Interview with Irma (Irmgard) Bauer, a Mädelschaftsführerin [Girls' Leader] who served in the Nuremberg BDM [Bund Deutscher Mädel, or League of German Girls], during the war. Phone interview, Nuremberg, 1997.

Thank you for allowing me to speak with you Frau Bauer. I am interested in the history of the BDM and what it was like being a part of this organization. Can I start off by asking you how you came to be a part of the BDM, and what was your impression of the Hitler government?

Irma: Oh my, Brian, that is a lot to ask me. I want to tell you my story first and foremost before I get into all that. I was born near Nuremberg in 1925, and I remember very little about Hitler and the Nazis' early rise. My family lived outside the city on a small farm where we sold milk and cheese. I remember helping my mother with the cheese early on. I was one of 4 children; I had 2 brothers and an older sister. When I turned age 10 I wanted to join the Jungmädelbund [Young Girls' League] but my mother said no. It cost money to buy the uniforms and it was a bad time of year for that. It was not until I was 11 in 1936 that I was allowed to join. I was in the Süd Hochland branch of the BDM that was all girls from our gau area. I was very proud to be admitted as many of my school friends were already members. First I want to dispel something to you. We were not forced to join, there was no penalty or pressure if one chose not to be a part of the group. If you read the papers and watch TV today one would think girls were bullied and threatened with violence if they refused. This is insane thinking. Of course in 1941 when the war grew, it became a wartime law that all young had to assist in war efforts by being a part of an organized HJ [Hitler Jugend, or Hitler Youth] group.

It was wartime necessity that made a law that the young had to help out in any way they could. The war brought many laws that some found to be invasive and took away freedoms. I would say that in wartime, every nation has laws like this; Germany was not some anomaly because of Hitler. The laws were made like any other nation had to do in order to get more people helping out to achieve victory. In regards to Hitler, I don't know what to say. He was our leader and the people approved of him. I don't remember anything from the early times except my parents wanted him as a leader. My father believed he would save Germany from the reds. There was some attempted overthrow in Munich right after the war, and he was afraid they would get power. The problem would have been they would collect all farms into one and make them provide for the state without much profit. My father knew Russian farmers who warned against the reds, saying they took over Russia and killed anyone not working with them. Those who did became poorer as they had to turn over machines to those who could not afford them. I remember in 1933, I was 8 and I remember how happy my parents were when it was announced Hitler was the chancellor. By 1934 tax laws were changed and we had more money and more business. Our farm became quite busy and I had to help out with my siblings. So you could say the impression of Hitler was very good.

Can I ask you what life was like in the BDM, what activities did you do?

Irma: So, life in the BDM, what was it like? It was very new to me I remember. It was an organization that I believe has never existed before, or probably never will again in my lifetime. Where can I start? We had to meet twice a week, usually on Wednesday and Saturday. Most all of our meetings were broken up like this. In the summertime we would be outdoors all the time. We would choose activities to do like going on a hiking trip, rowing a boat, picking wild flowers, and identifying things in nature. When the weather was nice we could be seen cleaning up for those who maybe could not do it themselves. We also could be called upon to help others in need, like for example a man who delivered milk had lost his helper so we volunteered to take turns to ride with him to help deliver. We also helped an older man who was a soldier in the first war clean up his street after a wind storm. There was so much to do that he asked for our help.

We would also hold sales to help new girls pay for uniforms. Since being in the BDM was a choice there was no state funding for them, so one had to pay out of pocket. My parents were party members so they received a discount, and I received my winter uniform for free due to my father giving cheese as a gift to the shop owner. In the wintertime we spent more time indoors doing crafts, learning to cook, sewing, and at times having political classes. Many found these times boring but I was odd I guess, I liked listening to the ideas. I was not a Nazi, but the idea seemed good at the time and made sense. We also could be picked to go to household schools. You see, part of the BDM was to help girls have a good future. They instilled strict moral codes into us. No smoking, no heavy drinking, and to be modest in our behavior and dress. It is ironic that today the TV shows tell a story that we were forced to be sex slaves to the boys and SS. The truth is that it was looked down upon to have any sexual activity unless you were committed to someone.

The household schools taught all these things so that we would be high value women later on. The goal was to create girls who were self-sufficient but yet prepared for marriage and motherhood. They taught that girls could be anything they wanted to be, but also to remember that all life comes from women and it is our duty to our people and creator to keep this in mind. Many went on to become wives and mothers. There was a charm school called the Faith and Beauty Society [Werk Glaube und Schönheit] which was designed to instill all the traits of becoming an attractive, high value woman that would attract a high value man to marry and have children with. These were stepping stones to a good life and the BDM helped girls achieve this life. I remember the boys of the HJ would come to escort us to dances and parties when they were thrown. They were very proper and polite, escorting us to the dance, then kissing our hand as we curtsied. So that is a glimpse of what it was like in the BDM, it was a great place for a young girl to be and it is sad we no longer have this, as our girls today are getting lost in the world.

