March 20th, 2017–
After Adolf Hitler took office in 1933, he quickly began implementing the Nazi party’s 25 Point Plan. Part of this plan focused on strengthening Germany’s working class, and in turn, rebuilding the economy. This platform appealed to many Germans who were seeking security after the tumultuous years during and after World War I, which left Germany in an economic depression.
As Hitler implemented Nazi policy, he also began implementing Gleichschaltung, the concept that all aspects of German life should align with Nazi ideology. In order to achieve, Hitler eliminated all non-Nazi organizations that could challenge the government or influence workers, including trade unions (labor unions). In place of these organizations, he created the German Labor Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront, DAF). Membership to this state organization was mandatory.
With the DAF in place, Hitler created a number of public works programs to increase employment in the Third Reich. Doing so, however, decreased wages for many workers. In response, Robert Ley, the director of the DAF, developed Strength through Joy (Kraft durch Freude, KdF), a state-run leisure organization meant to provide nonfinancial incentives for German workers. The organization, began operating in December 1933, providing members with low-cost vacations, leisure activities, classes, sports programs, and entertainment. The organization even went so far as to commission their own line of cruise ships to take members on holidays.
KdF gave the impression that the government was concerned with workers’ wellbeing, and wanted to provide middle and low class citizens with luxury vacations and leisure activities they could not previously afford. In reality, however, KdF served to further Nazi goals and ideology. By providing workers with leisure opportunities, KdF worked to build positive views of the government and in turn loyalty to the Third Reich.
Additionally, KDF helped to gain some control over workers’ leisure time, preventing or limiting anti-Nazi activities. Finally, the organization indoctrinated adults, much like Hitler Youth programs. KdF offered a number of classes for adults, some of which focused on Nazi racial ideology, the history of the party, and Adolf Hitler. Similarly, trips worked to foster a belief among Germans that they were a part of a great, racially-pure community.
This armband is from the Ralph G. Matheson Jr. collection. The collection encompasses a large number of WWII artifacts and memorabilia, which were collected by Matheson, a liberator, over his lifetime. A guide on one of the KdF cruise ships, the Sierra Cordoba, would have worn this armband. This KdF steamship took members on trips to Naples, Italy.
Many Germans participated in KdF programs like cruises on the Sierra Cordoba. In 1934, over 2 million Germans took advantage of KdF trips. By 1938, that number had jumped to over 9 million. The organization operated until 1939; with the outbreak of World War II, KdF ships and vehicles were repurposed for military use.