The National Socialistic upbringing in the League of German Girls uses paramilitary-like disciplinary measures to build their loyalty and moral character. Coupled with pagan rituals, songs, and folklore, "Through Innocent Eyes" captures the self-actualiation of ten-year-old Gertrude as she progresses from childhood and living in poverty to adolescence and becoming "one" with her country. By age thirteen, Gertrude is chosen for Country Service Year Camp, called "Landjahr Lager." Here, she will receive the very best rural education for the Reich only wants the healthiest and strongest girls. In 1941, there are one-hundred thousand girls serving in Landjahr Lager and Gertrude Kerschner is one of them. Based upon the original journal of the author's mother and anchored in historical facts. Includes 51 photos.
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Through Innocent EyesThe Chosen Girls of the Hitler Youth
By Cynthia A. Sandor
Balboa PressCopyright © 2012 Cynthia A. Sandor
All right reserved.
In Kleinzell, Austria, a little girl looks down at her baby sister sleeping in the straw-bed crib. She pulls back the white down quilt and picks up her younger sister. Even though Anita is dressed warmly, her little sister is not. Wearing only cloth panties, the child shivers at the chill that consumes the daytime air. Anita does not realize how deathly ill her sister is as she removes her from the comfort of her crib. Diagnosed earlier with tuberculosis, Trudel does not have long to live.
Anita wraps Trudel in a thin blanket. Gently, she holds her dying sister in her arms and tiptoes to the front door. She is wearing her winter clothes and heavy wool jacket. She reaches for her red hat and places it on her head. After taking a few tiny steps forward, she stops for a moment and stands still, examining the wooden floor. She shifts her weight back and forth, contemplating whether she should leave her father alone, even for a moment, as he lies seriously ill in his bed.
Anita looks toward the bedroom and sees her father's body beneath a lightweight, white, down comforter. Heavy, dark curtains drape over the window to keep out the sunlight. He coughs. She peers around the room and watches the amber flames from the fireplace illuminate the large main room of the wooden farm home. Anita's father, Emmerich, a middle-aged father of five, appears old and brittle. His once beautiful blue eyes are now red and sensitive to bright light. His black hair is aged with grey streaks, and his frail body shakes with sweat and fever. He was once a brave, strong, and dependable Austrian soldier in WWI. Now he holds his chest with every bloody cough. Blood stains the beautiful, white, embroidered quilt made by his wife.
Anita places her hand gently on the iron knob of the heavy oak front door. Feeling anxious and scared, she quietly turns the handle so as not to awaken her father. The doorknob clicks twice before it releases from its latch. The door creeks open, and a burst of bright sunlight blinds Anita for a moment. She glances back at her father to make sure she did not awaken him. Her father is asleep.
Anita turns to the door, shades her eyes to regain her sight, and steps outside her wooden house, holding her baby sister's body close to her chest. Once through, she closes the creaking door behind her with a thud.
Standing on the front hand-hewn porch, Anita looks around the farm for the rest of her family. The snow forms a breathtaking landscape as it hangs delicately onto the pine needles and blankets the ground like a thick carpet. Under the limbs of nearby trees stands a family of reindeer. The doe and her two small calves lick the salt blocks while the bull stands at attention, looking for any predators.
The snow-covered Gutenstein Reisalpe Mountain stands majestically quiet, giving Anita a feeling of strength and beauty. She steps from the porch onto a well-worn path of snow. What a beautiful day it is to go skiing, she thinks.
Anita walks past the large woodpile, remembering how her father chopped it earlier in the spring. Her black, knee-high, suede boots crunch the iced-over snow underfoot as she walks toward the barn. On the ground, the sun's rays capture the crystal-like rainbow colors of each snowflake that fell the night before. I wonder why the snow sparkles, she thinks.
Her foot hits a snow-covered log, and she trips, dropping her sister on the side of the snow bank. The child begins to cry. Reactively, Anita rescues Trudel from the ground and wipes the snow away from her half-naked body. Anita places her sister back inside the blanket and strokes her frigid body to keep her warm. Looking up toward the deep, blue sky, Anita prays, "Oh God, please let my sister live. I didn't mean to drop her. I don't want her to die."
Anita sits down on the stable steps and gently rocks her crying sister back and forth, singing an old Austrian folk lullaby: "Hush, hush, hush! Behold the wondrous Light! Who will appear? The Christ-child, dear, for this, you know, is Holy Light; for this, you know, is Holy Light."
