The League of German Girls: Background information when reading Master Class

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Master Class

by Christina Dalcher

Master Class by Christina Dalcher X
Master Class by Christina Dalcher
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  • First Published:
    Apr 2020, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Mar 2021, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Mark Anthony Ayling
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About this Book

The League of German Girls

This article relates to Master Class

Print Review

Members of the BDM, 1935 The socio-political climate of Christina Dalcher's Master Class mirrors, to an extent, that of Germany during its early years under the influence of the Nazi Party. Dalcher draws overt comparisons between the educational proclivities of the Nazis and those of the book's fictional state, which seeks to establish intellectual, political and social conformity through the manipulation of young people. Early in the novel, Elena's grandmother confesses that she was once a member of the League of German Girls, the female wing of the Hitler Youth. She recounts how during this period "School became very different…Girls who used to skip the rope and play other games together began to separate." Given the marked similarities between the stratification of children in Nazi Germany and that of the children in Master Class, this confession serves as a warning to both Elena and the reader of the government's sinister intentions.

Hitler believed that for the Nazi party to proliferate, it would need to harness the hearts and minds of German children. In 1926, the Hitler Youth was conceived by party member and organizer Kurt Gruber as a way of indoctrinating young people into party ideology; in 1930, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), or the League of German Girls, was established as the female division of the organization. When Hitler came to power in 1933, the Bund Deutscher Mädel became the only legal organization for young girls in the country.

The league was initially divided into two sections based on age: The Young Girls' League (Jungmädelbund), which was for girls ages 10 to 14, and the main section of the BDM, which girls could join from the ages of 14 to 18. Starting in 1938, girls could additionally join the Belief and Beauty Society (Werk Glaube und Schönheit) from the ages of 17 to 21. This group was meant to serve as a bridge between the BDM and the National Socialist Women's League, the women's contingent of the Nazi Party. Essential criteria for joining the BDM included pure German lineage, robust physical health and dedication to party dogma. In 1939, following the enactment of the Law on the Hitler Youth, it became mandatory for all youth between the ages of 10 and 18 who met the requirements to join a division of the organization.

Girls in the BDM wore uniforms, sang folk songs that promoted a positive Nazi interpretation of history and participated in physical activities designed to strengthen them in preparation for childbearing. BDM members were expected to commit to the patriarchal philosophies espoused by Nazi leaders, which included the idea that German women would not work and would fulfill traditional roles as housewives and mothers. The organization functioned as a conditioning tool for this eventuality, focusing its efforts on molding girls into obedient and unquestioning maternal archetypes.

In addition to being used as part of the Nazi propaganda campaign to soften the party's image and for the purpose of keeping girls committed to party ideals, the BDM played a sinister role within the community. Members were expected to inform on their teachers, parents, neighbors and peers if they suspected them of activity that could be interpreted as contrary to Nazi teachings. Meanwhile, BDM leaders were instructed to identify girls considered to be of good racial stock for the state-sponsored Lebensborn initiative, a supervised breeding program set up to raise birth rates in Germany and to promote the racial ideology of Nazi eugenics. It is estimated that as many as 20,000 children may have been conceived in the program.

Following the declaration of war in 1939, members of the BDM were tasked with a variety of responsibilities to support the war effort. These included running camps for young evacuees, agricultural responsibilities and working in nursing roles. As the war neared its end, some BDM girls even went into combat against advancing Allied troops. However, Dr. Jutta Rüdiger, the organization's leader during the war years, never officially sanctioned this and publicly denied that girls were placed in combat roles.

Following the collapse of the Nazi regime and Germany's surrender to the Allies, the BDM was officially outlawed on October 10, 1945 by the Allied Control Council. On October 1, 1946, Baldur von Schirach, who had served as head of the Hitler Youth from 1933 to 1940, was sentenced to 20 years imprisonment for crimes against humanity.

Members of the BDM in 1935. Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-04517A / Georg Pahl (CC-BY-SA 3.0)

Filed under People, Eras & Events

This "beyond the book article" relates to Master Class. It originally ran in May 2020 and has been updated for the March 2021 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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