The National-Socialist welfare organisation and the Winter help scheme

ERICH HILGENFELDT
Head of the National Socialist Welfare Organisation

Everything now done in Germany is prompted by the conviction that our nation will only be able to assure its future existence if we succeed in maintaining the National Socialist regime. National Socialism is not a temporary political expedient, but rather a political creed based upon the recognition of our people’s vital necessities. If it is to remain a living force, it must be continually renewed and must be continually applied to the facts of real life. It demands of every individual German that he should be conscious of his responsibilities. Individuals, however, as well as nations, can only possess that consciousness on condition that they are strong.

All the manifestations of our public life – such as our agricultural, industrial, financial, cultural, military and foreign policy – have for their object to guide the activities of every German along healthy lines. The task of creating the educational, hygienic and social foundations for these activities is entrusted to a number of organisations working in co-operation with one another, e.g., the Hitler Youth, the National Labour Service, the National Socialist Women’s League, and the National Socialist Welfare Organisation.

The special task entrusted to the National Socialist Welfare Organisation differs essentially from that entrusted to the others inasmuch as it is its business to step in wherever the measures adopted by them prove insufficient to attain the desired ends.

In order to carry out so comprehensive a task, a complete break had to be made with the methods and principles formerly applied to public welfare. Prior to 1933, when a purely materialist view was taken of such welfare work, it was considered sufficient to “dole out” some relief to each individual requiring it, and that relief consisted-for the most part-in money. This view was erroneous. The assistance, for instance, thus given to a habitual drunkard was just as much misplaced as that given to a person suffering from some illness if it was merely enough to provide a temporary-instead of a permanent-cure. On the other hand, the relief granted to persons morally and physically sound was bound to fail in its object altogether when the recipients found themselves faced with distress due to circumstances entirely beyond their control, e.g., in such “special” areas as the Rhön, the Lower Bavaria, and the Eifel district. Distress of that kind could and can only be combated by concerted action on the part of the whole nation. It soon became clear that there is a mutual relationship between the assistance given to single individuals and that given to a whole section of the people. A strong sense of solidarity strengthens the individual and his family, whilst a strong and healthy family always enriches the nation. A really effective scheme of public welfare work must be based upon the active collaboration of all Germans and must exercise a permanent influence upon the Nation. Uncoordinated measures on the part of the State can never be effective.

For these reasons, the carrying-out of the welfare work here described was entrusted by the Führer to the Winter Help Organisation and to the National Socialist Welfare Organisation, and not to the Government relief offices. The principles underlying their work are as follows:

1. The hygienic standards of the nation must be raised, so that the latter will be able to effect even greater achievements than hitherto.

2. The spirit of national solidarity must be fostered.

3. The physical and moral health of individuals must be improved to such an extent that they will be capable of holding their own in the struggle of life.

 The ultimate aim of all this educational work must be to strengthen the sense of national solidarity.

 I

The instrument that enables us to make the most comprehensive appeal to the spirit of national solidarity is the Winter Help Scheme, which – for that reason – is a matter especially dear to our hearts. There was, to be sure, a winter relief scheme prior to 1933; but the sum of fifteen or twenty million reichsmarks which the Government placed at its disposal each year (and which was diverted to that end from the revenue) was hopelessly inadequate to satisfy the material needs of the seven million unemployed. The National Socialist Winter Help Schemes of 1933-4, 1934-5, 1935-6 and 1936-7 have been carried through, at the express desire of the Führer, by the people and not by the State. Every German capable of earning an income in some way, the business man as well as the worker, the professional man as well as the mercantile employee, contributes a certain percentage of his earnings to the scheme. Street collections are made once a month, especially, however, on the day of national solidarity, when the most prominent members of the Government and the party, the leading representatives of science and the arts, the heads of the business community, and many others, parade the streets with their collecting boxes. During the winter, every German family is content once a month to have a plain “one course” dinner, the money thus saved being applied to the scheme. Innumerable presents comprising foodstuffs, clothing and money – most of them contributed by anonymous donors – testify to the readiness of all to sacrifice some of their own comforts and to improve the lot of those of their fellow-countrymen who are less fortunately placed than they. The finest reward they receive for their sacrifices consists in the feeling that they have rendered direct assistance to a scheme of nation-wide importance.

