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The Problems of the Young Generation from the Perspective of an SED Functionary (September 1946)

In September 1946, SED youth functionary Paul Verner offered younger Germans a forceful summary of the devastating consequences of World War II and the collapse of the Third Reich – a large percentage of German men between the ages of 20 and 40 were dead, in captivity, or unable to work because of war injuries. Under the difficult postwar conditions, the crime rate rose among teenagers and young adults. After the abuse of youthful enthusiasm by the Nazi regime, young people’s interest in politics and social engagement was initially weak. However, Verner saw positive signs of a new youth movement in the anti-Fascist youth committees and in the Free German Youth [Freie Deutsche Jugend or FDJ], which was founded in 1946. However, the FDJ was by no means above party politics; instead, it was controlled by the SED and would later hold a virtual monopoly position as the GDR’s state youth organization.

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The bulk of youth regards itself as a lost generation, and it began its journey between the two worlds under the worst preconditions imaginable, between the world that has gone under in tears, and the new world that Germans must create through their own power, but whose shape seems to young people – in their bitterness, helplessness, their sense of having been cheated, and in the daily pressure of their social and material conditions – nebulous and a long way off. It is incumbent upon the socialist workers’ movement, which has been called forth by the way things have developed, to remake the social conditions of our country from a preeminent position, to solve the problems of the young generation. It must give the youth a new spirit, lead it onto new paths. In that way, it will win over the youth and be able to shape it into a social force of the present and the future.

What, then, is the economic and social situation of the youth?

The Second World War profoundly altered the composition of the population. Where, in a normal population, the age cohorts from 20 to 40 would constitute about 12 million, today there are barely 6 million left. That means a decline by half. Although the return of the prisoners of war to their homeland will increase the able-bodied population, it will not be able to remedy the glaring disproportion. The result of the man-killing war is an absolute decline in the employable male population. On top of this, about a million young men who are either unable to make a living or are severely restricted in their capacities are exacerbating the situation in terms of labor policy. In May 1946, in the state of Saxony, for example, 4,128 of the unemployed men between the ages of 19 and 25 were limited in their ability to work.

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Just as the war and the Hitler period brought misery and disease in their wake, they also brought a slackening of the work ethic and an increase in youth crime. For many, black marketeering it is still more profitable than earning a living through honest work.

That the growth in youth crime is a direct result of the Hitler education and the war requires no proof. It is sufficient to note that in the years of Hitler’s rule, the crimes committed by young people increased year after year. Nazism is, in the final analysis, the reason why we now have a large number of young bandits, black marketeers, and young people of both genders who are running afoul of the law. Fraud, robbery, embezzlement, and black marketeering accounted for the largest share of offenses. Eighty percent of all offenses committed in Berlin by young people are property crimes. Eighty-five percent of the youthful offenders are boys and 15% are girls between the ages of 11 and 21; of those, 40% are between 16 and 18; 25% are between 14 and 16; another 25% are between 18 and 21; and 10% are between 11 and 14 years of age.

Nothing would be more mistaken than to derive from these sober numbers the conclusion that the youth is morally dissolute and to point at the “terrible youth” with a pharisaically-raised finger. Sensationalism and the sinister intentions of reactionary circles are trying to cover up the real causes in order to gain political capital from the situation. Youth crime will decline to the same degree to which conditions in Germany improve.

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