Social Groups 2

The next social group we will look at is the peasants and small farmers

What is a ‘peasant’?
A peasant is someone who works only on the land, usually doing manual labour; he is unskilled and comes from a background of peasants. Their pay is low.

And what’s a small farmer?
Someone who farms a small area of land, usually producing enough to feed his family with some left over to sell and make a bit of money. They may have a few animals and grow crops.

The main question in the book is: did Peasants and small farmers benefit under National Socialism?
And again, the answer is yes and no.

If you think back to Volksgemeinschaft, the workers on the land were supposed to be the most glorious, coming from the land and epitomising the roots of the German Nation.

The base answer to the question “did Peasants and small farmers benefit under National Socialism?” is yes and no; at first, they were shown to be the real roots of the German nation and appreciated for that.

It didn’t really help them - appreciation does not put food in your mouth.

Not only that, when the army began to need more men, guess where they came from.

That’s right - peasants and small farmers. Big farmers, with increased mechanisation, could produce adequate food (to begin with) and so that left peasants and small farmers available for conscription.

The main idea for this was Blut und Boden (Blood and soil).

Why did this group find the Nazis had good answers for them and the world? The Nazis promised them financial aid, which was important after the economic depression of the 1920s. The answer was simple - vote for the Nazis and they’ll give you extra money to help you out.

The peasants had begun to feel left out in the industrialisation of Germany; but the leader of the Blut und Boden movement was an intelligent man - Richard Darré. 

He recognised that by telling the peasants how important they were to the very bedrock of the new German society, they could be controlled.

Blut und Boden showed the peasants as the racially most pure part of the Volk (folk, people), the providers of Germany’s food and the very symbol of traditional German values.

There were 7 main elements of Blut und Boden.

To restore the role and values of the countryside and to reverse the drive towards urbanisation by promoting the concept of ‘Blood and Soil’.

What is ‘urbanisation’?
When people move from the countryside to the cities.

To support the expansionist policy of Lebensraum and to create a German racial aristocracy based on selective breeding.

What might a ‘racial aristocracy’ be?
It means that the ‘better’ people in Nazi Germany either worked on the land or came from farming families.

Many farm debts and mortgages were written off and small farmers were given low interest rates and a range of tax allowances.

The government maintained extensive tariffs to reduce imports. That means that imports had high taxes put on them. To make them higher priced than German products, so people would buy the German product.

The Reich Entailed Farm Law of 1933 gave security of tenure (which meant they could not be thrown off the land if they were bad a farming) to the occupiers of medium- sized farms between 7.5 and 125 hectares, and forbade the division of farms, in order to promote efficient agriculture.

The Reich Food Estate, established in 1933, supervised every aspect of agricultural production and distribution, especially food prices and working wages.

The impact of Nazi agricultural policy was mixed. At first, all farmers benefited from an increase in prices between 1933 and 1936 and so farmers’ incomes did improve markedly, although they only recovered to 1928 levels in 1938.

However, it seems that by 1936–7 any benefits were giving way to growing peasant disillusionment. As usual, the peasants of a country are treated fairly badly, no matter what the government says. So, although the Nazis wanted everyone to think about peasants in a new way, it didn’t really happen. 

As I have said before, to change the way people think about something takes quite a lot of time, not just a few days ‘because the government says so’.

The problems with peasants and small famers were these:

1 Agricultural production increased by 20 per cent from 1928 to 1938, but urbanisation continued – 3 per cent of the population. Wages were higher there, and agriculture just did not have the economic power to compete with other sectors of the economy.

2 The positive aspects of the Reich Food Estate were accepted, but the regulations became increasingly resented. Farmers were used to doing as they wanted to, with their own land, and didn’t like the Nazis interfering. The Reich Entailed Farm Law also meant that a farm must be passed to one child only and not split amongst all children in the family.

3 With war in 1939 pressures on the peasantry developed: men were increasingly conscripted to the military fronts, so agricultural labour became very short. Pole and Czech imported workers (for the farms) were not even viewed as racially acceptable; they came from countries which had been occupied by the Nazis.

The next group of people in Nazi Germany are the Landowners.

Question: did landowners lose out under the Nazis?
Base answer: no, but they were crushed at the end of the war. 

The landed classes had been initially suspicious of radical social change.

They resented the political interference of the party, but above all they feared the Nazis would redistribute the large landed estates, which meant they would lose their lands and therefore their income.

However, they soon learned to live quite comfortably with the Nazi regime and in the years before 1939 their economic interests were not really threatened.

Indeed, German victories in the early years of the war offered the chance of acquiring more cheap land.

The real blow for the landowners came in 1945 when the occupation of eastern Germany by the USSR resulted in the nationalisation of land. The traditional social and economic supremacy of the German landowners was broken.

The next group of people in Nazi Germany are the Mittelstand.

Question: did the Mittelstand benefit from Naziism?
Base answer: Not really. They lost income, business and eventually disappeared. 

What was the Mittelstand?
The Mittelstand was the group of medium sized businesses.

The main Nazi ideas to support the Mittelstand were these:

Money from the confiscation of Jewish businesses was used to offer low interest rate loans.

What is ‘to confiscate’?
To take something away from someone. For example, if you do not give your phones in, when we’re back at school, your phone will be ‘confiscated’ - taken for a period of time.

The Law to Protect Retail Trade (1933) banned the opening of new department stores and taxed the existing ones, many of which were owned by Jews.

Many new trading regulations were imposed to protect small craftsmen.

However as Germany’s re-industrialisation continued, the Mittelstand were unable to compete with even those new businesses which were allowed and their sector began to fail.

By the end of the 1930s, when war began, they had almost all gone, giving way to either massive industry or small shops.


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