphasis on having youth in groups to have fellowship, long before Hitler. There was a youth group for every German organization.

During the struggle for power, Hitler created the youth movement for boys, and at first, there was nothing for girls, but that soon changed. Most all youth saw the fun and camaraderie that was showcased, and it was a huge attraction. Nowhere was there a law requiring membership, I still do not understand where Germans got this from, the only thing I can think of is allied propaganda. Some youth organizations were pro-communist, or infiltrated by them, so all youth organizations were consolidated into one.

Some religious groups opposed, and wanted to keep their own identity, but this only lasted until their memberships plummeted due to everyone wanting to be in the HJ or BDM. There were laws written that said parents could not keep their child from joining us, if the child wanted to be a member. That is the closest law I ever saw. Not every German youngster was in these groups, some just did not see it worthwhile. There was no judgment, retaliation, or threats, like what is claimed today.

I joined the BDM in 1933, when I turned 10 years old. My father was prominent in the Mecklenburg SA, and while I did not really understand politics, it always sounded like he was fighting for a better future for me. I remember in 1929 communists attacked our home, throwing bricks through our windows; one just missed my infant sister. Another time my mother was attacked, I think in 1931 by communists, who knew who she was married to, and beat her. This angered me and made me want to do something.

This helped me form some opinions of communists and Marxists; I knew they were bad people, and bad for Germany. Therefore, when I turned 10, my parents asked if I wanted to join the new BDM, and I was very excited to do so. I liked the uniforms, and the flags that I saw them march with. I obtained a permission slip, and they both signed it, allowing me to enter.

Can you tell me what it was like being a part of the beginnings of the BDM?

Christel: Well, I wasn’t part of the beginning, just to be clear, the BDM had existed for a few years, just under another name. When I joined many friends, who were slightly older than me, and already members, welcomed me. I remember my mother taking me downtown to buy my uniform, and as my father was an SA man, we got a discount. She bought me the blue skirt, white blouse, neckerchief, shoes, and socks. Since I was brand new, I had no insignia, which made me feel like I had something to prove, to earn it.

My group consisted of about 50 girls, from all around the Schwerin area, but soon we were organized according to our Celle, and sometimes blocks, but we all remained part of the Mecklenburg BDM detachment. The first few years were spent helping to clean and tidy up our town. My first assignment was going to the cemeteries and tending the graves of warriors who fell in the wars for Germany’s freedom. Under the Weimar era, the communists thought it evil to do so, as it glorified race, and nationalism.

I also learned to row, as we had a couple of large lakes by us, I did very well at this and it helped build muscle. There was much expansion, and reorganizing during the first few years. We marched in a few parades, it was a great day when the head of the BDM paid us a visit, and I was a color guard. We learned to dip the flags, just as the military did when presenting them to superiors. Her name was Trude Mohr, and she patted me on the shoulder and told me I did an excellent job. We marched very smartly that day.

What was your day-to-day life like being in the BDM?

Christel: I grew up just as most every other child in the world did, the BDM did not control our day-to-day life. I had time to play, go on vacations, go to school, and enjoy life. We met a couple times per week, sometimes more if a special occasion arose, the days we had to meet; we could wear our uniforms to school. I now bore the BDM patch on my upper arm, and had an ID card that would give us discounts at the local ice cream parlor and candy shops.

During time in school, we were pretty regimented in addressing our educators. Our class would stand when teachers came in, and by 1936, we would give the NS greeting, and wait to be greeted back, and be seated. Our education system was very advanced; I remember learning advanced math and biology at age 13. The older I got, the further I advanced in my group, by 1937, I was in charge of 20 girls, and I was considered a veteran now.

I would attend special classes to show us how to help our mothers cook, clean, and run the home. My favorite was learning how to make gourmet meals from scratch; we would have chefs come from Berlin, Paris, and Venice to show us tips and tricks. During the harvest we would be sent on a mini vacation to other areas of the Reich to learn how farms work. My group was sent to the area of Nurnberg, and we toured the party parade grounds and saw the construction that was going on.

I was able to return to Nurnberg in 1938, I was now 15, and got to witness the awesome spectacle of the party rally. We set up a very large BDM camp, with thousands of young girls from around the Reich. It was very neat to see, and take part in. We did a parade for the Fuhrer, and other dignitaries. It was hot, and we returned to camp, we learned the Fuhrer, and our new BDM leader Jutte Rudiger had sent us lemonade and currants by the bushel to enjoy, since we did so well on parade.

So our day-to-day life was very normal, it was not controlled like is claimed today. I spent most of my time with family, which was highly encouraged. Parents made the best teachers, and this was true then, as it is today.