Something I must say to you that makes me mad about what is said today. It is claimed that National Socialist Germany had no compassion for the handicapped and mentally ill. This is simply not the truth. So many people tell this repeated lie that the young think we walked around acting superior to all, and yanked the ill out of their homes and threw them in camps. It is very upsetting to me that the truth is not told. We had special units of both the boys and girls where deaf and blind members could belong. I worked with a boy troop for a medical award where they were blind and I took them around the city to shop. There were such organizations that were there for any handicapped person to be a part of our society. Seeing eye dogs were pioneered in Germany for the blind. The deaf had their own helpers and we learned sign language to help communicate with them so that they would feel comfortable. They say the Reich was very cruel to anyone who did not fit in, like we were Spartans only bred to fight. The truth is I saw a society that was nothing like that. I saw people trained by the state to help anyone who could not go it alone. There were welfare workers who would go live with invalids and the ill to take care of them if the family could not or would not. I saw a woman who went mad from her husband dying in the first war. She never recovered and the state paid to have round-the-clock care for her. This is not the action of a system that devalues the ill and infirm.

We would go into hospitals around our area and give flowers, cards, and hugs to those who were sick and in despair. I remember one woman that was here in Nuremberg who was ill with something terminal and I went into her room to present her flowers and a card for well wishes. She asked me to sit with her and told me that she really appreciated the time we took to greet her and to wish her well. I saw the tears in her eyes as she said she will not get to see many more weeks but wished me to have a happy life and to be happy every day no matter what life brings. I have always remembered her and say a prayer for her soul as she seemed like such a friendly person. You see, one thing we were instilled with was a strong sense of a people's community, where we all belonged. We all helped each other, other people's problems became our problems to solve together. No one would go though this life alone and without support, that was a fundamental mission that we lived. Everything we did was to be going towards the good of the people, to benefit everyone in our community.

[Above: Disabled Hitler Youth (right) boys. Click to enlarge.]

[Above: Pin for a Third Reich organization for the handicapped. Click to enlarge.]

Do you remember how you felt when it was announced that war was declared?

Irma: There are two parts to this. The first was that we went to war with Poland, and I think it was no surprise to most. The papers had been talking about problems with Poland on and off. You may not understand but on the border with Poland, there were fights that had been happening. These started even during the first war, and grew after. There was an uneasy feeling and Germans detested Poland for willingly accepting, and then demanding German territory. Hitler made it a point to have the former German lands returned, that was his whole stated political aim. The Poles were being goaded by the English mostly to deny any German efforts to return these lands. There was also a component not often spoken of in today's climate, the former Germans who were forced to become Polish. They resented this and revolted, causing the Poles to take harsh measures against them. I remember in 1938 we had families stay in town waiting to be resettled into the Reich. We were tasked with making them treats and toys for the kids.

I made a friend who was from a small German farming area so we had something in common. She told me the Polish soldiers came and took many of their animals to give to Polish farmers, and then they could not stay in business. When they couldn't pay bills, the soldiers came again and seized the farm. They forced them out and they fled to Germany. It was sad to hear, and the media is silent on this today. That is why Hitler attacked Poland. They wanted to provoke a war for England as they thought they would get more land out of it. They were foolish and now look at what became of their nation for the past 50 years, slaves to the reds. The real declaration of war, and the one we feared was when Great Britain and France declared war. The mood that day was gloomy. All that had been built was now in danger we feared. I do not think anyone believed they would act against such justifiable actions in Poland. Things relaxed however as the victories came in, and after France fell we thought we had made it out of the dark tunnel. Our hopes for peace were vanished soon after however when the attack against Stalin came.

What was life like for you when the war started? Did you have a role in wartime?

Irma: Not at first, we would of course make cards for the soldiers, and if a soldier was wounded or fell in action we would all make batches of cards and drawings to send to the hospital or the loved ones. We would do food drives for the front, and collect things that could be recycled for the war effort. I remember pulling a wagon down by the old town and castle of tin cans and metal that I had been able to collect from people. We had to take them to a drop-off site to go to factories. One thing I did do was in 1942, I was then 17 and winding down my time in the BDM. I was chosen to go do Eastern Service where we would go with large groups of girls to the east to help returning Germans get resettled. Do you remember what I said about the Polish treatment of Germans? Well when the areas came back to Germany, the former residents were allowed to return with the state's blessing.

