A Communist Upbringing: Scenes from the Lives of East German Children

November 14, 2017

Curated by Dissident

A Young Pioneer in front of the Lenin Memorial in East Berlin, 1977. Nearly all East German schoolchildren were required to take part in this government-run youth group, which aimed to instill a “socialist personality.”

Copyright: Harald Schmitt/Stern. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

“Our Goal: The Communist Upbringing of the Youth.” A declaration of purposes at a school in Lichtenberg, East Berlin, 1979. Schools aimed to raise “citizens who are truly devoted to the ideas of socialism, who think and behave as patriots and internationalists, who strengthen socialism and reliably defend it against all enemies.”

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Under the slogan “We’ll protect our socialist fatherland,” children were familiarized with weapons early. East German law noted, “The defense of the socialist fatherland and the socialist state authority is the right and privilege of all young people.” Friedrichshain, East Berlin, 1979.

Copyright: Harald Schmitt. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Walter Ulbricht, the head of East Germany’s Socialist Unity Party from 1950 to 1971, greets a group of children in Weimar, 1968.

Copyright: Uwe Gerig. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Junior Party members from the Free German Youth and Young Pioneers parade before the Party Leadership in Marx-Engels Square during the Tenth Socialist Unity Party Convention, Berlin, 1981. According to East German law, “The development of young people into socialist personalities is an integral part of the state policy of the German Democratic Republic and the whole activity of the socialist state power.”

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

“Always ready…” At the Eighth Meeting of the Young Pioneers, a children’s organization, over 100,000 children paraded before East Germany’s Party and State leadership in Karl-Marx-Stadt (“Karl Marx City,” today Chemnitz), 1988.

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

“Pioneers from Berlin are here—the Party’s youngest helpers.” East German law noted, “Young people should be characterized by traits like a sense of responsibility for themselves and others, collective consciousness and a readiness to help…” Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz), 1988

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

“A Pioneer doesn’t smoke, drink, or swear!” The Pioneers were responsible for the “development of political and spiritual-cultural life in the student collective [and] the securing of order, discipline and hygiene.” Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz), 1988.

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

“We compete with the sun about who can laugh more!” Children hold up the lyrics to a Young Pioneer youth song. At the Eighth Meeting of the Young Pioneers, a children’s organization, over 100,000 children paraded before East Germany’s Party and State leadership in Karl-Marx-Stadt (Chemnitz), 1988.

Copyright: Klaus Mehner. Copyright: Klaus Mehner/BerlinPressServices.de. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

East Germany defined itself as an anti-fascist state. Here, members of the Free German Youth take a vow, possibly as part of induction into the Socialist Unity Party, in front of a memorial at the former Nazi concentration camp at Buchenwald, 1978.

Copyright: Uwe Gerig. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.

Children playing in front a sign advertising the “commitments” a Publicly Owned Corporation is making in the “40th year of the German Democratic Republic.” According to East German law, “For the working class it is an honor and a class duty to raise the upcoming generation in a socialist manner.” Stadtilm, Thuringia, 1989.

Copyright: Uwe Gerig. Photo courtesy of the Federal Foundation for the Reappraisal of the SED Dictatorship.