Former Hitler Youth leader shares gratitude for his acquired US citizenship

Gerhard Zeddies with his wife, Ann Marie Zeddies shares his gratitude for his U.S. citizenship after his involvement in the Hitler Youth when he was young, St. George, Utah, Nov. 21, 2014 | Photo by Holly Coombs, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — For Gerhard “Gary” Zeddies, a native of Germany who now calls Southern Utah his home, thoughts of freedom are foremost on his mind during this thankful holiday. Before he enjoyed the liberties of being a United States citizen, Zeddies spent most of his adolescence in the Nazi-led organization Hitler Youth.

Zeddies, 86, was born in Hamburg, Germany in 1928. He became part of the Hitler Youth, the sole official youth organization in Germany that was partially a paramilitary organization, he said, at age 10. While German men had a choice to join the Nazi Party, he said that all boys were required to become part of the Hitler Youth.

Zeddies learned everything associated with the philosophy and ideology of German Nazi Party Leader Adolf Hitler and was made leader for the Hitler Youth at the age of 15. Leaders were directed to teach other boys of their same age and, Zeddies said, he taught his group Hitler’s book “Mein Kampf” – which translated mean “My Struggle” – Hitler’s recount of his youth and ideas for Germany’s future that he concluded from German history, the theories of German philosopher Karl Marx and the Jewish race.

As members of the Hitler Youth, Zeddies said, they would march in the streets and sing patriotic songs.

“I wore my uniform with pride,” he said. ” It was a tan colored shirt, black tie, white knee socks and dark shorts.”

Zeddies said Hitler was a very charismatic person and it was easy to be persuaded by him. At the time, he said, he believed he was doing what was right by being a part of the Hitler Youth.

“I was doing the right thing for the country, just like any American should be very patriotic about this country,” Zeddies said. “I was thinking about that country, about Germany. I was very proud of it. We did not know of any atrocities in the concentration camps. I can swear to this, nobody knew – not my dad, my uncle, my aunt, or neighbors.”

Ninety-five percent of the German people were unaware of the camps that Hitler enforced to exterminate the Jewish people during World War II, Zeddies said. He did not know how the German soldiers who were involved in such acts got away with it, he said. The Nazis did not compare to the roles he saw within the Hitler Youth.

“I met some of (the Nazis),” he said. “They were not good people.”

Zeddies grew up playing with Jewish youth. He noticed they started disappearing, he said, and briefly thought ‘I wonder where they went.’ But he did not realize until after the Americans came to Munich and he saw the camps that the disappearance of the  Jews was a result of their movement to concentration camps.

At age 16, Zeddies was drafted to serve in World War II. He carried a panzerfaust, an anti-tank grenade launcher, behind a tiger tank, he said. At that time, he signed up, he said, but was not admitted into the 12th SS Panzer Division Hitlerjugend, which is a group of fierce tank fighters all made up of the Hitler Youth. A short time later, the British captured Zeddies and held him prisoner of war for approximately six months.

Zeddies recalled July 24, 1943, the Battle of Hamburg, which was the day Royal Air Force Bomber Command and United States Army Air Forces started its eight days and seven nights of bombing on the city. About 50,000 people died the first night and 25,000 more the next night, he said.

Food and shelter was lacking for German citizens after the war and Zeddies went back to work for the company where he had served his apprenticeship as a tool and die maker, or machinist, working on the gyroscope for the Germans’ V-2 rocket.

“Following the end of the war came a very depressing and dangerous time,” Zeddies said. “ The company I was working for now had to work for England. I was making 75 marks per week and a loaf of bread cost 1,000 marks. The Black Market was everywhere.”

In 1951, Canada was drafting people from around the world for employment, Zeddies said, and he took the opportunity and worked as a dishwasher for six months while learning English by watching “It’s Howdy Doody Time” and “Captain Kangaroo” on TV. He then moved to the U.S. in 1953 where he met his wife, Ann Marie, in 1959.

Gerhard and Ann Marie Zeddies were married in 1960, circa, 1960 |Photo courtesy of Gerhard Zeddies, for St. George News
Gerhard and Ann Marie Zeddies were married in 1960, circa, 1960 |Photo courtesy of Gerhard Zeddies, for St. George News

In 1965, Zeddies went through a six-month education course to learn about the United States Constitution to become a U.S. citizen. He said the FBI also interrogated him for two hours about his affiliation with the Hitler Youth.

“They asked me what I thought of Hitler and I said ‘He was good in the beginning. He created the Volkswagen and the autobahn, but then he went insane or something.’”

Two months later, Zeddies, along with 200 other immigrants, were called in and took the Oath of Allegiance to become a citizen. Remembering, he said:

Then we all did, for the first time, the Pledge of Allegiance as American citizens and, for the first time, we sang the national anthem, and we all cried.

It was a very emotional day, Zeddies said, and he is grateful for the freedom that he now has. Today, he said, many U.S. citizens seem to lack pride for their country. Anyone that complains about this country should go live in another country for a few years and they will realize what freedoms are present in the U.S., he said. He feels very good about the country, he said, and hopes it will maintain its sovereignty.

“The freedom we have here is incredible,” Zeddies said. “All I think about is how grateful I am for this country. It’s all about the freedom and agency that we have here.”

Zeddies, who used to smoke three packs of cigarettes and drink 10 cups of coffee per day, joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when he moved to the U.S. The missionaries asked him to get baptized without asking him to quit his habits, Zeddies said, but he knows that is not the practice nowadays. After his baptism he quit smoking and drinking coffee because his tobacco lost its appeal to him, he said. He has much gratitude for the perspective on life that the religion brought him, he said, and that he is allowed that religious freedom as a U.S. citizen.

