A Luftwaffenhelfer, also commonly known as a Flakhelfer was, strictly speaking, any member of the auxiliary staff of the German Luftwaffe during World War II. Such terms often implied students conscripted as child soldiers.
With a literal translation of "air force assistants", Luftwaffenhelfer came into being on January 22, 1943, following implementation of the decree Kriegshilfseinsatz der Jugend bei der Luftwaffe ("Youth War Assistance Service in the Air Force"). The order called for drafting whole school classes with male students born in 1926 and 1927 into a military corps, supervised by Hitler Youth and Luftwaffe personnel. The draft was later extended to include 1928 and 1929 births. Deployment included ideological indoctrination by the Hitler Youth, military duties and limited continuation of the normal school curriculum, often by the original teachers.
While the official term was Luftwaffenhelfer (HJ), the term more commonly used is "Flakhelfer" (female: Flakhelferin) (Flak-helper). The 1926–1929 births are commonly referred to as the "Flakhelfer-Generation". In German culture, the phrase is associated with the collective and incisive experience of being torn out of conventional adolescent life through circumstances of total war and being thrown into strict military service and extreme peril; in the final phase of the war, the antiaircraft batteries became preferred targets of Allied aircraft.
In August 1944, some 660,000 regular male soldiers and 450,000 female helpers (anti-aircraft personnel) in all departments served with the Luftwaffe within the 'auxiliary antiaircraft defense'. Many of the girls came from the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM), although they had to officially join the Wehrmacht, because it was forbidden for BDM members to do armed duty. In 1945, "Flakhelferinnen" and other female assistants were trained and allowed to carry weapons to defend themselves.
On April 1944 the Germans had requested the drafting of 7000 Latvian boys, aged 14–16, and 400 girls, all for service as Air Defense auxiliaries. However, the Self-Administration of Latvia refused and consented only to invite the youths to volunteer. As the situation at the Eastern Front worsened, in June and July the Self-Administration did agree to draft boys born in 1927 and 1928. From July 28 to September 9, 4139 boys were drafted, 525 of whom were volunteers.
In the 1963 novel The Clown (original title: Ansichten eines Clowns) by German novelist Heinrich Böll, the sister of protagonist Hans Schnier, Henrietta, had been forced by her Nazified parents to volunteer as a Flakhelferin — and killed in action. As a result, Schnier retains great bitterness toward his mother who, after the war, suddenly transformed herself into a professed liberal humanist.