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Archive for August, 2013

Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War 

by Lothrop Stoddard

Stoddard

1940

 

Chapter 9: The Battle of the Land

The peasant is the life­spring of our Reich and our race.” Thus did Walther Darre, Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply, concisely state the Nazi attitude toward the land and those who work it. Blut und Boden! “Blood and Soil!” That is one of National Socialism’s key slogans.

Nowhere has this revolutionary regime undertaken more daring and original experiments than upon the land itself. Of that I was aware when I came to Germany, so I was anxious to study this challenging phase of German life by first­hand observation.

Walter Richard Darré

Walter Richard Darre, Minister of Agriculture and Food Supply

(In Office from 29th June 1933 to 23rd May 1942)

The Minister was more than willing to assist. This big, energetic, good­looking man is one of the most interesting personalities among the Nazi leaders. As his name indicates, he descends from Huguenot ancestors who came to Germany three centuries ago. Furthermore, as I have stated, he was born in the Argentine. The son of a wealthy German resident, he spent his early life in South America. He is well qualified for his job, since he is an expert on agriculture and stock­breeding.

I have already quoted Dr. Darre on the food­card system now in operation. However, in our conversations, he repeatedly emphasized that this was merely part of a much larger organic whole which far transcended the war. Here is how he summarized National Socialism’s agricultural aim and policy: “When we came to power in 1933, one of our chief endeavors was to save German agriculture from impending ruin. However, our agricultural program went far beyond mere economic considerations. It was based on the idea that no nation can truly prosper without a sound rural population. It is not enough that the farmers shall be tolerably well­off; they should also be aware of their place in the national life and be able to fulfill it. Here are the three big factors in the problem: First, to assure an ample food supply; second, to safeguard the future by a healthy population increase; third, to develop a distinctive national culture deeply rooted in the soil. This ideal logically implies an aim which goes far beyond what is usually known as an agrarian policy.” These factors were dealt with by three important pieces of legislation passed shortly after the Nazis came to power. They were: (1) The National Food Estate; (2) The Hereditary Farmlands Law; (3) The Market Control Statute.

The Food Estate is a gigantic quasi­public corporation embracing in its membership not only all persons immediately on the land but also everyone connected with the production and distribution of foodstuffs. Large landowners, small peasants, agricultural laborers, millers, bakers, canners, middlemen, right down to local butchers and grocers ­ they are one and all included in this huge vertical trust. The aim is to bring all these group interests,  previously working largely at cross­purposes, into a harmonious, co­ordinated whole, concerned especially with problems of production and distribution. The Market Control Statute links all this with the consumer. The aim here is a thoroughgoing, balanced economic structure based on the principle known as the “just price.” Everybody is supposed to make a profit, but none are to be out of line with the others. Furthermore, the ultimate consumer is to be protected from profiteering.

The Hereditary Farmlands Law revives the old Teutonic concept that the landowner is intimately linked to the land. It is officially stated that “The idea engendered by Roman law that land was so much merchandise to be bought and sold at will is profoundly repugnant to German feelings. To us, soil is something sacred; the peasant and his land belong inseparably together.” Emphasis is thus laid on the Bauer, imperfectly translated by our word peasant. The German Bauer is an independent landowner, self­ respecting and proud of the name. We can best visualize him as like the old English yeoman.

This is the class which National Socialism seeks to foster by making peasant holdings hereditary; keeping the farm in the family, and keeping it intact by having it descend through the oldest son. That was the old Teutonic method, which still prevails by custom in parts of Germany. Over 700,000 of these hereditary farm holdings have now been established. They cannot be sold or mortgaged; neither can a creditor seize the crop for the owner’s personal debt. To qualify as a hereditary peasant, however, a man must be of German blood and be able to manage his property. Title to the land is thus not absolute; it is rather functional in character.

This type of peasant is most numerous in Northwestern Germany. In the eastern provinces, great estates predominate. In Southern Germany, on the contrary, where farms have customarily been divided among all the children, holdings tend to be too small. The Nazis consider either extreme economically and socially unsound. They therefore seek to split up the big estates into moderate­sized peasant farmsteads, and combine small parcels into normal units. They are not trying to rush things, but considerable progress has been made along both lines.

As usual, the Nazis have tried to enlist psychology in their agricultural endeavors. The Bauer’s traditional pride is flattered in many ways. He is extolled as the Third Reich’s “nobility of the soil“; the vital well­spring of national life. Everything is done to encourage his corporate spirit, from reviving costumes and folk­ dances to an annual Peasant Congress and a gigantic festival on the historic Bueckeberg. The Nazis frankly admit that mere planning and regulation from above, no matter how efficient, will not attain the desired goal ­ a flourishing agriculture which will feed the whole nation. Not unless the rural population is inspired to do its utmost will the experiment succeed. It is this psychological aspect which Nazi spokesmen have in mind when they speak of the Inner Front. As Darre told me: “We saw from the first that we could not reach our goal through state action alone. We needed the help of the organized farmers to put it over.” Such was the theory. How was it working out in practice? “See for yourself,” said Dr. Darre. He thereupon proposed that I make an investigation trip through what he considered the most instructive region ­ rural Westphalia and Oldenburg. There I would see in successful operation an agricultural system and way of life basically unchanged since the Middle Ages. It was upon this system, adapted to modern conditions, that the National Socialist Government had framed its land laws, which it intends ultimately to extend throughout the Reich. I would thus see a sort of working model for a hoped­for future.

