Sunday, October 2, 2011

Germany From Below

Alexander Graf Stenbock-Fermor travelled through Germany in 1930 and visited worker families all over the country. The resulting book is hard to read at times because of the unbelievable misery it describes.
Unemployment was high and those that had work were paid only a pittance that was just enough to starve slowly. Ten, fifteen people living in one room and sleeping in two or three beds was not an exception, but the norm. The rooms were damp, cold, infested with mould and vermin and disease like tuberculosis or syphilis were rampant.

At the time Germany was well-known as a producer of high quality toys and dolls, but there was rising competition from the US and the UK. Families who had earned their living making toys for generations now were fighting for their survival. Child labour was illegal at the time, but without the children helping (sometimes as young as four to sex years old) the families would starve. Retirement was not an option. The woman in the picture was years old and worked 12 hours a day (every day).

I learned about the strikes and riot at the Leunawerke (a huge industrial complex producing ammonia) in 1921, when workers first put down their work and then barricaded themselves at the Leunawerke. The strike was brutally beaten down by the police, murdering 46 workers in the process. The workers were executed pretty much at random, without any kind of trial.

It does shine through at times that the author was well on his way to becoming an active communist, but he doesn't force his political views on the reader. The scenes he describes are matter of fact and heartbreaking at the same time, enough for anyone to draw his own conclusions. It's a book that deserves to be read even now.

My 39th book for the Library challenge

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