Exercise was a fundamental element of the Nazi regime’s public health campaigns, and Nazi propaganda depicted physical fitness as every German's “national duty.” Nazi leaders did not call for Germans to exercise out of interest in their individual health, but rather they believed that a population of physically fit citizens was necessary to build a strong military that could conquer “living space” (Lebensraum) for the territorial expansion of the so-called Volksgemeinschaft (German racial community).
The regime especially emphasized the importance of physical fitness and athletic activities for young people.1 Nazi youth groups such as the Hitler Youth and the League of German Girls indoctrinated German youth in Nazi ideology while engaging them in exercises, games, and sports designed to physically condition their bodies and encourage a sense of camaraderie.2
The featured film was made at the Hitler Youth training camp at the Austrian town of Grödig, near the Berghof, Adolf Hitler’s mountain retreat in the Bavarian Alps.3 The undated clip shows a camp experience filled with games and outdoor activities as well as military training, physical conditioning, and ideological indoctrination.4 The young men in the film are shown competing in athletic events, learning to march, and training in the use of compasses, maps, rifles, and grenades. They also work outdoors and hike a mountain, reflecting Nazi thinking about the importance of exercise, hard work, and a “nature-loving lifestyle.”5
As shown in the film, the Hitler Youth actively prepared young men for military service. Athletic competitions, aggressive games, and rugged outdoor activities helped shape young men into strong soldiers. In one drill shown here, for example, trainees practice throwing mock grenades at a target. The German army and SS all recruited from the Hitler Youth, and the organization’s links to the German military grew closer during World War II.6
As the Hitler Youth’s activities prepared young German men to become soldiers, the regime encouraged young women to stay fit with exercises intended to promote camaraderie and cooperation. For example, in the propaganda film, “Healthy Woman, Healthy Nation,” young women are shown performing coordinated group exercises and helping younger children with their gymnastics routines.