On September 14, 1935, a small, unattractive man with a toothbrush moustache, in a stiff white shirt, brown tie and uniform, addressed some 50,000 members of the Hitler Youth Movement in the gigantic stadium of the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg. His fists clenched, the Führer spoke to a captive audience, which stood to attention in orderly rows and frequently interrupted his words with impassioned shouts of "Sieg Heil!"
The longer he spoke, the more he whipped the crowd into a frenzy of enthusiasm with talk of the rampant degeneracy of the Weimar Republic and the need for a new German who was "more disciplined, fit and trim." He told the sea of upturned faces that "a young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel."
It's hard to tell from film footage of this speech whether all the young people present were genuinely moved by Hitler's words, whether they actually understood his message or were simply carried away by the electrifying atmosphere. The only surviving footage is stylized in the same way as Leni Riefenstahl's notorious propaganda film "Triumph of the Will," made one year previously at the Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg.
Close-ups of young, shining-eyed Aryans and shots of vast arenas filled with rows of blonde, uniformed young people overseen by the Führer himself combine to create the impression that an almost religious event is taking place. This was exactly the effect Hitler's fiery speeches and the spectacular mass rallies so beloved of the Nazis were supposed to achieve.
The Power of imagery
Othmar Plöckinger from the Institute of Contemporary History in Munich has researched Hitler's speeches in-depth. "Hitler was undoubtedly a successful orator, especially in the early years" says Plöckinger. "Around 1933, his speeches became more weighed down with show."
In the run-up to his rise to power, the right-wing press responded primarily to the Nazis' knack for imagery and the pomp and ceremony of Hitler's public speeches, rather than the actual content.
Leftwing writer Franz Jung gave a glimpse of the extraordinary organizational effort that went into the Nazis' mass events in his eye-witness account of a May 1 parade in Berlin shortly after the Nazis seized power in 1933: "For the first time in history, a gathering of one-and-a-half-million people is to take place on the Tempelhofer Feld, the press has reported. The Propaganda Ministry published a review of operations which states that 18,000 people organized into six columns will gather within one hour [...] The top of the first column will reach Tempelhofer Feld at 2:00 p.m, and the rally will begin at 8:00 p.m."
The media was brought into line to ensure that the desired effect of Hitler's speeches was underscored by press coverage. A day after he gave a speech, almost all the major dailies would reprint it word for word; it would be reported on in the radio; film footage of the event would be shown weeks later on newsreels screened in cinemas.
It was the Nazis' skilled media manipulation that allowed Hitler's appeal to German youth to be "as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel" to become a popular quote that went down in German history. Over the years, the fact that it was first spoken by Hitler was eventually forgotten.
Swift as greyhounds, tough as leather? Hitler's speech seems bizarre now, not least on account of his failure to mention any traditional values that young people might aspire to, such as education, wisdom and justice. As it happened, Hitler had come up with the sentence long before the Hitler Youth rally in 1935 - he has used it 10 years earlier in his book "Mein Kampf."
Even then, Hitler was more interested in what Othmar Plöckinger calls "military" discipline rather than educational ambition.
"There is no explicit mention of education and young people in "Mein Kampf," although Hitler's fondness for military thought and action is already in evidence," he says. "In this respect, militarism obviously served as one of the main cornerstones of the Nazi society."
By 1935, Hitler's power was consolidated, the NSDAP had 3.9 million members and the opposition had largely been eliminated. The Nazis were in a position to plan German expansion and rearmament. Hitler introduced conscription, breaking the terms of the Versailles Treaty, which had placed restrictions onGermany's armed forces.
Hitler's speech to young Germans in 1935 was a taste of things to come. In 1936, a law was passed that made the Hitler Youth the only youth organization in Germany, made up of the Hitlerjugend proper, for male youths ages 14-18; the younger boys' section Deutsches Jungvolk for ages 10-14; and the girls' section Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, the League of German Girls).
In 1939, membership became compulsory. Nearly 8 million youngsters took part in drills on the schoolyard, shooting exercises and mustering, all with the goal of becoming as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp's steel. The Hitler Youth was disbanded by Allied authorities in 1945.