Duties and Tasks of the Woman
In the National Socialist State
October 1936 — Nazi Party rally, Germany
The great event of which we are all today a part is the growth of a new German people’s order, a people’s order at the center of which stands the great thought and compelling idea of the people’s community. This compelling central idea for all of us, the people’s community, obliges not only the individual, but also organizations, institutions, schools, and clubs, to consider themselves and their activities from this standpoint. It has proven necessary for some of us, and some organizations in our state, to renew themselves, to relearn and rethink, and this rethinking has carried us all along, such that nothing really has remained unaffected. Everything that we do in Germany to capture and educate the German people, both individually and in relationship to the community, must follow new laws.
Our evening together is intended to set a direction, a path, for our work, to be a self-analysis. I wish to begin by asking ourselves a question. How did people treat us in the past, as we were growing into a community, and how must we treat our people today? All of us in this hall began as little pioneers of the Führer with a special task, and all of you who are here today, both men and women, know that the German people today needs those who understand the history of their people, and the relationships within the people, in order for them to use this knowledge of the development of their people to see clearly new paths.
I wish to begin my discussion of yesterday and today at the most basic level, when one for the first time places a person in a community, bringing him into a particular relationship with the people. It is the first time in which a person is forced to give up egotistic thinking and come to terms with his environment: in school. It is each person’s first step in joining the community, that first bitter step that forces him to face the problems of life, even if it is only learning his ABCs. I said before that our people needs those who know the history of their people, the relationships, the where from and why of intellectual events, and who understand a spiritual mission. If we look back ten, fifteen years — no, even more, twenty or twenty-five years — all those here who had the good fortune to attend secondary schools will have to agree with me that we learned little about the history of our people and its spiritual mission at that time. We often knew more about the history of the Romans, the Greeks, and above all the history of the Jewish people, than we did about German history. You surely know the Jewish prophets just as much by heart today as I do. We were taught about that much better, or at least more energetically, than we were taught the details of German history. And what we knew about German matters was so inadequate that we did not receive a year-by-year survey of a particular period in our history in each subject. We did not, in a given school year, get a good picture of a particular period of German history. Rather, to put it crudely, in the first hour in science class, we got something about the ice age. In the second hour, maybe something about the Minnesingers in literature, and in the third hour, some specialized bit of history. Our history teacher, for example, might tell us passionately and compellingly about the necessary and beneficial influence of the sun in Italy on political developments in Germany. Now, the spiritual outlook of this history teacher consisted of a happy mixture of absolute patriotism on the one hand, and — since he was a progressive man — an apostle of humanity on the other hand. That lovely phrase “national-liberal” applied to him, meaning “both the one thing and its opposite.” We should not be surprised that, in the end, my dear fellow Germans, the first station of our childhood produced Germans who had mastered one-sided, limited knowledge from an objective standpoint, and had entirely forgotten and ignored the fact that there is also a subjective way of viewing the world, in which German people with German eyes and German hearts could have seen German things.
And that was no surprise. We had not learned the connections between things. At the next stage of education, we got even more of this limited training in life. We went to our universities, which centered on absolute specialization. In the individual subjects, as a result of this crazy training of specialists, the result was that the most specialized authorities fought about their particular “theory as such.” The greatest pride of these scholars, I may say, was often to defend a “thing itself,” never saying anything about how it would meet particular needs of the people, how it could serve and benefit the interests of the whole people. No, their greatest pride was in the “thing itself.”
That is the education we grew up with; that is how we were educated in school. Then we were turned loose, and we were supposed to build a worldview and join the world. That was our life until the Führer came along. He grabbed us by our ears and said something like this: “My dear people, you really have to learn to go this way, thinking not of your own little self, of your wants and your specialty, but rather you have to see once more what your people’s needs demand of you.” In other words, the Führer taught us once again to see duty as the center of everything that we do. He taught us that all labor, all knowledge, all learning, all battles, are not “things in themselves,” but rather a holy task of each in service of the community of all. We had to follow this thinking to win our battles.
