Background: This is the introduction to a Nazi book published in 1941. It outlines how political leaders are to conduct so-called Lebensfeiern, rituals of birth, marriage, and death. The goal was, over time, to replace the ceremonies of the church with those of the party. The Nazis had limited success in establishing their ceremonies in the time they had, but as this essay notes, they were planning for coming generations, and realized it would take time and hard work to displace traditional rituals. Another section of the book deals with appropriate Nazi gravestones.
The source: Lebensfeiern. Richtlinien und Anleitungen für die Gestaltung lebenszeitlicher Feiern (Linz: Gauschulungsamt Oberdonau der NSDAP, 1941).
Our movement developed as a political party whose main goal was to fight for political power, and after that victory, to win Germany’s political freedom and to build a new Reich. However, our idea, the National Socialist worldview, was the foundation and guide of our political battle from the first years of the movement and even more so in the present, marking the character of the great spiritual, worldview controversy of our age. Even during the struggle for power [the Nazi term for the period 1919-1933], there were signs that life rituals were becoming an essential part of our worldview struggle. We think particularly of the death ceremonies of the movement before the takeover of power. Their development continued in steadily increasing degree, and that which we once longed for has today become certainty.
Life ceremonies have become a decisive, essential matter, an aspect of the battle of worldviews, of the great spiritual struggle. They are the final and critical step if the movement is to implement and realize its total political-worldview leadership. We see today that these life rituals are a new task in the movement’s task of worldview leadership, which alone can lead us to the final stage in our great struggle, the total, exclusive leadership of the German people by the NSDAP.
We are in no way ignoring the great difficulties in this area. We are absolutely clear that his goal can only be reached over decades, perhaps even centuries. We must get used to thinking not in terms of years, but of decades in this area. We National Socialists have never shied away from difficulties and resistance of any kind. And one more critical fact. Since the takeover of power, the number of life rituals held outside the church, both in cities and the countryside, has steadily increased. The various privately produced materials on life rituals for believers in god [Gottgläubigen — the Nazi term for those who professed a vague, non-Christian religious outlook] generally do not provide acceptable guidelines and suggestions. They are not suited to our purposes. We thus have the pressing, absolutely essential need to publish comprehensive guidelines to help believers in god organize life rituals. Of course, we cannot limit ourselves only to providing guidelines for carrying out rituals, but must also discuss in detail their significance.
It is clear that there can be no uniform schema for rituals, but rather we must provide general advice and material that can be used in varied settings. The basic content of rituals, growing out of their significance and meaning, has today been established. The content of the individual rituals have this achieved a form that probably can be seen in the broad outlines as final. Thus, the organization of rituals laid out in these guidelines should be seen as provisionally binding for all rituals in counties, local groups, and party divisions. The music, songs, and banners, on the other hand, allow many opportunities for variety, which can be used depending on the resources available and the strengths of those organizing rituals. The lists of music, songs, and slogans that we suggest for the individual rituals in this book are only to assist in their selection. They are only a part of what is suitable. Other choices may, of course, be made.
These guidelines have the primary task of avoiding, or keeping to a minimum, the excesses and mistakes that have already happened in many cases.
These guidelines are intended for the Reichsgau Oberdonau. They must serve as the basis for all life rituals conducted in the Gau. The old guidelines issued by the Gauschulungsamt in November 1938, along with all the instructions from the individual county offices (Kreisschulungsämten), are no longer valid. These new guidelines will provide a common, unified foundation for the development of life rituals in our Gau, and eliminate all unhealthy directions. This will provide a good foundation for the coming unified regulation in all parts of the Reich, which is a task for the future. The issues of life rituals must mature and be clarified in the Gaue before there can be unified guidelines for the entire Reich. These guidelines are intended for the entire leadership of the Gau, which means not only the party’s political leaders, but also the leaders of the individual divisions and the leaders of the women’s and youth groups. We want every organization in the movement to develop life rituals in a unified manner.
All political leaders, not only the Schulungsleiter, should consider the development of life rituals to be an important task. This includes cell and block leaders. They should all see the goal that we want to reach in the future and work toward it. All local group leaders must be aware of it as well. The circle of political leaders who can conduct life rituals must constantly grow. Thus these guidelines will be passed from the counties to local groups. The counties have in the past had almost exclusive responsibility for life rituals, but this must be increasingly transferred to local groups. The local groups must grow into their new leadership task and take on the organization and carrying out of life rituals. The local group’s Schulungsleiter needs to be supported and assisted. During the transition, the support of the county office (Kreisschulungsamt) is still essential. And of course the guidelines may be given to party members involved in or interested in life rituals as well.
For simplicity, in treating the individual rituals we have always assumed they are being conducted by a party political leader. When these guidelines are being followed by one of the party’s divisions, the role of the political leader should of course be taken by the corresponding affiliate leader.
All political leaders, particularly local group leaders, should be familiar with the comprehensive material on weddings and registry office formalities so that they can be implemented in their area as rapidly as possible. A special printing of a condensed version will by sent by the communal department to all mayors and registry office officials throughout the Gau to ensure uniform implementation.
One essential and decisive principle must guide everything. Our life rituals may not be merely the ritual of the party or of one of its divisions, but rather they must grow beyond the circle of the party and become over the coming years and decades the custom of the people. The first signs are present even today. We must see this goal with complete clarity and devote our full efforts to it, for when we achieve it we will have achieved final victory.
Dr. Fritz Mayrhofer
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