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Essay: Lives in Germany – early-mid 1930s

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  • Published: 15 November 2019*
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  • Words: 869 (approx)
  • Number of pages: 4 (approx)

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In what ways do these primary sources contribute to your understanding of how economic conditions and the rise of the Nazis shaped people’s lives in Germany in the early-mid 1930s?

When Adolf Hitler was elected German Chancellor in January 1933, the economy was in turmoil. The Third Reich at this time underwent significant economic development after, like many other European countries, suffering after the Great Depression. However, by the outbreak of World War Two, the unemployment rate in Germany had tumbled: trade unions had been tamed, the work force had seemingly developed a positive work ethic and job prospects did improve. These primary sources contribute highly to any understanding of economic conditions in Germany and how the rise of the Nazis altered people’s lives in Germany at this time.

The first source is a photograph called ‘Unemployed Men Standing in Front of the Berlin Employment Office’ and was produced in June 1933, six months after Hitler became German Chancellor. It is by Hans Schaller, a popular German photographer. It was produced in order to convey the discontent and frustration experienced by unemployed people.

This source states, ‘In 1932, when the crisis reached its peak, about 6 million people were registered as unemployed in Germany’, conveying that with the turn of the rise of the Nazis before Hitler came to power, there was a significant unemployment epidemic. This number would have been higher as women were also unemployed, however, as their traditional roles in society were to be homemakers, they were not included in this statistic.

This can be corroborated by the Sopade Report by Otto Wels, the chairman of the Social Democratic Party of Germany from 1919 and a member of parliament from 1920 to 1933, therefore he would have been well-informed and experienced in the inner mechanics of the economy. The source articulates that ‘Hitler understood that a general economic upswing – and the drop in unemployment that would follow – was the best means for securing the loyalty of the German people’, highlighting Hitler’s understanding of the pressing issue of unemployment after becoming Chancellor and his willingness to tackle this for the German people.

Work and Bread’ was the name of a speech made by Gregor Strasser, a prominent German Nazi official and politician. It was produced few months prior to the July 1932 election, therefore, aiming to persuade the German electorate towards the mindset of the Nazi Party. The general message of this source highlighted the current state of the government was not successful, and national socialism was the most suitable route towards political stability. He asserts, ‘Article 163 will have to one day be altered to the effect that every German must have the right to work and people will have to be aware of the full significance of this alteration.’ Article 163 of the Weimar Constitution stated that ‘Every German should be given the possibility of earning his living through work’, therefore, emphasising to the German people that having stable employment is key to success and happiness.

This can be furthered by the explanation of the photograph by Hans Schaller which articulates that ‘The persistent worldwide depression and the mass unemployment associated with it were among the main catalysts for the general radicalisation of the political climate in Germany’. The impact of unemployment levels nationwide resulted in the public wishing for a new and distinct political sphere, which arguably led to the rise of the political extremism of the Nazi Party, thus, significantly shaping the lives of the German people at this time.

Furthermore, employment conditions for workers in Germany were arguably poor. An interview with Sally Tuchklaper, who was Polish and working in German factories throughout the war, thus being a first-hand oral account of events in employment in Germany. It was conducted by Anita Schwartz, for the purposes of fellow survivors and the academic circle, however, gradually generated a wider audience.

She said the working conditions, ‘weren’t bad but we were still under pressure. We couldn’t do nothing; we had to go on their rules which – them and we came in the morning at nine o’clock and we worked the whole day’, which affirms the nature of the heavy workload that young girls had to face at this time.

Oral history can be defined as the recording, preservation and interpretation of historical knowledge, based on the personal encounters and opinions of the speaker. This is a very subjective and personal form of evidence and can give a voice to groups who are sometimes marginalized in ‘conventional’ stereotypes, such as the working classes and women. It can provide new information, alternative explanations and varied insights which are highly valuable. The spoken word can convey emotions with immediacy and an impact that the written documents cannot match and allows the historian to ask questions of his or her informant – to be present at the creation of a historical source, rather than relying on those created by others.

On the other hand, oral history can be classed as inaccurate in other areas. It can be contended that someone’s memory may be selective or distorted over time, and so, the quality of these sources may be questioned. Additionally, the interviewer’s questions may intentionally or unintentionally influence the informant’s response.

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