There is a claim that during the 1938 party rally, many girls were encouraged to become pregnant, and in fact, William Shirer said 900 girls came back pregnant as part of a Nazi plan for master race children. Is this true, and did you see this?

Christel: That is an insult to the wholesomeness and purity of German womanhood. Shirer is a Jewish journalist who had free roam around the Reich, and after the war, reported all these malicious lies and typical Jewish hate. I want to tell you that during the Weimar era, teen pregnancy was a problem. Girls were encouraged to be promiscuous by the Jew rags, and then when they became pregnant there was no use for them, so they were thrown back to a society who scorned them.

I do not even remember boys being allowed in our camp, it was strictly off limits as we had to have privacy for dressing. There was not a lot of mingling. We were not allowed in the boys camps either. Some senior HJ did get to tour our camp. However, they were with a group, and many adults were around too. Therefore, I would like to know where this Jew thinks we had time and space for so much sex, and breeding the supposed master race.

NS Germany tackled the problem of teen promiscuity head on, and was not afraid of it. When I turned 14, my BDM leader had me attend a training on mixing with the opposite sex. This training laid down a code of conduct for German youth, and was endorsed by parents. It was understood that nature is in full force in teens, but you also had to remember your body is a holy vessel. It should be admired, it can be shown off, it can be touched, but never let your body succumb to temptation until an adult, and married, when you can easily handle the consequences.

They taught us many problems arise from sex without commitment and love. A woman was brought in from Hamburg, who was encouraged to have sex at 14 and became pregnant. She told how hard it was for her and her family to raise a child, when she herself was still a child. We were taught how to handle advances from boys, and how to have a relationship with the opposite sex, without having sex.

This was the BDM; it made us ready for anything and everything life could throw at you. We discussed boys, but in a healthy way that nature intended not, the way of perversion I see now. When I turned 16 I met a boy from a nearby town, and we would meet up for hikes, or rowing on the weekend. We would hug and kiss, but always kept our wits, and honor.

What do you remember about the start of the war?

Christel: It was a terrible day. My father came home early and my classes dismissed for the day. We sat around the radio listening to the reports of the fighting. I was 17 and finishing my schooling, getting ready for my secretarial training. I knew from the news reports that there were problems on the Polish border, but never thought war would break out. My father was in his 40’s so he was exempted from military service; my mother was raising three children and was happy he could not serve, to his disdain.

My BDM group met that day, and our leader briefed us what to say to our girls who would have fathers and brothers going off to war. When England and France declared war, there was some fear in our minds that 1918 would happen all over again. We heard about bombing raids on the Reich, and even Denmark got hit, which we thought Denmark might join and help us.

The mood was very fearful for many, until Poland surrendered. Then since the victory happened so quickly, I think many were surprised at the Wehrmacht and Fuhrer. Rumors had spread by a few pro allied sorts that Poland would crush our small armed forces but they were proven wrong.

What was your wartime experiences like in the BDM?

Christel: Life was normal during the first few years of the war, nothing really changed. My father was in the Luftschutz and we had to practice for air raids often. My BDM group was mobilized to train for bombings, Red Cross service, and greeting soldiers going to and from the fronts. In July 1940, my group greeted many of the returning victors from the French campaign. We also went to hospitals to cheer up the wounded. We believed this war was going to be over soon, and peace would return.

In the fall of 1940, we were sent to Poland to aid Polish farmers with their harvest, as the country was still reeling from the war. I remember being told to watch for acts of harassment and touching, as some of these people had no honor. We had to report to the police if we saw anything. I will tell you that by now I was a leader of my group, and nearing the end of my time in the BDM as at 17 you either moved to the new Faith and Beauty side or got a job, or at best became a wife and mother.

I had to deal with an incident with one of my girls, who was 14; the farmer with which we stayed had a 15-year-old son. We would leave our camp every morning to go to this farm to help work in the fields. My girl went to get a drink and the boy pulled down his pants and tried to lift up her skirt. She screamed, and kicked him where it hurt. He was in so much pain; it was somewhat funny to watch. I reported this to our leader, who promptly had a SS police officer come to explain that in the Reich this could be seen as attempted sex assault, and punishable by death.

He was kidding of course, but the boy wrote out an apology like never before and promised to never do anything like that again. The local NSDAP officer in charge of the area then had the boy “volunteer” for service in the new Polish HJ that was being formed. Therefore, instead of standing around gawking at the girls, he now had to learn the importance of working together, honor, and respect by doing real labor.

Did you join the Faith and Beauty society?

