Last month, Sebastian Yurtseven was helping his aunt clean out her house in Hagen, Germany. The town had been severely flooded and the plasterboard on the walls in her home had been soaked. As Sebastian tore out a wall section, he found a foot-wide space behind the wall containing a newspaper from 1945. Looking further, he discovered a trove of WWII artifacts, including a portrait of Hitler, a revolver, a box of gas masks, brass knuckles, Nazi badges, letters, and a number of documents. Archivists would eventually fill 12 boxes with the materials.
The cache revealed that the building had housed the local headquarters of the National Socialist People’s Welfare organization (Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt), referred to as the NSV. During the war, it became the second-largest organization in the Nazi party.
When Hitler was building his presence in Germany, he did not like charity or welfare groups, mainly because he felt that broad charity efforts helped sustain people in Germany who could not contribute to its success; he preferred natural selection that would allow capable Aryans to live, while the others died off.
However, by the time Hitler became Chancellor in 1933, the Great Depression had caused mass unemployment in Germany, and it had become politically untenable for the Nazis to write off the destitute as not worth helping. In reaction, he directed that any socialist, Protestant, or Catholic association be disbanded and their assets seized, the Jewish agency be restricted to helping ethnic Jews, and any other charitable agencies be controlled by the NSV or have direct Nazi leadership. All charities had to adhere to the principles of eugenics (the selective breeding of people for superior qualities) and refrain from helping those deemed biologically unfit. Within a short timeframe, he made the NSV the official organization and made any other charitable or welfare organization illegal.
The NSV restricted its assistance to those of Aryan descent who were deemed worthy of support. Those excluded from NSV benefits included “alcoholics, tramps, homosexuals, prostitutes, the ‘work-shy’, the ‘asocial’, habitual criminals, the hereditary ill (a widely defined category) and members of any races other than Aryan.” Given those constraints, by 1939, 17 million Germans received assistance, the agency operated 8,000 day-nurseries, funded holiday homes for mothers, distributed additional food for large families, and were involved with a wide variety of other facilities.
Under the NSV, the charity and welfare business was restructured to make sure that it followed the racial and ideological goals of the Nazi state. Eventually, the criteria for denial of assistance included anyone who wasn’t of the Aryan race, Communists, Social Democrats, and political opponents; travelers who requested aid; ex-convicts, re-migrants from abroad, the physically disabled, hard-of-hearing, deaf, mute, blind, the elderly, and homeless; and those involved in illicit drugs and epidemics.
The NSV, by the way, handled the “asocial”, “work-shy”, and other underperforming workers by sending them to Gestapo-operated “labor education camps”, a new category that by 1940 encompassed two hundred camps that held 40,000 inmates.
During the war, the NSV took over more and more governmental responsibilities, especially in the fields of child and youth labor. The budget, however, routinely ran a deficit and had to be subsidized with funds from the central government. The Nazi government did not wish to increase taxes, so an alternative solution was found: they would steal the money from forced laborers and the populations of conquered territories. The confiscation of Jewish, Polish, Czech, Russian, French, Belgian, etc, assets, which included furniture, appliances, rugs, silverware, cars, and farm equipment were used to provide the necessary money. It did not, I guess, include the art works, gold, and cash pillaged by the SS.
Here’s an interesting summary made of research done by Gotz Aly, a highly respected, present-day German historian: “while Jews and citizens of occupied lands suffered crippling taxation, mass looting, enslavement, and destruction, most Germans enjoyed an improved standard of living. Buoyed by millions of packages sent home by German soldiers at the front, Germans directly benefited from an almost unimaginable scale of systematic plunder of non-German possessions.” Throw in the monies distributed by the NSV and there is an argument to be made that this is why Hitler was given so much allegiance by ordinary Germans—he literally “bought” their consent.
A reviewer of one of Gotz Aly’s books made this statement:
“Why did the German people increasingly support Hitler’s rule even after it unleashed a world war that ultimately led to its own destruction? The answer, based on massive evidence and convincingly argued [by Aly], is that the Nazi regime won the support of the middle and working class Germans by creating greater social and economic equality at home and ensuring that its own “racial comrades” would be well fed and clothed, all with the proceeds of mass murder and unprecedented continent-wide robbery.”
The italics are mine.
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.