Even though the foreign tourist market experienced troubles in 1930s Germany, the domestic holiday industry flourished.
One of Hitler’s first moves on becoming chancellor was to squash trade unions, but to keep workers sweet, he rolled out his masterstroke ‘Strength Through Joy’ programme, headed by the pint-sized Dr. Robert Ley, an oily brash, fanatical Nazi.
His boozy rants were notorious, leading to party colleagues to brand him the ‘National Drunk.’
Career highlights thus far included describing an African delegation at an International Labour Organisiation meeting in Geneva as “delegates from a Negro tribe who have come here because they were promised some bananas”, whilst at the same gathering despaired aloud: “How come such idiot states (referring to Latin American countries) have the same rights here as Germany and Italy?”
That evening he was spotted stumbling around in a drunken stupor on the streets of Geneva.
“Wenn der Ley spricht, regnet’s” (When Ley speaks, it rains), was a well known joke in Germany, where he carved a special place in the encyclopedia of Nazi tittle-tattle.
Perhaps mercifully, his leadership of ‘Strength through Joy’ was largely applauded.
He enabled 14,000,000 people every year to enjoy a holiday at bargain basement prices.
On paper, the idea was to improve the of the health condition of the population, by encouraging them to run, hike, swim and take active family vacations.
With millions of working paying monthly dues, the organization quickly built up a hefty fortune.
By 1937, half a million youngsters were taking part special sport courses such as sailing, fencing, and horse riding—“once only the sports of the well to-do are now the sports of the people,” a report in the Sunderland Daily Echo and Shipping Gazette observed, whilst the Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail added that: “inexpensive kit for all these sports provided prices within the workers reach. Special skis, roller skates, and tennis racket are made. The yachts and the gliders for the workers use are provided by the movement.”
On the island of Ruegen in the Baltic Sea, a vast holiday resort to accommodate 22,000 holidaymakers was under construction and in May 1937, Hitler launched the first 25,000-ton Strength through Joy vessel in Hamburg, which would cruise the Mediterranean and Norwegian Fjords with a cargo of “deserving workers.”
Ley loved the ship.
In his book “Caesar’s In Goosestep”, American author Norman Bayles told how he met a sorry looking Ley in his cabin one evening.
Ley was still drunk from the night before and one of his assistants had to be carried out as he was so plastered. The cabin stank of old blood sausage, stale booze, and cigarettes.
With this in mind, it seems incredible that he was allowed to make national broadcasts (he also suffered from a terrible stammer, which made listening painful).
In the summer of 1937, he told radio listeners that: “Private life no longer exists in Germany.
Since Adolf Hitler came to power the only private life which remains is at night when you are asleep. Beyond this there is none.”
The speech prompted the Leeds Mercury to remark: “The bitter joke is that this statement by Dr. Ley was not a sad admission but a proud boast… it was the most perfect example of unconscious satire even this strange age of ours has ever produced”
In October that year, Ley was given charge organising the programme of the Duke and Duchess of Windsor during their visit to Germany. He laid on visits to model settlements for workmen, welfare institutions, and various bodies belonging to his organisation.
Time Magazine noted: “Dr. Ley proved himself a buttonhole orator, talking loud enough to be heard ten feet away by correspondents above the whirr of machines.
“This was a great rubbish heap—this factory!” the Nazi roared in Windsor’s ear. “It was worse than a rubbish heap because it was fouled by communists. And then The Leader Adolf Hitler came along and all that was changed! Look at the happy workingmen! LOOK AT THEM!!”
His ‘Strength through Joy’ organisation divided opinion in both Germany and abroad. When it was launched, a poster advertising the movement showing a happy “Aryan” family—was targeted by vandals. Because the poster had large areas of white in its design, it was perfect for graffiti.
“The spoiled posters are replaced by; new-ones, but these, in turn, are defaced within a few hours, ” Reuters reported.
The movement was also ridiculed for producing an Aryan-only version of Shakespeare s “Midsummer Night’s Dream,” but because he was a Jewish, Mendelssohn’s music was discarded in favour of new setting and composer.
By 1939, “Strength through Joy” tourists had figured in several unpleasant incidents.
In Istanbul, a party was being shown the sights when members started a political argument with their Turkish guides, saying that the Turkish Government “had sold their country to Great Britain.”
The Daily Herald reported that: “The guides thereupon refused to conduct the tourists any farther. An uglier incident occurred when another group of tourists insolently ordered two Jews to leave a coffee house. Turkish customers rose and declared that Turkey was not Germany. The two factions came to blows and afterwards the partisans of “Strength through Joy” picked themselves up from the pavement and retreated in disorder.”
‘Strength through Joy’, it began to gradually wind down during the war.
A British columnist took a final snipe at the movement charging that its main activity, physical culture, was never much more than a ‘thinly disguised method of preparing cannon fodder.’
In late October 1939 a pirate station called “Freedom Radio” sprang onto the airwaves of Austria. It opened and concluded with the slogan: “We want to get away from the Reich,’’ the announcer also chipped in that “the Nazi slogan, ‘Strength through Joy,’ should be changed to Strength through joy but not through food.’
Billy Butlin, the owner of a ubiquitous chain of holiday camps in the UK, decided that the crisis could help his profits and changed his advertising slogan: “Forget it all and come to Butlin’s” a few days after Chamberlain declared war on Germany.