In 1936 participation of boys and girls in Nazi youth groups became mandatory. At the onset of WWII older Hitler Jugend (HJ) boys were conscripted into the armed forces while younger boys functioned as air raid wardens and anti-aircraft gun assistants.
Girls in the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) offered refreshments to departing troops on railway platforms, cared for wounded soldiers in hospitals, helped in kindergartens and assisted households with large families.
Starting in January 1943, anti-aircraft batteries were officially manned solely by Hitler Youth boys. After a raid, Hitler Youth also assisted in neighborhood cleanup and the relocation of bombed-out civilians.
As military manpower dwindled in 1943, 16-17 year-old volunteers were recruited for the 12th SS Panzer HJ Division. In the summer of 1944, Hitler ordered Hitler Youth as young as fifteen to be trained as replacements and sent to the Russian Front. On D-Day June 6, 1945, the Hitler Youth Division was deployed in Normandy.By the end of its first month in battle, 20% of the HJ Division had been killed and 40 percent wounded or missing. By September 1944, only 600 HJ had survived. The diminished HJ Division continued to exist for the duration of the war, as even younger volunteers were recruited along with a mixture of conscripts.
In September 1944, anticipating the invasion of the Fatherland, every able-bodied male aged 16 to 60 was incorporated into the Volkssturm (People’s Army) and trained to use the Panzerfaust anti-tank weapon.
Hitler Youth reportedly fought against the Allies with fanatical and reckless behavior, often fighting until there were no survivors. Many committed suicide rather than being taken captive. Toward the end of the war, in addition to participating in major battles, they were deployed as guerrillas, spies and saboteurs in territory occupied by the Allies.
In the end, as Russian forces were nearing Berlin, Hitler made the disgraceful decision to order all German youth to fight to the death in a hopeless cause.
In April 1945, just ten days before his death, Hitler came out of his Berlin bunker to decorate twelve-year-old HJ soldiers with Iron Crosses for their heroism in the defense of Berlin.