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The path for men in Nazi Germany seemed to be being part of the Hitlerjugend until the age of eighteen, then serving in the Reichsarbeitsdienst for six months, and then doing two years in the Wehrmacht (or joining the Schutzstaffel).

I was wondering if in 1937-ish (before the war) there were instances of men who were of-age and healthy being allowed to not join the Wehrmacht — perhaps because they were getting higher education or had important jobs?

I am looking for legal ways men were exempted from conscription.

I've had a read through relevant articles on Wikipedia, the Encyclopædia Britannica, H-Soz-Kult, and Warfare History Network, as well as answers to questions asked by other people on Quora (although none of these questions were very close to mine). I've Googled my question, and few of the sites that came up discussed things related to my question. Most information also seems to be from during the war.

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    Seems to me that there was a question not unlike this one just days ago that was quickly moved to "closed" status. Does this one have some sort of special cashet?
    – R Leonard
    Oct 28, 2023 at 23:18
  • @MCW Yes, I am looking for legal ways men were exempted from conscription. I've had a read through relevant articles on Wikipedia, the Encyclopædia Britannica, H-Soz-Kult, and Warfare History Network, as well as answers to questions asked by other people on Quora (although none of these questions were very close to mine). I've Googled my question, but the sites I came across really only discussed conscription, not exemption from it (except in the cases of 'Untermenschen'). Most information also seems to be from during the war.
    – Klara
    Oct 30, 2023 at 12:42

2 Answers 2

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To state the possibly-not-obvious, one group that would not be allowed to serve where all those Germans whom the Nazis considered not proper Germans.

The German term for that is wehrunwürdig (WU, translated not deserving the honor to defend) and it applied initially to those who had received a prison sentence and those who had lost the franchise by court order. The Nazis expanded this practice to other groups on political and ethnic grounds. As the war progressed, those who were wehrunwürdig were drafted into special penal units instead.

Another group would be those with vital civilian occupations.

The German term for that is unabkömmlich (UK, translated indispensable), being designated unabkömmlich ist the Unabkömmlichstellung or UK-Stellung. This was a temporary relief from having to serve in the armed forced because of civilian skills and position. In the time you mention, before the war, the requirements were relatively relaxed compared to later periods. Just working in an export industry, earning hard currency for the Reich, could do it. So could being an essential farm worker. The question, of course, is if an 18-year-old would be in such a position, but remember that the average length of schooling was shorter back then. Certain administrative positions would also be UK, including the party administration. One way to dodge the draft was a party career, labeled Goldfasan (golden pheasant) because of the fanciful uniforms.

The term UK also applied at a later time (§13 WPflG). I spent a moment looking for the historical regulations, but I only got file numbers of printed hisotrical archives or the current rules ...

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I am not sure if you are familiar with the basic concept of conscription. Candidates are screened for physical fitness, inabilites etc., and ranked according to these findings. Anyone deemed not fit for service was not conscripted. (Compare e.g. the first part of the movie "Captain America". Steve Rogers is denied as a volunteer as he is not deemed fit for service. The same was true in Germany.)

So there is your first "way out".

There were also several exceptions for conscription based on your profession. Medical students were largely exempt (as trained doctors later are more valuable than grunts in the field right now). Working in strategic industry was another exemption. (In "Schindler's List", we see Oscar Schindler exempting concentration camp inmates based on their -- faked -- strategic importance for the industry.) Another example were football players -- national coach Sepp Herberger successfully resisted having his players conscripted until 1944, when his efforts were no longer successful.

So yes, there were several ways someone could avoid conscription prior to 1939, and some time after that as well. In late war, this changed drastically, as Germany rapidly ran out of any "tomorrow" to plan for, and threw every man they could get at the frontlines, including the very young, very old, and infirm.

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  • I know that movies as "source" is playing it quick and dirty. I might look up better sources later on if required, but I consider what I wrote to be rather established and well-documented, the movies just serving as an easily accessible reminder.
    – DevSolar
    Oct 28, 2023 at 11:15
  • Schindler's list describes a similar principle, but different application. He saved victims of genocide, not victims of the draft. But I would not be surprised if UK-Stellungen could be purchased the same way -- until someone decided to make an example.
    – o.m.
    Oct 29, 2023 at 6:14
  • I believe the turn of phrase you are seeking at top of the second paragraph is something like: "(as the present value of future doctors exceeds that of grunts in the field right now)." It is only as the future fades into improbability, late in the war, that the calculus changes in the manner you note. Oct 29, 2023 at 13:18

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