A few days after this conversation I left Berlin for the projected tour, accompanied by one of the Minister’s right­hand men. He was Dr. Friedrich Sohn, a leading agronomist who had also studied agricultural conditions in America and had done special work in the Brookings Institution at Washington. He could thus compare German and American agriculture in a most useful way. As usual, an elaborate schedule had been drawn up for a comprehensive survey, with many stops to visit farms, large and small, and ample time to chat with the owners, look over their livestock, and examine methods of cultivation. A shy man, Dr. Sohn handed me the typewritten schedule rather anxiously. “This means that we’ll be going every day from dawn till after dark,” he said with a deprecating smile. I assured him that was all right with me, as I wanted to make the most of this trip. This cheered him up no end. Germans really like hard work, and they seem always delighted when a foreigner is willing to hit the same pace.

We left Berlin by train just after lunch and journeyed westward via Hanover to Minden, where we were to spend the first night. We arrived after dark. The railway station is some distance from the town itself, so we had to rustle our bags through the misting rain to a waiting tram almost tiny enough to pose for a model of the famous Toonerville Trolley. On our way, we nearly ran over a drunk who had chosen the space between the rails for his couch. The motorman heaved the sleeper impatiently to the roadside and kept on, reporting the incident to a policeman on post as we entered town.

We stopped at a little hotel decorated in the plush splendor of the 1870’s. They dine early in the provinces, so when we got to the dining­room it was almost empty except for one large Stammtisch in a far corner. About that table sat a dozen big, blond men smoking fat cigars and drinking from generous steins of beer. Our meal confirmed what I had already heard about the less stringent food regulations in the small towns. It was a meatless day, but I rejoiced to see egg dishes on the menu. I hastened to order fried eggs, “sunny side up,” and got two big beauties. The fresh yolks beamed at me from the blue­bordered plate. Those were the first eggs I had seen in Germany since the Press junket; but those had been rather “off the record” while these were evidently a matter of course. I was still more astonished to see a nice piece of fried ham nestling beside the eggs, while the next instant my waiter placed a pat of butter on the table, with no request for my food­card. I looked inquiringly at Dr. Sohn. “Out here they don’t bother much about such matters,” he smiled.

After dinner, the head of the local Bauernschaft, or Peasants’  Organization, came to pay his respects and talk over the trip planned for the next day. Like most of these officials, he was an obvious countryman. The Bauernschaft is really run by “dirt farmers.” We breakfasted early and entered the motor car ordered for us just as the late autumn dawn was breaking. It was a small sedan, through the windows of which I caught charming glimpses of historic Minden with its crooked streets and gabled houses. The day was cold and cloudy. By the time we had reached our first scheduled stop, I was somewhat chilled. This was the town of Enger, where we were to do a bit of sightseeing ­ but with a practical purpose. Here is the burial place of Widukind, the legendary Saxon chieftain who for so long withstood the might of Charlemagne. The Nazis have glorified Widukind as a popular hero, defending primitive Germanism and the old gods against Karl the Great who is described as a Latinized Teuton seeking to impose upon the Saxons the yoke of a revived Roman Empire and an equally alien Roman faith. That, at least, is the thesis of the handsome little booklet given me when I visited the new Widukind Memorial, half museum and half shrine. The booklet also states that, long after the Saxon nobles had lost heart and given up the fight, the tribal masses stood by their patriot hero to the death. Perchance the intent is to suggest a primeval Fuehrer? We were now well into rural Westphalia, and our investigations had begun. But before relating details, let me sketch in the background. The districts I was to visit all lie in what is undoubtedly the most Teutonic part of Germany. From Westphalia northward to the North Sea Coast and the Holstein peninsula to the Danish border stretches the region which can perhaps best be called Old Saxon­Land. This region should not be confused with the modern province of Saxony, which is far to the southward and has no historical connection. What I refer to as Old Saxon­Land is the primeval home of those Teutonic tribes some of whom migrated oversea and conquered Britain. It is interesting to note that the old blood still shows in the present population. A large proportion of the peasantry have long heads and faces, ruddy blond complexions, and frames which, though tall and muscular, are seldom rotund or thickset. Such persons could very easily pass for English rural types. Some of them, indeed, with different clothes and haircuts,  would look quite like old­stock Americans.

For the American visitor, the general aspect of this region has a familiar look. In other parts of Germany the rural population lives in villages. Old Saxon­Land, however, is throughout a country of detached farms. Each family lives on its own holding, entirely separate from its neighbors. This, indeed, typifies the traditional spirit of the folk. The Old Saxons have been, and for the most part still are, independent land­holders. There are relatively few large estates held by noblemen. The region is predominantly inhabited by a landowning peasantry.

Within itself, this peasantry varies considerably in economic and social standing. At the top stand large farms of two hundred acres or more, while the smallest holdings are only a few acres. Most of the large farms are worked, not by temporary hired labor, but by tenant farmers. The relations of these tenants to their proprietors are highly personal and are regulated by contracts and customs going back to ancient times. Some tenant holdings have been in the same family for generations.

