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Last year while searching eBay for potential new acquisitions to my collection of GDR ephemera, I came across some used school notebooks, a rather unusual find but one which had me excited as I’m always on the lookout for items which have a clear personal angle. When they arrived, I discovered that the notebooks were from 1970 and had belonged to a grade 1 girl with the rather distinctive name of Kordula Striepecke. While the notebooks for her mathematics and German class were unrevealing, young Kordula’s notebook for Heimatkunde, a sort of introduction to civics, told a rather interesting story.

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Communism as practiced in the Soviet Union and the Eastern Bloc didn’t satisfy itself with aiming for the complete transformation of the societies under its control, but rather sought to create a new type of person as well. In the U.S.S.R., he/she was referred to as the “New Soviet Man” (or more pejoratively, Homo Sovieticus). In the GDR, the bar wasn’t raised quite so high and here the Party sought “only” to mold their citizens into so-called “socialist personalities.” One important part of this process was the Jugendweihe (literally “Youth Conscrecration”), a ritual marking the transition to responsible, socialist adulthood for 14-15 year old East Germans and the first time they were required to explicitly pledge their loyalty to the GDR  and its values.

Jugendweihe ceremony in the Hall of Culture of the Rheinsberg Nuclear Power Station, 1969 (photo: Bundesarchiv).

Jugendweihe ceremony in the Hall of Culture of the Rheinsberg Nuclear Power Station, March 1967 (photo: Bundesarchiv) – The stage backdrop reads: “Recognize the laws the world and its laws, Always side with the cause of Socialism, Live life sensibly and happily”.

The Jugendweihe had its roots in 19th c. German society and was conceived of by so-called “freethinkers” as an alternative to religious confirmation ceremonies. Participants completed a program of “morality-focused” instruction which was intended to introduce young adults to both the responsibilities of adulthood and the wonders of the world. The program culminated with a ceremony featuring a speech, pledge and the presentation of a book. During the Weimar Republic era, a number of left-oriented political organizations including the Social Democratic and Communist Parties began offering this instruction to its members. However, even, during this “golden age”, more than 95% of German youth continued to attend church-led confirmation courses. Read More

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