They were given back their former lands and compensated for any losses. We went into eastern Poland to help returning farmers. There was often a lot that needed to be rebuilt. The boys would help with machinery and such and the girls would help care for the home or help with crops. I was on a big cow farm that was by the Russian border. This was a former German community that the Poles, then the Russians, depopulated. I worked with dogs they brought to help herd cows and sheep. That was a very fun thing and it was very nice weather that spring and summer. There was a river nearby and we would often all go down to swim and float after a hard day's work. We would either sleep in the camps we built, or one night a calf was being born so us girls slept in the barn to watch. Other than this the war did not really have a big impact on me until the end, when it came home to us.

Can I ask if there were ever any problems in the BDM, or in the east service? Meaning if you were teenage girls working alongside teenage boys, did relationships happen that were problems?

Irma: Oh, that is an unusual question. Well of course there was some mischief as some people think breaking the rules is exciting and worth the consequences. I don't remember anything serious really. I know the boys would sometimes play pranks on us and we would of course retaliate. This would often involve a nighttime raid to put bugs in their tents or in their folded clothes like they did to us. It was never anything serious and our leaders would quickly end any tit for tat actions like this with extra duty. As for relationships, of course there would be crushes and sneaking away to hold hands and talk.
I am aware of only one instance where a boy who was about out of the HJ had a sexual encounter with a girl from the Berlin district during the eastern service. They were found out and both were punished by being expelled from the groups. I do not know the circumstances but it was frowned upon to be immoral. The rumors were she was sneaking out at night to meet this boy and it turned into something where they were reported and then caught in the act. That is the only time I ever heard of a girl getting into trouble. Of course we had our squabbles and petty differences that would flare up when we had our moods. I mostly remember a very polite, honest, and loyal time.

[Above: BDM girls helped with harvests and anywhere they were needed on farms throughout the Reich. For city girls, this connected them with a world they would have not known, and provided valuable experience.]

What do you remember about the end of the war? Were you part of any defense?

Irma: Oh heavens no on that, we were not made soldiers. I remember seeing the bombers fly over our territory and it was exciting, concerning, and frightening. We would hear on the radio about the cities being attacked and the dire situations many of them were in. My father was made an air raid person for our area. He would organize fire help in the event a farm was set alight by those fire bombs the planes dropped. Some would drop fire bombs to destroy a field so the crop was ruined. I could even hear at times the flak firing in the city when it was attacked. It was a surreal sight to see. My BDM unit functioned up until almost the very end, we helped with clothing drives, food drives, and such. We would try to aid the people who needed help the most in the time of late war. I remember growing fearful at what might come when we lost. I think we all knew that by 1945 the war was entering its final phase. I should say I was out of the BDM by 1943 and I returned to the farm for my safety, but I was promoted and made a temporary leader, so I still helped the girls as much as I could but by late 1944 it was pretty much all over.

Victory was going to elude us and fate would deal us a blow. Later in the war all the children were moved to the countryside to avoid the bombings. We would take turns with other units to help care for them. School was shut down to avoid being hit, so we spent our times helping on farms or helping where we were needed. I remember the end came in April when American soldiers came. They were a curiosity, and my mother forbade me to be outside as rumors of rape and attacks had been circulated. I remember a truck came in late April and they searched the farm for any hidden soldiers. They came into my room and gave me a short stare, and left. We had photos of my brothers who were both in the Wehrmacht, one had already fallen in the east and had a black band around his photo. The soldier spoke German and asked if he was fallen. My father said yes, in which he replied he was sorry to hear, and wished him well. We had a good experience with the Americans, they did not bother us, and we had no reason to be hostile to them. They ended up parking a supply unit a couple kilometers down from us, and my father quickly saw an opportunity to trade with them. So we had a great relationship. My father and mother made sure us girls stayed away from them however, there was to be no funny business.

You mentioned to me about your sister marrying a party officer. What happened to them after the war? How about your other brother?

Irma: Yes, my older sister married in 1943 and her husband was a party official in the Nuremberg office. He was drafted in 1944 and used as a signal officer in the army command headquarters. He ended up surrendering with the generals at war's end so he had it better than many. They had a place in Fürth that was undamaged but my sister came to live with us at the end. He was allowed to come home that winter and we had a big party for them. I remember when he was released; he was arrested again for being a party official, and then released after an investigation. He worked with the social side of the party so he wasn't accused of committing any crimes. He died in 1982 from a heart attack and my sister died a few years ago from heart failure. My one brother was in the infantry and according to a letter from his commander was killed by artillery fire hitting a bunker he was in. We only know he was in a defensive line, it was heavily attacked and he was killed right away. He lays now in the east in an unknown cemetery that the reds tore down.

