What's all this then?

My name is Victoria Stiles and I'm an Early Career Historian currently doing whatever odd research / consulting / outreach / tutoring jobs come my way. I blog here about some of the interesting texts I've found.
My research focusses on books about Britain and the British Empire which were in circulation in Nazi Germany but you'll also find a smattering of school textbooks, witchcraft beliefs, bog drainage, bemused travellers and weird illustrations that caught my eye.
Translations from German are my own. Comments are currently unmoderated and are mostly spam for leather jackets anyway.

Monday, 24 August 2009

A Nazi-Era History of Hamburg

... Not that you'd really know, for the first three quarters of the book. And I was looking very closely for signs of fanatical revisionism because these 80 page volumes from Christmas 1941 come with a “get well soon” message from Hamburg Gauleiter Karl Kaufmann - a name which by rights should be as infamous as Goebbels, Goering and Himmler.

"Get well soon" message

It briefly describes Hamburg’s development from a small, dependent settlement on the Elbe, to a wealthy, independent merchant city, to Germany’s largest harbour and gateway to the world. At no point does it mention the contribution of Jewish merchants to Hamburg’s prosperity but then it doesn’t mention Jews at all. Apart from taking the side of the Saxons against Charles the Great, Hamburg’s earlier history is dealt with in the same brief, upbeat, “didn’t we do well” manner you find in most local museums.
There are some facts about Hamburg’s prominence after the French Revolution which might not stand up to scrutiny; apparently, all of England’s trade with mainland Europe ran through Hamburg, and it was this English connection that dragged the ever-neutral Hamburg into the fight against Napoleon, in which they suffered the worst treatment imaginable. Then we hit the World War One, in which Hamburg allegedly proves its loyalty to Germany and shares in its cruel treatment at the hands of its opponents:

The historical development of our city could easily create the impression that Hamburg had placed her own interests over those of Germany. However, we must not overlook the fact that it was only through this political independence that the Hamburg’s inner strength of purpose, enterprising courage, tenacity in the face of set-backs, and flexibility in the conquering of new markets could develop, and could blossom among Germany’s ranks. The successful utilisation of these qualities for the city simultaneous meant service to the interests of Germany; Hamburg’s profile in the world was Germany’s vindication, Hamburg’s economy was the German economy. The fact that Hamburg, despite all her international connections and despite the various points of contact with foreign ways and customs, remained truly German at heart, is proven by the inscription on the memorial columns in Adolf Hitler Square: “40 000 sons of this city gave up their lives for you!” (p.62-3)

Der geschichtliche Werdegang unsere Stadt könnte wohl den Eindruck erwecken, als ob Hamburg seine eigenen Interessen über die Deutschlands gestellt hätte. Es darf aber nicht übersehen werden, daß sich nur in dieser politischen Selbständigkeit die den Hamburgern innewohnende Tatkraft, der Mut zu großen Unternehmungen, die Zähigkeit bei Rückschlägen und die Geschicklichkeit bei der Eroberung neuer Märkte entwickeln und in den Zeilen der deutschen Zerrissenheit ungehindert entfalten konnten. Der erfolgreiche Einsatz dieser Kräfte für die Stadt bedeutete aber gleichzeitig Dienst an den deutschen Interessen; denn Hamburgs Ansehen in der Welt war Deutschlands Geltung in der Welt, Hamburgs Wirtschaft war deutsche Wirtschaft. Daß der Hamburger trotz aller internationalen Bindungen und trotz der vielfachen Berührungen mit fremdlündischer Art und Sitte in seinem Kern echt deutsch geblieben ist, beweist die Inschrift an der Gedenksäule am Adolf-Hitler-Platz: ,,40 000 Söhne dieser Stadt ließen ihr Leben für euch!”

This paragraph shows one of the problems that more extreme nationalists faced in Germany. The aims of independence and unity had mostly been achieved but people’s identity was (and to some extent is) bound to their city or region. This must have been especially strong in Hamburg - the most successful of the old hanseatic cities - which had fought so long for independence from outside interference and restrictions, and which was very international in its outlook. This combination of weak internal ties and strong international ones meant that, similar to their Italian counterparts, the Nazis had to work hard to create a sense of the whole of Germany standing shoulder to shoulder against the rest of the world.