The agricultural system and way of life in Old Saxon­Land cannot be understood unless we realize that these people, no matter what the size of their holdings, all feel themselves to be fellow­peasants. Even the wealthy owner of many acres and proprietor to several tenants is very much of a dirt farmer. He probably has been away to school and possesses a good education. Nevertheless, he works with his hands, wears farm clothes and wooden shoes, and is just as close to the soil as anyone else. He has no wish to be a nobleman or even a “squire” in the English sense. However, he has a deep though unobtrusive pride in himself and his place in the world. With good reason, too; for in many cases his forebears have been leaders in the local community since time immemorial. One big farm I visited, which had been in the same family for over five centuries, had been continuously cultivated with scant change in boundaries ever since the year 960 A.D. ­ more than a hundred years before the Norman Conquest of England! The quiet dignity and mellow beauty of these old farmsteads must be seen to be appreciated.

They consist of a number of buildings ranged about a courtyard, whence their German name of Hof. They are always built of timbered red brick, though the timber patterns differ from one district to another. As you enter the courtyard, you have directly in front of you the main building ­ an impressive structure with high­pitched roof running down to within a few feet of the ground. This building is very long; sometimes well over a hundred feet. It houses both the master­farmer and his animals.  When you enter the great doorway you find cows and horses stalled on either side. Only the malodorous pigs are today usually relegated to other quarters, though formerly they lived there too.

At the rear of the farmstead are the family living­quarters. In olden days there was no partition between, so the master­farmer could survey his livestock directly from his great bed and watch the work going on. Today, the living­quarters are walled off from the barn itself, though with handy access through one or more doors. Back of the living­quarters lies a moderate­sized pleasure garden, filled with shrubs and flowerbeds, and usually walled in by high hedges. Here the family take their ease on summer evenings.

The smaller farmsteads are built on precisely the same lines as the great Hofs, though everything is on a lesser scale. In the old tenant farmsteads conditions are decidedly primitive. The living­ quarters are not merely under the same roof; they are right in with the animals. Yet even here I found no filth or squalor. The air might be pungent with the smell of cows and horses, but the rooms were always neat and clean.

Maier Johann awaited me as my motor car drove in through the outer gate of the farmstead and stopped in the middle of the wide courtyard. The yard was surrounded by buildings of timbered brick. Indeed, the yard itself was paved with brick, liberally coated with sticky black soil tracked in by wagons, men, and animals. My host stood in the great doorway of his Hof, his ancestral abode.

Maier Johann is a wealthy man, as wealth is reckoned in those parts. He owns over two hundred acres of rich land, most of it under crops though with some pasture and woodland. His ancestors have owned it for nearly eight hundred years. From the first glance it is clear that he is a good manager. Everything is well kept up.

The front of the Hof is a sight in itself. From the high­pitched roof to the ground, this front is elaborately carved, and those old carvings are painted in many colors. From them you learn that the present Hof was built in the year 1757. There is a curious mixture of pious Christian texts and symbols coming down from heathen times ­ sun, moon, stars, the signs of fertility, and black ravens for good luck. On the massive oak timbers of the doorway, wide and high enough for hay wagons to drive in, are carved and painted the Norse Trees of Life, together with symbolic serpents to guard the humans and animals dwelling inside from evil spirits that might seek to intrude.

My host is a Maier. That is not a family name. It denotes his rank, and has the same significance as the original meaning of our word “mayor” ­ leading man in a community. The farmstead is thus a Maierhof. But he is not merely a Maier, he is a Sattelmaier. That means a leading man on a fully­caparisoned horse; in short, a man­at­arms, who ranked next to a knight in Feudal times. It is the very tip­top of the peasant hierarchy. Only a few Sattelmaiers are to be found in this countryside.

When a Sattelmaier dies, the bells in the parish church toll for an hour in a special way. The coffin containing the deceased is taken to the church in a wagon lined with straw and drawn by six horses. Behind the wagon paces the dead man’s favorite steed, led by the oldest of his tenant farmers. During the funeral service, the horse looks in through the open church door, and he also inspects the grave while his master is laid to rest. On such occasions the whole countryside turns out to pay final honors.

These curious ceremonies have not been described merely to make a quaint story; they typify the spirit of this conservative yet virile folk. The proudest Sattelmaier is neither nobleman nor squire. He is a peasant ­ a master­peasant, if you will, yet still a peasant ­ the first among basic equals.

Of this, Maier Johann was a good example. He knew I was coming to see him, but he had made no attempt to “dress up.” So he met me clad in an old hunting­cap, heavy farm clothes, and wooden shoes flecked with mud from work about the stables. A tall, fair man, ruddy from a life spent in the open, he led me through the doorway into the long barnlike Hof, lined with cow­ stalls on one side and horse­stalls on the other. The brick floor was partly covered by a pile of hay from the loft above and heaps of green fodder. The loft flooring was supported by massive oak beams two feet thick, hand­hewn and dark with age.

At the far end of the barn was a wooden partition, walling off the living­quarters. Into these we passed through a low door, and I found myself in a hall stretching the width of the Hof. This hall contained several pieces of massive furniture, obviously family heirlooms and elaborately carved. The doors and wainscoting were carved in similar fashion.

