Julia Patricia Mayer
"But later, if all goes well, then Young Germany shall come over to us – let us hope that then it will be called again: to German East Africa!"
These lines come from the 1919 play "Unforgotten, Distant Homeland!" written by Heinz Lewark and performed in Berlin-Charlottenburg by the members of the local colonial youth group (Heyn, 2018).
We are here at Brahmsstraße 19. 100 years ago, this street was still called Roonstraße and the building we are standing in front of was not only a residential building, but was a kind of youth home where the last colonial youth group in Weimar met regularly. This information is taken from the historical address book of the city of Weimar from 1933. The group was called Deutsches Koloniales Jugend Korps Abt. 91 II and was under the leadership of the ministerial senior secretary Ernst Frischmann. However, it was not the only group of this kind. Also the German Colonial Association of Weimar, which had its clubhouse in the Prellerstraße, briefly reports on the ownership of its own youth group. Now you probably ask yourself what colonial youth groups actually were and what tasks they pursued. Susanne Heyn provides a central basis for the answers to these questions. In her book Kolonial bewegte Jugend. Beziehungsgeschichten zwischen Deutschland und Süd-Westafrika zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik (Own Translation: Colonially Moved Youth. Relationship Stories between Germany and South-West Africa at the Time of the Weimar Republic) (2018) she deals with this subject matter in great detail.
It is the year 1919. The last German colonies have already been transferred to other colonial governments for some years, but nevertheless colonial societies can be found everywhere in Germany, fighting for the preservation of the colonial idea (see also article on the Colonial Memorial Fountain). They continue to uphold the idea of colonialism with events, regular meetings and joint activities. Although the membership of the German Colonial Society (DKG) had declined as a result of World War I, the accompanying inflation and other setbacks, they did not give up. A new generation was needed for the society, and so began the development of the colonial youth groups.
Colonial youth work in Germany can be divided into three different phases, beginning in the 1910s and lasting until 1933. Especially the changes in the Weimar Republic had an impact on the different phases of youth work. These will now also be the first topic.
1st phase (1919-1924): Orientation
After the end of colonial rule, the German colonial societies had to struggle with declining membership numbers. These were the result of the defeats in the First World War and the inflation that had prevailed in Germany since 1914 and further attacks. Members were in debt and left the DKG. Therefore, the search for successors among the young people was carried out, because the colonial project was not supposed to stop. To begin with the origins of the colonial youth groups: Helmuth Harries founded the first German Colonial Youth League in Salzwedel in 1919 at the age of 17. He was convinced of the necessity of a colonial youth movement and during his presentation about the cause to the DKG headquarters he also mentioned the already existing German Colonial School in Witzenhausen, in Hesse, on the Thuringian border. Harries already had concrete ideas about the activities and gender of the groups. There should be no separation between girls and boys, which was common in many associations of that time. However, the idea of colonial youth groups always met with opposition from the chairmen. Nevertheless, he was given the opportunity to establish his group. At the beginning, the boys' group consisted of 58 young people and the girls' group had 50 members. Gradually, more local groups followed around 1920. At this point, the city of Weimar comes into play for the first time. Because here, too, one of the first colonial youth groups in Germany was founded, along with Esslingen, Ulm, Tübingen, and Leipzig (Heyn 2018: 74). However, some of the groups quickly dissolved again, as the range of activities on offer was probably too boring and the young people preferred to go to an amusement club.
2nd phase (1924-1927): Institutionalization
Over time, the DKG board changed its mind about the controversial colonial youth groups. On September 19th, 1924, the Colonial Youth Committee was founded. The leadership of this lay with the DKG. Its first task was to organize colonial lectures at schools, to form school youth groups, and to publish or distribute the Jambo. The Jambo was a magazine for young people that exclusively conveyed colonial content and reported on the activities of the other Germany-wide youth groups. As a result of these measures, the number of youth groups and their membership increased sharply. The initial aim of the groups was to carry out colonial remembrance work and to call for the return of the former colonies in a broad public.
