For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

Soldiers of Labor: Labor Service in Nazi Germany and New Deal America, 1933-1945

by Patel, Kiran Klaus (2005)


Originally published in 2005, Soldiers of Labor is a systematic comparison between the labor policies of the Nazi dictatorship and New Deal America. The main subject of the book is the Nazi Labor Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst), a public work scheme that provided work and education for young men. Here, the organizational setup, the educational dimension, and its practical work are extensively examined. Originally, the institution was an instrument in the fight against unemployment at the end of the Weimar Republic. After 1933, it became a Nazi propaganda tool that ultimately became involved in the Nazi's war of extermination. This study examines the similarities and differences, the mutual perceptions, and transfers between the Nazi Labor Service and its New Deal equivalent, the Civilian Conservation Corps. Patel uncovers stunning similarities between the two organizations, as well as President Roosevelt's irritating personal interest in the Nazi equivalent of his pet agency, the CCC.

Key Passage

In his infamous rector’s ad-dress, Martin Heidegger inquired into the task, place, and self-understanding that students should have “to withstand the German fate in its time of ut-most need.” In his view, the students had to establish three kinds of con-nections. The first was that to the Volksgemeinschaft, which imposed the obligation of “supportive and active participation in the effort, striving, and accomplishments  of  all  estates  and  segments  of  theVolk.”  According  to Heidegger, that connection was best realized in labor service. Alongside it the Freiburg philosopher placed two other elements: military service and the “service of knowledge” (Wissensdienst), which went far beyond a “quick training for a ‘distinguished’ profession.” The three bonds – “through the Volk to the fate of the state in the mission of the intellect” – expressed them-selves for him in the trinity “labor service, military service, and service ofknowledge.”144Of these three dimensions, the philosopher himself was interested chieflyin the “service of knowledge,” which fell within his province and was to bea vehicle for reshaping the German university. In the months following his rectoral address, he developed a concept of the “camp of scholarship” (Wis-senschaftslager) and tested it in practice.145There is no evidence, however,that Heidegger sought to make contact with the Labor Service. Conversely,Hierl did not do anything to adorn his organization with the famous profes-sor. Heidegger became neither a house philosopher nor a figurehead. Positive note was taken of Heidegger’s speech only in a few publications that were marginally concerned with the Labor Service.146That no contact was established is all the more striking if one considers that this was not the only time Heidegger spoke or wrote about a labor service – his speech was by no means a momentary intellectual fancy. He explained his ideas on several occasions; one speech was broadcast by radio throughout southern and western Germany.147On the whole, Heidegger’sdiscussions of the labor service idea were brief and not very original. The fact that his words did not resonate with Hierl probably had to do with the latter’s narrow-mindedness. Hierl failed to see the propagandistic possibilities thata collaboration with Heidegger would have opened up. (p.328)


Heidegger, Nazi, National Socialism, Nazi Labor Service, Education, New Deal


On Heidegger

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