On the walls hung several portraits of army officers. My host explained. “This,” said he, pointing to the framed sketch of a bearded man in a hussar uniform, “is an ancestor of mine who was killed in the Danish War of the 1800’s.” He pointed again: “Here is a relative who fell before Paris in 1871.” Again: “This is my uncle, killed in the World War.” He made no mention of an excellent likeness of himself in officer’s field­gray. The earlier portraits were especially interesting to anyone who recalls the caste spirit of the old Prussian Army. They revealed perhaps better than aught else the peculiar social status of the Sattelmaier ­ a master­peasant who was nevertheless eligible to a commission alongside noblemen and gentlemen.

One other portrait hung on the wall: a painting of a very old man with shrewd blue eyes twinkling behind features withered like a red apple. My host smiled almost tenderly. “A Heuerling,” he answered my unspoken question. “One of our tenant farmers. He died last winter at the age of ninety­four.” Maier Johann was the only Sattelmaier I visited. But he was merely a somewhat wealthier and more prominent specimen of a generalized type. The other master­peasants with whom I stopped were very similar in appearance and character, and their homes were much the same. All of them appeared to be capable, practical men, naturally intelligent and with a fair measure of education; yet never “citified” and always in closest touch with the earth which nourished them. Their homes were free from pretentiousness or cheap modernity; their farms were models of careful husbandry ­ a good, sound breed.

As might be expected, their hospitality was as ample as it was unaffected. Most of all do I remember the country breakfasts ­ those European “second breakfasts” which are eaten in the middle of the forenoon. Picture me seated in an old room with carved wainscoting and beamed ceiling, heated by a tall tiled stove. Around a long table sit big brawny men and buxom women, eating heartily of the food with which the board is laden. Those viands may sound simple to American readers in our fortunate land of plenty, but to me, fresh from strictly rationed Berlin, they were luxuries indeed. In Berlin my butter ration was about an ounce per day; here was a stack of butter nearly as big as your head! Platters of smoked Westphalian ham and varied sausages, flanked by piles of rye bread and pumpernickel. Best of all, a big platter of hard­boiled eggs fresh from the nest. No food­ cards for the folk who produce Germany’s food! The one thing lacking was coffee, for no one in Germany has coffee except invalids, wounded men in hospital, and soldiers at the front. But there were cups of strong meat bouillon, and later on small yet potent glasses of schnapps or brandy to wash down the meal. Then German cigars, mild and quite good, were passed around, and we sat back to chat amid a haze of blue tobacco smoke.

It was hard to leave those cordial hosts and their kindly hospitality. Always with regret did I quit the cozy living­room, walk down the long vista of the barn, climb into my waiting car, and wave farewells until the motor had passed out of the Hof gates and taken once more to the road.

One of the outstanding features of the agricultural system of northwestern Germany is the tenant farmer. In that region he is called a Heuerling. This is the German variant of our old English word “hireling.” With us, the word has come to have a bad meaning. It signifies a man who has sold himself into some unworthy or criminal service. In German, however, it means simply a hired man, and in Northwestern Germany it applies especially to a peculiar sort of tenancy.

The Heuerling is not a casual or seasonal agricultural laborer. In Northwest Germany, landless, floating farm labor is little in evidence. Only since the outbreak of the present war with the consequent enrollment of many young peasants as soldiers has such labor been much needed. For centuries, the Heuerling has supplied the basic answer. The nearest thing we have to him in America is the “hired man” in rural New England, who is usually a farm fixture, often for life.

The New England hired man, however, is ordinarily a bachelor, living under the same roof with his employer and virtually part of the immediate family. The Heuerling has a house of his own, together with a small tract of land which he can work in his spare time. His home is a miniature farmstead. Like the spacious Hof of the proprietor, it shelters family and animals under one roof ­ and in the closest proximity. Those animals are supplied to him by the proprietor as part of the tenancy contract ­ at least one milch cow and several pigs, to say nothing of poultry. The Heuerling also gets a cash wage. In return for all this he is bound to give the master­peasant who employs him most of his time. A large farm of two hundred acres may have five or six of these tenant households within its borders.

I suppose that this system, like every other, has its share of abuses. But from all the evidence I could gather, it seems to work satisfactorily. In the first place, the system is very ancient, and tenancies are made in accordance with long­established custom and precedent. Even more important, there is no class distinction involved. As already remarked, all these folk feel themselves to be fellow­peasants, and they actually work side by side. Their basic social equality is revealed by the way they always speak to one another in the second person singular ­ the German Du, which implies close familiarity. Another favorable sign is the way these tenancies are cherished. Some tenant farmsteads I visited had been in the same family for generations. Certainly, all the Heuerlings I met and talked with appeared to be upstanding men ­ simple and good­natured, if you will, yet not a type to be browbeaten or ill­used. The whole system is intensely personal in its relationships. In fact, it is quite feudal, still infused with the spirit of medieval times.

The best example of the quaintly feudal loyalty which the Heuerling entertains toward his master­peasant employer is one which came to my attention during a visit to a certain large farmstead. The owner had died suddenly about a year before, leaving a widow, a son only sixteen years old, and a still younger daughter. The management of the farm was immediately taken over by the most capable of the Heuerlings in conjunction with the widow, and this joint regency was working so successfully that there seemed to be no danger that the farm would run down before the heir was old enough to take matters into his own hands.

