Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy)
The NS Gemeinschaft Kraft durch Freude, the National Socialist Organization Strength through Joy, was a subset of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront, the national German labor organization. All members of the DAF were also members of the KdF, and as basically any worker was a part of the DAF, so too were they in the Kraft durch Freude. The KdF was essentially designed for the purpose of providing organized leisure for the German workforce. Interestingly enough, the DAF calculated that the work year contained 8,760 hours of which only 2,100 were spent working, 2,920 hours spent sleeping, leaving 3,740 hours of free time. Thus the driving concept behind the KdF was organized “relaxation for the collection of strength for more work.” The KdF strived to achieve this goal of organized leisure by providing activities such as trips, cruises, concerts, and cultural activities for German workers. These events were specifically directed towards the working class, and it was through the KdF that the NSDAP hoped to bring to the “common man” the pleasures once reserved only for the rich. By opening the door for the working class to easily and affordably take part in such activities, it was believed that the labor force could be lulled into being more flexible and productive.
There were many aspects of the German KdF program, including wildly popular and easily affordable international cruises provided by an extensive fleet of KdF liners and smaller waterway pleasure vessels. Trips were organized to the coasts of Norway, Spain, and Italy, as well as destinations on the Baltic Sea, and the German and Danish coasts. The KdF also sponsored and organized a wide variety of other activities, including retreats, day trips, tours, concerts, theater, and opera performances, art exhibits, and other cultural and historical displays and events, all of which were supposedly designed to aid the “average” German enjoy their free time more. It was hoped that this would help in creating a healthier, more educated, and more productive workforce.
Another aspect of the KdF organization was the provision for workers to have a right to vacation and paid holidays, a concept totally unique to the period in nearly all nations of the world. Even hourly and temporary workers were extended these sorts of concessions. Another major aspect of the KdF was the attempt to make the automobile a reality for as many Germans as possible. To this end, the world-famous Volkswagon was created and an extensive system was set up to allow nearly anyone to purchase and own one. The Volkswagon (The Peoples Car) was extensively used by the German Wehrmacht in a military role also – the military versions of the VW are often compared not entirely without basis to the American Jeep.
When WWII began in 1939, one of the most important functions the KdF helped serve was in the provision of the majority of its fleet of ships for use by the German Kriegsmarine, mainly as hospital ships or barrack vessels. The largest and most famous KdF ship, the Wilhelm Gustloff, served initially as a hospital ship during WWII, later as a barracks ship, and was sunk in January of 1945 with a loss of 9,343 lives, the largest single naval loss in history. The KdF also helped set up and staff rest homes for German troops, provided concerts, and films for soldiers at the front, helped distribute amenities to traveling and returning men at railway stations, and other major points in Germany and abroad. This was often done in conjunction with other German social welfare and help organizations, such as the Deutsche Rote Kreuz.
The KdF was never in any way a paramilitary organization like many of the other auxiliary groups of the period. It existed solely to provide pleasure and relaxation, initially to German workers and later to Wehrmacht troops a well. Its overall goal was to create and mold a controllable workforce, but as a result, it also provided millions of Germans with pleasures and rights never before experienced by the average person.
The following is an excerpt from a 28-page publication entitled “Das danken wir dem Führer!” published in 1938 after the incorporation of Austria into the German Reich. It further expresses the ideas, plans, and achievements of the German KdF. It is foremost a product of the era it was created in and drips with the sort of implicit propaganda written during the time, but it also highlights many of the actual achievements of the KdF and thus serves as an important reference point.
“The dignity of labor is evidenced by improvements in the appearance of the workplace. Wherever one looks in Germany, ugly dark buildings are vanishing. The “Beauty of Labor” movement in today’s Germany is not empty talk or an impossible demand, but living in reality. Large sums that formerly would have been wasted in strikes and lockouts have been used since 1933 to improve workplaces. 23,000 places have been transformed from soulless drudgery to pleasant places to work. 6,000 factory courtyards now offer space for real relaxation, which was not true in the past. 17,000 canteens and lounges, 13,000 shower and changing rooms have been transformed. The dirtier the work, the cleaner the workers. More than 800 community buildings and 1200 sports facilities, including over 200 swimming pools, have been established. The crew quarters over 3500 ships have also been improved.”
“The NS Society Kraft durch Freude brings cheer and pleasure to workplaces through concerts and art exhibits. The art exhibits alone introduced more than 2.5 million workers to the creations of true German art. Just five years ago, it was obvious that the great works of German culture belonged to a small group of the upper class. Besides the factory concerns and art exhibitions, the NS Society Kraft durch Freude uses theatrical performances, other concerts, singing, and musical groups to introduce the creations of German art to every working German. 22 million citizens have attended theatrical performances, 5.6 million the KdF concerts, and 17 million have found relaxation in more than 40,000 cabaret and variety performances, gaining thereby new strength for their daily work.”
“Of no less importance is the KdF’s vacation program. Earlier, German workers did not know what to do with their, at best, five days of annual vacation. They could not visit the beauties of the German landscape, much less travel abroad. The NS Society Kraft durch Freude gave German workers the possibility of vacationing at the beach or in the mountains or to explore the homeland. Over 20million have participated in KdF trips since 1934. That is more than a quarter of Germany’s population. 19 million citizens participated in 60,000 vacation trips at home. Hand to hand, they would stretch from Berlin to Tokyo. KdF trains have traveled 2,160,000 kilometers or 54 times around the world. The nine large KdF cruise ships have covered a distance equal to twice the distance from the earth to the moon. They have carried German workers to Madeira, Italy, and Norway, broadening their horizons and giving them unforgettable experiences. Three additional ships will be added to the KdF’s own fleet of four. A KdF resort is being built on the island of Rügen. It will not be the only one. A series of other vacation and spa resorts will be built. They will fulfill the Führer’s wishes at the start of the NS Society Kraft durch Freude: to lead a cheerful, creative, and strong people to success in the world.”