The Bund Deutscher Mädel, also known as the BDM (League of German Girls), was the only female youth organization in Nazi Germany.
It was the female branch of the overall Nazi Party youth movement, the Hitler Youth. At first, the League consisted of two sections: the Jungmädel, or Young Girls League, for girls ages 10 to 14, and the League proper for girls ages 14 to 18. In 1938, a third section was introduced, the Belief and Beauty Society (BDM-Werk Glaube und Schönheit), which was voluntary and open to girls between the ages of 17 and 21.
The BDM was founded in 1930 as the female branch of the overall Nazi Party’s youth movement, the Hitler Youth (HJ). Its full title was the League of German Girls in the Hitler Youth, (Bund Deutscher Mädel in der Hitler-Jugend). It did not attract a mass following until the Nazis came to power in January 1933, but grew rapidly thereafter, until membership was made compulsory for eligible girls between 10 and 18 in 1939. Members had to be ethnic Germans, German citizens, and free of hereditary diseases.
The BDM was run directly by HJ leader Baldur von Schirach until 1934, when Trude Mohr, a former postal worker, was appointed to the position of BDM-Reichsreferentin, or National Speaker of the BDM. After Mohr married in 1937, she was required to resign her position (the BDM required members to be unmarried and without children in order to remain in leadership positions), and was succeeded by Dr. Jutta Rüdiger, a doctor of psychology from Düsseldorf, who was a more assertive leader than Mohr but nevertheless a close ally of Schirach, and also of his successor from 1940 as HJ leader, Artur Axmann. Rüdiger led the BDM until is dissolution in 1945. She joined Schirach in resisting efforts by the head of the Nazi Women’s League (NS-Frauenschaft), Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, to gain control of the BDM.
As in the HJ, separate sections of the BDM existed, according to the age of participants. Girls between the ages of 10 and 14 years old were members of the Young Girl’s League (Jungmädelbund, JM), and girls between the ages of 14 and 18 were members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) proper. In 1938, a third section was added, known as Belief and Beauty (Glaube und Schönheit), which was voluntary and open to girls between 17 and 21 and was intended to groom them for marriage, domestic life, and future career goals. Ideally, girls were to be married and have children once they were of age, but importance was also placed on job training and education.
While these ages are general guidelines, it should be noted that a girl, once she held a leadership position (either honorary or a paid position), could remain in the League for as long as she liked, provided she neither married nor had children. Rüdiger became BDM Leader at 26, while Clementine zu Castell, the head of Belief and Beauty, was 47 when she took the position in 1938. Eventually, approximately 80% of BDM leaders who left the League did so to get married and start a family, and only 20% left to pursue careers.
The BDM used campfire romanticism, summer camps, folklorism, tradition, and sports to educate girls within the National Socialist belief system, and to train them for their roles in German society: wife, mother, and homemaker.
The programs offered to girls often appeared very interesting and seemingly allowed the girls more freedom within society than they had previously known. Prior to the BDM, it was nearly unheard of that girls would travel without their parents, or do such “boyish” things as camping, hiking, and playing sports. Some of the BDM’s work even drew harsh criticism from Nazi Party leaders, such as Heinrich Himmler, who felt that these activities were not befitting young girls. Said Himmler in a speech at Bad Toelz: “When I see these girls marching around with their nicely packed backpacks - it’s enough to make me sick.”
All accounts agree that before the outbreak of war, the BDM was very popular with German girls, more popular than the HJ, with its rigorous paramilitary training, was with boys. The program offered much that was appealing to the girls, asides from being able to go on trips and have a “life” outside of school or their parental homes, such as singing, arts, crafts, theater, and to some extent even fashion design, community work, etc.
The Belief and Beauty organizations offered groups where girls could receive further education and training in fields that interested them. Some of the works groups that were available were arts and sculpture, clothing design and sewing, general home economics, and music.
The outbreak of war altered the role of the BDM, though not as radically as it did the role of the boys in the HJ, who were to be fed into the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) or the National Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst, RAD) as soon as they turned 18. 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 the Winter Relief and other Nazi charitable organizations. Many groups, particularly BDM choirs and musical groups, visited wounded soldiers at hospitals or sent care packages to the front.
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 para-military and military services where they served as Flak Helpers, signals auxiliaries, searchlight operators, and office staff. Unlike male HJs, BDM girls took little part in the actual fighting or operation of weaponry, although some Flak Helferinnen operated anti-aircraft guns.
In the last days of the war, some BDM girls, just like some boys of the male Hitler Youth (although not nearly as many), joined with the Volkssturm (the last ditch defense) in Berlin and other cities in fighting the invading Allied armies. Officially, this was not sanctioned by the BDM’s leadership which opposed an armed use of its girls even though some BDM leaders had received training in the use of hand-held weapons (about 200 leaders went on a shooting course which was to be used for self-defense purposes). After the war, Dr. Jutta Rüdiger denied that she had approved BDM girls using weapons, and this appears to have been the truth.
Some BDM girls were recruited into the Werwolf groups which were intended to wage guerilla war in Allied-occupied areas. A former BDM leader, Ilse Hirsch was part of the team who assassinated Franz Oppenhoff, the Allied-appointed mayor of Aachen, in March 1945.
One should note that by the time they joined the Red Cross, Luftwaffe Helferinnen, Volkssturm or Werwolf, they were no longer BDM members, but members of those respective organizations.
Sources: Wikipedia; Photo from BDM History