1938 Austria--Land of "The Sound of Music" Story
Kitty Werthmann spoke at the Eagle Forum national conference a couple of months back. She told a powerful story about what it was like growing up under Hitler.
America Truly is the Greatest Country in the World. Don’t Let Freedom Slip Away
By: Kitty Werthmann
What I am about to say is something u probably never heard or will ever read in history books.
I believe I'm an eyewitness to history. I cannot tell you that Hitler took Austria by tanks & guns; it'd distort history. We elected him by a landslide – 98% of the vote. I’ve never read that in any American publications. Everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks & took Austria by force.
In 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly a third of our workforce was unemployed. We had 25% inflation & bank loan interest rates.
Farmers & business people declared bankruptcy daily. Young people were going from house to house begging for food. Not that they didn’t want to work; there simply weren’t any jobs. My mom was a Christian & believed in helping the needy. Every day we cooked a big kettle of soup & baked bread to feed those poor, hungry people – about 30 daily.
The Communist & the National Socialist Parties were fighting each other. Blocks & blocks of cities like Vienna, Linz, & Graz were destroyed. People became desperate & petitioned the gov't. to let them pick a government.
We looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany, where Hitler had been in power since 1933. We had been told that they didn’t have unemployment or crime, & had a high standard of living. Nothing was ever said about persecution of any group, Jews or otherwise. We were led to believe everyone was happy. We wanted that in Austria. We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean the end of unemployment & help for the family. Hitler also said businesses would be assisted, & farmers would get their farms back. 98% of the population voted to annex Austria to Germany & have Hitler rule.
We were overjoyed, & for three days we danced in the streets & had candlelight parades. The new gov't. opened up big field kitchens & everyone was fed.
After the election, German officials were appointed, & like a miracle, we suddenly had law & order. Three or four weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure that a lot of work was created through the Public Work Service.
Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be looked down on if he couldn’t support his family. Many women in the teaching profession were elated to retain the jobs they were previously required to give up for marriage.
Hitler Targets Education – Eliminates Religious Instruction for Children:
Our education was nationalized. I attended a very good, public-school. The population was predominantly Catholic, so we had religion in our schools. The day we elected Hitler (March 13, 1938), I walked into my schoolroom to find the crucifix replaced by Hitler’s picture hanging next to a Nazi flag. Our teacher, a very devout, woman, stood up & told the class we wouldn’t pray or have religion anymore. Instead, we sang “Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles,” & had gym.
Sunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance. Parents were displeased with the sudden change in curriculum. They were told if they didn't send us, they'd receive a stiff letter of warning the first time. The second time they'd be fined $300, the third time they'd be jailed. The first two hours were political indoctrination. The rest of the day was sports. As time went along, we loved it. Oh, we had so much fun & got our sports equipment free. We went home & gleefully told our parents about the wonderful time we had.
My mom was very unhappy. When the next term started, she took me out of public school & put me in a convent. I told her she couldn’t do that & she told me someday when I grew up, I'd be grateful. There was a very good, curriculum, but hardly any fun – no sports, & no political indoctrination. I hated it at first but felt it tolerable. On holidays I went home & back to my old friends & ask what's up. Their loose lifestyle was very alarming. They lived without religion. By that time unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for Hitler. It seemed strange to me that our society changed so suddenly. As time went along, I realized what a great deed my mother did so that I wasn’t exposed to that kind of humanistic philosophy.
Equal Rights Hits Home: In 1939, the war started & a food bank was established. All food was rationed & could only be purchased via food stamps. At the same time, a f/t employment law was passed. It meant if u didn’t work, u didn’t get a ration card, & if u didn’t have a card, u starved. Women who stayed home to raise their families didn’t have any marketable skills & often had to take jobs more suited for men.
Soon after this, the draft was implemented. It was compulsory for young people, male & female, to give a year to the labor corps.
During the day, the girls worked on the farms, & at night they returned to their barracks for military training just like the boys. They were trained to be anti-aircraft gunners & participated in the signal corps. After the labor corps, they were not discharged but were used in the front lines. When I go back to Austria to visit my family & friends, most of these women are emotional cripples because they just were not equipped to handle the horrors of combat. Three months before I turned 18, I was severely injured in an air raid attack. I nearly had a leg amputated, so I was spared having to go into the labor corps & military service.
