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RAISING CHILDREN TO KILL—THEN AND NOW

by Rafael Medoff ,posted Sept 1, 2023

 

(Dr. Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies and author of more than 20 books about Jewish history and the Holocaust. His latest is America and the Holocaust: A Documentary History, published by the Jewish Publication Society & University of Nebraska Press.)
 
 
    The news that Palestinian Authority summer camps are training children to use weapons and glorify terrorists is a troubling reminder that some regimes view children as little more than tools to be exploited.
 
    Hundreds of thousands of children have been used as soldiers in various international conflicts in recent decades, according to human rights groups.
 
    The Ugandan rebel group known as the “Lord’s Resistance Army” has made the abduction and enslavement of children “its main method of recruitment,” experts say.
 
    In Bolivia, an estimated 40% of the army consists of teenagers who were forcibly conscripted.
 
    The participation of Palestinian Arab children in terrorism against Israelis has become so commonplace that it has attracted the attention of Palestinian advocates in the United States. They’ve persuaded a handful of members of Congress to introduce legislation to restrict U.S. aid to Israel if the Israeli military detains minors who engage in violence.
 
A Nazi Version of Cinderella
 
    Dictators in previous generations likewise prioritized training children to hate and kill. Adolf Hitler, for example, viewed Germany's schools as a breeding ground for raising an entire generation of Nazis. 
 
    Following Hitler’s rise to power, German school curricula were radically revised to reflect Nazi ideas, and traditional text books were replaced with Nazi versions. Biology texts now advocated the theory of "Aryan" racial superiority. Atlases focused on the alleged danger to Germany posed by surrounding nations and the supposed theft from Germany of various territories. History books presented justifications for renewed German militarism. The Nazis even concocted their own version of Cinderella, with the prince choosing a racially pure young heroine and rebuffing her racially alien stepmother.
 
    At a press conference in September 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt expressed concern that the German government seemed to be preparing young people for war with Germany's neighbors. He related a story he heard from an American tourist in Germany, about an eight year-old German boy who in his bedtime prayers each night would say, "Dear God, please permit it that I shall die with a French bullet in my heart."
 
    Unfortunately, that did not change FDR’s policy of maintaining friendly diplomatic and trade relations with Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
 
Disney Exposes the Nazis
 
    During World War Two, Disney created a series of short cartoon films to support the American war effort and expose the nature of Nazism. They were shown in movie theaters, prior to the main feature. One especially striking nine-minute film was called "Education for Death: The Making of the Nazi." 
 
    The storyline follows a German child, Hans, as the Nazi school system turns him into a worshipper of Hitler. When Hans’s teacher shows the pupils a fox capturing and eating a rabbit, Hans makes the innocent mistake of expressing sympathy for “the poor rabbit.” As punishment, he has to put on a dunce camp and sit in a corner, while another student gives the "correct" answer: "The world belongs to the strong...The rabbit is a coward and deserves to die." 
 
    Finally surrendering to peer pressure, Hans agrees that the rabbit was "a weakling" who got what it deserved. The teacher then provides the moral of the story: the German people are "an unconquerable super race" who will "destroy all weak and cowardly nations." 
 
    The Disney narrator describes how Hans’s upbringing then proceeds with endless "marching and 'Heil'-ing, 'Heil'-ing and marching.” The little boy becomes almost a robot, blindly heeding the Nazi Party's orders to "trample on the rights of others." The narrator concludes: “For now his education is complete--his education for death."
 
    Nazi-educated German children filled the ranks of the Hitler Youth movement. Its members took part in numerous atrocities, from forcing Vienna’s Jews to scrub the streets with toothbrushes in 1938, to the mass shooting of Jews swimming from sinking boats in the German harbor of Lubeck, just before Germany’s surrender in 1945. 
 
    In addition, many of those who graduated from Hitler Youth joined the Gestapo and participated in the mass murder of European Jewry. While other branches of the Nazi apparatus collapsed or surrendered in the waning days of World War II, Hitler Youth remained fanatically loyal to their Fuhrer to the very end, which is why they are often mentioned in accounts of atrocities that were perpetrated in the spring of 1945. 
 
    Menachem Weinryb, an Auschwitz survivor who was forced to take part in a death march from Poland to Germany, later recalled how when the prisoners reached the Belsen area on April 13, 1945, the German guards went to a nearby town “and returned with a lot of young people from the Hitler Youth [and local policemen]...They chased us all into a large barn...we were five to six thousand people...[They] poured out petrol and set the barn on fire. Several thousand people were burned alive.”
 

    Raising children to kill, whether in Nazi Germany in the 1930s or in the Middle East today, always has deadly consequences.

 

This article was first  published in the Jewish Journal of Los Angeles - August 17, 2023, and is being reprinted with permission of the author

 
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