The administration of the Winter Help Scheme is vested in the hands of the Head of the National Socialist Welfare Organisation. About 1,200,000 voluntary helpers assist him in his task by collecting and distributing the contributions. The gifts consist of food, clothing and fuel. They are distributed among all who are in need of them, including foreign residents provided that they have shown, by their personal attitude towards our country, that they are worthy of assistance. Jewish residents benefit in the same proportion as all other recipients, a separate organisation – subject to the general supervision of the Head of the National Socialist Welfare Organisation  – having been created to look after their interests.

Thanks to the scheme, it has become possible to add from 15 to 20 per cent. to the income of the families requiring assistance. When we learn that some 1,500,000,000 reichsmarks have been collected by the Winter Help Organisation during the four winters that have passed since it was founded, we can appreciate the extent to which consolidated action has helped to increase the standard of living of the necessitous sections of the population and we can realise the success achieved by the work of fostering the spirit of solidarity.

The Winter Help Scheme is, of course, a seasonal measure. A similar concentration of efforts on an all-the-year-round basis is utilised, however, to combat the distress to which certain “special areas” are subject. This work is done by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation, which was made solely competent-by a decree of the Führer issued May 3rd, 1933 – to deal with such matters. The National Socialist Welfare Organisation succeeded within a very short time in convincing by far the greater part of the nation that its ideas and methods are right. Having a membership of 8,000,000 including 1,200,000 voluntary helpers, it is the world’s largest organisation of its kind. A good many of its officials and many helpers act in an honorary capacity. Their endeavours have made it possible to discover every family that may be in need of aid, so that there is literally no case of distress that remains unattended to or unrelieved. Everything is done to give effect to the comprehensive measures considered necessary to improve the hygienic, the moral and (as a corollary) the economic standards of the population of the “special areas,” where the mal-administration during past centuries has given rise to a wholesale and lasting physical and ethical deterioration. The people living there, on a poor soil and in unhealthy houses badly in need of repair, had lost all hope of ever being able to lead a decent life. The rate of infant mortality was much higher in these parts than the national average, the hygienic conditions were very unsatisfactory, and the vitality of children as well as adults was only a fraction of what it should be. Comprehensive measures have now been taken to eliminate these drawbacks. A great deal of painstaking work is now being done by the population and the Labour Service to re-afforest bare patches and to cultivate the waste land. The water supply is being improved, so that the economic value of the soil is increased and great risks to the health of the inhabitants are removed. The National Socialist Welfare Organisation provides a considerable part of the funds thus required, as well as working clothes and ample supplies of food for all those engaged in this useful work.

It is the hygienic domain, however, to which the National Socialist Welfare Organisation devotes most of its energies. It has caused all the infant children in the Reich up to the age of 2 to be medically examined and has not only given advice to parents (in accordance with the results of the examination) as to the correct food and education of their children, but has also supplemented the food provided by the parents themselves, all this being done free of charge. Through its affiliated organisations it has enabled the mothers and children most in need of it to spend a holiday in other parts of the country. It has established numerous kindergartens for those older children whose parents are at work in the daytime, and their number is being constantly added to. As there is a lack of medical facilities throughout the district, the National Socialist Welfare Organisation has covered it with a network of stations for nurses who can point out to parents, in the course of their periodical visits, the ailments to which their children are subject and the remedies to be applied. Dental disorders are still frequent everywhere. They are being combated by means of appropriate food preparations and by dental surgeons in travelling dental clinics.

Health Stations will be established by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation for infants and their mothers, more stations for municipal nurses will be established, and so on. Special areas will be accorded special preference in connection with the numerous labour promoting measures introduced by the Winter Help Organisation.

One other example may be given of the methods employed by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation to improve hygienic conditions and to give practical effect to the spirit of national solidarity. In the district of Schleiden (Eifel, Rhineland) the barrenness of the soil and the lack of opportunities for earning adequate wages had for result that the housing accommodation of the inhabitants was far below National Socialist standards. The sufferings of centuries had deprived these people of all their vitality, but at the suggestion of the Public Works Organisation they created a self-help organisation for the purpose of remedying the existing defects. Everyone contributed his share to the work of providing better houses. The necessary materials were supplied free of charge by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation. Bricklayers, carpenters and others who had been given relief during the time of their unemployment, now showed their gratitude by building the walls, the roofs and the doors of the new houses; and people of all classes and of all ranks and professions were only too glad to render whatever assistance they could. Thus the district – formerly a picture of depression and neglect – has now been improved out of all knowledge; and no trace of their erstwhile dejection can be noticed in the inhabitants.