Hitler Restructured the Family Through Daycare: When the mothers had to go out into the work force, the government immediately established child care centers. U could take your kids 4 weeks to school age & leave them there around-the-clock, 7 days a week, under the total care of the government. The state raised a whole generation of children. There were no motherly women to take care of the children, just people highly trained in child psychology. By this time, no one talked about equal rights. We knew we had been had.
Health Care and Small Business Suffer Under Government Controls: Before Hitler, we had very good medical care. Many American doctors trained at the U. of Vienna. After Hitler, health care was socialized, free for all. Doctors were salaried by the government. The problem was, since it was free, people went to the drs. for everything. When the dr. arrived at his office at 8 a.m., 40 people were waiting. The hospitals were simultanously full. If u needed elective surgery, u had to wait a year or two. There was no $ for research. It was poured into socialized medicine. Research at the med schools literally stopped, so the best doctors left Austria & emigrated to other countries.
As for healthcare, our tax rates went up to 80% of our income. Newlyweds immediately received a 1K gov't. loan to establish a household. We had big programs for families. All day care & ed. were free. High schools were taken over by the government & college tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free handouts, such as food stamps, clothing, & housing.
We had another agency designed to monitor business. My brother-in-law owned a restaurant with square tables. Government officials said he had to replace them with round tables because people might bump themselves on the corners & he had to have additional bathroom facilities. It was just a small dairy business with a snack bar & he couldn’t meet the demands. Soon, he went out of business. If the government owned the large businesses & few small ones existed, it'd be in control.
We had consumer protection. We were told how to shop & what to buy. Free enterprise was essentially abolished. We had a planning agency specially designed for farmers. The agents would go to the farms, count the live-stock, then tell the farmers what to produce & how.
“Mercy Killing” Redefined: In 1944, I was a student teacher in a small village in the Alps. The villagers were surrounded by mountain passes which, in the winter, were closed off with snow, causing people to be isolated. So people intermarried & offspring were sometimes retarded. When I arrived, I was told there were 15 mentally retarded adults, but they were all useful & did good manual work. I knew one, Vincent, very well. He was the school janitor. One day I looked out the window & saw Vincent & others getting into a van. I asked my superior where they were going. She said to an institution where the State Health Dept. teaches them a trade, & literacy. The families were required to sign papers with a little clause that they could not visit for 6 months. They were told visits would interfere with the program & might cause homesickness.
As time passed, letters started to dribble back saying these people died naturally & mercifully. The villagers were not fooled. We suspected what was happening. Those people left in excellent physical health & all died within 6 months. We called this euthanasia.
The Final Steps - Gun Laws: Next came gun registration. People were getting injured by guns. Hitler said that the real way to catch criminals (we still had a few) was by matching serial numbers on guns. Most citizens were law abiding & dutifully marched to the police station to register their firearms. Not long after-wards, the police said that it was best for everyone to turn in their guns. The authorities already knew who had them, so it was futile not to comply voluntarily.
No more freedom of speech. Anyone who said something against the government was taken away. We knew many people who were arrested, not only Jews, but also priests & ministers who spoke up.
Totalitarianism didn’t come quickly, it took 5 years: 1938 till 1943, to realize full dictatorship in Austria. Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism. Now, our only weapons were broom handles. The whole idea sounds almost unbelievable that the state, little by little eroded our freedom.
After WW II, Russian troops occupied Austria. Women were raped, preteen to elderly. The press never wrote about this either. When the Soviets left in 1955, they took everything they could, dismantling whole factories in the process. They sawed down whole orchards of fruit, & what they couldn’t destroy, they burned. We called it The Burned Earth. Most of the population barricaded themselves in their houses. Women hid in their cellars for 6 weeks as the troops mobilized. Those who couldn’t,"paid the price".
There's a monument in Vienna today, dedicated to those women who were massacred by Russians. This is an eye witness account.
“It’s true….those of us who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to a country of unbelievable freedom & opportunity.
America Truly is the Greatest Country in the World. Don’t Let Freedom Slip Away!
"After America, There is No Place to Go!"