The Nazis put much time and effort in creating a so-called ‘People’s Community’, a Volksgemeinschaft. To most ordinary Germans this notion was a positive one, as it represented a break with the socio-political divisiveness that had marked the prior years of the Weimar Republic. Yet, few people subscribed to the idea of a Volksgemeinschaft of their own accord. Nazi authorities therefore sought to instil a sense of belonging to this community through open displays of devotion and patriotism. Festive rallies, both big and small, were constantly taking place throughout Germany, during which these little flags, known as Jubelfahne were handed out to everyone. Although on its own this expression of nationalism appears to be rather banal, the value of these flags lies in their sheer quantity. Children are particularly susceptive to token symbolism, and the knowledge that your friend is waving the same flag as you helps make you feel included in something, and ties you to the cause you feel the flag represents – a train of thought which Nazi propagandists fully grasped and exploited.
The Nazi regime devoted much energy to including children in the society it was creating, for example by creating the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls. A healthy, racially pure German child embodied the success of the People’s Community. Already in the early 1920s, in Mein Kampf, Hitler expressed his opinion that the state ‘has to put race at the centre of general life. It has to safeguard its purity. It has to declare the child the most precious good of the people. It must ensure that only those who are healthy will father children.’ This also meant, however, that large groups, such as Jews, ‘anti-socials’, gays, Roma and Sinti gypsy communities, and many others, were excluded from the society the regime sought to create, which eventually led to their persecution and extermination. The constant repetition of the supposed inferiority and harmfulness of these groups andthe decreasing presence of a counter-narrative ensured that this became the new normal for these children. After the Third Reich collapsed in 1945, many of them struggled to fully rid themselves of these racist ideas, both because they had been brought up with the notion that what they had learned was good and decent, and also because the adults to whom they looked up struggled to adjust to the post-war world in which Nazi notions would no longer go unchallenged. A Russian woman, who immediately after the war moved to Königsberg, a city captured by the Red Army that would remain in Russian hands, remembered how
For most children it would remain hard to square their positive memories of the Third Reich with the genocidal practices committed by the regime’s adults. As they grew up, many looked back with fondness to the 1930s, and, since their lived experience did not include the crimes committed by the regime, they could maintain that these comprised only a minor part of the regime’s agenda.