Front cover

And so onto the next chapter, dealing with the First World War and its aftermath:

Hamburg’s decline
The development of the German state ran almost parallel with the proud developments in Hamburg. The kingdom which had been created in Versailles in 1871 had become a great power, whose flag flew over all seas, whose hard work had led to the creation of her colonies, and whose highly-valued industrial wares were gladly bought in all the world’s markets. It had also become a military power, with a decisive voice in Europe.
The rise of the state, whose glory sadly hid here and there bitter political and social injustice, was viewed as increasingly dangerous by other world powers. They were working on a plan of war against Germany.
The shot in Sarajevo, hardly thought to be significant at first, was the decisive signal. Within only a few weeks almost the whole globe stood in arms against Germany. The state marched into the greatest war in the whole of history. At one stroke, all the life which had given Hamburg its face died out in the city. Hardly a single ship left the harbour. The trade fleet floated in long lines against the quayside, was interred in enemy ports or stayed in neutral harbours.
Large and small ships served as support vessels. Many sank under fluttering flags of war. Life in the shipyards continued regardless. One after the other, battleships grew on the Helligen [?*]. Men and women stood at the lathes, in order to supply the fighting front with granades.
However, a hunger blockade lay around Germany like an iron belt. Women and children were becoming paler. Hunger was found everywhere in Germany and Hamburg. The Hamburg Regiment, the 76th Infantry regiment, had gone to the front in the very first days of the war. In difficut battles it had bled for the great empire. [...] Then came, whilst the front was still standing, Germany’s most shameful hour: revolution in Germany. (p.64-7)

Hamburgs Niedergang Mit Hamburgs stolzer Entwicklung fast gleichlaufend war die Entwicklung des Reiches gegangen. Das in Versailles 1871 entstandene Kaiserreich war zu einer Großmacht geworden, deren Flagge auf allen Meere wehte, die mit Fleiß sich der Erschließung ihrer Kolonien widmete und deren hochwertige industrielle Güter auf allen Märkten der Welt gern gekauft wurden. Es war außerdem eine militärische Macht geworden, die in Europa ein entscheidendes Wort mitzusprechen hatte. Der Aufstieg des Reiches, hinter dessen Glanz sich allerdings hier und dort bittere politische und soziale Ungerechtigkeit verbarg, ward in den Augen anderer Großmächte für diese immer gefährlicher. Planmäßig arbeiteten sich auf einen Krieg gegen Deutschland hin. Der Schuß von Sarajewo, zuerst kaum gewertet, war das entscheidende Signal. In wenigen Wochen stand fast die ganze Erde gegen Deutschland in Waffen auf. Das Reich zog in den größten Krieg der Geschichte aller Zeiten. Mit einem Schlag erstarb in Hamburg alles Leben, das ihm bis dahin sein Gesicht gegeben hatte. Kaum ein Schiff mehr verließ den Hafen. Die Handelsflotte reihte sich in langer Linie an den Keimauern, war in feindlichen Häfen interniert oder lag in neutralen Häfen. Große und kleine schiffe taten als Hilfskreuzer Dienst. viele sanken unter wehender Kriegsflagge. Das leben auf den Werften aber ging unentwegt weiter. Kriegsschiff auf Kriegsschiff wuchs auf den Helligen. Männer und Frauen standen an den Drehbänken der Fabriken, um der Kämpfenden Front die Granaten zu liefern. Um Deutschland aber legte sich wie ein eiserner Gürtel die Hungerblokade. Frauen und Kinder wurden bleicher und bleicher. Der Hunger ging um in Deutschland und Hamburg. Das Hamburger Regiment, das Infanterieregiment 76, war in den ersten Kriegstagen schon nach dem Westen gegangen. In schweren Schlachten blutete es für das große Reich. [...] Dann kam, während die Front noch stand, Deutschlands schmählichste Stunde: Revolution über Deutschland.

Again, no mention of Jews or even weak liberals, and no resort to stabbed-in-the-back imagery. These are all elements I’ve been taught to expect from Nazi propaganda dealing with the end of the First World War, and they are all conspicuously absent.
Back to the text, and the “revolution”: Workers begin to demonstrate in Hamburg, stirred up by outsiders but also by anger; their wives and children are starving, their politicians have betrayed them and they are effectively disenfranchised by Hamburg’s class-based voting system. All of these things apparently make life easy for Marxist agitators. Hamburg’s soldiers return to find a “town beset by choas and hunger, wailing masses and incompetent leaders.” (p.67: aufgewühlte, hungernde Stadt, lärmende Pöbelhaufen and unfähige Führer. Die vierzigtausend Söhne der Stadt schienen umsonst gefallen zu sein.) Hamburg in the hands of the workers doesn’t provide much work, though the author also refers to international reasons for the crisis:

Hamburg becomes a national-socialist city
The heart of Hamburg, the harbour, and its life-blood, the ships, showed how Germany’s largest harbour was dependent almost exclusively upon trade across the globe. The decline of the world economy hit Hamburg hard, doubly so, as it was quite clearly shown in this and later years just how senseless the demands made by our opponents in the World War were.
Thousands and thousands lost their jobs, ship after ship was chained up in Walterhofer Harbour, machines rusted, factories fell into disrepair, life expired again in Hamburg. Year after year passed by, and each held less comfort than the last. (p.72)