Christel: Yes I did, I was now 18 years old and an adult. The BDM was only for teen girls. The GuS (Glaube und Schonheit) was for young women who would be getting ready for a career and marriage. In this society, I learned things beyond what my mother taught me. I learned dressmaking, fashion design, interior design, modeling, and even woodworking. We even had a class on making risqué lingerie, for a future husband of course. The BDM taught basics that perhaps your parents missed, but GuS went deeper, like proper shaving and hygiene for a woman, proper health and diets, dealing with stress, an angry or abusive husband, and good mental health with daily exercise routines. The motto was a healthy body and mind, for a healthy future.

By now the war was taking a toll, I was hired as a secretary for the local SA administration, thanks to my father. I was also asked to volunteer for fire service, as now the Allies were bombing Germany regularly and there were many causalities. I could only do this on the weekends, as work took most of my time. I also had a boyfriend who was in the Kriegsmarine, it was good for me that he was stationed as a guard by a naval base on the North Sea, close by.

My friend Elise also had a boyfriend at the same base so we would take a train when we could and go see them, or they would come see us. As a member of the GuS society, we would also mentor younger girls in the BDM, so sometimes I would give talks to the girls, just as my leaders did to me. A hard duty was consoling those who lost fathers, brothers, and boyfriends at the front. By 1943, the war seemed to have turned, by now we were fighting the whole world, and Germany was showing signs of stress.

The society would have us go around Europe on morale tours and pay us to keep women grounded to show things are going on like in peacetime. I did a fashion show in Milan, and Paris. We did cooking demonstrations in Brussels, and Rotterdam, where I saw my first bombing raid in March of 43. The Americans hit parts of the city by the harbor, killing so many innocents it was traumatizing. I saw some of the Dutch NS girls helping to clean up damage and aid the wounded.

We helped raise money for the victims of these careless terror raids. By late 1943, I was doing so well with the GuS society I was asked to resign my job, and accept a role working for the morale of the people. I was able to put lots of energy in fashion shows all across Europe, even going to Kiev in the summer time. The Ukrainian women were very pretty; they welcomed us warmly, and spoke highly about their friends who volunteered to work in the Reich. I stress volunteered as history says they were slaves, but they were not. They were highly paid, sometimes to the chagrin of Germans.

News from the fronts was not good, so we were always asked to not mention the war, but it was hard to avoid. I met a woman named Katina who had a German boyfriend in the SS, and she asked about coming to Germany, as she was hearing the front was collapsing, and she said she would be executed if caught by the Soviets. We did a fashion show for the Ukrainian women, and some invited soldiers even got to feast their eyes on what they were fighting for. One Ukrainian nationalist leader said that it was Aryan womanhood at its finest.

My time was cut short in Kiev, as I received word our home was bombed, so I promptly returned to help. I was hearing of terror attacks on women in the occupied areas also, a bus full of helferin was ambushed in Italy and a week later another bus was attacked by Kiev and all women were killed. Since I was a volunteer fire fighter, I agreed with my father that I should stay home and work as a secretary again. At this same time my Hannes, became my fiancé. We set a June 1944 date, I felt a strange sense that I needed to marry and bear a child for him soon as the war could claim one of us.

What was the end of the war like for you?

Christel: It was surreal. I resumed my duties working for the office of the SA staff, dealing with mundane issues. I volunteered to aid the NS welfare organization to care for the countless refugees coming to our area from the former occupied areas. I also had to help during the bombing raids on Schwerin, which luckily the allies missed most vital areas, they mainly hit residential areas. In late 44, I was able to organize a fashion show for the young women, and it was a huge success. A weekly newsreel was there to film the girls.

The smiles that was brought to their faces was priceless, a short interlude from the war. Hannes and I married, and in January 1945, I became pregnant with our first so my duties with the GuS were done as it was just for single women. I joined the NS women’s organization, which even in the late stages of the war was great at helping newly married women. I received tips on birthing, childcare, and many donations of baby clothes.

By April of 1945, it was all over. The allies occupied our town, and in May, the war was over. I was blessed that my family survived, but my father was called up to the Volkssturm, and injured fighting outside Schwerin, but he survived. I had to endure advances by British soldiers, some quite aggressive, and me 5 months pregnant. These animals did not care, and I will never say nice things about our former enemies, today it is said they were very kind to us, hogwash.

My husband survived also, he stayed a guard for the mine warfare fleet on the coast so never saw any combat thankfully. The Americans would come into our town also, and on one hand would give the children chocolate and treats, but on the other harass, and even raped a few of the women. I learned to stay away from any allied soldiers. So there you have it, that was my life, and experiences in the BDM, and the war.

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