The most vivid recollection I have of a Heuerling’s home is one I visited late one afternoon. Darkness had already fallen as my motor struggled up a muddy, rutty lane and finally stopped before a small farmstead redolent of age. The gatelike doorway opened to our knock and I found myself in a curious house­barn interior where a cow gazed tranquilly from its stall into a tiny kitchen across the way, and where chickens roosted in surprising places. This strange household was dimly lit by a few oil lamps which threw a mellow sheen on beams and walls nearly three centuries old.

The Heuerling, a hale old man and his equally hale wife, greeted me without the slightest trace of self­consciousness. I had come at a good moment, he said, for he had something interesting to show me ­ the pig he had long been fattening and which he had slaughtered that very morning. Visibly swelling with pride, he led me to the rear of the house, and I mentally agreed that his pride was justified, for it was certainly a mammoth porker. As the great carcass, immaculately dressed, swung gently from a beam in the ceiling, it bulked enormous in the dim light. I was told it weighed nearly five hundred pounds, and I do not think the man exaggerated.

Such, briefly, is the old Heuerling system, and the homes and human types it produces. It is interesting to note that the German Government is actively fostering this system and seeks to extend it further afield, with such modifications as new circumstances call for. Wherever a large or middle­sized farm needs more regular labor, the Government offers to loan the proprietor about two­fifths of the cost of building a Heuerling house, the loan to be repaid over a considerable term of years. Such houses as I saw were not of the old type. They were severely practical two­story affairs, with no room for animals, though with ample cellar space for storing vegetables and preserves. Built solidly of brick, tile, and concrete, they appear to be fireproof throughout. Except for a small kitchen­garden plot they have no land attached to them, but I am told that the proprietor is bound to furnish certain amounts of meat and other foodstuffs. Rental contracts run for a year. The terms vary according to the kind of employment. One man whose home I inspected was a professional milker, brought down from Friesland. He naturally has no time for anything but his cows, so his contract calls for an almost wholly cash wage.

This young man and his sturdy little wife were un­disguisedly proud of the new home they had just furnished. The furniture, though plain, looked of good quality. They told me that most of it had been paid for out of the l,000­Mark ($400) loan which the Government will make to any healthy young couple at the time of their marriage. It is to be repaid in small installments, but one­ fourth of it is canceled every time a baby is born. So a prolific couple should not have to repay very much.

The Government seeks in every way to tie these new settlers to the land and make them into Heuerlings of the old school. One of the most striking inducements which it offers is a sort of long­ service bonus. After a man has served satisfactorily for five successive years, the Government offers to make him a gift of from 600 to 800 Marks if he will sign a five­year contract with his employer. Although these attempts to extend and modernize an age­old system have been inaugurated too recently to yield much evidence as to their success, they constitute an interesting experiment in agricultural labor relations.

How are the Nazis faring in their Battle of the Land? That is a complex question, hard to answer. Personally, I examined in detail only one sector of the “agricultural front,” and was presumably shown the best of that. However, we have some definite information, and I supplemented this by discussions with Germans and qualified foreign students of the problem.

The Third Reich does not seem to be in any immediate danger of actual starvation from the British blockade. At present rations, there is enough grain, meat, potatoes, and other stock vegetables including beet sugar to last for at least two years. [Footnote: This was written on the basis of what I could learn in Germany down to my departure in January, 1940. I have since had information that the record cold during the winter months froze and spoiled vast amounts of stored potatoes and other vegetables. This point and its possible effects are discussed in Chapter 22.] The German grain crop for 1938 was 27,430,000 tons ­ about 2,000,000 tons over normal consumption. The amount of the grain reserve is secret; but it is known to be very large. Estimates range from twelve to eighteen months. Also, Germany can import grain in quantity from Hungary and other parts of Central Europe; possibly also from Russia, especially as time goes on.

The last German potato crop was 56,300,000 tons, of which less than one­third is needed for human consumption, despite the wartime shift to a potato diet.

The balance goes chiefly for feeding pigs and distillation into alcohol, used largely for commercial purposes and for mixing with motor fuels. There is an abundance of sugar beets, likewise an excellent animal feed. Cabbage, turnips, and other vegetables are all in satisfactory shape.

Germany has a growing number of hogs ­ a vital source of fat as well as of meat. Hogs do well on a diet of sugar beets and potatoes. The last hog census for Greater Germany showed 28,613,000 porkers, an increase of no less than 53 per cent over December, 1938. Cattle herds number almost 20,000,000. Even under the worst conditions, that should furnish a lot of milk, and of meat at the present ration ­ one pound per week per person.

That is the bright side of the picture, from the German point of view. But we have already discussed the dark side ­ a crucial lack of fats and other shortages which result in an unbalanced diet injurious to health and strength over a period of time. The German people is today on iron rations. They cannot be notably reduced without disaster. Can they be maintained for years at their present level? The answer to that question depends on certain long­range factors, especially the efficiency of the present agricultural system and the temper of the farming population. The Nazi regime has established a highly complex economic structure with fixed prices all along the line. Agriculture has been basically socialized. To be sure, the peasant owns his land and has been protected against heavy loss, but he is no longer a free agent. He must grow what he is told and sell at established rates. He is virtually tied to the soil and his initiative is narrowly circumscribed. Economic security has been coupled with rigid state control.

