The Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) or the League of German Maidens was the girl’s wing of the overall Nazi party youth movement, the Hitler Youth. It was the only female youth organization in Nazi Germany.
The League consisted of:
– Jungmädelbund ages 10 to 14
– Jungmädelbund ages 14 to 18
– Werk Glaube und Schönheit (added in 1938) ages 17 to 21
After the Gleichschaltung – the Nazi Party grabbing total control of society through a so-called forcible-coordination – in 1932, the League of German Girls became the only girls’ organization in the Third Reich. All other groups, including church groups and scouting organizations, were either absorbed into the Hitler Youth or banned.
In 1936, the First Hitler Youth Law made membership compulsory for all girls aged 10 or older. The same law also made membership in the male Hitler Youth compulsory for all boys above the age of 10.
New members had to register for their service between March 1st and March 10th of every year. Registration was held at a local League of German Girls administrative office. Girls had to have completed fourth grade and meet the following requirements:
– be of racial / ethnic German heritage
– be a German citizen
– be free of hereditary diseases
If a girl met those requirements, she was assigned to a Jungmädel group based on the geographical location she lived at. In order to become a full member, she had to now attend preparatory service which consisted of her participation of one Jungmädel meeting, one sports afternoon which was to include a test of her courage, and a lecture about the tasks of the Jungmädel.
After she fulfilled these requirements, a ceremony was held to introduce new members into the rank of the Jungmädel on April 20th, Hitler’s birthday. During the ceremony, new members were sworn in, presented with a membership certificate, and personally welcomed by their group leaders.
In order to become a full member, however, each girl had to pass the Jungmädel Challenge known as the Jungmädelprobe, which consisted of participation in a one-day trip with the group, and a number of sports requirements. Girls had six months to meet all the requirements of the Jungmädel Challenge and, on October 2nd of each year, those who passed became full members in a ceremony in which they were officially presented with the right to wear the black neckerchief and brown leather knot.
The Werk Glaube und Schönheit or Faith and Beauty Society, was founded in 1938 to serve as a tie-in between the work in the League of German Girls and that of the Nazi Frauenschaft, the women’s wing of the Nazi party.
The BDM used campfire romanticism, summer camps, folklorism, tradition, and sport to educate girls within the National Socialist belief system, and to train them for their roles in German society: wife, mother, and homemaker. Their Home Evenings revolved about domestic training, but Saturdays involved strenuous outdoor training. This was praised as ensuring health, which would enable them to serve Volk and country. The so-called home evenings – ideally to be conducted in specially built homes – also included world view training, with instruction in history. The League was particularly regarded as instructing girls to avoid Rassenschande or racial defilement, which was treated with particular importance for young females.
The League encouraged rebellion against parents. More worryingly, lectures were given to the BDM on the need to produce more children. This led to several illegitimate children, which neither the young mothers nor the possible young fathers regarded as problematic.These and other behaviours which were taught led parents to complain that their authority was being undermined. In 1944, a group of parents complained to the court that the leaders of the League were openly telling their daughters to have illegitimate children. 900 of the girls participating in the 1936 Reichsparteitag in Nürnberg came back pregnant.
The outbreak of war altered the role of the BDM, though not as radically as it did the role of the boys in the Hitler Youth. The BDM helped the war effort in many ways. Younger girls collected donations of money, as well as goods such as clothing or old newspapers for Nazi charitable organizations. Many groups, particularly BDM choirs and musical groups, visited wounded soldiers at hospitals or sent care packages to the front. Girls knitted socks, grew gardens, and engaged in similar tasks. The older girls volunteered as nurses’ aides at hospitals, or to help at train stations where wounded soldiers or refugees needed a hand. After 1943, as Allied air attacks on German cities increased, many BDM girls went into paramilitary and military services.
In the last days of the war, some BDM girls joined the Volkssturm, the last-ditch defence of Berlin and other cities in fighting the invading Allied armies, especially the Russians. Officially, this was not sanctioned by the BDM’s leadership which opposed an armed use of its girls. After the war, Dr. Jutta Rüdiger denied that she had approved BDM girls using weapons, and this appears to have been the truth.