In 1926, the first colonial youth conference took place in Bernburg. It had the goal to get all German groups under one roof and additionally, to draw attention to the youth groups in the public.
Over the years, there were repeated disagreements about who was responsible for the groups. Therefore, there were several splits and discussions about the affiliation of the groups. This resulted in separate organizational structures at the end of the second phase around 1927 (Heyn 2018).
3rd phase (1928-1933): Differentiation and connection to National Socialism
The constant back and forth led to the transformation of the various groups into superordinate entities. As early as 1926, the Bund der Kolonial-Pfadfinder (Federation of Colonial Scouts) was founded from the colonial youth groups and joined the Kolonialverein as a youth organization. These Boy Scouts accepted only boys, but colonial youth groups continued to exist for boys and girls.
The groups had just been reorganized when the Bund Deutscher Kolonialjugend was founded in 1931. This was once again the cause for a reorganization. It initiated the merger of the different youth organizations and thus changed the organizational structure again. Three supergroups were now formed. The Jambolesegemeinschaft (Jambo Reading Community), the school groups and in the communal area there was the group Kolonialsturm (Colonial Storm) for boys and the Hedwig von Wissmann-Jugend, for girls. From then on, the groups existed in this way until they were dissolved around 1933 or transformed into Hitler Youth groups (Heyn 2018).
The influence on the schools
As mentioned earlier, schools played a major role in colonial youth work. The DKG recruited young people in schools by providing teaching materials and founding school groups. These groups were to support them in their goal of colonial revision. In the process, the young people were to be taught the importance of owning what was overseas. For this purpose, the DKG was assisted by selected teachers. In addition, the teaching material was to be adapted to colonial politics. For example, former German colonies were to be clearly marked in the atlases. These undertakings repeatedly met with opposition. Therefore, the focus was on recruiting teachers. In the beginning, this was done primarily among those who had once been in the colonies themselves. They were to facilitate the establishment of colonial school groups. In addition, they were equipped with the Jambo, which was to serve not only them but also the students as teaching material on the topic of colonialism (Heyn 2018).
What did the colonial youth groups do?
Regular meetings were held in the groups, which were led by adults. During the meetings, people talked about colonial issues and the group's plans. Pictures were shown, lectures were given and the magazine Jambo was read together. The young people learned from the leaders of the group all sorts of things about the colonized countries, the wildlife there and the experiences of the troops at that time. The presentation of the lectures or even pictures and books was mainly exoticizing. In addition, only the past was reported and current debates on the colonial question were completely left out.
The Colonial Scouts did the same. However, they learned additional Scouting knowledge. The groups advocated an educational program. This included physical discipline: sports played a central role in these groups, along with the propagation of the colonial idea. This was because the goal was to turn the boys into colonial pioneers. To this end, the idea was that they should be strong and vigorous.
Despite the glorification of the former colonies, very few young people traveled there. The aim of the effort was to convince the young people of the colonial idea, so that it would have been possible to reconquer the colonies and provide Germany with colonial possessions again. Their loss was deemed tragic, which is why it was deemed necessary to reverse this as soon as possible. The groups considered themselves non-denominational and non-partisan, viewing their work as a national task (Heyn 2018).
The colonial girl groups
The youth groups of the colonial associations were preferentially specialized in boys, but it was not unusual for there to be colonial girls' groups. They originated from the Frauenbund, which pursued the goal of obtaining new members and support for its association through these girls' groups. From the mid-1920s onward, there was an increased focus on the formation of these groups. In 1926, the first girls' group was founded in Berlin. It organized hikes, did sports and gymnastics, and always had the colonial idea instilled in it during these activities. This means that during the meetings there was no other topic than that of colonization and the preparation for it. This shows that the DKG always expected to become a colonial power again and to have its own colonies on "the foreign continents.“
The groups were aimed at girls and women between the ages of 14 and 24. Many of them were still in school, but some were already working or in training. The daughters of the Frauenbund members were invited to the colonial girls' groups first, but this was not a prerequisite. Hierarchically, however, the girls' groups were considered below the boys' groups.