Trudel's cry turns into a gentle whimper and then stops altogether. The child is content with the love she receives from her sister. Anita gives Trudel another heartfelt hug, kisses her on her head, and pulls the blanket closer to warm her tiny body. As Anita stands up, she is unaware of the thick icicles hanging from the eave as they drip from the warm winter's sun, leaving droplets in the snow below.
With one great shove, Anita uses her entire body to slide open the large barn door, and this time the darkness inside the building blinds her. As she waits for her eyes to adjust, she can hear her mother, Josefa, giving orders in her Austrian Austro-Bavarian dialect. Because Anita's father is deathly ill, her family, including her two older brothers, Hans and Emmerich, along with her younger brother, Franzel, must take over the farm responsibilities.
"Hans, remove the old hay and lay down fresh bedding for the cows. Move it. This place is a pigsty! Emmerich, go upstairs and throw the bale of hay down, and be careful. I don't want you falling through the ceiling, and once you are finished with that, you can clean out the chicken coop. Schnell, schnell!" Josefa commands the children while milking their last dairy cow.
Anita stands in the doorway, listening and watching as her brothers hurry through their chores. Her mother did not hear the barn door open; Josefa's mind is distracted with thoughts about her husband's illness. How is she going to care for her home, the finances, the farm, the animals, and feed the five children if her husband passes away?
Josefa is a well-worn woman who was born and raised in Kleinzell. Her strong, muscular build gives her the ability to handle the laborious farm chores while her strong will and determination help sustain the family nucleus. She is an intelligent woman for her age. Having borne five children before reaching thirty-one years of age, she has already lived a lifetime. By the age of eighteen, she had been through the Great War. She witnessed drastic political, cultural, and socioeconomic changes. She learned about new countries forming and the new ideologies that replaced the old. She has lived a lifetime and wishes for her children not to experience the same as she has.
Anita watches her family soundlessly so as not to disturb her mother. Suddenly, Josefa stops milking the cow, turns her head, and notices her daughter standing by, holding the young child in her arms. Josefa jumps from her milking stool, knocking it over, takes two steps toward Anita, and backhands her hard across the face.
"What do you think you are doing bringing your sister out here in this cold?" Josefa yells at her daughter.
"Mother, I—" Anita cries as she clutches her little sister closer to her breast.
"What right in God's mind do you have thinking you can bring your little sister out here in this cold? Do you want her to die?" Josefa screams as she stands looking down at her six-year-old daughter cradling her four- year-old sister. Her furious mother waits for a response.
"I ... I need," Anita sniffs, "some ... help in the kitchen. I can't lift the ... the kettle from the fire," Anita says sobbing. "Oh, please forgive me, Mother! I didn't mean to make you angry!" Anita's tears fall upon her baby sister's face. The child begins to cry again.
"Hans!" Josefa yells. "Get Trudel inside this very second, and help your sister with the cauldron," Josefa roars. A loud thump sounds behind Anita, and she looks up to see Emmerich peering down through the opening in the barn attic. Pieces of straw and dust gracefully fall from above to the barn floor. Hans places the pitchfork against the wall and quickly runs to Anita. He gently takes his sister from Anita's arms, opens his wool coat, and wraps her inside. Anita runs from the barn, crying. Hans is not too far behind.
Anita scurries down the path, forgetting about how the sun's rays make the snow sparkle. Tears well up in her eyes, making it difficult to see. She trips and falls hard onto the front porch and lets out another cry. Her older brother helps her up. With compassion, Hans speaks softly, "Listen, Mom's going through a lot right now, and we'll need to help her in the best way we can." Anita shakes her head up and down, fighting back the tears. Hans puts his finger under her chin and lifts her head up, saying, "I think it would have been better if you left Trudel inside the house and just came out to get me. Think the next time before you do something like this again, okay?"
"Uh, huh," Anita says, feeling a little better now. They stomp the snow from their feet before entering their home.
"Here, take Trudel and put her back into bed," Hans says as he leans over to remove his sister from inside his jacket. "I'll get the kettle." He takes off his coat, hangs it on the wooden peg next to the front door, and then walks to the fireplace.