Each of us took this people’s community as our duty, and we said: “Now, my dear friend, you may know a great deal about your field, and you may do wonderful things, but you have to understand something. Your knowledge alone, that we once made almost into an idol in Germany, has ruined your way of seeing the world.” For the more I know, the more I realize how many things there are in the universe about which I know nothing. When I devote myself to a science, that lovely picture I have of the world is ruined. Only quietly growing wisdom leads me gradually to a deeper, greater understanding and experience of the connections things have with each other, and brings me to an understanding of an organic whole. We must learn to understand all of our individual things within the totality of our people, and to put them in service of our entire people. Getting back to the schools, that is why we mothers, based on our own school experiences, said: “Give German children a school that is free of all knowledge about foreign things and foreign countries — even though that has its place. From the first year of school on, give children a comprehensive view of things German so that children learn what we only learned later in life, thanks to the Führer: a respect for labor, and for the role of knowledge as the forerunner of wisdom.”
The work of the National Socialist Women’s League stood and stands under the influence of this process of renewal. It must first examine and review itself. What can we change, what can we do even better, and how can we once again learn a respect for labor as the source of and path to the wisdom we all need? And after that, how can we show this path to others through our manner, our words, our attitudes, our work? In the course of our efforts, we have the task of showing other women, millions of German women, how to be part of the process of moving from selfish “I” to the “you” of the people’s community, to join our work and to win them over to National Socialism. That is why we have established the German Women’s Work, which you are probably all familiar with, alongside the NS Women’s League. We established the Women’s Office within the German Labor Front to deal with the particular socio-political problems of women — gaining respect for working women, protecting working mothers. Each office has its tasks. The most beautiful, the most noble thing about the whole work, however, is not that the Women’s League is a particularly good political-worldview school, or that the Women’s Office takes particularly good care of women in the socio-political arena, or that Home Assistance and the Mother’s Service do their work. Rather, the most important thing is that we once again see ourselves as women who do their own work, but also share a single fanatic will to care once again for our people. Each who needs help knows that he can come at any time and find an understanding partner and comrade. I recently read a poem written by a woman worker. She wrote:
My father goes to work in the foundry,
Where he hammers iron into steel.
I am proud of his strength,
But he never laughs.
My mother is an industrious woman,
She works from dawn to dusk.
And once — know for sure —
She smiled at me.
These words reveal the whole political history of our age. Man and woman perform hard, unending work, and both do their best. The man is sometimes hard, and sometimes too serious. He no longer laughs, and goes his way with determination. The woman stands beside him. She does her work using all her strength, as does he. But what she needs to do beyond that, my dear women, is the core of our work with women. What needs to be added here is what that girl said in her little poem: “Once she smiled at me.” We women must bring something else to our work. We must not be nervous, but rather keep calm, and second, we must be ready at any time to give a cheerful smile for anyone who needs one. From this last thought, from this style of living, we will deal with all those things that could somehow hurt our people.
At the moment, for example, we talk a lot about meat shortages. Most of the time, we talk too much about it. On the other hand, we talk a lot about job training. Someone may ask me: But what does the meat shortage have to do with job training, and job training with the housewife? Let me give you a real example. We know that sometimes we do not have enough of this or that kind of meat. On the other hand, we train restaurant employees, managers in the restaurant industry, housewives, and servants. Then we see all sorts of men and women in our cities who work outside their home, and hear them ask: Can you tell me a restaurant that does not always serve the same meat and sauces, but rather one where there are more potatoes, vegetables, salads, and so on? So we train restaurant employees to be the best cooks in the world.
What would happen if we combined the practical with the necessary in this area, and made part of the Reich occupational competition for women the making of wonderful food items with many vegetables, potatoes, and salads, but with less or even no meat? If the Führer says that we do not have enough foreign currency to import all the meat that we want, and that we have always imported in the past, then we housewives can prove our good education by simply saying: We have enough bread. We have enough potatoes. We have enough milk and sugar for the whole year. So let us set a table on which we serve potatoes for the evening meal along with other pleasant things that we have gathered by good household management, such as red cabbage, radish salad, celery salad, and all those other lovely simple things. One does not always have to have meat sandwiches for dinner, as is the case in so many households. In millions of homes, we will, for a while, prepare more healthy potatoes, leaving the meat for those who need it because they are heavy laborers. First of all, it will not hurt those people who work with their minds, or who do light physical labor, if they eat a little less meat. It will even help their waistline. And second, is it not more than right that people who are brothers and sisters, who have the same mother, namely Germany, support and help each other? That is how things are in any decent family, and that is how we want to behave. I tell you this only to help you see that today, in the last analysis, the German man housewife is really the best minister of economics, since if we women would only work together systematically toward this goal, the Führer and his whole economic staff would not have to work nearly as hard.
