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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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WE tried also to discover what was happening to the social services which had reached such a high degree of efficiency under the Republican government, but it was hard to learn any thing definite, partly because the social workers to whom wc had introductions were already either discharged or on compulsory leave. They did not venture to go back to their offices and were dependent on rumor for news of what was happening to their former activities. Not only Jews but Social Democrats, liberals, or people with no political affiliations but closely connected with the former government, almost all of them were at least temporarily suspended from work. Whether any have been readmitted, I cannot say, except that by the middle of June practically every social worker of Jewish blood had been discharged, even the public-health nurses. It meant a very serious crippling of the services, for the majority of the workers came in under one of the above heads.

There were rumors that came to us now and then, an individual instance, such as a building which had been used as a health and recreation center for young mothers with babies, being turned into Nazi barracks; or an old castle which had been made habitable and given to the Pathfinders for a night shelter being turned into a concentration camp for political heretics. But what the real policy of the new regime was, nobody knew. A few significant statements appeared in the papers, without comment. Thus we read that Kerrl, the new head of the penal system, declared that sentimental and softhearted measures with prisoners were to be abandoned. The new prison administration was to be founded on strict discipline and all societies connected with prisons, reformatories, courts, and so on were dissolved.

Goering, the soldier aviator, is hardly an expert on relief, yet he has the power to dictate what form it shall take and he is strong for private charity as against public relief. At an official press conference on June 9 he announced the fundamental lines on which the new system of relief is to be organized. "The experience of the past shows that it was a grave error to entrust welfare to public bodies. This meant that public relief was introduced in places where private charity was already sufficient, thus hampering the latter."

The central figure is Hermann Goering,
Prussian premier, president of the Reichstag,
aviator, who has the power to dictate what form
relief shall take. He is opposed to public relief

An enthusiastic young Hitlerite took us to see the sort of relief which Goering approves, a soup-kitchen maintained by employed Nazis for the unemployed of the party. Each family in which there is a member with a job contributes a pound of food a week to the kitchen. I must say I have never seen a friendlier or cheerier place. It was an old dwelling-house, once grand but now hopelessly shabby; and it was dubiously clean, it was crowded and noisy, but it had an atmosphere of comradeship and warmth and even pride, which no other such place I ever visited had. The kitchen was filled with red-faced, perspiring women stirring great soup-kettles and washing thick bowls, and in two big dining-rooms were crowds of young men eating thick soup and rye bread. Our guide was a stout, hearty, beaming Nazi lady who bustled into each room with a Fascist salute and a loud "Heil" and all the cooks and the diners responded with a "Heil." Nobody paid for the food he ate and nobody asked pay for the work she did.

I might have waxed quite sentimental over it had I not once been a social worker myself and know how little such individual efforts however sweet can do to stem the great tide of hunger and misery in a country like Germany under the present depression. What is to be the Iot of the poor who have no Nazi record, nobody knows.

The Nazi leaders have for years denounced the government of the Republic and now their propaganda is one of unmitigated vilification of all that was done by the state between 1919 and 1933. The Socialists they hold responsible for the Armistice, which they call "a stab in the back," for the army was never defeated, the generals were only too eager to carry on, and had it not been for the Jews and pacifists in Berlin, Germany would have emerged victorious from the War. Having ruined their country in a military sense, the Jews and Marxists proceeded to ruin her economically, through the inflation and then through widespread corruption and robbery. This is reiterated so often that people whose memories should serve them better, begin to believe it.

AS to the charge that Socialists were responsible for the collapse at the Front in the fall of 1918, Philip Scheidemann has answered that in The New York Times. I asked several social workers whether there was any justification for Goebbels' attacks on the Republican government. One of them, whose name is known to most Survey Graphic readers, answered as follows:

It was not a corrupt government and much that it did was of lasting value, but it was partizan and sometimes the program was illiudged. No one party was responsible, city and state governments had to have representatives of all parties and these always fought for places for their followers. Then after the inflation was over and the mark stabilized, the Germans thought prosperity had come to stay and the administrations put up extravagant buildings and laid out parks. But the 6-million-dollar Krankenkassen building in Frankfurt was not more foolish than the enormous building put up by I. G. Farben (the dye and chemical trust) at the same time. Foreign loans were only too easy to get, in fact your American bankers almost forced them on us. However, it is true that there was not, after the War, the same incorruptible official class as before and for the first time the political parties dictated appointments, such as burgomasters, who before were always non-partizan specialists. It is true that the Cabinet was not Socialistic after the first year, but the Department of the Interior always was. Salaries also were higher than before the War. Everywhere except in Bavaria, the officials were practically all Socialistic. The Socialists were not always corrupt, but they did take all offices, even the smallest, for themselves, and they had autos and lived in grand houses. All the old standards, of small salaries and modest living, were gone and men who never before had had large sums of money to spend lost their heads. Now many cities are bankrupt. Hitler and his colleagues are wise enough to live with the utmost simplicity.

A lady who had done volunteer social service before the war also protested against the injustice done to the Republican government by Hitler. She spoke of the twelve-hour day, which obtained in many industries before the War, abolished by the Socialists and she insisted that, with all his unemployment and his miserable dole, the workman is better off in Berlin now than he was then, his housing is better, he has his insurances, he has gained enormously.


Kay Davis, University of Virginia, © 2001-2003