Some knife designs are classic because they work so well. My father discovered this in 1944 as a World War II infantryman. He acquired a Hitler Youth knife, which became his go-to hunting/utility knife.
by Leon Pantenburg
My dad was an infantry captain with Patton’s Third Army on its push toward Berlin.
When I was growing up on an Iowa farm in the 1960s, the Hitler Youth Knife, a Nazi SS dagger, bayonets and Japanese Samurai swords hung in the garage, in no particular place of honor. Dad used the German knife whenever he needed a sharp blade for something on the farm.
And it was sharp. It was the first knife I ever saw that could shave hair. It was Dad’s utility knife, and I remember him using it to cut pieces out of a tire to repair the elevator on the corn picker. It was also his hunting knife. Dad used the German knife on his first Iowa deer hunts after the war in the late 1940s. The year I was born, 1952, Dad used the blade to gut a nice whitetail doe he killed.
Today, the blade shows wear, and that came from Dad and probably the former owner.
I never learned much about Dad’s service first hand because he didn’t tell war stories. An Infantry captain in Patton’s Third Army, Dad’s dress uniform had three rows of ribbons and a Combat Infantryman badge, and he served in the European and Pacific theaters of the war. Dad’s service records show he was detached from the 97th Infantry Division and got to Europe shortly after D Day.
Upon my pestering about the German knife, Dad mentioned that many of the guys in his outfit carried Hitler Youth knives as utility tools.
In one of his letters home, Dad mentioned to his sister, Edna, that he captured eight Germans “all by myself.” At the time the Germans were desperate to be captured by the Americans, rather than the Russians heading east. It was common for large groups to surrender to the first Americans they came across.
“We’d get a bunch of prisoners rounded up and tell them to drop all their weapons. There were so many knives and guns that we destroyed most of them,” he mentioned once. “Everybody who wanted one had a German knife or dagger. We just used them for whatever we needed. Didn’t think much about it.”
The Hitler Youth, according to various sources, came about as an extension of Adolf Hitler’s belief that Germany’s future was its children. The organization was seen as being as important to a child as school was. Hitler made no bones about his expectations for the children:
“The weak must be chiseled away,” Hitler said. ” I want young men and women who can suffer pain. A young German must be as swift as a greyhound, as tough as leather, and as hard as Krupp’s steel.”
The Hitler Youth organization was created in the 1920s. By 1936, the organization had more than 4 million members, according to the History Learning Site. In 1936, it became all but compulsory to join.
The Hitler Youth wore knives as part of their uniform. Up until early 1937, the motto Blut und Ehre! (Blood and Honor!) was etched on blades, but later knives were produced with plain blades. A variety of companies produced Hitler Youth Knives, but almost all of the them appear to have been made in the city of Solingen, Germany.
Here are the specs for a Hitler Youth knife:
- Handle: 4-1/2 inches, Nichol plated
- Blade: 6 inches, made of 440 stainless steel (Thickness is slightly less than that of a Cold Steel Master Hunter.)
- Weight: I don’t have a scale to weigh it on, but the knife appears to be about the same weight as a CS Master Hunter.
- Length: 10-1/2 inches overall
Today, there is thriving market for Hitler Youth Knives, both originals and reproductions.
As a survival/utility knife, I’d rank a Hitler Youth knife as an excellent design. But I don’t know what kind of blade steel in some of these replicas, and can’t recommend any brand. I wouldn’t buy an original to use as bushcraft or hunting knife, since there are many other modern, excellent choices available.
Today, Dad’s WWII items reside in my gun safe. But the Hitler Youth knife recently went to my nephew and godson, Kevin Spring. Kevin is a hardcore WWII history nerd, and he will take care of the collections, and will probably acquire the rest of the artifacts when my term as curator is over.
I take all these items out regularly, to maintain them and make sure no rust develops. Sometimes, while handling these symbols of tyranny and evil, I recall a phrase from a bestselling book.
It goes something like: “They will beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks…”
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