I must say something more. We have given back honor to the housewife, which she had lost during the Marxist era. You all remember member the time when people said: “I would really rather have a job. It is nice to be a housewife, to be taken care of, but it is “unproductive productive labor” — a phrase that was tossed around so much in Germany. “As a stenographer I can see at the end of the day what I have accomplished, but one sees nothing of a housewife’s ‘unproductive productive labor,’ unless one perhaps counts the ever fatter belly of her husband as `productive labor.’ But that is hardly enough satisfaction for one’s life. To the contrary, over time it can become a burden.” This phrase about the “unproductive labor” of women brought the work of the housewife into disrepute, even though it is one of the most economically important factors in a nation. Such a phrase could only develop in an age that understood productivity only as that which went into one’s own pocket, that visibly flowed to one’s own family, something one could count, touch, but never anything that served the whole people, and therefore indirectly each individual as well.
Let me give you a small example of just how productive the housewife is. If each of the 17 1/2 million families in Germany carelessly throws away one slice of bread that weighs fifty grams each week — that is only a small slice of bread —, that means 8,750 quintals of bread per month, or 445,000 quintals a year. That is 4,000 railway cars full of bread. Now, ladies, think of how often a piece of bread is carelessly left uneaten. When one comes across excursionists on a Sunday afternoon, one sees bread carelessly left on the ground and literally stepped on. Think of the exhausting labor the Führer expends to win land from the sea, meter by meter, and now calculate how much land would be necessary to harvest vest 450,000 quintals of grain. We are thus stomping on ground that we do not have, but bitterly need, without thinking anything at all about it. You may say to me that some of those 17 1/2 million households are rural households, and they do not waste anything. Women, I know that a farming woman does not waste any bread because she has greater respect for the earth than someone who lives in a city. But if even half of this bread is wasted and ends up in city trash cans or somewhere else, we have shown that we badly need to learn what our forefathers knew: a respect for the earth and for its gifts. We must once again learn this respect. We must say to the women in the city: “Just as your asphalt streets have covered the earth, as the earth gradually vanished beneath them, so, too, has the asphalt in your hearts covered up your respect for the earth and your knowledge of your dependence on that earth.”
We certainly do not want to say that we should tear up the asphalt and go back to nature. We do want to hammer something else into their hearts: “City man and city woman, do not forget that under your asphalt is the earth that you must be thankful for the fact that you can live and work on asphalt streets.” That is what we must tell city-dwellers. That will gradually lead people back to a respect for the earth and its gifts. That leads us to something else. In late fall comes the harvest. The earth provides us well and generously, but it does not spoil us. We must therefore fore take good care of the harvest and lay up stores for the time when the earth needs rest and cannot give us any gifts. Otherwise, wise, we ask for fresh vegetables and things in January that the earth can no longer provide, and complain when what we want is too expensive, because it does not come from our own earth. At our thanksgiving festival, we must therefore enjoy the gifts that nature gives us, so that we will be able to get through the times when she can give us nothing, and when the Führer needs the money we formerly used for too many imports for things he considers more important at the moment. I believe we can be sure that the Führer asks nothing of us, and thinks nothing necessary, unless he can really justify it to himself and to the nation.
German women! That is but one practical side of our work. We must talk about it with each other constantly. As we work with mothers in public health through our Mother’s Service, we must also make clear to mothers that our children are the most valuable possession we have, second only to our honor. We must understand derstand their development, and how to care for them before we get married. These are all ways of building bridges to each other. The Mother’s Service is another bridge, as are home economics and all the other areas, such as the Red Cross or caring for working women. All our work is a bridge on which we must find the way to each other, from which we really must look into the hearts of others and say: “Do you not want to work with us? It is pleasant, and we need one another, for today we are responsible for each other.” The Führer has given us responsibility for the entire German people.