“I left that part of my life, and I left the part of my life that was in the Hitler Youth, “ he said, “I came over and changed completely from where I was to where I am today, and I am a very patriotic American citizen.”

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  • Notagain November 27, 2014 at 2:52 pm

    A excellent and inspiring article for this Thanksgiving day. Thanks for sharing Gerhard’s life story with us Holly Coombs.
    It makes one examine ones own life’s path and the surrounding influences,

  • Bender November 27, 2014 at 5:58 pm

    Ich bin ein Mormoner.

    • Zonkerb November 27, 2014 at 11:03 pm


    • Big Guy November 28, 2014 at 4:57 am

      Ever notice how left-liberals have complete faith that government social programs can change people’s lives for the better but mock those who credit demonstrable changes in their lives to religious awakening or conversion? To coin a phrase, “hate is not a family value.”

      • Bender November 28, 2014 at 10:28 am

        What are you babbling on about here BIG GUY? You AM radio drones seem to find offense in every nook and cranny. “Ich bin ein Mormone” translates as “I am a Mormon.” For the record Bender is a returned LDS missionary, still attends church and has never affiliated with the Democratic Party. Were Bender living on either coast his neighbors would consider him a political conservative.

        • Big Guy November 28, 2014 at 8:45 pm

          I understood your German statement of religious affiliation. I believe most readers took it as mocking Mr. Zeddies as I did. Please accept my apology if it was meant as a declaration of your faith. Such a statement would be among the few outright declarations made on this blog, hence unusual and easily misunderstood.

        • Bratwurst November 29, 2014 at 1:24 am

          Isn’t the correct way “Ich bin Mormone” and not “Ich bin ein Mormone”? John Kennedy said “Ich bin ein Berlinner” whereas he should have said “Ich bin Berlinner”. I would say “Ich bin Amerikanner” to introduce myself as an American. To say “Ich bin ein Berlinner” you are saying you are a jelly filled pastry.

  • Meagan Leigh November 27, 2014 at 7:13 pm

    Exchanging one uniform/mindset for another.

  • Lickenz Sniffherzt November 27, 2014 at 9:58 pm

    I hope all your readers investigate and spend some time leading how Hitler took over Germany. It is the fact that the Germans people had become depressed, lazy, with no jobs, and had the world hating them for WW I, Hilter lied to the poor Germans about deserving the best of everything the world had to offer while having lavish parties with the wealthy Germans and Jews a like. Most bought his lies. The other worthless government paid officals convinced the people to let Hitler take control Germany. This they did with in 45 days of Hilters election win. Hilter then signed executive orders to take complete control of the country. SOUNDS FAMILIAR right. Dum … in this country need to relize this and change the way they think, if not people like Gettinz, Bendered, Dover, Oftan, will take over. Bless ya Zeddies for changing your life.
    Ed. ellipsis.

    • Zonkerb November 28, 2014 at 10:49 am

      Ha ha ha you got censored blah blah blah blah blah yaaawwwwnnnn blah blah blah blah blah blah blah. and that is my opinion of your comment

  • Dana November 28, 2014 at 5:00 am

    You’re still not thinking for yourself. You jumped from one cult to another.

  • Jennearl November 28, 2014 at 8:14 am

    I love that he had to learn about our country for 6 months before he was offered citizenship!!! What’s awsome choice for him to have after enduring Hitler and that war!! Americans ,as, Lickenz said above , wake up, this crap of a presidency is here!!!

  • koolaid November 28, 2014 at 8:44 am

    Went from drinking one koolaid to drinking another koolaid.

    • Realist November 28, 2014 at 9:50 am

      Hey koolaid…. I’m not Mormon….but when the floods hit Salt Lake City a few years ago, they hit their phone trees and by 5:30 am 1,200+ were out sandbagging. Home cooked hot meals abounded…no FEMA…no waiting for “government” assistance. I can think of other “communities” and their churches that can’t even put together a street cleanup of discarded furniture and trash on their very own block.

      • koolaid November 28, 2014 at 7:04 pm

        Just the mormons did that? Only the mormons? Everybody stayed home in SLC? Nobody else in the country or the world steps up and does things for their community? Just the mormons? Have another drink of koolaid if you believe that.

      • Shelly November 28, 2014 at 8:54 pm

        It’s true, they know how to get the job done on their own. You have to give them credit for that. I have lots of respect for LDS people. They want to be self-reliant, and they know how to do it.

    • Zonkerb November 28, 2014 at 10:51 am

      That is exactly what her did

  • Herd November 28, 2014 at 10:16 am

    As a convert, he is still listening to howdy doody

  • jjj November 28, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    I spent a lot of time in Germany. Spent a lot of time in Utah, too. In my opinion, this guy went from one culture that considered itself superior and into another culture that considers itself superior.

  • Swaggy November 28, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    At least here he was free to choose which koolaid he wanted to drink…

  • Wilbur November 28, 2014 at 2:20 pm

    All you have to do now is just jump the southern border now – no KOOLAID drinking required !!!

  • Herd November 28, 2014 at 2:27 pm

    Another illegal! Another church story. Worthless rot.

  • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 28, 2014 at 6:05 pm

    Why are the liberals letting Hitler’s youths into the country. Bad Obama! Something must be done!

    • Question November 28, 2014 at 7:09 pm

      I wonder if this guy feels any remorse for the 11 million people (6 million Jews) killed by the Nazis. While I believe many Germans had no idea of what happened in those death camps, I question that 95% figure, especially how the Jews were looked upon by most Germans and how Germans turned them in to the SS.

      • PROTECT THE SHEEP November 29, 2014 at 12:01 am

        Trust me, they all knew…

  • tight magic undies November 28, 2014 at 7:25 pm

    There are some very similar parallels between the Nazi party and the LDS church.

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