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Alfons Heck, at 76; Hitler Youth leader

LOS ANGELES -- Alfons Heck, whose experiences as a member of the Hitler Youth organization in Nazi Germany were the basis of two memoirs and an HBO documentary, died Tuesday of heart failure at Scripps Mercy Hospital in La Jolla, Calif. He was 76.

In his books ''A Child of Hitler: Germany in the Days When God Wore a Swastika" and ''The Burden of Hitler's Legacy," Mr. Heck recounted his fascination with National Socialism from the time he entered Hitler Youth in 1938. He also told of his postwar repudiation of Hitler and his eventual coming to terms with the Holocaust.

A 1991 HBO documentary based on his books, ''Heil Hitler! Confessions of a Hitler Youth," used archival footage and Mr. Heck's narration to explain how several million children were swept into the ranks of the youth group that often is referred to as having the most fanatical of Hitler's followers.

Raised by his grandparents, Mr. Heck grew up in Wittlich, Germany, a small town near the border with Luxembourg. At 10 he was chosen to represent his school's Hitler Youth organization at the Nuremberg Party Congress. Years later, he told a reporter that the event was a ''jubilant Teutonic renaissance" that would ''bind me to Adolf Hitler until the bitter end and for some time beyond."

From 1939 to 1945, Mr. Heck made a rapid rise in Hitler Youth, becoming the youngest boy to attain the top ranking as a glider pilot in the organization's air wing. He wanted to join the Luftwaffe as a fighter pilot but was made a major general in Hitler Youth instead. In that capacity, he directed the activities of several thousand boys and girls in his district.

By 16, with the war effort faltering, his duties were expanded to include running a small town on the Luxembourg border. In his writings, he recalls that he ordered an elderly schoolteacher to be shot if he refused to let some Hitler Youth stay in his home. The teacher relented and the order was rescinded. That same year, Hitler awarded Mr. Heck an Iron Cross for excellence of service.

After being captured by American troops in his hometown, Mr. Heck was eventually tried by French occupying forces and sentenced to a month of hard labor and restricted to the town limits for two years. He received a pass to attend the war crime trials in Nuremberg, and what he heard there helped change his views on Hitler and National Socialism.

On the promise of job opportunities, Mr. Heck moved to Victoria, British Columbia, in 1951. He met his wife, June, and held a series of jobs, including lumberman, taxi driver, and restaurant manager.

The couple moved to the United States in 1963, where Mr. Heck found a job driving a bus for Greyhound. The couple settled in San Diego in 1970. He was forced to retire from the bus company after suffering a heart attack in 1972.

When he was unable to find work later, Mr. Heck went into a period of depression. His wife suggested that he take writing classes and urged him to tell his experiences during the war. ''A Child of Hitler" was published in 1985 to good reviews and brisk sales.

Mr. Heck also contributed freelance pieces to San Diego area newspapers, one of which was read by Helen Waterford, a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. She contacted him and suggested they jointly give a series of lectures on the dangers of Nazism. Over the next nine years, they offered their vastly different stories of life under Hitler to students at more than 150 colleges and universities. She died in 1996 at 86.

In addition to his wife, he leaves his twin brother, Rudolf of Paris.

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