II

The educational and relief work described above – which concerns itself with the nation as a whole – finds its counterpart in the work done in individual cases. There, too, the economic assistance given only serves the purpose of promoting hygienic and educational aims.

We refuse to alleviate distress by doling out alms, not only because that kind of help fails to achieve its object in any case, but also because it destroys the recipient’s sense of responsibility and makes him unfit for self-help. The Führer once said: “If you want to live, you must fight for it; and if you refuse to do so in this world of ceaseless fighting, you do not deserve to live.”

We all know that life is one long fight; but we also know that such fighting is of benefit to the fighter, because it increases his inherent strength. Thus, the educational aim of our welfare work is to train the individual for that struggle of life. The ethical principle on which our activities are based is: “We are intended to be active fighters, and not passive sufferers.” Only those persons who realise that they must shape their own destinies and who are able and willing to rely on self-help are the objects of our endeavours. To render the individual fit for self-help, we must strengthen the family and the community spirit that animates it. The family, and not the individual, is the fountain-head of the nation’s strength. The family is the carrier of the characteristics bequeathed from one generation to another and is the source from which each of its members continually derives additional strength. A strong family is better able to render assistance to its members that may require it than any public relief organisation. Two conditions must be complied with to make the family strong: first, the parents must be enabled to resume those duties towards the family which they tended to neglect during the time of economic distress and during the vogue of woman’s emancipation; and second, the family must be made fully efficient again in the hygienic and educational sense.

The National Socialist Welfare Organisation has therefore created several great relief schemes. One of them is called “Mother and Child,” whilst the others are intended to provide free board and lodging in deserving cases, to enable town children to be sent to the country, to give assistance to young people, and to fight tuberculosis.

The “Mother and Child” scheme naturally occupies a central position in these endeavours, as the whole life of the family gravitates towards the mother. She looks after the education of all its members, provides their food and regulates the domestic routine. The connection between the National Socialist Welfare Organisation and the “Mother and Child” scheme is effected in such a manner that each local group of the former has affiliated to it a relief station which is in charge of a woman and which is required to deal with all applications and to give ethical and practical advice to mothers. By far the largest part of this work is done on a voluntary basis, about 24,000 relief and advisory stations being run by more than 100,000 helpers in an honorary capacity.

The three objects which the organisation endeavours to achieve are:

1. To co-operate in the fight against economic distress and its moral and hygienic effects.

2. To promote the health of mothers and their children.

3. To promote, more especially, the health of children prior to school-age.

The economic relief work includes such material assistance as the gift of clothing, household utensils, baby outfit, etc. Moreover, care is taken to ensure that the mother need not supplement the family income by doing outside work and that the opportunities for such work are made available to unemployed married men, more particularly those who have to support large families. In suitable instances, funds are provided by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation to finance part of the expenditure incurred in the building of homesteads, to enable families with a large number of children to obtain dwelling accommodation that is hygienically suitable, etc. In addition, the Minister of Justice has authorised the National Socialist Welfare Organisation to act as a mediator in all disputes between landlords and tenants so that these may be settled out of court. The success achieved is so great that about 90 per cent. of the disputes concerned can now be settled that way.

The hygienic assistance given under the scheme is equally comprehensive. During the first two years of its operation not less than 106,016 mothers were sent to special recuperation homes where they were able to spend from five to six weeks in each case. The corresponding number last year was just under 70,000. Medical attendance is also given them when there, as well as advice on physical culture and on food problems; and our observations have shown that this arrangement has proved highly beneficial. If, for one reason or another, it is impracticable to arrange for such accommodation in a recuperation home, it is generally possible to enable the women concerned to spend about five days a week in the fine gardens and parks of the National Socialist Welfare Organisation and to supply them with good food, whilst sending the children to some kindergarten. During the mother’s absence from her home, her domestic duties are performed by some member of the Women’s Voluntary Labour Service unless some friend or relative is available for that purpose. Expectant mothers and those recently confined are given especially nourishing food, and they are also advised on matters of hygiene and the upbringing of children. Preparatory knowledge of this kind is systematically supplied by the Reich Mothers’ Service Organisation attached to the National Socialist German Women’s Welfare Association, this being additional to the advice given by the relief stations of the “Mother and Child” organisation.