For the first few years of the Nazi regime, the peasant probably gained on balance. But with the introduction of the Four Year Plan toward the close of 1936, agriculture ceased to be the White­Haired Boy. An intensive rearmament program coupled with colossal reconstruction projects had first call on both capital and labor. This imposed serious handicaps upon agriculture, which the war tends to intensify. One of these is a farm­labor shortage. At the annual Peasant Congress in December, 1938, Minister Darre admitted that there were 400,000 fewer workers on the land than when the Nazis came to power, and the deficit is probably much larger than that figure. Furthermore, we must remember that this is only part of a general shortage of labor in every phase of Germany’s economic life. The Government is striving to overcome this by compulsory labor service for young men and women, and it has promised that 1,000,000 Poles would be imported to work on German farms. It remains to be seen how efficient such amateur or conscript labor will be as compared with seasoned farm workers.

Recently the Government raised the prices of milk and butter as avowed incentives to the farming population. No such disturbance of its nicely balanced price system would have been made if the need for such action had not been urgent.

The Battle of the Land thus goes forward. What the outcome will be, only time can tell.

———————————-
Chapter 2: Berlin Blackout
Chapter 3: Getting on with the Job
Chapter 4: Junketing Through Germany
Chapter 5: This Detested War
Chapter 6: Vienna and Bratislava
Chapter 7: Iron Rations
Chapter 8: A Berlin Lady Goes to Market
Chapter 9: The Battle of the Land
Chapter 10: The Labor Front
Chapter 11: The Army of the Spade
Chapter 12: Hitler Youth
Chapter 13: Women of the Third Reich
Chapter 14: Behind the Winter­Help
Chapter 15: Socialized Health
Chapter 16: In a Eugenics Court
Chapter 17: I See Hitler
Chapter 18: Mid­Winter Berlin
Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest
Chapter 20: The Party
Chapter 21: The Totalitarian State
Chapter 22: Closed Doors
Chapter 23: Out of the Shadow

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PDF of this post (click to download or view): Into the Darkness – Chap 09
Version History
Version 4: Nov 27, 2014 – Added PDF of post
Version 3: Wed, Feb 5, 2014. Added Chapter links.
Version 2: Mon, Jan 27, 2014 – Quoted text italicized. Image of Richard Darre added.
Version 1: Published May 11 2013 – Text and some pics added.
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Into the Darkness : An Uncensored Report from Inside the Third Reich at War 

by Lothrop Stoddard

Stoddard

1940

 

Chapter 8: A Berlin Lady Goes to Market

If we are really to understand conditions in strange lands, it’s well to get down to cases. So let me tell the tale of the housewife in wartime Germany. She is a composite lady, the combined result of several studies I made into the daily life of families living in Berlin. Two of them had kept house in America. In that way I got intelligent comparisons between German and American standards. All these families are financially well­off; able to pay for everything they really need. I chose such families deliberately, because I wanted to eliminate the factor of financial worry from the picture. What I tried to find out was how, and to what extent, the everyday life of these Berlin homes is affected by wartime conditions.

On the day in question our composite lady sallies forth to do her marketing in the middle of the forenoon. This is her regular market day, and she should have started earlier, but couldn’t because of home work due to lack of servants. She goes at once to a nearby grocery. Of course she is a regular customer there, as she is with her butcher and other tradespeople. That is the only way she can cope with the food­card situation.

Let’s follow her in and take a look around the place. The first thing that strikes our American eye is the meagerness of the stock. In part, this impression is due to the fact that there are no canned goods on display. They are all being kept off the market until green vegetables and autumn fruits are exhausted. Then the Government will release canned goods for public sale to bridge the gap until the next fruit and vegetable crops are available. We should also understand that, in Germany, grocery stores are more specialized than ours. They sell chiefly staple food and dairy products, together with lines such as jams and jellies, condiments, smoked meats, and light table wines. Still, the stock is not large and the store is a small place, though with several clerks ­ all women.

As she enters the store, Milady catches the eye of the head clerk and gets immediate service. That’s a bit of good luck, for the woman is much quicker than the others, which means a saving of precious time. As soon as she reaches the counter, Milady opens a pocketbook containing several compartments, each bulging with folded papers of various colors. These are food­cards­sheets of paper about a foot square, on which are printed many coupons that can be torn or cut off, stamped, or punched, as the case requires.

Let us assume that this lady shops for a good­sized family ­ say, herself, husband, and four children. Each of these six individuals needs seven food cards; so Milady has to carry forty­two cards with her whenever she goes to market. I may add that she has still other cards at home ­ clothing cards for each member of the family, and special milk cards if any of her children are young. But, as Kipling would say, that is another story.

Let’s take a look at those cards as Milady unfolds them and lays them on the counter. That’s what everybody has to do in Germany before one can even start buying anything. The saleswoman has to make sure the customer hasn’t exceeded her quota, while the customer has to find out if what she wants is in stock that day. In big cities like Berlin there are, as I have said, many temporary shortages of foodstuffs. In the smaller towns there is no such trouble.

The cards are now spread out. First the bread card. This covers not only baked bread but also flour of various kinds. No difficulty here; the bread ration is ample. Secondly the sugar card, which includes jams, jellies, etc. Again no trouble. Thanks to a big sugar­beet crop, this is well taken care of. Now the meat card. This is chiefly for the butcher; but Milady happens to want a bit of sausage and smoked ham, so she uses it in the grocery store. The saleswoman informs her that she is getting the last of the ham, because it has been decreed a luxury, so farmers have been ordered not to smoke any more for the delicatessen trade.