Anita holds her sister in her arms, strokes her head affectionately, and walks to the far side of the room where Trudel's paillasse stands. She carefully places her sister onto the hay mattress and continues to caress her head, wiping back the tears from her own swollen face. "I love you, Trudel."
Fifty-seven years later, Anita stands over Trudel's bed once more, caressing her sister's black, wavy hair and fighting back the tears. She has just arrived moments earlier from the airport. She has traveled fourteen hours from Linz to pay her last respects to her dying sister. Anita is emotionally dying while her sister lies in the hospital bed, dying from bone cancer. Anita feels as if she has no soul, as if everything and every moment in her life has been nothing but a dream. Fifty-seven years ago, Anita took her sister outside in a cloth diaper. Anita did not know that the shock from the frigid temperature would break her baby sister's fever, saving Trudel's life. That same winter night took their father's life.
Trudel's eldest daughter, Cynthia, watches as her mother opens her eyes to gaze upon Anita for the first time in four years.
"I can't believe you are here," she whispers in her Austrian dialect. Cynthia watches as the two sisters hug each other. They quietly converse for a while until Trudel reaches underneath the sheets, pulls out her journal, and shows it to her sister.
"Do you remember these days?" Trudel asks Anita.
"Oh my God! I cannot believe you still have your journal. They'll kill you if anybody finds out about this diary."
"I'm dying anyway. It doesn't matter anymore."
For the last time, the two sisters begin sharing their last intimate moments together and reminisce about their time growing up in the Bund Deutscher Mädel of the Hitler Youth.
A Young Girl in Service
Our flag flutters high before us. We are the future man for man. We are marching for Hitler by night and by necessity With the banner of the youth for freedom and for bread. Our flag flutters high before us. Our flag represents the new era, And, our flag leads us to eternity! Our flag means more to us than death.
It is seven o'clock in the morning on this beautiful, warm, and sunny day in April 1941. Three County Service Leaders for Landjahr Lager Seidorf in Niederschlesien, Germany, stand at attention in the courtyard. Their right arms stretch out, in salute to the Hakenkreuz flag. Forty girls, including thirteen-year-old Gertrude Kerschner, otherwise known as Trudel by her friends, stand proudly wearing their BDM uniform for the morning flag greeting and salute. These young girls have been specially chosen for the state-run educational facilities Landjahr Lager (Country Service Camps). They are responsible young German women who are physically, mentally, and intellectually prepared to willingly serve their homeland. Conscription into Landjahr Lager is a great honor.
The Mädelschar Führerin (troop leader), Fräulein Dieter, not more than twenty-one years old, recites the morning decree to the girls. Her voice commands, "You are the future of Germany, and where we are now, there you will be. You are Germany; the future is Germany. It will be and it must be."
Fräulein Dieter and the Camp and Economics Assistant Leaders are wearing the federally regulated BDM uniform, which is widely recognizable by the black neckerchief clasped together by a woven leather knot, resembling a necktie in the front and worn underneath the collar of the white blouse. The distinguishing green and white district triangle inscribed with the word "Landjahr" is worn on the upper left sleeve and centered between the shoulder and the elbow. Over the blouse, the camp leader wears the traditional, buttoned-up, fawn-colored knit sweater. She wears a long, green lanyard around her neck, underneath the black neckerchief, which loops through the leather slide knot at the front. The silver clasp end is tucked into the left chest pocket. This lanyard signifies Fräulein Dieter's rank as the girls' troop leader, the highest position within this den. The dark blue, knee- high skirt, a black buckled belt, white socks, and black leather laced shoes complete the leader's service uniform. The young girls wear the identical uniform without the lanyard.
The Lagerführerin (camp leader), Fräulein Albrecht, strives to keep a touch of glamour by wearing her shoulder-length, blonde hair in the popular rolled hairstyle. A slight hint of makeup outlines her eyelashes. The Wirtschaftshilfe Führerin (economic assistant leader) Fräulein Grüber emulates Fräulein Dieter's vintage, finger-wave hairstyle.
The troop leader was selected into the BDM Landjahr Lager leadership position based upon her personal skills and moral character, in addition to her training and disciplined attitude. Her steady climb began seven short years ago when she was fourteen and held the lowest rank of Mädelschaftsführerin (girls' appellant) in Schleswig-Holstein. For four years, she worked closely within her unit of sixty girls. Once Fräulein Dieter proved herself as an appellant, she became a Führerinnen-Anwärterin, a leader candidate, and received one year of training prior to holding her current position. Once she attained this rank, it was mandatory for her to continue her education by participating in a six-weekend course. There, she received further instructions about her leadership roles and duties, how to conduct afternoon sports meetings and hold weekly evening social events similar to those in the BDM Proper. Prior to completing this training, she was allowed to discuss her future ambitions and intentions for being in service for the Fatherland.