Hamburg wird eine nationalsozialistische Stadt Hamburgs Herz, der Hafen, und sein Element, die Schiffe, zeigten, wie sehr Deutschlands größter Hafen fast allein abhängig war von Handel und Wandel in der Welt. Der Rückgang der Weltkonjunktur traf Hamburg schwer und hart, traf es doppelt hart, da sich in diesem und in den späteren Jahren erst richtig zeigte, wie sinnlos die Forderungen der Weltkriegsgegner waren. Tausende und tausende wurden erwerbslos, Schiff am Schiff wurde in Walterhofer Hafen an die Kette gelegt, Maschinen rosteten, Fabriken verödeten, das Leben erstarb wieder in Hamburg. Jahr um Jahr kam herauf und versank. Und jedes Jahr war trostloser als das andere.

According to the book 1929, first year of the Great Depression, was a decisive year for Hamburg because Adolf Hitler appointed Kaufmann as its Gauleiter. He is to unite the squabbling factions in the local branch of the NSDAP and “win” Hamburg for the national-socialists. The next passages are full of war metaphors (which are pain to translate) and there is a definite conflation of an election campaign with a military campaign (the German word Kampf has many uses).

For weeks and months the drumfire from National-socialist meetings rang out over the proud, dying city. The different groups within the party aligned themselves firmly behind their Gauleiter. In difficult battles in meeting halls they showed their political opponents that they were willing to meet terror with terror.
However, as the National-socialists grew, so did the communists. the front lines became clearer. On both sides stood fanatics. On both sides stood fighters.
And so, in 1930, Paul Keßler became the first National-socialist to fall. The fight became bloody. During the campaign for the Reichstag elections, the communists’ best troops, the Red Marines, were soundly beaten. (p.73-4)

Wochenlang, Monatenlang geht über die stolze, sterbende Stadt das Trommelfeuer nationalsozialistischer Versammlungen. Die verschiedenen Gruppen der Partei richten sich klar auf ihren Gauleiter aus. In schweren Saalschlachten zeigen sie dem politischen Gegner, daß sie gewillt sind, Terror gegen Terror zu stellen. Mit den Nationalsozialisten aber wachsen auch die Kommunisten. Die Fronten werden klarer. Auf beiden Seiten stehen Fanatiker. Auf beiden Seiten stehen Kämpfer. De fällt, 1930, als erster Nationalsozialist Paul Keßler. Der Kampf wird blutig. Im Reichstagswahlkampf wird die beste Truppe der Kommunisten, die rote Marine, zusammengehauen.

And so the strident prose continues, with more fighting, both politically and on the streets. More talk of fanatics, of Hamburger workers, of deaths in the ranks. The tone changes suddenly and we learn that two important organisations within the NSDAP were founded in Hamburg. Then we return to a list of party members who died, including one who was “shot down”, though we aren’t told who did the shooting. Finally, the breakthrough (although we don’t learn exactly how this was achieved):

By April 1932 the NSDAP is Hamburg’s strongest party. New electional campaign continue to come. The depression continues to worsen. The number of people without work continues to rise. Germany, and with her Hamburg, seems ready to lie down to die. Then, in January 1933, Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany, and a few weeks later Hamburg’s government becomes National-socialist. (p.75)

Im April 1932 ist die NSDAP. Hamburgs stärkste Partei. Immer neue Wahlkämpfer kommen. Immer größer wird die Not. Immer mehr Menschen sind ohne Arbeit. Deutschland und mit ihm Hamburg scheinen sich zum Sterben legen zu wollen. Da wird, man schreibt Januar 1933, Adolf Hitler Reichskanzler und Hamburgs Regierung wenige Wochen später nationalsozialistisch.

Title page with drawing of a large wooden buoy

The final chapter affected me quite strongly. It claims that the Nazis delivered the population of Hamburg from years of misery and were leading them into a brighter future. Anyone who has seen the arial photographs of Hamburg’s streets after the firebombings of 1943 will understand what kind of deliverance fascists bring their active and passive supporters. When extremists are in control, it’s never only the minorities who suffer.

Hamburg becomes a Reichsgau**
After years of depression and poverty, the first glimmer of hope shone over the city.
Adolf Hitler himself created the first great supply of work through ambitious planning and gigantic projects. At first, this was predominantly restricted to the domestic market. Only later was Hamburg, the harbour city, gripped by the wave of work and progress. However, what Hamburg could do on its own, it did.
The chimneys began to smoke once more, the machines ran again. The graveyard of ships on Waltershofer Harbour emptied slowly.
Meanwhile, the Leader was building the empire. His Hamburg Gauleiter, Karl Kaufmann, became Reichstatthalter on 15th May 1933, and Hamburg became an inseperable part of the one, great empire. [...] In August 1934, the Leader called the German people to a referendum. Almost unanimously, Hamburg answered him with a “yes”. (p.76)