Now the fat card. Here we run into a sore spot. Germany is short on fats; so butter, margarine, and lard are very strictly rationed. However, Milady does pretty well here, because she has three young children, who rate much more fats than do adults. Incidentally, they get some chocolate, reserved for child consumption. Next comes the soap card ­ another sore point which we will investigate when Milady gets home. Now the adult milk card. Grown­ups rate only skimmed milk, which, to my American taste, is an unpleasant substance that I never use. Neither, apparently, do Germans except for cooking or sparingly in their imitation coffee or tea. Last comes a card entitled Naermittel, best translated by our word “victuals.” It’s a sort of catch­all, covering a wide variety of rationed items ranging from macaroni and noodles to packaged cereals, Ersatz tea and coffee, and certain kinds of game.

We can now understand what a prolonged huddle Milady goes into with the saleswoman. Each food­card has to be taken up separately, since quotas vary for adults, half­grown children and small children. When a quota is calculated to the last gram, that particular card is punched, stamped, or snipped, and another card is investigated. The varied rations are jotted down on a slip of paper for adding up when the list is completed. As before stated, all this rigamarole has nothing to do with price. It’s just a preliminary canter to find out how much bread, butter, lard, sugar, or other foodstuffs the buyer is entitled to. Only when that has been ascertained are the actual prices of the goods figured out and written down on another slip.

Let’s try to translate those prices into our money. After considerable investigation, I reckon the purchasing power of German currency to Germans at a trifle over four Reichsmarks to the dollar, thus making the Reichsmark roughly equivalent to our quarter. On that basis, staple groceries average only a trifle higher than they do in America. Some items, especially bread, are cheaper. Fats are distinctly higher. Butter, for instance, is over fifty cents a pound. However, German housewives have the satisfaction of knowing that these prices are fixed by law and cannot be raised except by a new official edict.

By this time Milady’s purchases have been duly assembled on the counter. Only when strictly necessary are they sparingly wrapped in paper, because paper is scarce. String is even scarcer, so it is seldom used. Instead of paper bags, the goods are placed in containers which look like sections of fish­nets. These mesh bags must be furnished by the customer, who is supposed likewise to carry away the purchases under a general “cash and carry” rule. However, should they be too heavy and bulky, the store will usually oblige a regular customer by sending along one of the women clerks, if she can find a moment to spare.

The most notable aspect of Berlin marketing is the time it takes.  Often, a bill of goods coming to only a few dollars will keep saleswoman and customer engrossed for a full hour. When our synthetic lady leaves the shop, the business is over so far as she is concerned. Not so with the grocery store. Those coupons from Milady’s food­cards go to swell multicolored piles which have to be sorted out, pasted on big sheets of paper, and fully accounted for before they are turned over to the food­control authorities. These jigsaw­puzzle economics are usually done after business hours and sometimes last far into the night.

However, our Berlin lady is too busy with her own affairs to think about the extra work she has made for grocery clerks. Laden with her fish­net bags, she deposits them at her apartment and hurries off to do more marketing at a nearby butcher’s shop. Luck is with her when she notes a good line of meats on display, for meat distribution is uncertain. Luck is with her again when she points to a badge worn in her coat lapel and marches to the counter ahead of a line of waiting customers. That badge shows she is the mother of at least four offspring. She is thus Kinderreich ­ rich in children. A Kinderreich matron has many privileges, among them the right to immediate attention at any store; the theory being that she should be helped to save time for her family duties in every way. It certainly comes in handy this morning, for Milady is very anxious to get home, where she is already long overdue.

Her meat purchases are soon made ­ veal cutlet at 45 cents a pound, and some pork chops at 30 cents. Then a quick dash to the vegetable market a couple of blocks away where she doesn’t need food­cards. But of the limited oranges and lemons there aren’t any for sale today.

At last Milady can go home. She is anxious to see how the washing is progressing and how her younger children are getting on. Both those worries are due to a crowning ill ­ lack of a servant.

Ah!” the reader may exclaim, “here is one familiar feature in wartime Berlin.” In the larger sense, however, you’d be wrong. While Germany had a shortage of competent servants even before the war, wartime conditions have intensified this shortage into an acute famine. It is no longer a question of money. No matter how good wages one may be willing to pay, servants are often unobtainable at any price.

Here’s how it happened. The instant war broke out, the Government “froze” domestic service. No servant could thenceforth leave her employer except for self­evident reasons like non­payment of wages or genuine mistreatment. Neither could the servant demand a raise. That regulation prevented “servant­ stealing” by wealthier employers and a consequent skyrocketing of wage scales.

This was fine if you happened to have a city­bred servant or one that was middle­aged. However, Berlin servants, particularly the general­housework variety, are apt to be young women from the country. Of course the Government had them all ticketed. So, when mobilization called the young peasants to the colors, their sisters were summoned back from domestic service to remedy a labor shortage on the farms.

Let us suppose that our Berlin lady’s general­housework maid was thus taken away from her a couple of months after war broke out. She went promptly to an official employment agency to see what could be done. The woman in charge smiled at her sadly. “My dear lady,” she remarked, “we already have so many cases like yours ahead of you that I can’t give you much hope.” So there was our good housewife, left single­handed with a sizeable apartment, a hard­working professional or business husband, and four children to care for. Certainly a tough break for a well ­to ­do woman who has always had competent servants.