You may say to me: “Sure, but listen to me. I cannot be responsible for every person who lives in my neighborhood. Each person has his own nature, his own character, his own attitudes. I cannot be responsible for them.” Men and women! We probably cannot be responsible for a person’s nature or his basic character, but we are responsible for the influence we have had on his life and his path, that is, whether we have pulled him down or helped him to rise. We are responsible for our part of him. How else can a community justify itself before life and before God if it is not responsible for the attitude that it shows to others? I know that that is terribly difficult. It is difficult because we have to always see that the courage to do good we have within ourselves is stronger than our fear of the evil in the world. We must also work to see that our courage to draw on our own strength, our own devotion, to help others is somewhat stronger than the all too human tendency to inertia and comfort. These are the two things we must do. Often when we say to someone that you are responsible for someone else, that you are responsible for your attitude toward him, he replies: “Leave me alone. I have enough to do already. I have to worry about myself and cannot do it for someone else. I have not done so before. Leave me alone.” People by nature are inclined to inertia when it comes to making demands on themselves, to struggling with themselves. We must shed this inertia because we are part of a community and because we call ourselves comrades.
What does the word “comrade” mean? The word is used today very, very often as a slogan. Everyone says “comrade” to everyone one else. He does not think about what that means. One thinks that “comrade” means that you and I have the same job. Another thinks that “comrade” means that if I do something stupid or do something wrong, you will not say anything about it. You can behave badly next time, and I will not say anything about it either. Each thinks that a “comrade” will cover his own failings if necessary. I believe that we can only call those people comrades, and we may only ask for camaraderie, if we realize that the nature of camaraderie is that I can be the biggest enemy of my comrade when necessary if I notice that he is doing things from spiritual laziness that are hurting him. Then I must go to him and say: “My dear friend, I cannot support you in this. You are taking things so easy that you are not using your strength and gifts, but rather are being lazy and comfortable. If I am really to be your comrade, my duty is to show you what you could be if you only put forth a little effort.” That is camaraderie, for true camaraderie sees not the moment, but rather looks at others and says: “There is something greater than you or me, that stands above you and me.” That is the community in which we live and in which we find ourselves not by accident, for centuries of labor by the best German fathers and mothers raised us and supported us. Since we see this, comrades are those people who honor the greatest and the strongest that is within people, and who have the drive to draw out the best and most beautiful from others.
I wanted to say that, women, because we often speak of our camaraderie, it is important that we know how beautiful and strong it is. We are building a chain through our camaraderie, and take each others’ hands. It may be that one or another sometimes tires or loses courage, that he complains or causes trouble — that is part of life — but what he may not do and what cannot happen, is that he collapses during these weary hours, lacking courage. We must be surrounded by a circle so strong that each can confidently depend pend upon it. We then say to him: “My dear friend, you are tired today. You have a problem that we cannot at the moment help with, because there are things that one cannot take from other people. This we can do. We can lend you our strength, our community, our loyalty, and if need be our tears, until the day comes when you can laugh and be happy again.”
We have good reason to do that, since we Germans are cheerful people. I know that we are so often misunderstood. People say to me: “You always preach that people should be cheerful. You are cheerful yourself, but we have no job, or only part-time work, not enough income.” Do you think, my dear lady, that I do not know that? I know how hard it is to feed a batch of children with only a few marks. I also know, however, that we will never make our people National Socialists, even with all the money and all the lovely things and all our work, if we do not first persuade people to take a cheerful and confident attitude toward life.
Since I know that, we must begin where we can. Obviously, a person needs a job, an income, and that will happen as fast as possible. However, doing what we can in our community through our loyalty and our faith to make people cheerful can be done at any time. We can start immediately, and make a beginning. That is why we women have made that beginning.