Hamburg wird Reichsgau Nach Jahren der Not und des Elends leuchtet der Stadt zum ersten Male wieder ein Hoffnungsschimmer. Adolf Hitler selbst schafft in gewaltigen Planungen und gigantischen Projekten die ersten großen Arbeitsvorhaben. Sie sind zuerst vorwiegend auf den binnenländischen Markt beschränkt. Hamburg, die Hafenstadt, wird von der Welle der Arbeit und des Aufstieges zwangläufig erst später erfaßt. Was Hamburg aud Eigenem schaffen kann, aber schafft es. Die Schlotte beginnen wieder zu rauchen, die Maschinen werden wieder blank. Der Schiffsfriedhof in Waltershofer Hafen leert sich langsam. Der Führer aber baut das Reich. Sein Hamburger Gauleiter, Karl Kaufmann, wird am 15. Mai 1933 Reichstatthalter und Hamburg unlösbar Teil des einen, großen Reiches. [...] Im August ruft der Führer das deutsch Volk zur Volksabstimmung. Fast einmütig antwortet ihm Hamburg mit ,,Ja”.

According to the book, things were looking up in Hamburg: industrially, economically, culturally. “Once again, Hamburg has become the old city of hard work, of enjoyment, of merchantile daring. Hamburg is a city of workers. Hamburg is also a KdF. city***.” (p.78: Hamburg ist wieder die alte Stadt des Fleißes, der Lebensfreude, des Kaufmännischen Wagemutes. Hamburg ist Stadt der Arbeiter. Hamburg ist auch KdF.-Stadt.) Then the writer describes what he sees as the most important development. On the advice of Goering and Kaufmann, Hitler redraws the political borders in the North of Germany. Hamburg’s boundary is widened to include surrounding towns and villages, including Altona (in the East), Wandsbek (in the West) and Harburg-Wilhelmsburg (South of the river Elbe). In exchange, other small communtities and the towns of Cuxhaven and Geesthacht are given to Prussia. This leads to a sentence you don’t hear very often: “A centuries-old fight was ended on the orders of Adolf Hitler” (p.79: Ein jahrhundertalter Kampf wird durch den Befehl Adolf Hitlers beendet.).

Finally, Hamburg can grow out of its corner, finally the different harbours of Hamburg and Prussia have been united under one great, decisive leadership. Space for new settlements is there, sites for factories can be found everywhere. Hamburg is Reichsgau through the action of the Leader. Hamburg is growing and growing. In order to withstand crises, it is building up new industries alongside its harbour, its trade, its wharfs. It is rebuilding the banks of the Elbe, creating new harbours, allowing new fisheries to develop. Hamburg has grown a new face; a German, a global face. For before Hamburg, the Reichsgau, there now lies a new, bright future as Germany’s gateway to the world. (p.80)

Endlich kann Hamburg aus seiner Enge herauswachsen, endlich sind die verschiedenen hamburgischen und preußischen Häfen unter einer großen, umfassenden Leitung zusammengeschlossen. Raum für Siedlungen ist da, Platz für Fabriken liegt überall. Hamburg ist Reichsgau durch des Führers Tat. Hamburg wächst und wächst. Es schafft sich, um Krisenfest zu werden, eine neue Industrie neben seinem Hafen, seinem Handel, seinen Werften. Es baut sich sein Elbufer neu, schafft sich neue Häfen, läßt große Fischereianlagen entstehen. Hamburg erhält ein neues Gesicht, ein deutsches, ein weltweites Gesicht. Denn vor Hamburg, dem Reichsgau, liegt nunmehr sonnenhell eine neue Zukunft als Deutschlands Tor zur Welt.

I'm stumped. I've searched for this word and possible typo variations and am still stumped. Help.

* The NSDAP, and later the Third Reich were divided into large administrative areas called Gaus and the leaders were known as Gauleiters. I couldn't find a sensible way to translate either term.

** Kraft durch Freude, I think. I'm not sure what being a "KdF city" actually involved though.


  1. Such great stuff. I'm glad I found Tatty Jackets. You must spend hours putting together such a post. Well done!

    "Helligen" seem to be the actual structures in a shipyard upon which the ships are constructed. I can't even think of an English word for them. Anyway I gleaned that from raetsel-hilfe.de, which seems to be a good place to find obscure words since such words might be used in crossword puzzles. In fact the word did not even appear in my Langenscheidt Großwörterbuch Deutsch als Fremdsprache.

    Thank you for the time and effort put into your post. That's inspirational for a blogger such as I.

    Bill Dawson

  2. Oh my lord, did I say "for ... such as I" there? Shaking my head in disgust...

  3. A "KdF city" usually meant one that had been prepped to receive guests for the 1936 Olympic games. Of course it depends on the date of the source - what is the year and title of the work?