Strength through Joy expresses the National Socialist aspiration. ‘Strength through Joy (KdF) developed into one of the most notorious organization of the Third Reich. The reputation it exerted survived the Third Reich itself, and the idea that the KdF added mass tourism and thereby ultimately increased the German quality of life, and was generally believed in the country for a great time. Therefore, it is all the more impressive how surprisingly few studies exist about this organization and its impact. Shelley Baranowski’s book is a pursuit to offer a standard overview. Baranowski organizes her work into six chapters: the debates on mass consumption in the 1920s; the formation of KdF; the efforts to enhance and beautify the workplace; the progress of tourism from the perspective of the organization as well as the tourist; and lastly the position of the KdF for the duration of the war.
‘‘Strength through Joy’’ was instituted in November 1933 mainly to compensate workers for stagnating wages. The organization was supposed to supervise the recreation time of the employed, provide them with relief and entertainment, and thereby support them so that they may manage better with the challenge of rearmament. ‘‘Strength through Joy joined the self-improving high-mindedness of middle-class travel with the promotion of the racial community through package tours’’ (p. 6). In her book, Baranowski concentrates on vacation trips and the activities of the KdF office, Beauty of Work, the two most bold projects. All of these activities had been based on the thinking of the Volksgemeinschaft, which Baranowski interprets instead one-sidedly as ‘‘racial community’’. This figure of social organization promised upward mobility to any person who achieved the fundamental degree of achievement, regardless of social background. State investment insured full employment, and the expansive foreign- policy path of the Nazi regime promised future wealth at the price of conquered peoples and territories. For these tasks, Hitler wanted – as he expressed it – a ‘‘people with strong nerves’’.
Thoroughly in line with efforts to pacify the working class and amplify productivity were the projects of the KdF organization, SdA. The organization strove to embellish the workplace, sanitary facilities in plants and factories, and locations of recreation. ‘‘The workplace was central to Strength through Joy’s ambitions to increase productivity, restore the ethical meaning of labor, and purge workers of ‘Marxism’’’ (p. 75). Since the ownership format remained intact, the SdA sought to only pursue policies of a symbolic nature. First and foremost, the ‘‘honor’’ of workers was to be enhanced. From the point of view of the history of ideas, the SdA acted as a continuation of the domestic narrative and the plant social guideline of the 1920s.
Baranowski efficiently points out that present day tourism was already exuding nationalism in the duration before National Socialism. The intense nationalism mixed with the aid of the National Socialists intensified this trend. So, the external excursions organized via the KdF usually took place contrary to a political backdrop, whereas the domestic tours applied structural code and aided economically vulnerable regions. This resulted in a new agreement, ‘‘Thus to maintain its position as a key pillar of the regime’s social policy, Strength through Joy promoted its noncommercial consumption while simultaneously marketing its tourism as a desirable consumer good. The last product, an array of low-cost domestic package tours, overseas cruises, and resorts under construction and in the planning stages, supported Nazism’s claims to have improved the quality of life for ordinary Germans’’ (p. 119). It was once inevitable that this protocol would come into battle with the normal tourism industry. The groups of KdF travelers – perhaps same to modern back-pack tourists – had been welcome neither by other vacationers, who feared their leisure tour would lose its exclusiveness, nor by means of the resort and hotel business, whose prices were being ruined. The majority of the excursions extended in the KdF program have been one-day and two-day trips.
Apparently, there have been several complaints by means of travelers about the tours with KdF, however these complaints did not undermine its fine status because, more frequently than not, the KdF fulfilled the expectations of its clientele. The reports written by individuals of the security forces accompanying each outing provide a comparatively unbiased account of what simply came about in the course of such excursions. Their accounts of the itinerary and events, the behavior and reactions of the vacationers prove that workers were certainly underrepresented on these journeys and that classification differences have been not obliterated – as was evident in the small yet telling variations in sorts of accommodation, clothing, purchases, and so forth.
Discontent was to be observed everywhere, whether due to poor lodging as in contrast with other tourists, to the unfriendly reception in Catholic regions, or to anxiety prompted by rivalries between the various regional populations. Many KdF travelers especially disapproved of the conceited and high-handed conduct of party functionaries on such trips. Still, the public persisted to view the KdF activities with favor. These tours satisfied many Germans that their standard of living had certainly improved. The journeys to increased under-developed European countries, such as Italy and Portugal, reinforced the feeling amongst travelers that Germans were certainly the ‘‘master race’’, and threw a greater flattering light on their own standard of living. Strength through Joy turned out to be more skillful at making use of the methods and conveying the hedonistic messages of commercial entertainment on a larger scale than the labor parties of the Weimar era or Italian fascism ever were.
Baranowski devotes a whole chapter to the work of Strength through Joy throughout the war. She is the first to deal with this aspect critically and to present it adequately. Starting in 1939, KdF cruise liners were used to transport troops, the wounded, and ethnic Germans residing outside the Reich. All leisure tours had been canceled and they created quick excursions and hikes inside Germany which grew to become the predominate types of pastime offered to the public. In general, the organization shifted its major attention to entertaining the troops and extended this area notably after the war started out in September 1939. Portable stages and small companies of performers brought entertainment to the soldiers. Quickly the demand for such enjoyment surpassed the reservoir of entertainers of any quality, and complaints about the standard of overall performance increased.
Baranowski’s book is based on a wide spectrum of sources and includes evidence from organization and regional archives before unused in connection with this topic. In this way, Baranowski makes a fascinating image of regimented entertainment in the Third Reich – a side of still underexposed history of everyday life throughout this period. By concentrating on two areas of recreation within Strength through Joy, Baranowski runs the chance of dropping sight of the complete spectrum of this organization. After all, the KdF tried to bring all aspects of leisure activity under its control. It took over clubs and associations, established its very own theaters and orchestras, and entered the subject of adult education. Baranowski presents a very readable survey on the history of daily life throughout the Nazi period and of consumption in Germany in general.