and Fury in Germany
Alice Hamilton, M.D.
Professor of Industrial Medicine, Harvard Medical School
A VISIT to Hitler's Germany sends an American
home a passionate democrat, at least that is the effect it had
on me. The Statue of Liberty thrilled me for the first time, it
really seemed to stand for something more than spread-eagleism.
The newspapers that appeared on the steamer from somewhere as
we sailed up the harbor were wonderfulthey had news, facts,
criticisms, not woolly masses of sentimentality, fantastic nonsense
about the Nordic race, vile lies about political opponents. New
York seemed to breathe a spirit of freedom; if there was shocking
poverty, at least the fact was faced and admitted; even Tammany
Hall seemed a tolerable nuisance so long as one could call it
a nuisance at the top of one's voice without fear of landing in
a concentration camp.
I feel like advising all the bitter critics of our "planless,
disorganized state" to make a sojourn, as long as possible, in
a country where every detail of life has been carefully planned
by a small group of supermen and the plan imposed on the nation
with finality, no time being wasted on persuasion and conversion.
Those who have been urging us to abolish Congress and legislatures
and city councils might try living for a while under the "leadership
principle." I prophesy they will return home either anarchists
or Patrick Henry patriots.
The Revolution was less than six weeks old
when I reached Germany and though matters were moving with lightning
speed, so that people dreaded to open their morning papers lest
they find some new devastating governmental decree, there was
much that was still only foreshadowed, there was hope that the
whole program might not be put through. This was true with regard
to labor and the status of the great trades-unions. The working-class
quarters of Berlin in April were waiting, breathless, silent,
to hear what their fate was to be. They had been, of course, the
strongholds of Socialism, for the organized workers belonged to
that party, but they were a lso centers of Communism, especially
among the unemployed.
A social worker well known to many Americans,
who must remain anonymous, was one of the first people we visited
and she gave us the picture as she saw it:
I cannot tell you anything definite
about the labor movement. Most of the leaders are gone, they have
disappeared or they are known to be in concentration camps or
they have escaped over the border. Our people are cowed and silent
and I think many have lost heart. You see nothing has been printed
except Nazi propaganda against the Republic for the last three
months and nothing but that has been heard over the radio and
it has had some effect on the rank and file, especially as no
refutation could possibly be made in any newspaper. There were,
it is true, irregularities in the former government of Berlin
and other cities, many inefficiencies and some dishonesty, so
that the stories in the newspapers have some basis and this is
having an effect on the workers who have been left leaderless.
About two thirds of the workers in this city were Socialists,
one third Communists. We do not know what the labor program of
the Nazis is, if they have one So far it is only abuse of Marxism
and vague promises of jobs which may perhaps be kept but we cannot
see how, since industry is utterly disorganized. If Hitler fails,
anything may happen. Many of the Nazis were formerly Communists,
they could easily revert. What hunger, cold and disillusionment
would bring, one does not dare imagine. One of our hardest problems
now is how to feed the familiee, hundreds of them, with no bread-winner
left, afraid to ask for public relief.
The papers told us to wait for Hitler's speech
on labor, to be given on May 1, on the day long consecrated to
labor. A tiood of propaganda had prepared us for this great day,
which was to be the dawn of a new future for German labor. Goebbels
had been in his best form in a proclamation issued just before.
I extracted one paragraph, which is typical of the whole:
Marxism lies in ruins on the ground.
It had to die in order that German labor might find its way to
freedom, that our nation might again be a nation. Where formerly
Marxist songs of hate resounded, there shall we proclaim brotherhood
to the workers. Where once the machineguns of the Reds scattered
bullets, there we will make a breach for class freedom; where
once a spirit of materialism triumphed there we, resting on the
eternal right of our nation to freedom, labor and bread, will
proclaim the union of all classes, races (sic!) and callings in
a new glowing idealism before our own nation and before all the
May Day came, with its processions of boys
and girls, men and women, singing as they marched to the Tempelhof,
where they gathered, the largest single audience ever assembled
in Germany, to hear the labor speech of the Leader. We listened
to it over the radio with a little group of countrymen, all full
of eagerness to know what the Nazi labor program would be, how
they would deal with unemployment and with the great trades-unions.
We got nothing but what we disrespectful Americans call ballyhoo.
It was the sort of speech that would be made before a Civic Federation
audience or a Manufacturers' Association: flowery sentiments about
the brotherhood of workers with brawn and workers with brain,
about commonweal instead of individual profit, about a united
country where employer and employe march hand in hand for the
Fatherland. There was nothing that could be called a program,
a definite plan, and our little group of Americans marvelled that
Hitler would dare to so disappoint his waiting followers.
But the next day his real plan was carried
out without warning. The trades-unions were dissolved, a leader
of labor was appointed (the Ley whom the labor representatives
in Geneva later refused to recognize), the "principle of leadership"
was substituted for democratic majority rule, the funds and properties
of the unions were taken over. I talked later about this with
two liberals. One was a writer of sociological articles. He said:
The unions built their own headquarters,
using their own money, they also built workers' houses, some very
good, these are all now in the possession of the government. It
has also taken possession of all funds, though Goebbels says that
this is not confiscation, only protection of the workers' money
from cheats and thieves. The unions had sent some three million
R.M. out of Germany to their international offices, which they
had a legal right to do, but when things began to look very serious
after the Reichstag fire, they wished to be absolutely above reproach
and, against the advice of their comrades abroad, they called
the money back. Now it has been confiscated.
The other, a prominent social worker in an
industrial city, pointed out to me a great building which the
unions had put up with their own funds, but which was then headquarters
for the Brown Shirts. He said:
The unions still preserve their identity
within the great group but their heads are all Nazis, appointed
by Berlin. Hitler is trying to follow the Italian plan in this
as in so many fields, but the Italian unions were never really
strong, the German unions were. It is a question whether they
will be as submissive.
I did my best to discover what the policy
of the Nazis with regard to labor really was. The whole world
has known for years that Hitler's movement was financed by the
great industrialists on his promise to drive out Communism and
break up the trades-unions, but on the other hand we were told
that many workers had been won to his cause by his promise to
make Germany truly Socialistic, a country of equal opportunity,
where there should be neither rich nor poor.