However, since our Berlin lady is a German, she has presumably had a thorough domestic training before her marriage, that being the custom even for girls of wealthy families. So she knows how, not merely to superintend her household, but actually to do the work herself. Furthermore, since she has young children, she has first call on whatever domestic service there is to be had. That is another of her Kinderreich privileges. So we may assume that, by the time our story opens, she has been able to get the temporary services of a part­time woman to come in, say, a couple of days a week to do the washing and heavy cleaning.

Furthermore, being Kinderreich, she is almost sure that her servant problem will be solved with the spring. Next April ist, multitudes of young girls will graduate from school. Those girls are thereupon subject to a year’s Dienst, which means National Service. On the one hand, they can go into Hilfsdienst, which usually means domestic service in a family with young children. That is where our Berlin lady comes in. She is virtually certain to get one of those girl recruits. For city girls, especially, such tasks may be more congenial than Arbeitsdienst, which means work on the farm.

There are no exemptions from this compulsory service. Rich or poor, all are alike subject. During my stay in Berlin, I dined one night with some aristocratic and wealthy Germans who introduced me to their charming daughter, just returned from getting in the potato crop on a farm a hundred miles from Berlin.

As far as the servant problem is concerned, our Berlin lady’s first war­winter will presumably be the hardest, and if she is a strong, healthy young matron she probably won’t be much the worse for it. Still, it isn’t easy. She has to be up early and get breakfast for six. The husband is at the office all day, while the older children take their lunches with them and don’t get back from school until mid­afternoon. Her younger children are the hardest problem. They can’t be left alone, so Milady is tied to her home except on the days when her part­time servant is there. Those are the precious hours she takes for marketing and other necessary shopping. She gives the youngsters an airing when she can, but the little tots do lack outdoor exercise.

Let us now see what Milady does when she gets home from market and takes her purchases to the kitchen. That kitchen will almost certainly have a gas or electric stove and other modern conveniences. But it will probably lack American specialties like an electric icer or a washing­machine. And right there we touch upon another very sore point in wartime Germany’s domestic life. That point is soap.

We have already noted how short Germany is in butter, lard, and kindred products. But this shortage goes beyond edible fats. It applies to soap ­products as well. Nowhere are Germans more strictly rationed. Each person gets only one cake of toilet soap per month. The precious object is about as large as what we call a guest­cake size, and it has to do the individual not only for face and hands but for the bath as well.

The same strict rationing applies to laundry soap and powder. Furthermore, the fat content of both is so low that, though it takes the dirt out, the clothes are apt to look a bit gray. And bleaches must be used sparingly, since they tend to wear out clothes. That is why most families have their washing done at home instead of sending it out to commercial laundries. Incidentally, when the washing is done, the sudsy water is not thrown away. It is carefully saved for washing floors or other heavy cleaning.

Let us assume that Milady finds the washing going well and that the little ones haven’t got into too much mischief during her absence. It’s now about time for her to get lunch. The children’s meal brings up the interesting point of juvenile milk. Only children get “whole” milk in Germany today. They are issued special milk cards and are rationed according to age. Infants up to three years get one liter per day ­ a trifle over a quart. Children between three and six years get half a liter, and those between seven and fourteen one­quarter liter ­ half a pint. Thereafter they are considered adults and can have only skimmed milk. Those juvenile milk quotas seem pretty stiff, but they are the winter ration. I understand that they are substantially increased when the cows are turned out to grass in the spring. I may add that I have tasted children’s milk and found it good ­ fully equal to what we in America know as Grade B.

When luncheon is over, disposal of the scraps introduces us to another notable feature in wartime Germany’s domestic economy. Every family is in duty bound not to waste anything. So each German kitchen has a covered pail into which goes all garbage that can be served to pigs. This pail is taken downstairs and dumped into a large container which is collected every day. Meat bones are usually taken by the children to school as a little patriotic chore.

What we in America call “trash” must be carefully segregated into the following categories: (1) newspapers, magazines, or other clean paper; (2) rags; (3) bottles; (4) old metal; (5) broken furniture or about anything else that is thrown away. City collectors come around for this segregated trash at regular intervals. There are no private junk dealers. An all­ seeing paternal state attends to even this petty salvage. Wartime Germany overlooks no details.

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Chapter 2: Berlin Blackout
Chapter 3: Getting on with the Job
Chapter 4: Junketing Through Germany
Chapter 5: This Detested War
Chapter 6: Vienna and Bratislava
Chapter 7: Iron Rations
Chapter 8: A Berlin Lady Goes to Market
Chapter 9: The Battle of the Land
Chapter 10: The Labor Front
Chapter 11: The Army of the Spade
Chapter 12: Hitler Youth
Chapter 13: Women of the Third Reich
Chapter 14: Behind the Winter­Help
Chapter 15: Socialized Health
Chapter 16: In a Eugenics Court
Chapter 17: I See Hitler
Chapter 18: Mid­Winter Berlin
Chapter 19: Berlin to Budapest
Chapter 20: The Party
Chapter 21: The Totalitarian State
Chapter 22: Closed Doors
Chapter 23: Out of the Shadow

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PDF of this post (click to download or view):  Into the Darkness – Chap 08
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Version 4: Nov 27, 2014 – Added PDF of post
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Version 1: Published May 11 2013 – Text and some pics added.

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