The measures taken on behalf of young people also serve the purpose of assuring the future welfare of the family. Whereas the” Mother and Child” organisation is a direct product of the National Socialist State, the scheme under which children are sent to holiday homes originated during the terrible years of the War when, owing to the blockade there was not sufficient food for the town children. Notwithstanding the beneficial results then attained the scheme quickly decreased in importance and its scope declined, because it was found impossible properly to finance it. Besides, the party dissensions so prominent in the post-war era had largely destroyed the feeling for mutual assistance and mutual sacrifice.

The National Socialist Welfare organisation has introduced a new method in connection with these matters. Only those children who are urgently in need of assistance are actually sent to holiday homes, whilst the others are provided with suitable accommodation in farms or with people resident in small country towns, where they are given good food for a number of weeks and where they can recover their impaired health in open-air surroundings. The National Socialist Welfare Organisation selects the most suitable accommodation in each case, pays the travelling expenses, and attends to insurance matters. The board and lodging is provided free of charge by the farmers or other householders who act as the children’s hosts.

In this manner, it has become possible to send 1,793,354 children to country places during the four years that have passed since the foundation of the National Socialist Welfare Organisation. To us, the work thus done for the children is much more than a hygienic measure. We believe that it will enable the children and their hosts in the various parts of our country to arrive at a better mutual understanding of their provincial or regional differences and that it will help to bridge the gulf between the towns and the country. Children who have grown up in an atmosphere of town life learn to appreciate the amenities of Nature and to love their beautiful country and are thus filled with a desire to extend that knowledge in subsequent years.

Another aspect of our juvenile welfare work is the educational one. In this respect, too, we have benefited from the unsatisfactory experience made in the past; and here, too, we are guided by the principle that prevention is better than cure.

In former years, the public authorities competent to supervise the training of those young persons who were exposed to dangerous social influences or difficult to educate did not commence their activities until it was too late; and the only remedy then available to them was to prescribe institutional treatment for the boy or girl concerned.

The most effective method by which we can assist in the upbringing and training of children is that afforded by means of kindergartens. There is no intention of relieving mothers of their duty to care for their children, because, after all, the proper place for the latter is their parental home. But there are cases in which the parents are unable, either because of their work or their inexperience, to carry out that duty themselves. The National Socialist Welfare Organisation has therefore established seasonal kindergartens in which the young children of peasants and farm labourers can be looked after during the harvesting season by trained helpers, as well as a number of permanent kindergartens. There are at present 2,360 of the latter kind, and the children sent to them are looked after by qualified kindergarten teachers. Most of them will be found in the industrial districts and in the distressed areas. As we have great faith in the benefits secured by them, we intend to increase their number considerably. Whilst there, the young children are not only protected against all sorts of moral dangers, but also learn to regard themselves as members of a community. Thus the foundations are laid for making these children good citizens.

The practice adopted by the National Socialist Welfare Organisation of removing social and hygienic defects rather than giving temporary relief of a haphazard kind can be studied with particular advantage when we consider its two schemes exceeding the juvenile sphere, viz., that of providing facilities of recreation for men and women in need of it and its tuberculosis relief scheme. Under the former, necessitous applicants are provided with free board and lodging along lines similar to those applicable to the corresponding scheme for children. Whenever the ailment is of such a kind that a stay in one of the country’s health resorts or spas may be expected to be really effective, the persons concerned are sent to one of those places for a cure. The other scheme named has had for effect that there is practically no case any longer in which lack of funds makes it impossible for patients suffering from tuberculosis to obtain the right kind of treatment.

 Apart from the above-described schemes, the National Socialist Welfare Organisation is carrying out innumerable activities of importance to which no exhaustive reference can be made in this place. Thus, for example, it has distributed so far not less than 897,000 beds free of charge; it is constantly engaged in giving advice on matters of welfare legislation and on any problems that may arise; it co-operates in the fight against infectious diseases, in the financing of homesteads and in remedying the destruction wrought by natural catastrophes, not only through the personal efforts of its helpers, but also by the supply of the necessary funds. When the educational and hygienic tasks have been successfully accomplished, it takes pride in granting such economic relief as will enable the beneficiary to stand on his feet again and to take proper care of the members of his family. In short, it is impossible to express in words the full extent to which the National Socialist Welfare Organisation has rendered and is still rendering prompt and practical assistance wherever it is wanted; but some idea of the magnitude of its work may be obtained when we learn that it spent about 81,700,000 reichsmarks on its various social improvement schemes in 1936 alone.

