Hitler’s regime corrupted an impressionable generation.
NAZI INDOCTRINATION BEGAN with the systematic brainwashing of German youth from early childhood—a practice made vivid in a permanent exhibit at Germany’s Bunker Museum of Hagen.
“Our visitors are thoroughly shocked about the deceitful toys that are displayed in our exhibit,” called Hitler’s Invasion of Children’s Rooms, curator Michaela Beiderbeck told World War II. “Few people today are aware of just how much children were manipulated in the Third Reich.” Following Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933, German toy manufacturers voluntarily produced Nazi-themed items to capitalize on the success of the new regime. Children as young as two or three were given puzzles with Wehrmacht military scenes as toys. “The children grew up believing that soldiers, war, heroism, and death were completely normal aspects of everyday life,” Beiderbeck said. “This was an attempt to prevent future generations from questioning Nazi policies.”
The regime’s targeting of young Germans was methodical. No child was safe from exposure to Nazi propaganda at home, play, or school, the exhibit shows. Beiderbeck said she particularly wanted to shed light on children’s stolen innocence. “I believe this topic is very, very important,” she said, “because it clarifies to observers that the regime conditioned a generation who could not recognize that all these militaristic, inhumane values were wrong, because all these subjects were ‘sold’ to them in day-to-day life as correct.” ✯
All images courtesy of the Bunker Museum of Hagen (Germany), except where noted.
This article was published in the August 2020 issue of World War II.