weird things on my desk #4


The Winterhilfswerk campaign (WHW) was a German aid program to provide food, clothing, coal, and other items to the poor during the winter months. It was held annually from October through March in the years 1933 – 1945. Although initiated by the government of Heinrich Brüning in 1931, the National Socialists claimed full credit and used the annual drive as propaganda for their party.

Its slogan was “None shall starve nor freeze.” Posters urged people to donate to Winterhilfswerk rather to give directly to beggars.

bd4a7c2ae047e1b6fb37452a2ed39ee7Both the Hiltlerjugend (HJ) and the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM) were very active in collecting the donations, although on certain weekends different party organizations were tasked with making collections. As part of the effort to place the community over the individual, totals were not reported for any individuals, only what each party branch raised. Collections were made from door to door and in all public places like restaurants, theatres, and buses. In the first years the campaign started off as a voluntary donation but soon changed into a more obligatory thing.

The “Can Rattlers”, as they became known, were relentless in their pursuit of making sure every good citizen gave their fair Donation Canshare to the WHW. In fact, those who “forgot” to give had their names put in the paper to “remind” them of their neglect.

Neighbors (and even family members) were encouraged to whisper the names of shirkers to their block leaders so that they could be persuaded to do their duty. After 1936, employers were obligated by law to donate a portion of the employees’ salaries to the Nationalsozialistische Volkswohlfahrt (National Socialist People’s Welfare Organization) to help finance its charitable work.

When he visited Germany in 1939 as a reporter for the North American Newspaper Alliance, Dr. Lothrop Stoddard wrote: “Once a fortnight, every city, town, and village in the Reich seethes with brown-shirted Storm Troopers carrying red-painted canisters. These are the Winter-Help collection-boxes. The Brown Shirts go everywhere. You cannot sit in a restaurant or beer-hall but what, sooner or later, a pair of them will work through the place, rattling their canisters ostentatiously in the faces of customers. And I never saw a German formally refuse to drop in his mite, even though the contribution might have been less than the equivalent of one American cent.

“During these periodic money-raising campaigns, all sorts of dodges are employed. On busy street-corners, comedians, singers, musicians, sailors, gather a crowd by some amusing skit, at the close of which the Brown-Shirts collect. People buy tiny badges to show they have contributed—badges good only for that particular campaign. One time they may be an artificial flower; next time a miniature dagger, and so forth. The Winter-Help campaign series reaches its climax shortly before Christmas in the so-called Day of National Solidarity. On that notable occasion the Big Guns of the Nazi Party sally forth with their collection-boxes to do their bit.”

00000264[1]In exchange for a pfennig or two, each party organization doing collections had their own special souvenir thank-you gifts to pass out. The items were made of many different materials such as wood, glass, paper, terra cotta, metal, and plastic. These were all of negligible value, somewhat similar to the way modern charities mail out address labels and holiday cards. They had an endless variety of themes. Some depicted occupational types or geographic areas of the Reich, others animals, birds and insects, nursery rhyme and fairy tale characters, musical instruments, notable symbols and persons from German history, etc. Most of the items were issued in collectible series so as to encourage repeat giving, and were only available for two or three days of a particular collection drive. Over 8,000 different pieces were produced by war’s end, and some of the rarer ones sell for quite a lot of money today. The need for millions of cheap donation gifts also created work for the unemployed.

Larger donations to the WHW were a means to establish oneself as a supporter of the Nazi Party without the commitment of joining it. Such donors would receive better gifts, such as lapel pins. But there could also be a very annoying consequence: if your local Blockleiter saw that you were not wearing the current pin, you might be in for some dunning or nagging.WHW Plaque

To help avoid this, a Monatstürplakette (monthly placard) was issued to place on your door or in your window to show others that you had given—and also to keep the roaming bands of charity workers at bay.

Through the years these were made of a variety of materials: metal, ceramic, and paper. This is a tin plate from the first year the Nazis took over the program. It is about 3″ in diameter.

When the war began, similar initiatives were started in countries in German-occupied Europe, known in French as the Secours d’Hiver and in Dutch as the Winterhulp. Taken as a whole, the WHW program was a brilliant propaganda coup. Not only did it serve to break down the class barriers of society, it helped solidify Hitler’s bond to the people.
One of the things you rarely hear in this age of demonizing everything about the National Socialists is that the regime must have been doing something beneficial to have won the loyalty of the populace up to the bitter end of the war. Winterhilfswerk was one of those positive programs, and it is for this reason alone that all of the above items (except for the big picture of the girls poring over WHW trinkets) reside in a box on my desk.
They are a reminder that everyone’s history is mostly a grey mix of good and bad.

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