Social groups in Nazi Germany.
You all know that there are layers - strata - in society, and these layers determine our position in society. The same is true of all societies. There’s always a leader - or some group which leads, and even inside that group there is usually someone who is more respected than the others and they are the actual leader.
It’s also true that your friendship groups are organised the same way. Some group of friends have a main person, who always seems to lead the group or someone everyone listens to.
In Nazi Germany of course, Hitler was at the top of society. But under his leadership, there were still the strata which existed before (and after) Hitler.
We’ll look more at certain groups within Germany, which include members of different layers of ‘society’.
The first one is The Industrial Worker.
In the booklet, if you have seen it online, you will notice that at the beginning of each group name there is a question: in this case it says “Question: did workers benefit under National Socialism?” And then there’s a base answer to the question.
Can anyone tell me what the base answer to that question is?
The base answer is yes and no - workers became a cohesive group but they lost the right to self-determination.
What does ‘cohesive’ mean?
Joining together as one unit.
And what is ‘self-determination’?
The ability to decide what work you do, how you spend your time and the right to negotiate your own wage or salary.
The main idea of the Nazis was to get workers working together, not at the same job of course but ‘in harmony’ and creating a strong and reliable supply chain of goods and services - and crucially, spare or new parts for the things they made.
You can see that it’s about ‘togetherness’ Making German people feel strongly part of the whole Germany.
Before the Nazis took power, the workers in factories around the country had what are called ‘Trades Unions’. These are groups of workers, usually from one industry, which create an organisation which looks after the workers in that industry. For example, in the car making industry, the bosses might try to increase hours worked but reduce salaries.
If there were no unions, the bosses could simply do that and say - “well, you work for these new conditions or get out!” But with a union, which most people joined, if the bosses tried that, the Union bosses would go to them and say - “Stop - you cannot do that. If you try to do that, we will call for a ’strike’ - production will stop, the workers will stand outside your factory and not let anyone else in.”
In this way, a Trades Union protects the workers against bosses who only care about making money, and could not care less about the workers, or how safe factories are, or giving toilet breaks or lunch or tea breaks. The Trades Unions protect workers against unfair bosses.
When the Nazis came into power, they moved quickly to do what?
They joined all the separate trades unions into one amalgamated union called The Deutsche Arbeitsfront (DAP - German Workers Party).
People were still not forced to join, but if you didn’t, you had no protection from bad bosses - and of course, if you dared not to join, you were almost going against Hitler. No one wanted to do that, because Hitler was a very popular man.
The benefits of the DAP were not just about money; but allowed workers and bosses to deal harshly against those who were lazy, or those who went on strike (not working at all) or those who didn’t turn up for work. The DAP could sort out those people, so everyone worked well and pretty much enjoyed their work.
The DAP create training schemes and apprenticeships for young workers, or re-training for older workers, increasing their skills to suit new methods of production.
What’s ‘an apprenticeship’?
An apprenticeship is a training programme for giving someone manual skills to perform a skilled job, such as a mechanical engineer, or a draughtsman. Over a period of years, the worker acquires the skills needed to do a complicated, skilled job.
The DAP was even able to insist that the rent workers paid for their housing was fair, and didn’t rise whenever the landlord wanted it to.
Not only those good things, but the DAP also had a section called the Beauty of Labour. This section provided clean workplaces (using cleaners, which the bosses might not pay for), meals for workers who otherwise did not have them, places for exercise (gyms, or rooms to work out etc) and even beauty parlours (hairdressers and manicures for the ladies).
Another part of the DAP was the Strength through Joy programme. This was a set of activities, ranging from lectures to tours, holidays, camping, trips - all designed to encourage health and well-being. Most of the facilities were either free or very low cost.
When the Nazis took power, there were only 2.3 million members of the DAP - when war started in 1939, there were 10.3 million.
Was all this for free?
No. Everyone had to pay a weekly or monthly amount so they could use the benefits. Even today, where there is good protection for workers (in factories, shops, offices and even schools), you must pay fees to join and that allows you to get the benefits.
However, the benefits were often worth far more than the small fee you paid.
Look at the two propaganda posters about the DAP section - the KdF (Strength through joy) (picture 1 and 2).
What do you notice about them?
They feature VW cars. VW was a car company CREATED BY THE NAZIS. In 1937 Adolf Hitler sanctioned the creation of a car company to produce cars for the normal people.
Not only that, but do you know who the designer was?
Ferdinand Porsche. Nazi. (Picture 4)
Just think then, if you have a VW or Porsche car …
The two Nazi propaganda posters advertise the benefits of saving for ‘Your own KdF car’. Workers enthusiastically paid millions of marks to the scheme but mass production of the Volkswagen, planned for 1939, was stopped until after the war
For this social group, then, was it all good?
It sounds like it, but actually there were downsides too.
Wages or salaries, which had fallen really quite low because of the worldwide depression in the 1920s, didn’t reach 1929 levels again until 1938.
The contributions for some industries were quite high for the DAP, which also needed insurance and tax payments.
The biggest gains were made by the people who worked in the armaments industry.
Why do you think this was?
Hitler was creating a large army, navy and air force, and those are the things that the armaments industry made. So those people were more valuable in the economy.
In other industries, such as consumer goods, wages didn’t really get much better.
What is a ‘consumer good’?
Goods such as fridges, ovens, cookers, household products. (Picture 5)
As the German economy was geared towards producing military equipment, resources were sent to the armaments factories first, and this left consumer goods often without the resources (steel, gases, metals, plastics) to make their products.
The hours people had to work increased too. In 1933, the number of hours people were supposed to work were 43 over each week. That’s called a ‘working week’. By the time war broke out, that had increased to 47 hours each week.
That’s only 4 hours more, but it was a minimum, not a maximum. Many people were expected to work many more hours, usually for little extra money or no extra at all. As the demands of the military grew, people were more or less forced to work many more hours than those for which they were paid.
But they were willing to do it! It was for Germany, for Hitler, for the Reich and make Germany and the Aryans the strongest and best on earth. (Picture 6)
Overall, for workers, the statistics showed that unemployment figures fell very much. Which in a modern society would be great! In Nazi Germany though, it was because women and Jews were no longer considered part of the employable population, so whether or not they had jobs, they were not counted.
The Nazis also introduced conscription.
Who can tell me what conscription is?
It is the system where people are forced to join one of the armed forces - the army, navy or Air Force.
The Germans didn’t really get a choice - their could volunteer to join the Labour Service, or get forced into the army, navy or air force.
So although the figures of available people fell, and the numbers of those without work fell, it was because lots of people were no longer counted in the whole, which makes the percentage of unemployed much less.
The next social group we will look at is the peasants and small farmers. (Picture 7)
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 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.
Vocabulary: What does epitomise mean?
To exactly represent a certain thing (noun).
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 what?
Blut und Boden (Blood and soil). (Picture 8)
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 (picture 3).
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.
1 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’?
Essentially when people move from the countryside to the cities.
2 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.
3 Many farm debts and mortgages were written off and small farmers were given low interest rates and a range of tax allowances.
4 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.
5 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.
6 The Reich Food Estate, established in 1933, supervised every aspect of agricultural production and distribution, especially food prices and working wages.
7 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
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.