Students learn of life under Hitler's rule
After living in Austria for seven years under the rule of Adolf Hitler and three years of post-war Soviet control, 84-year-old Kitty Werthmann has been through the events most people only hear about.
Werthmann spoke to students at Philip High School Thursday, April 29.
In 1938, Austria was in a deep depression with 30 percent unemployment and 25 percent inflation and interest rates. At her childhood home, Werthmann remembered the nearly 30 people daily who would come knocking for soup and bread, so she and her family would always keep hot soup and fresh bread on hand.
Hitler had been ruling Germany since 1933, and there they had full employment, plenty of food, and a seemingly smooth government. With this in mind, the people of Austria petitioned to have an election. Hitler and his Nazi socialism party promised employment and help for families and businesses. He claimed that family was the backbone of the nation. He offered the people everything he knew they wanted. Because of this, he was elected by 98 percent of the votes.
After his election, Hitler eliminated all sorts of elections for any type of organizations. School boards, local offices and everything else that would have normally been voted on, was now just decided. Despite this, he had the people's trust. They didn't ask questions, just did as they were told. He then plotted regionalism and merged the seven Austrian states into four.
Something similar to this was proposed several times in the South Dakota legislature in the 36 years Werthmann lobbied in Pierre. There were multiple attempts at bills that would merge South Dakota's 66 counties into 15. Werthmann saw major red flags with this as history repeating itself, so she testified against the bills, helping all of them to be rejected.
Hitler did increase the employment rate right away. He formed public work and placed 18-year-olds, including girls, into the labor force, most receiving military training. It was around this time, as well, when the Equal Rights Amendment was passed. Women, especially teachers, were pleased by the thought of this concept because once they were married they were no longer allowed to work. However, they then were drafted into the labor force and military, they saw that this amendment was, as Werthmann said, "frosting on the cake, but the cake was rotten underneath." With both parents out working, government child care centers were established that would keep the children as long as the parents would like. Some would even stay there all of the time. The workers in those places were not nurturing, they were highly trained to basically brainwash the children. The economical side of the amendment guaranteed everyone equal income to the taxpayers' expense. Taxes were raised up to 70 percent.
The first thing Hitler did was give free radios to everyone so that they could listen to him and what he had to say. It was a nationalized station and other stations were prohibited. Capital punishment was the consequence for disobeying this rule. However, the only way disobedience would be discovered is by the children exposing their parents' actions, which with the brainwashing was likely.
The next move was the overtaking of Jewish banks, then soon after the only small car industry. Before long, everyone was required to wear a national ID card. "Little by little, our freedom eroded," recalled Werthmann.
When she was 12-years-old in sixth grade at public school, Werthmann and her class would pray before and after school and have religious instruction twice a week. On March 13, 1938, Werthmann walked into the classroom to find that in a Christian country, the crucifix was gone. In its place was a picture of Hitler and Nazi flags. The teacher told her students, "Today we don't pray anymore." They were forced to sing Hitler's anthem instead. Also, the religious instruction was gone, and replaced with sports.
On Sundays, the children were required to show up for a day beginning with political instruction where they were told not to listen to their parents because they were old-fashioned. "They drove a wedge between us and our parents," explained Werthmann, "Listen to your parents always! And your teachers too. They have the best interest for you."
Some of the Sunday sports included tennis, golf, skiing, motorcycling and flying gliders. The children were happy because they were having fun and they didn't have to sit on the cold seats of the church. "We had freedom and rights. Oh, it was great!" Werthmann reminisced.
The next fall she was taken out of public school and sent to a private school with an excellent curriculum, but no fun. The new school had an eight foot wall and a locked iron gate. Werthmann almost hated her mother, but her mother told her that when Kitty was older and more grown up, "You will realize I am saving you from this Godless humanism."
When Werthmann returned found 16-year-old girls having babies for Hitler. It was then that she realized that five generations of people had grown up with no religion and under no God. Werthmann attended college, where she wanted to be a journalist, but was instead encouraged to go into teaching. This was nearly forced on many young women in the attempt to teach Hitler's philosophy.
After college, Werthmann was sent to a small village in the Austrian Alps. In that village were 15 mentally handicapped people, one of them being the janitor, Vincent, at Werthmann's school. One day a van from the health department showed up and loaded up the handicapped people to take them to institutions where they would be taught to read and write. Six months later, the families were given news that their loved ones had died natural, but merciful deaths. Later on, the people of the village realized that their friends had been euthanized. During that time over 20,000 handicap children were put to death this way.
The government regulated businesses everywhere as well. Table shapes were even forced to be round rather than square because of the safety risk of sharp corners. The changes were always due to health and safety, but often forced small businesses to shut down. Only the big businesses survived.
The peoples' lives were so controlled that their livestock was counted and their chickens were told how many eggs to lay. "That's socialism," stated Werthmann.
Hitler wrote a book, Mein Kampf, explaining everything he was planning, but with everyone preoccupied with sports, no one took the time to read it. Abortions were illegal unless it was selected due to race. The goal was to raise children that were 100 percent of the master race.
The Gestapo roamed the streets in civilian clothing and rationed food. If a family did not turn in a coupon upon receiving food, the Gestapo would order them to report once a week to be monitored. Werthmann remembered, "We could not trust anybody!"
The Nazis created a network of informers. Any political talk in the homes was only at a slight whisper. Everyone was told they must register their guns in order to catch the murderers. The Nazis then explained that guns were very dangerous and too many children were getting hurt in hunting accidents, so all of the guns should be turned in. Soon, capital punishment was given to those who did not turn in their guns.
Switzerland had guns still and the military kept their weapons at home. They'd had no war in over 600 years. Hitler would not target Switzerland because of this.
Churches were shut down because Hitler said the upkeep was too expensive on the beautiful cathedrals.
It took only five years, from 1938 to 1943, to gradually evolve into dictatorship. "Little by little, step by step," recalled Werthmann. Soon the borders were closed, but those who made it out were the lucky ones.
"America is a country of unbelievable freedom and liberty," Werthmann explained with a smile, "Those who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to the best country in the world."