Another thing on cheerfulness. We would be the most thankless of people if we were not cheerful people, despite all our difficulties. Let me tell you about an experience I had a few days ago with a person after a meeting. He said to me: “You preach to people about joy and strength and love.” I had spoken about these things during the meeting, and mentioned that when we think of what God gives the Führer, what he gives each of us, in terms of physical and spiritual strengths, we have to say that that alone is never-ending proof of the love and blessings of God, for which we should be cheerful and thankful. “Well,” the man said, “the God that you and the other Nazis preach to people is the God of love. That is simple enough. But what about the other God, who punishes and torments? You do not have anything to say about that.” I replied: “My dear friend, I must ask you something. Have you ever experienced love yourself, indeed, love for another person?” He looked at me in puzzlement for a moment and said: “Sure, of course.” I then said to him: “No one with even a spark of goodness in him can escape the impact of great and noble human love. He will always try, somehow, without even thinking about it, to be worthy of that love. He will be thankful and cheerful. He will want to be good, and if he sins against this love only in the slightest, he will be ashamed — you know this. It is not necessary that someone else preach him a long sermon to show him that he has sinned against love. If in my limited human nature I can express such love, and have such great effect on a person, well, how much more powerful must be the strength of the love of God, and its impact on people!” When I see how, every day and every hour, our work blesses many thousands of people, I sense the vast love of God. Why should I not take my fellow people and comrades by the hand and say: “Be cheerful and see God’s great love in the world.” Why should I say to them: “But watch out! One day, God will be angry with you”? If we who sense God’s love sin against the love of God through a deed, a thought, or an action, we should not consider even the simplest person in Germany so base as not to be at least as ashamed before God as he would before a person whose love he had sinned against.
We believe that one makes people stronger and brings them farther with positive rather than with negative things. We do not want a German to think so little of the Lord God that he needs him only when he has done something bad, that God almost has to appear to him in person and to say: “You have done something bad.” We want people once more to be ashamed themselves, but not to grovel, but rather to say: “Dear God, I was a foolish, weak person, but I will see to it that I make up for it ten times before I come to you again.”
Women and men! The work we do, be it economic-social, social-political, or whatever it may be, is only a path to this final personal knowledge, to this final affirmation of the tasks life has given us. We National Socialists have already had to learn a great deal, and we may still have more to learn during these difficult times, to remind ourselves of, and to pass on, our faith in the greatness and immensity of God, of this love that we sense. We have to do this for one simple reason. Today, unfortunately, we encounter some people who hold an office and think themselves selves God’s representative. But instead of transmitting that love as a source of strength, they often come across more as the strict agent of God than as his humble agent. We want to make the love of God part of the experience of the people we encounter. As we continued our conversation, the man I mentioned earlier said to me: “You are fighting for Christ’s teaching. Do you at least believe in Christ?” I thought for a moment, and replied: “I can only give you my personal answer. I believe that it is much more important for us to ask our German people: `Dear German, will you try to believe in the way Christ believed, and from this strength live a life as true and as strong as the life he lived? He gave us probably the truest, most brotherly and strongest example of a life that has ever been lived in this world.”‘
Therefore, women, if we are asked “Do you believe in Christ?” we can answer calmly: “I will try to believe as he believed, with that great strength and selflessness.” If we have understood that, we will no longer ask: “Are you Catholic or Protestant, or whatever?” We will then know that once we have believed as Christ believed, we will live in an honest, strong, loyal, and cooperative way. Our life will be an affirmation of his work and his attitude and his loyalty toward our neighbor. Then, perhaps, we will be able to say: “God is so immeasurably great and incomprehensible that it is presumptuous of humans to fight about Him.”
Believe me, women, in our meetings we must, more than ever before, say: “We first of all want to become people with much more respect for the language of a powerful life, and thereby as well people who have respect for God and for their fellow men, who are a small atom of God.”
Second, as people who have learned such respect, we want to spread this experience to our comrades, to give them strength. And as people and comrades, we want to become ever better Germans, who give their mortal lives in the service of our great age, so that the Führer can create an eternal Germany from our obedience.
Translation by Randall L. Bytwerk.
Source: Landmark Speeches of National Socialism, ed. and translated by Randall L. Bytwerk (Texas A&M Press), 2008, pp. 53-65.
Copyright 2020 by Randall L. Bytwerk. Used by permission. All rights reserved.