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Sound and Fury in Germany

Alice Hamilton, M.D.

Professor of Industrial Medicine, Harvard Medical School

November 1933

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MY curiosity led me to wade through the flood of flowery speeches in the papers, but with results which were about as valuable as this, the comment on Hitler's May Day speech in that great newspaper, the Deutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, for May 2:

One must read the speech in order to see the breadth of his program but however important this is, the mind of the hearer goes back to the impression of a man filled with glowing zeal, yes obsessed with the idea to build Germany into a nation, to fuse into one whole, regardless of class, religion, social standing, a nation which will have an unbridled zeal for home and freedom. One source of Hitler's fascination for the mass is that he speaks their language, he can handle the most diflficult problem with amazing simplicity. The idea that the work of hand and brain are of equal value may be said to be hardly new, but nobody till now has carried it out. His program, compulsory labor, which will take away the stigma from manual work, the lowering of interest rates, will arouse confidence and hope and encourage new enterprises. German production is to be stimulated without harm to agriculture. Hitler's aim is to free individual initiative and creative impulse from the cramping influence of the majority will.

The Voelkischer Beobachter, Hitler's own paper, said:

The Nazi party has always had as its object to lead back to the nation the workers who have so long been estranged from it, infected by the poison of Marxism. Let it be the true fulfillment of the revolution to make these homeless men again into Germans.

Hitler's own book, Mein Kampf, written when he was in prison in 1923 and since revised and issued as authoritative in a 1933 edition, contains his program for all phases of national life. I turned to it but found surprisingly little on labor, in a book that is unconscionably wordy on almost every possible subject. Hitler says that the German trades-unions did fight the battles of labor for years and won great improvements in hours, wages and conditions of work. He recognizes their services, sees that they were indispensable under the old system and that the opposition of the employers was shortsighted and against the best interests of the country. Then, after this sensible treatment of the subject, he suddenly switches over to a typical Chamber-of-Commerce speech about the new Nazi unions, which will not be based on class warfare but on the principle that all men are equal with equal rights and responsibilities. The worker will know that the prosperity of industry means his own happiness; the employer will know that the contentment of the workers is the necessary foundation for his own success. Of course the leader principle must replace the democratic-parliamentary system in labor organization as in everything.

The labor movement can never bc solved by a multitude of leaders of different groups. It must have one leader to weld the groups into one army Nature chooses the strong man and he conquers and that is eternally right for victory is proof of the rightness of a cause. No victory was ever gained by coalitions, only by a single leader....

Trades-unions made the mistake of thinking that a combination of weak associations will be strong, but this is all wrong, for experience always shows that the majority represents stupidity and cowardice and therefore if a union is ruled by majority vote it will always act with weakness and stupidity. Also there is then no chance for the selection and encouragement of the best and for their ultimate victory. Labor-unions are therefore enemies of natural selection.

Everything really good in history has been accomplished, not by coalitions but by the success of a single conqueror. Nor will a national state ever arise through the compromising plans of a national labor group but onlythrough the steel-likewill of a single individual.

This is really the extent of Hitler's discussion of trades-unions. He goes on to say that he decided to bore from within, not to start a rival labor organization. Nothing is said of course of the notorious agreement between the Nazi party and the great industrialists whereby the latter promised to finance the movement on condition that the unions be wiped out.

One of the series of official photographs
of the concentration camps. Here the enemies of the Nazi government, which include the leaders of the labor movement, are kept imprisoned

One definite promise was made by Hitler, of work for the unemployed in state labor camps. There had been a growing movement among the young men and girls to form voluntary labor groups, composed of young people of all social classes and there were already thousands working in such camps, giving unpaid service for the Fatherland. But by May it began to be plain that voluntary service was not in accordance with Nazi principles. The Nazi Youth League „the only recognized group by then „pronounced against it, on the ground that it fostered an undisciplined spirit. The question was decided by the government which ordered unwhich ordered unmarried unemployed men between eighteen and twenty-five years to report for compulsory service. The announcement in the papers was as follows:

Voluntary labor service is over. Groups are to be formed in preparation for compulsory work and in each at least 60 percent must be Nazis and Steel Helmets who were such before January 30, 1933. This change is to be effected between now and October 1, by which time an army of 120,000 will be assembled and by the first of next year an army of 350,000 will be ready, but only half can be taken the first six months, then the other half, because of lack of money. Later a whole year's service will be possible. The men who act as leaders will be not only officers but either workmen or youths, and for a short time they too must do all kinds of work in the camp.

A few weeks later Rust, the commissioner for education, said of the compulsory labor camps which were to open August 1:

This is a measure to prevent the overfilling of the higher schools and to destroy the cleft between student and worker; it is also a measure for character-training. Intellect is not to be fostered in these camps, but leadership. It will be not militaristic training but a training for the struggle against the philosophy of Marxism and liberalism. The period of liberalism must become a curse to the German worker.

After that there was silence for a while, we heard no more about labor, and then suddenly on June 22, Ley issued a statement in quite a new vein, no flowery sentiments about releasing German workers from Marxist chains and leading them into the promised land. Evidently the blind workers hugged their chains and had made all sorts of trouble for their would-be liberators. It became necessary to deal vigorously with those who were smallminded and selfish enough to cling to their old associations and therefore the Leader had decided to forbid any organizations of any kind except the German Workers Front. Catholic and evangelical bodies were to be regarded as public enemies. Anyway, they were centers of corruption and robbery from which the workers must be protected. The officers of these organizations (whose names were given) were expelled not only from office but from the German Workers Front and the members of the latter must have no dealings with them.

With this ends my information concerning labor in Germany.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003