Kraft durch Freude (Strength Through Joy)

Strength Through Joy PosterThe NS Gemeinschaft Kraft durch Freude, the National Socialist OrganizationStrength through Joy, was a subset of the DeutscheArbeitsfront, the national German labor organization. All members of theDAF were also members of the KdF, and as basically any worker was a partof the DAF, so too were they in the Kraft durch Freude. The KdF was essentiallydesigned for the purpose of providing organized leisure for the German workforce. Interestingly enough, the DAF calculated that the work year contained8,760 hours of which only 2,100 were spent working, 2,920hours spent sleeping, leaving 3,740 hours of free time. Thus the driving conceptbehind the KdF was organized “relaxation for the collection of strength formore work.” The KdF strived to achieve this goal of organized leisureby providing activities such as trips, cruises, concerts, and cultural activities for German workers. These events were specifically directedtowards the working class, and it was through the KdF that the NSDAP hoped tobring to the “common man” the pleasures once reserved only for the rich. Byopening the door for the working class to easily and affordably take partin 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 popularand 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 destinationson the Baltic Sea, and the German and Danish coasts. The KdF also sponsored and organized a wide variety ofother activities, including retreats, day trips, tours,concerts, theater and opera performances, art exhibits, and other culturaland 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 educatedand 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 periodin nearly all nations of the world. Even hourly and temporary workers wereextended these sorts of concessions. Another major aspect of the KdFwas 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 systemwas 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 – themilitary versions of the VW are often compared not entirely without basis tothe American Jeep.

When WWII began in 1939, one of the most important functions the KdF helped servewas in the provision of the majority of its fleet of ships for use by theGerman Kriegsmarine, mainly as hospital ships or barrack vessels. The largest andmost 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 homesfor 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 inconjunctionwith 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 otherauxiliary groups of the period. It existed solely to provide pleasure andrelaxation, initially to German workers and later to Wehrmacht troops a well.Its overall goal was to create and mold a controllable workforce, butas a result, it also provided millions of Germans with pleasures and rightsnever before experienced by the average person.

The following is an excerpt from a 28-page publication entitled “Das danken wir dem Führer!” published in 1938after the incorporation of Austria into the German Reich. It further expressesthe ideas, plans, and achievements of the German KdF. It isforemost a product of the era it was created in and drips with the sortof implicit propaganda written during the time, but it also highlightsmany of the actual achievements of the KdF and thus serves as an importantreference point.

“The dignity of labor is evidenced by improvements in the appearance of the workplace. Wherever one looks in Germany, ugly darkbuildings 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 form soulless drudgery to pleasant places to work. 6,000 factory courtyards now offer spacefor real relaxation, which was not true in the past. 17,000 canteens and lounges, 13,000 shower and changing rooms have beentransformed. The dirtier the work, the cleaner the workers. More than 800 community buildings and 1200 sports facilities, includingover 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 aloneintroduced more than 2,5 million workers to the creations of true German art. Just five years ago, it was obvious that the great worksof German culture belonged to a small group of the upper class. Besides the factory concerns and art exhibitions, the NS SocietyKraft durch Freude uses theatrical performances, other concerts, singing and musical groups to introduce the creations of German artto every working German. 22 million citizens have attended theatrical performances, 5.6 million the KdF concerts, and 17 millionhave 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 daysof annual vacation. They could not visit the beauties of the German landscape, much less travel abroad. The NS Society Kraft durchFreude 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 participatedin 60,000 vacation trips at home. Hand to hand, they would stretch from Berlin to Tokyo. KdF trains have traveled 2,160,000kilometers, or 54 times around the world. The nine large KdF cruise ships have covered a distance equal to twice the distance fromthe earth to the moon. They have carried German workers to Madeira, Italy and Norway, broadening their horizons and giving themunforgettable experiences. Three additional ships will be added the KdF’s own fleet of four. A KdF resort is being built on the islandof 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 thestart of the NS Society Kraft durch Freude: to lead a cheerful, creative and strong people to success in the world.”