The Poesie-album and the direct efforts to shape the minds of youngsters

Objects & Images

A Poesie­­-album is a little album used by children – mostly girls – to collect inspirational messages, small poems, and verses from friends and family. It was popularised in Germany in the nineteenth century, although the use of these little albums also spread abroad. Being allowed to write in such an album was a sign that the owner and the author trusted and valued each other. This entry, an inspirational quote, reads:

Viel leisten

wenig hervortreten

mehr sein als scheinen      


Achieve a lot

stand out little

be more than you appear to be


A few pages earlier another girl wrote the exact same inspirational quote, and both incorrectly attributed it to Field Marshal Helmuth von Moltke the Elder (1800-1891).[1] It begs the question: why would two young girls choose a quote a Field Marshal, and make the same error? Beyond the possibility that one girl might have simply copied the other, the answer lies in the level of direct indoctrination to which they were exposed. These girls were all part of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (League of German Girls), and, as we learn on another page of the Poesie-album, were in a short training course for Führerinnendienst (FemaleLeader Duty), in which they learned to lead a small group of girls. Since there was a certain mentoring element to this duty, the training of these girls was carefully directed through different course books. These booklets could differ from region to region, but what they had in common was that they were steeped in martial and racist language. The April 1943 Führerinnendienst-booklet for Northern Germany, for example, had themes such as ‘Hitler Youth deployment in war’, ‘The Jew as the worst enemy of the German people’, ‘Ensuring the purity of the racial strength of the German people’, and ‘Adolf Hitler’s struggle and victory’, which all helped frame Germany as an embattled country. It opened with a part of a speech which Hitler delivered on 24 February 1943, on the anniversary of the foundation of the Party:

This battle will not end, as some foresaw, with the annihilation of the Aryan people, but with the eradication of Judaism in Europe. More so, thanks to this struggle, the world of thought of our movement will become common property of all peoples, even among our enemies.

It is therefore hardly that surprising that the girl who wrote the inspirational message in her friend’s Poesie-album dated it Kriegsjahr 1944, or ‘war year 1944’. These girls felt they were at war. Once sufficiently indoctrinated, some of them were sent ‘East’ for their Osteinsatz, or ‘East-deployment’, during which they were tasked to ‘Germanise’ the ‘incorporated Eastern areas’, such as Poland and Lithuania. Older girls, around the age of 20, were sent there as Wehrmachthelferinnen (Female Wehrmacht helpers) or as nurses. The film clip “Shame about a Nazi past” shows one of these nurses, who during the war was stationed in Posen, or Poznan, and we see how the Nazi ideology had permeated her behavioural patterns. Not only did she call out her friend who stepped aside to let some Polish women pass, she also escalated the situation by calling women by the derogatory term ‘Polacks’ (Polacken), knowing that in case of confrontation she could turn to nearby police officers who, rather than basing their assessment of the situation on the statements of the two parties, would simply enforce Nazi rule.

[1] The quote dates from 1903, and actually comes from a speech by Alfred Graf von Schlieffen, the Chief of the Prussian Great General Staff, in which he celebrates von Moltke by attributing these qualities to him.