Fräulein Dieter was highly recommended by her fellow peers to head her own lager. A position opened in the region of Niederschlesien a year ago. This is her second year teaching at Landjahr Lager Seidorf. She is an aspiring leader hoping to move into the highest regional position as long as the war does not invade the region. Her goal is to serve in Seidorf, continue her education, and eventually move up into the regional leadership position, becoming Obergau Führerin in the BDM. However, she must work her way up the ranks accordingly to the hierarchy.
Her plan now is to become Mädel Gruppe Führerin (girl group leader) next year and then become an Mädel Ring Führerin (girl circle leader) within the next two years. She has registered to train at the Obergau Führerinnenschule (Leadership School) for three weeks at the end of the year. Once her training is complete, she will be able to oversee and manage four squads holding 160 members, under the Group Leader position. Once she becomes the Circle Leader, she will have four troops or about eight hundred girls under her direction.
To head up the Untergau leadership position, she will have to attend the Reichsführerinnenschule (National Leadership School) in Potsdam, Germany, and attend one annual leadership conference at the Sports Academy in Weimar. Leading individuals from within the party, state, and administrative branches will give presentations and they will lecture on topics including politics, changes in rules and regulations, or other happenings pertaining to the HJ. Since this is such a large conference, she will have the opportunity to become acquainted and network with the other BDM leaders from the various forty-two districts within the Reich. Once she completes her requirements, Fräulein Dieter will be in charge of five regional circles containing over three thousand members.
The prestigious Obergau Führerin (regional leader) position is be the highest regional position attainable for her before heading for the nationals. In this regional position, she will be in charge of overseeing more than seventy-five thousand girls. She will attend quarterly training conferences held by the head of the National Speaker of the BDM or the overall National HJ Youth Leader if the conference is being held for both men and women. Their respective peers will give lectures, and discussions of their work and current issues will be some of the topics addressed.
Excerpted from Through Innocent Eyes by Cynthia A. Sandor Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia A. Sandor. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Part One: Preparing to Become a Hitler Youth
- Trudel Prepares for Service
- Trudel Registers for Service
- Josefa's Painful Past
- Preparatory Service
- Sports Afternoon
- First Social Evening Meeting
- The Meaning of the Flag
- Hike on the Reisalpe
- The Myth of the Wild Flower
Part Two: Becoming a Member of the Hitler Youth
- Induction Ceremony
- Duties of the BDM Girls
Part Three: Country Service Year Camp
- Traveling to Our New Camp
- Arriving at Camp Seidorf
- Political Evening
- First Day at Camp
- New Girls Arrive at Camp
- Becoming a Leader Candidate
- Walpurgis Night
- Celebrating with the Farmers
- Cross of Honor of the German Mother
- Our Workplace
- Home Economics
- Newspaper Report
- Freedom of the Flame
- We Help with the Harvest
- The Big Trip
- We Practice for our RJA Badge
- Harvesting the Potatoes
- Pig Baptism
- Pig Slaughter
- Our Last Visit with the Farmers
- Our First Snow
- Last Week at Camp Seidorf
- Remembering Your Mama
- Baptism of Fire
- Post WWII - Linz, Austria
- This Way to the United States
Appendix A: Brief History of the Hitler Youth
Appendix B: The Landjahr Lager Program
Characters in Order of Appearance
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
It is unconditionaly understood that this book THROUGH INOCENT EYES: The Chosen girls of The Hitler Youth will be the foundation of countless WWII era research studies, articles, publications and discussions worldwide. History professors and students alike will benefit from the personal photos, letters and information this publication has to offer. For decades, Western culture was only aware of The Anne Frank Diary - now there is another diary for mankind to consider.
I just finished reading "Through Innocent Eyes - The Chosen Girls of the Hitler Youth." My mother grew up in Germany during this time and she never discussed this part of her life with me. I've always wanted to know about her childhood. I feel closer to my mother since reading this book. Thank you for writing it! LR