The Frauenbund retained power over the girls' groups and set their goals. These were, for example, the incitement of the colonial idea, even if the girls did not witness the loss of the colonies, or the education of the colonial ideology. In addition, new members should also always be recruited, so the goals could be spread more widely among the population. Since the Frauenbund held such a large position in the girls' groups, the girls also worked on its projects. Thus, they helped to carry out propaganda for colonialism, but also helped to rebuild German schools in the former German colonies in Africa. In addition, the girls contributed to the support of German settler families in Africa. In addition to the Frauenbund girls' groups, there were school-based girls' groups led by a teacher and the DKG's extracurricular girls' groups. They were led by other girls who had to be at least 18 years old. This was called Hedwig von Wissmann-Jugend, (Heyn 2018). The group was named after Herrmann von Wissmann's wife. Von Wissmann was a so-called Africa explorer, officer, and colonial official who was governor of German East Africa between 1895 and 1896 (Becker et al. 1909). He not only undertook so-called expeditions of 'discovery', but also combined these journeys with military steps. It was von Wissmann who led the first colonial war of conquest in East Africa in 1889/90 (Prinz 2010). These and many other colonial political actions make him a well-known and also very problematic person of this time.
While not much is known about the goals of the Hedwig von Wissmann-Jugend, it can be assumed that they also wanted to carry on the colonial idea in order to spread 'Germanness' again in the newly conquered country after the colonies had been reclaimed. In addition, they acquired skills in activities designated as feminine, such as sewing, cooking, or medical services. This training was the counterpart to the boys' training as colonial pioneers. One could say that this prepared them for everyday life under colonialism, and that reproduction in the colonies was to be ensured through this form of gender politics. As mentioned earlier, the girls' groups were ranked below the boys' groups, thus continuing to perpetuate the gender image of the strong man and the woman subordinate to him (Heyn 2018).
Colonial youth groups in Weimar
As mentioned at the beginning, Weimar was one of the cities that had colonial youth groups. They were one of the first and one can find evidence that colonial youth work took place in Weimar until 1933. It can be assumed that the groups met in the rooms of the Colonial Association Home or the Youth Home and, like the Adult Association, held their performances and activities in these homes. With probably the last group in Roonstraße 19, where this station of the decolonial city tour is located, the time of the colonial youth groups ended. They were not abandoned, however, but converted into Hitler Youth groups (Heyn 2018).
From all this, it can be seen that in Weimar, too, children and young people were taught colonial ideas and prepared for the goals of the colonial associations, namely the recovery of German colonies in Africa.
- Becker, A., von Perbandt, C., Richelmann, G., Schmidt, R., Steuber, W. (1909). Hermann Von Wissmann – Deutschlands Größter Afrikaner. Verlagsbuchhandlung Alfred Schall.
- Heyn, S. (2018). Kolonial bewegte Jugend. Beziehungsgeschichten zwischen Deutschland und Südwestafrika zur Zeit der Weimarer Republik. transcript.
- Heyn, S. (2008). Koloniale Jugendarbeit in der Weimarer Republik: Rassifizierungsprozesse und Geschlechterkonzeptionen in dem Bühnenstück »Unvergessene, ferne Heimat!«. In v. Gippert, Wolfgang, Götte, Petra, Kleinau, Elke (Eds.), Transkulturalität: Gender- und bildungshistorische Perspektiven (S. 275–292). transcript.
- Historisches Adressbuch Weimar (1933) abgerufen von https://zs.thulb.uni-jena.de/rsc/viewer/jportal_derivate_00195330/AbW_1933_001.tif am 19.03.2020.
- Prinz, C. (2010). Herrmann von Wissmann als „Kolonialpionier“. In Budrich Journals, Geschlechterpolitiken (S. 315-336) Jg. 30, Nr. 118-119 (2-2010).