There is an organization now working with Russia to try to find these old burial sites to place them in a place families can again visit. I hope they may find him at some point in time. He was a soldier of Germany and should be honored as such. My other brother was in the army as well as a truck driver. He was in the supply unit for heavy bridge building. He would come home on leave and tell these wild stories about the action he would see like a tree growing, or squirrel eating a nut. He of course wanted to be in the thick of things, but my parents were happy he was not. I remember him complaining about a lack of fuel and supplies which made life hard. He survived the war and was taken prisoner right after the surrender trying to get home. The Americans got him, which he was thankful for as he said the Russians were very cruel. He was also released in the winter to come home. We mourned our fallen brother but were thankful we mostly survived unscathed. After the war supplies were hard to come by, but the people all pulled together to help out.

How do you feel about the stories being told today about how evil Germany was and how bad Hitler was for Germany?

Irma: I am sad, to be honest with you, because the younger generations, who are now writing the history, were not alive then. I see them only repeating the view that the winners of the war published. After the war many people who had left Germany because of Hitler, came back to preach to us about how bad we had it. Both the Americans and British brought in busloads of former communists who almost seemed to lord over us. They received special money, status, and possessions. One moved into a stately manor near us and kicked out the owners. They were bullies and often used threats and coercion to get favors from the women. It was a scandal of unheard of proportions. I decided to become a teacher of small children, and it was very hard to do. Any schools not bombed were forced closed by the Americans. Anyone with any relationship to the party was banned from holding any office or position of authority. I had to go before a board that appeared to be run by former communists and camp inmates. They of course turned me down as a Nazi.

I was able to appeal, and using some connections I was finally able to secure a position in 1947. I will tell you I was closely watched, we were all warned that any hint of pro-Hitler sentiment would bring termination and jail. They were that afraid that there would be a resurgence of National Socialism. Some Germans had it very bad under the occupation. The criminals came out and set up gangs to steal and rob from the many people who fled from Stalin. The Americans had to allow the police again it was so bad. If you were a party person and stepped on the wrong toes, this was the time for your enemies to take revenge. The fate of the Jews was a big deal in the end. We had no idea what was going on with them. We knew some were removed to camps but we were told it was because they broke laws or were criminals. I want to say this, what Germany did to the Jews was not unusual for the times. I do not mean what is claimed as far as killings go. I mean that we were at war and the Jews were looked upon with suspicion. In school we learned that after the first war they held great power which did not match their numbers. They were a very small minority in Germany, but had so much wealth; I never met a poor Jewish person. In fact I only saw the ones who had money and flaunted it. That was my impression of them; they seemed to be separate from us but screamed to the skies they were German.

This is why when war broke out some were rounded up and sent away. All nations who were at war did this. America did it to the Japanese and Germans and Britain did it to Germans as well. Stalin removed large areas of Germans farther to the east to be watched. This was the same thing Germany did. I have a hard time believing the stories they tell today about what happened to them in the camps. It is so evil and dark I can not believe a nation as advanced as Germany would have stooped to that level. Common sense tells me that we would have needed them alive to help with the war as well. I lived it and I saw how everyone was a valuable piece of the puzzle and no one was useless. Even the old and infirm had sewing parties to make warm clothes for the people and soldiers. Farms were later turned into small factories to build things for the effort. I know in the camps they all had factories and industry to help. Why would you kill off these resources? Germans even today recite with fervor the sad tales of those who claim survivor status, and demand money. I notice that their tales are getting more dark and demented as time goes by. There are those who do challenge them and court cases have been waged to refute some of the allegations but they have power again and I only see them getting stronger in the coming years. Germans did not help much because many just agreed with the Allied side and acted happy to be liberated. That is what they promote today, "the spirit of liberation" and we are told to embrace it. The older generation is silent today and the young ones only believe what the TV shows tell them to. No one defends the past anymore.

When the younger ones read these sad tales they need to understand the context in which these statements were made. The war was lost, Germany was defeated, what else could one say? To stand and still defend Hitler was suicide. Some did it for sure and quickly met their fate at the end of a rope, knife, or bullet. I have been told all the photos and films of the camps showing the dead and stick-skinny inmates are showing the aftermath of sickness. This came to the camps due to the Allied bombing attacks that destroyed life-supporting utilities. It was not intentional killings or abuse, but I must be careful saying this today. We were lucky to live on a farm that had our own water and firewood.

[Above: BDM girls were also taught valuable skills such as motherhood, something today's women desperately need. Click to enlarge.]

[Above: Bund Deutscher Mädel Proficiency Clasp. This pin was instituted around 1936, awarded for the completion of a series of tests in first aid, homecraft, nursing, physical training, ideology and geography. Succesful completion of all tests were required to be accomplished within 12 months.]

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