An acquaintance recommended to me Walter Kempowski’s Tadelloeser & Wolff, an autobiographical novel about a young man’s coming of age in Rostock just before and during World War II.
It’s told from the young man’s point of view, the way a child might tell it: as a series of short vignettes consisting mostly of direct sense-impressions. Sentences often incomplete. It sounds a bit strange, but I find it fresh and strangely innocent, and it’s productively unsettling to see war-mongering propaganda, pervasive anti-Semitism, political persecution, and hideous battle injuries reflected through the uncritical, curious eyes of a child. It’s also a vocabulary exercise — a stumper on every page. Kempowski’s father, for instance, constantly refers to things as total verbumfeit, and camping trips bring us words like Eichelhaeher.
At one point, the young male narrator starts referring to himself as a Pimpf, which means "little squirt" in German. Many English-speakers find German words with seemingly extraneous ‘f’s at the end particularly lovable (yes, you do pronounce them). But, I think to myself, why is he calling himself a little squirt? It gets even odder when he begins talking about all the Pimpfe getting together, putting on shiny new uniforms, marching, chanting, and doing collective chores like sweeping the streets.
You guessed it — they’re little Nazis. Before you joined the Hitlerjugend, there was a preliminary stage for boys of 10-14 called the Jungvolk. A former Pimpf named Wolfgang Herchner remembers (G), on the homepage of the German Historical Museum:
1938: Finally, we were ten years old and could (had to) join the Hitler Youth, or more precisely the Jungvolk. We were "Pimpfe", as people said back then, often a little dismissively. In our fantastic uniforms, however, we felt really manly. On weekends and Wednesdays we were ordered to perform service.
We were drilled in everthing that would makes us as hard as steel, as agile as greyhounds, and as tough as leather. Sport training, skill in cross-country marching with camouflage and orientation exercises. Survival training, shooting, throwing hand grenades, and first-aid, as well as test of courage — everthing encouraged the youthful ambition to grow into battle-ready young men. In holiday camps, we got a taste of soldierly communal life, and the boys were taught to wean themselves from their parental home. We were given the feeling that we were to serve the Fatherland and, most of all, the Fuehrer, which was of course the highest and most worthy goal for a member of the Hitler Youth. At that time, we had never learned or experienced anything else.
If you follow the link at the beginning of this post, you’ll see that the Bild tabloid newspaper has brought out a special bargain edition of the book, which weighs precisely 522 grams. The book was apparently also made into a television series in 1975, of which many people seem to have fond memories indeed.