Baldur Benedect von Schirach was born at Weimar on 9 March, 1907, the youngest of four children of a well-to-do family. He grew up in a milieu of music, theater, and literature and early showed talent for poetry. After finishing his Higher School Leaving Exam, he went to study in Munich, and attended lectures in art history, German Literature and English.
Soon he joined the National Socialist German Students’ League and in 1929 he took over the leadership of the organization. He had to give up his studies because of his Party work, and two years later Schirach was promoted to the post of Reich Youth leader of the Nazi Party. He became known as the Party’s poet laureate and campaigned to win Hitler’s attention by writing flattering verses on “Germany’s greatest son” and “a genius grazing the stars.”
In 1933 he took over the entire Hitler Youth, which was to grow into an organization which had no equal. Hitler called on von Schirach “to project National Socialism through German youth into eternity.” At its peak the Hitler Youth’s membership included almost all of the German youngsters. By 1938 it comprised 8 million members, and von Schirach was presented as a kind of demigod, with his pictures second only to Hitler’s in displays throughout Germany.
In 1940, Baldur von Schirach volunteered and fought with the German Army at the front, and he won the Iron Cross in France. Later that year – in August 1940 – he was appointed Governor and Gauleiter of Vienna. During his tenure 185,000 Jews were deported from Vienna to the ghettos in Poland, and in a speech on 15 September 1942 he mentioned their deportation as a “contribution to European culture.”
Later during the war von Schirach pleaded for a moderate treatment of the eastern European peoples and criticized the conditions in which Jews were being deported. He fell into disfavor in 1943 but remained at his post.
Baldur von Schirach was captured by Allied troops at the end of the war. He was brought before the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg and sentenced on 1 October 1946 to 20 years’ imprisonment for crimes against humanity. The Tribunal found that he, while not originating the policy of deporting Jews from Vienna, participated in the deportation.
During the trial Baldur von Schirach underwent a change of heart, recognizing that he had misled German youth and contributed to poisoning a whole generation. He stated: “I put my morals to the side when, out of misplaced faith in the Führer, I took part in this action. I did it. I cannot undo it.”
With regard to the death camp Auschwitz he said: “It was the most all-encompassing and diabolical genocide ever committed by man .. Adolf Hitler gave the order .. Hitler and Himmler together started this crime against humanity which will remain a blot on our history for centuries ..”
Baldur von Schirach was released from Spandau Prison on 1 October 1966 after precisely 20 years of imprisonment. The former leader of the Hitler Youth was destined to live for less than 10 years – he died in Kröv on 8 August, 1974, almost totally blind as a result of an eye disease.