Life in Nazi Germany: Workers and Work


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When Hitler came to power in 1933, six million Germans were unemployed. His most important task was to find them jobs. During the election he had promised voters ‘work and bread’ if he ever became leader

Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD)
Hitler’s first action was to set up a National Labour Service. This organisation gave men jobs in public works schemes. These were jobs such as digging drainage ditches on farms, planting new forests, or building schools and hospitals. The biggest public works scheme was the construction of a network of motorways. Men in the RAD had to wear military uniform, live in camps and were only given pocket money as wages. But for many thousands of men that was better than life with no job – they got free meals and were made to feel proud as they were helping build Hitler’s new Germany.

The attack on unemployment

The results of Hitler’s attack on unemployment look very impressive at first sight:

Yet the drop in unemployment was not all due to the creation of new jobs. Soon after the Nazis came to power many Jews and women were forced out of their jobs. Although their jobs were given to unemployed people, the names of the Jews or women who became unemployed were not recorded on the unemployment registers! Thus the figures do not tell the whole story.

Nazi Propaganda poster for the Reichsarbeitsdienst (National Labour Service) 302000 The most important reason for the fall in unemployment during these years was rearmament. Hitler planned to make Germany a strong and independent country. To do this he needed to build up the size and strength of the army.

In March 1935 he started compulsory military service for young men, and set up an air force. The army quickly grew from 100,000 in 1933 to 1,400,000 men in 1939. More men in the army meant 1,300,000 less unemployed. To equip this new army 46 billion marks was spent on weapons and equipment. Thus thousands more were given work creating the tools of war.

As Hitler wanted an independent Germany, he had to make the country self- sufficient in food and materials. He ordered Germany’s scientists to find artificial substitutes for food and materials imported from other countries. They quickly developed all sorts of substitutes: wool and cotton from pulped wood, make-up from flour, coffee from acorns and so on. As all these things could be made in Germany, many unemployed found work in new industries.

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