Alfons Heck (3 November 1928 - 12 April 2005) was born in the Rhineland. From 1938 through the end of World War II, he was a member of Hitler Youth, eventually becoming a Hitler Youth Officer and a fanatical adherent of Nazism’s ideologies. Decades later, after emigrating to the United States via Canada, Heck wrote candidly of his youthful military experiences in news articles and two books. Thereafter, he partnered with Jewish Holocaust survivor Helen Waterford, each presenting their differing wartime circumstances before more than 200 audiences, most notably in schools and colleges.
Heck was raised by his grandmother at her farm in the crossroads wine country community of Wittlich, Germany. He entered grammar school at the age of 6 where he and his classmates were first exposed to effective Nazi indoctrination by their virulently nationalistic teacher. Four years later Heck and his classmates joined the 5 million-member Hitler Youth. About half of his class were to die in the war.
Although Heck was a good student and found learning to be easy, the next 4 years brought no advancement within the junior branch of Hitler Youth. He and his Hitler Jungvolk companions enjoyed singing, military band, camping and maneuvres, but were bored by marching and drilling. Heck became leader of about 10 other boys. By then, his indoctrination and his devotion to the proud future of Hitler’s Third Reich were nearly complete. Unlike most Germans, he was unafraid of the Gestapo. He understood that the first rule of service to a greater Germany was to follow orders without question, and he was willing to report “suspicious actions" or comments, even by friends or family, to the Gestapo.
Flying Hitler YouthEdit
At 14, all Hitler Jungvolk were required to join the senior Hitler Youth branch, the Hitlerjugend. In part to avoid becoming an infantry officer, Heck applied to the elite Flying Hitler Youth (Flieger Hitlerjugend), although he was apprehensive about its year-long glider plane training. But, within weeks he'd become obsessed with flying and landing gliders. His life course had changed. He would not study to be a priest as his grandmother had hoped. He devoted himself to the task of eventually becoming a Luftwaffe fighter pilot. He’d been taught to believe that living under Bolshevik-Jewish slavery was too horrible to contemplate. The only alternative was German victory. Capture seemed to him worse than death. He thought that only a glorious death over the battlefield stood in the way of his sharing in Germany’s inevitable triumph. His final transformation to fanaticism had begun. He described this extended period of glider training from late 1942 until early 1944 as the happiest of his life. At 16 Heck became the youngest scholar to receive a diploma from Aeronaut’s Certificate in Sailplane Flying.
But the beginning of the Allied offensives in France caused his group of 180 Flying Hitler Youth, of which Heck had become the officer in charge, to be returned to the Wittlich area in order to organize the excavation of large antitank barriers on the nearby defensive Westwall. Battlefield losses raised Heck’s Hitler Youth rank to Bannführer, nominally in charge of 3,000 Hitler Youth workers in the town and its 50 surrounding villages. One of his antiaircraft crews shot down a damaged B-17 bomber trying to return to its base. Later, he gave orders in a combat engagement against advancing Americans in which participants on both sides were killed. During this period he was considered by friends and superiors to be ambitious and ruthless. At one point he gave orders to have an elderly Luxembourg priest shot if he dared return to the school that Heck had commandeered for his workers. The priest did not return. In another incident, he drew his pistol to shoot a Hitler Youth deserter but was prevented from doing so by a Wehrmacht sergeant. Heck admitted at the time, as well as afterwards, that he had become intoxicated by the power he wielded.
As the approaching Americans consolidated their gains, the 17 year old Bannführer was ordered back to his Luftwaffe training base. Once there, with the suspension of training, flight candidates were being ordered to the front lines to face the American infantry. However, a Luftwaffe officer, likely for the purpose of preserving Heck’s life, ordered Heck to organize the retrieval of needed radar equipment near Wittlich and then to take a four day leave in his home town. This enabled Heck to don civilian clothes before surrendering to the advancing Americans there. Unaware of his Hitler Youth rank, the U.S. soldiers used Heck as a translator until French military authorities began occupying the area. The French arrested Heck and he served 6 months hard labor before finally being released.
Heck was unable to believe that the atrocities perpetrated by the Nazi regime had actually taken place. Despite the difficulty of traveling within occupied Germany, he made his way to Nuremberg to witness what he could of the trials of former Nazi officers and officials. He later emigrated, first to Canada, working in several British Columbia saw mills, then to the U.S. where, living in San Diego, he became a Greyhound long distance bus driver.
During the 1950’s and 60’s, Alfons Heck did not speak of his wartime activities or of his former involvement in Hitler Youth. Over the years, he’d read hundreds of books about the Third Reich, tracing the histories of surviving Nazi leaders and maintaining an interest in West German politics. He felt that his generation of young Germans had been callously betrayed by brutal Nazi strategists. Of the nine and a half million German war dead, two million were teenagers, both civilian and Hitler Youth. In 1971, at age 43, he became disabled by heart disease. Without a productive future and increasingly frustrated by his contemporaries’ failure to speak out, Heck began attending writing classes so that he might record what it was like to be a pawn of Nazi militarism.
In 1978, Helen Waterford, a Holocaust survivor who had been lecturing about her wartime captivity in Nazi concentration camps, read one of Heck’s newspaper articles. Soon after contacting Heck, they both began to recognize the other’s capacity for truthfulness. They joined forces to form an unusual team, describing, through firsthand knowledge, the totalitarian machinations of the Nazi regime as they'd experienced them, to an ever-widening audience. Heck wrote his first book, A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika, in 1985, covering his life until the end of the war. His second book, The Burden of Hitler’s Legacy was published in 1988. Often confronted with comments from his audience that similar malevolent indoctrination wouldn’t occur again, Heck replied that if any regime chose to do so, children at such vulnerable ages could be coerced into the same sort of blind obedience for a cause, that the Hitler Youth were taught to accept.
- Heck, Alfons, A Child of Hitler Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika, Arizona: Renaissance House, 1985.
- Heck, Alfons, The Burden of Hitler's Legacy, Frederick, Colorado: Renaissance House, 1988.
- Ayer, Eleanor H., Parallel Journeys, New York: Simon and Schuster, 2000.
BBC Documentary: (1989) The Fatal Attraction of Adolf Hitler
HBO Heil Hitler Confessions Of A Hitler Youth (1991)
Won an ACE for best documentary
GEORGE FOSTER PEABODY AWARD
In 1992, Heck was awarded the a NATIONAL EMMY for"outstanding historical programming"