 III

 In this manner we add to the strength and health of the nation and prepare the ground for our further activities, that is to say those that deal with the health of the family. Roughly speaking, we may say that the guiding principles that have moulded and will always continue to mould our destinies are: a readiness to make sacrifices for the benefit of the nation; a belief in the pre-eminence of the family; a sense of honour; a knowledge of our responsibilities, and a determination to hold what we have. We have faith in the ancient saying that a sound mind and a healthy body are mutually inter-dependent.

 Our work, therefore, not only teaches our nation the importance of health, both morally and physically, but also enables every individual to obtain a proper idea of his responsibilities towards the nation and towards his family. By developing all our intrinsic abilities we make up for our country’s lack of valuable raw materials and for our inferior degree of economic and political power as compared with other countries. The more we contribute towards the establishment of fundamentally healthy conditions at home, the stronger and healthier will be the influence exercised by all our national manifestations, be it in the realms of economy or science, in our domestic and our foreign policy. We are proud of the assistance we can give towards the realisation of the high aim once defined by the Führer when he said: “The question of the national progress of a people is largely a question of creating a healthy social atmosphere, that will make it possible to provide each individual with the right kind of education.”

 The Results of the 1936-7 Winter Help Campaign

 Year after year the response of the German people to the appeal made to them on behalf of their suffering compatriots has gained in strength, and the figures showing the results of the 1936-7 Winter Relief Campaign are no exception to the rule. More than 400,000,000 reichsmarks were subscribed and collected – about 50,000,000 reichsmarks more than previously. The nation has thus proved the extent to which it is capable of giving practical effect to the principles of charity.

 The report on these activities was submitted to Herr Hitler by Dr. Goebbels at the end of April 1937. The number of persons in need of relief has undergone a regular decrease in successive years, that decrease corresponding to the economic progress made by the country. The figures have been as follows: 1933-4, 16,600,000; 1934-5, 14,000,000; 1935-6, 13,000,000, and 1936-7, 10,700,000. These persons had to be assisted under the Winter Help Scheme in supplementation of the welfare work done by the State and the municipalities.

 People abroad have often wondered what is the object of all these” collections.” Well, their main purpose is to make it abundantly clear to everyone that he must at all times be conscious of his duties towards his fellow-men and women and that he must act accordingly. It is not sufficient that the well-to-do classes should contribute fairly large amounts towards the relief of suffering and distress. Every wage-earner – no matter whether he or she is a manual worker or a brainworker – voluntarily contributes towards it, however modest the amount may be. As a rule, the street collections take place once a month during the winter months. People are then asked to buy badges at 20 pfennigs each. In the winter of 1936-7 the value of the collections was as much as 38,000,000 reichsmarks-twice as much as in 1935-6. The German people regard these collections as a firmly established institution, and gladly respond to the appeal for their co-operation.

 The number of badges sold last winter was 131,500,000, which is 100,000,000 more than it was when the Winter Help Scheme was first introduced. The work of manufacturing them provided in itself considerable relief to the industrial workers in many a distressed area.

 The maximum amount collected in one single day was 5,600,000 reichsmarks. That result was achieved on the Day of National Solidarity, when all those who occupy a prominent position in the State or in the party appealed to their compatriots by taking an active part in the street-collecting work.

 In addition to the street collections, large sums were obtained in the form of voluntary deductions from salaries and wages; and indeed, the money thus contributed represented the major part of the scheme’s income. The figure for 1936-7 was 162,000,000 reichsmarks, compared with 138,000,000 Reichsmarks in 1935-6. These contributions are truly in the nature of sacrifices on the part of those from whom they originate. In acting as they do, they receive their inspiration from the words of the Führer, who said that a sacrifice must really be a sacrifice.

 Great credit is also due to the street collectors and other voluntary helpers, who spent many a cold and rainy day in collecting. They, too, realise that their action helps to bring relief to those of their countrymen and women who need it most. The guiding idea is that no one living in Germany should suffer from hunger or cold or inadequate dwelling conditions, least of all in winter. Everybody is conscious of the duties he has towards those less fortunate than himself. It is essential that everybody should be anxious to help those who render assistance to others. The work done under the Winter Help Scheme is probably the greatest-and certainly the most comprehensive-charitable action ever accomplished by one single organisation. Its scope is not confined to German nationals, but extends to necessitous foreign residents as well. The number of foreigners assisted in 1935-6 was about 89,000.

 In thanking all those who had collaborated in the splendid work, Herr Hitler has repeatedly emphasised that the Winter Help Scheme is of particular value inasmuch as it helps to train the German people along the lines of social and national consolidation.

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