As he rose to power,German Chancellor Adolf Hitler abolished leftist, labor-supporting political parties. In 1933, he defiantly chose May Day to outline his economic-recovery policies.
"What we want is to re-educate the German people by making it everyone’s duty to work," he said. "Every German -- rich or poor, son of the scholar or of the factory worker -- shall at least once in his life be inducted into manual labor so he may learn to command better, because he has learned to obey."
Hitler proposed compulsory labor for male citizens, comprehensive agricultural reform, interest-rate reduction, looser union wages to promote industrial growth, and new jobs in road and waterway construction. He closed his address with a prayer: "Lord, bless Thou our fight for liberty, and, therefore, for our people and Fatherland.”
While some of his proposed reforms, such as reducing unemployment through public works, echoed those of other nations, there were stark differences. Hitler had the power to put his plans into motion by decree. Compulsion, not compassion, was at the center of the initiatives. Unions were the enemies of revival, and aid was targeted at those he defined as true German citizens.
Later that month, Hitler addressed the Reichstag on Germany's disarmament. Under the Versailles Treaty, German military capabilities had been sharply restricted, and the economy had been constrained by reparations. Hitler declared that both restrictions were no longer valid.
"Germany has disarmed," he said. "She has fulfilled all the obligations imposed by the peace treaty far beyond the limits of all reasonableness."
It was now time to restore Germany's defenses because other powers were expanding their militaries, he said.
"These demands do not imply arming up, but exclusively the desire that others arm down," he said. "The fear of German invasion can under no circumstances be the reason for France’s or Poland’s present armaments."
Restoring Germany’s "equal rights" internationally was crucial to economic revival, he said.
"Since the Versailles Peace Treaty, the German people have been visited by political and economic misery, the vast extent of which the rest of the world cannot imagine. Millions of existences destroyed, whole professional classes ruined, an enormous army unemployed."
Rearmament could also prove important to addressing inadequate business opportunities and massive unemployment. Moreover, refusing to pay reparations would help fund public works.
German responses to Hitler's policies were enthusiastic. "The Stock Exchange is buoyant, and industrial and financial circles are apparently willing to contribute their share to its success," the New York Times reported in early June.
The first battalions would be organized by August.
(Philip Scranton is a Board of Governors professor of the history of industry and technology at Rutgers University, Camden, and the editor-in-chief of Enterprise and Society. He writes "This Week in the Great Depression" for the Echoes blog. The opinions expressed are his own.)
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