Background: This article appeared in March 1942. The days of pleasant German victories were over. The hard winter in the Soviet Union had shocked the government and citizens. Goebbels was mounting a campaign to persuade Germans to work harder and complain less. This was a key article in that campaign.
This article was also sent to the Nazi speaker corps with instructions to use its arguments in encouraging the home front.
The source: Joseph Goebbels, “Ein Wort an alle,” Das eherne Herz (Munich: Eher Verlag, 1943), pp. 236242- 151. The article originally appeared in Das Reich, 8 March 1942.
A Word to All
by Joseph Goebbels
The German people today is waging a total war. This war is a matter of our national, and in most cases individual, lives in the widest sense of the word. No one doubts any longer that just as victory would satisfy all our wishes and hopes, the loss of the war would be the end of our Reich with all the resulting political, military, economic, social, and cultural consequences. It is good for us all to know that; it strengthens our powers, our national confidence, but also our determination. We did not want this war. We were forced into it. Now that it is here, each German man and each German woman must be filled with the will to make of it the greatest opportunity of our national history.
This is a war of the people; that means that just as the enemy side is waging it against the German people, so also must it be waged by our entire people. Just as we will all one day enjoy victory, so we all stand today under the law of war and have each to defend his position as if it were our dearest and most personal matter. There is nothing that could be of greater significance.
It is, therefore, a fundamental mistake to say that the front must bear the burden of the battle while a small part of the homeland has the right to sit in the stands and watch. The entire homeland must also wage war, but in a different way than the front. One does not need to remind the front of the war, for they are surrounded daily and hourly by its hardest manifestations. One must, however, constantly repeat that to the homeland and keep it before its eyes. It is not enough to do one’s duty; one must do more than that. Laws and regulations cannot determine what that means in detail. It is a matter of the Categorical Imperative, whose demands each must seek in his own conscience. In any event, there is no German today who does not have a responsibility to work for victory.
The longer this war lasts, the more critical will be the purposeful and rational use of the people’s labor. Our enemy has the advantage of a larger mass of people. But beside the fact that quality, not quantity, is decisive, it is also a matter of the organization and rational use of the available human labor. We will defeat the enemy if we develop a better labor system that avoids wasting labor and develops a labor process in which each hand motion serves its purpose and has the greatest possible results. It would be foolish to think that this is only a matter of legislation. Our national labor involves so many parts and has such manifold aspects that only the general labor discipline of the whole people can lead to the desired results. We do not lack the raw materials necessary to bring our armaments to the highest possible level. What is scarce for us, as for everywhere else, is the most valuable raw material that production requires, human labor.
No one can say that this raw material is badly used or wasted. But is is not to be doubted that we are still too attached to peace time conditions that are not appropriate for current circumstances.
We are at war, and war everywhere requires a change in the labor process. If one of us seriously and conscientiously asks if his labor is currently used in a way that could not be improved, many people would surely conclude that with some effort they could produce three or five or ten, a few even one hundred percent more. It is impossible to estimate what that would mean for our war economy.
Do not misunderstand us. We are the last to speak of soulless human drudgery that in the end devours the very substance of labor. We also know that some occupations, e.g., mining and steel making, produce astonishing amounts that can hardly be increased. We also know, however, that there are still people today who have the luxury of inefficient labor that can no longer be justified given the demands of the war. Here one must intervene, deciding whether or not a job is important for the war effort. No one grudges a people with a high level of culture and society the blessings of a peaceful and secure life, but in war they have their place only if they are required for the physical and spiritual powers of resistance and the labor strength of a people. It is too little known that we Germans in the third year of war still enjoy a standard of living far above the peace time levels of most European peoples. Despite the major reductions caused by the war, the consumption of tobacco and butter in 1941, for example, was higher per capita than in 1932. At the end of 1932 we had 7 million unemployed. Counting family members, that was about 20 million. A third of the people back then, as one may easily calculate, were not in a position to buy what is available to everyone today with his ration card, not to mention rent and similar things.
Those are facts that cannot be denied. We have forgotten them too easily and quickly. The fact that we lived better in 1938 than in 1932 was a result of the National Socialist revolution, and must alongside many other accomplishments be defended in this war. If the government today is trying to make the war as bearable as possible for the homeland, there are natural limits, namely where it begins to interfere with the demands of the war itself. Other large warring peoples, e.g. the French or the peoples of the Soviet Union, must make far heavier sacrifices for the war than we do, and they either lost or will lose. The fact that no one has the right today to exchange his hard-earned money goods is not open for discussion. They simply are not there. They are not there because weapons and munitions are being produced instead. They are being produced so that our solidiers can use them to win the war. And we want to win the war because we not only want to regain our living standard of 1938 or 1939, but also raise it significantly for the entire people.
The Führer’s call in his speech at the Berlin Sport Palace on 30 January to the people to work to produce weapons and munitions had a deeper meaning. We must all attempt to increase our efforts, and not only that, we must simplify our labor and our life as much as possible. That applies above all to the better-situated circles. We do not want to use the example of the front, where our soldiers are forced to live the most primitive lifestyle, regardless of persona and rank, all the while looking death in the eye. We do not think it necessary to remind the homeland of its war duties by referring to the front. It wants to and must see the necessity and do it. It owes it to itself.
The considerable simplification that our whole government and bureaucratic apparatus has undergone and will continue to undergo to adjust to the war’s demands is an example. We could do some things during peace that were good and useful, but that are not absolutely necessary for the war effort. That requires people, and we lack people everywhere. Here, too, it was necessary to say farewell to peace not only for the administration, but also for the public. Paper warfare has lost its meaning when a war of cannons and tanks is being waged for the life of the people. A kind of self-help is needed here. Each must stand on his own feet and free himself from the fateful error of thinking that Father State is responsible for every problem, even including the weather. We must free ourselves from the illusion that everything can and must be taken care of by a law or a regulation, and build our public and private life more than before on the natural laws of national discipline. This is obvious at the front and needs no long discussion.
All of this requires further transformations in our behavior relative to the war. It will indeed become harder, but also clearer. If we show more concern and courtesy to one another, we take a position on the war that is unassailable. We know well that many of us work very hard and are therefore more irritable than usual. That is, however, no reason for someone to spread his bad mood around from early morning to late evening. A pleasant, friendly, and encouraging word at the right time usually works wonders even on an irritated person, just as a grumbling creature spreads annoyance wherever he goes. A jokester in a company is worth a lot. A streetcar conductor who snarls at his passengers and uses his vast authority to play the little dictator is in the wrong profession. One who, on the other hand, does his job with courtesy or even wit and good humor, despite the problems of the war, is a gift from God, the favorite of the travelling public, and a beam of light from the gray winter sky.
Consideration, agreeableness, a wise sense of life, friendliness, helpfulness, humor and a good mood are war articles that cost nothing, but yet are very important and are available in full measure. A clerk in a shoe store, talking with a customer who has gone in vain from one shop to another with the modest request “I would like a pair of shoes for my daughter,” who says “I would, too” instead of saying that there are none in stock at the moment, but perhaps there will be in two weeks, such a clerk is a silly goose who does not know that harm she does. She must be reported to her boss, for she does not have the right to trample on the needs of the public.
Let us all pull ourselves together and decide to do what we can to do more than before, to organize our work as rationally as possible, to reject everything superfluous and unnecessary to the war effort, to talk less of war and wage war more, to be courteous to each other, to be polite and agreeable, to follow the example of our soldiers by showing a good attitude in all situations, to accept the difficulties of the day with calmness and good humor, and to let nothing upset us.
In short: Let us also be a warring people in in the homeland.
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