The Men in Germany's Future
Their gun lathes dismantled, the Krupp workers can still destroy Europe. An on-the-spot observer tells how — and why
"The Men in Germany's Future"
By Bill Downs
By Bill Downs
New York Herald Tribune, This Week Magazine, October 5, 1947, p. 5:
In the grimy, battered valley of the Ruhr lies the answer to Germany's future — and perhaps the future of the world. For the Ruhr is the home of the gigantic Krupp coal mines and steel mills that must be the backbone of any Central European reconstruction. It has also been the right arm of German imperialism for longer than her neighbors like to remember.
Taking the punch out of the Friedrich Krupp Gestahlwerke, of Essen, is one of the main tasks of the Allied Reparations Commission — now struggling with the preliminary job of thoroughly demilitarizing the Ruhr.
The work is not easy, for here is a two-sided problem to overcome: a problem of politics and a problem of people. The first hurdle is the international disagreement among Britain, France, and America over the future control of the Ruhr.
France wants international control, fearing that to give Germany any part of the direction threatens a revival of her arms industry.
Britain says that the Ruhr eventually should be socialized and that the power and responsibility for operating the rich industrial area should be given to the government and the people.
And the United States, anxious to institute peacetime steel production and to relieve the American taxpayer without furthering socialism, argues that the Ruhr should be returned to "democratic private enterprise" with Germans responsible for the limited peacetime economy of her industry.
But no matter what answers are provided to the above questions, the second problem of the Ruhr remains. That is the German steel worker, coal miner, and laborer.
The Ruhr worker, multiplied many times and directed by caliper, slide rule, and a series of ambitious, blood-thirsty governments, became the world's most skilled maker of weapons of war. In the years between wars, his competent hands produced the sinews of peace which often put the ravaged continent back on its feet.
In Krupp Gestahlwerke the artisan of steel reached his zenith. Generations of precision workmen in the biggest and busiest armaments shops in Germany created a select group of laborers who handed down the secrets and skills that made the Fatherland's armies the most feared in the world.
Today these workmen are as confused, as hopeless, and as demoralized a group of people as there is in all of Germany. Walking through the ruined Krupp gun shops, the dirty, ragged laborers seldom speak, even among themselves. Only the occasional hissing of an acetylene torch chopping up gun barrels breaks the almost cathedral-like silence.
Worried British overseers watching listless men tearing down the modern Borbeck steel mill will have seen it, too. "We have to warn the German foremen all the time to make the men on the scaffolding take safety precautions," one Yorkshire engineer explained. "Five men have been killed in falls. There's no excuse for it. It's almost as if they wanted to be hurt just to get off the job."
|Bill Downs interviewing a German veteran|
What of these men? They are the ones, under whatever final policy is dictated by the Allies, who must meet the quotas, who must go into the mines and the mills and once again spark the reconstruction of battered lands.
The great threat — greater than uprising or strike — is that perhaps they will do nothing. For if apathy seizes the land, it will mean another kind of Götterdämmerung — a collapse in which Germany, wallowing in a masochistic glory, would drag Europe into the morass with her.
To find out what was going on in the minds of the men at Krupp, I talked to both workers and management. The leaders of the Krupp workers' committee have their headquarters on the gloomy third floor of one of the few buildings left standing of the Essen offices.
Bernard Ackermann is head of the committee. He is a mild little man, a Socialist who might be a minor official in the American Federation of Labor if he were an American. But his assistant, Hans Degel, is the power behind the local labor throne. Degel was a Communist who was a prisoner in the dreaded Belsen concentration camp.
More Workers Needed
Since the end of the war, the workers' committee has concerned itself chiefly with denazification, in seeing that no former Nazis are employed by Krupp. And it is becoming more obvious that, with the shortage of skilled labor in Essen, the investigations are growing less and less detailed.
Under the Allied Military Government, the union has no right to strike. Wages are frozen, so there can be no legal protest action on this issue by the union. However, Ackermann and Degel both say that the union plans to do something to bring wages within range of prices as soon as they are permitted.
But, in the words of these two union chiefs, the world should not condemn German labor too much for what happened in Germany. "There was a lot of opposition to Krupp and Nazi policy here," Degel said. The Communist reached in his desk and brought out a column of figures. It is said that a German can't breathe without a column of figures. "For example, seven hundred Krupp workers were sent to concentration camps because of their political views.
"Ninety-two percent of the Krupp management were members of the Nazi Party. Sixty-two percent of the white-collar workers were members. But only eight percent of the workers joined up — and mostly they did that because they were forced to."
But what does the German union think should be done with the Krupp factories and mines?
Degel looked embarrassed. There has been no directive from the Eastern Zone about such questions. With Germany split into four parts, the acquisition of ownership by zonal authorities would split the industry into international proprietorships — which doesn't follow the party line. The Communist labor leader's answer was ingenious — a little too ingenious.
"Why would it not be possible for the city of Essen to assume ownership of the plants?" Degel asked. "The city depends on Krupp. The city should own the mines and steel mills and factories. Nationalization might be a good idea later."
But what is the Communist Party position about the guilt of the German people? What do the Communists believe as separate from the union and other parties?
"The Communists believe," Degel said," that the German people must share the blame for the war. And this includes labor. But in the future, if the workers are to share the responsibility for the success or failure of Germany, they must have more and more participation."
The man took a deep breath and his speech seemed almost rehearsed. "The German people do not want to be dependent for their livelihood on the American taxpayer or anyone else. There would be no more war if the German economy were truly democratic and the people had the responsibility for keeping it that way."
Degel said there are now 10,000 Communist Party members in the Essen district. "But we have 40,000 other people supporting us. Our influence is increasing. Only in 1945 we were the smallest group. But since then we have shown the fastest and largest development.
"The reason for this is that we show the real way to a better future for Germany — which is through basic, socialistic, economic changes."
No "Good and Bad"
Degel grinned after his speech. He pulled a half-smoked cigarette from his pocket, looked at it carefully and lit it. He smoked in the postwar German fashion, drawing each puff carefully and holding the smoke in his lungs as long as he comfortably could.
"Under the present conditions of partition in Germany, there is no sense in talking about good and bad things for the country. There must be unity of the country. And this goes for the Russian Zone, too.
"There are good and bad things in every Zone. We do not defend the bad things that are going on, no matter which Zone they occur in. There must be a unity of workers' parties. And only in the Russian Zone does this occur. We hear that in the Russian Zone there is more participation of the workers in running the factories. We hear that production is better and reconstruction is faster."
A different answer came from Erich Krippner, assistant manager of the Amelia mine in Essen. Krippner says he was never a Nazi, never in the army and — strangely enough — never in trouble with the authorities. That may be because he has been a mining engineer for many years.
A Conservative Speaks
A youngish, tall, balding man with non-committal eyes and a precise manner, Krippner is a conservative with little use for the nationalization of the mines. He charges that:
1. Under nationalization, there would be no economic leadership.
2. The Ruhr coal areas require improvement and development which wouldn't take place under nationalization.
3. Nationalization would probably aggravate the absenteeism of the miners — already up to 17 percent.Krippner favors grouping all of Germany's coal industry under one head on a kind of profit-sharing basis. He pointed out that there are good and bad mines in the Ruhr — but as long as coal is in such demand, the bad mines would have to produce, too.
By grouping them, the good producers could balance off the uneconomical ones and a level could be maintained for the owners.
I asked him if this were not the kind of centralization of industry the Allies were trying to break up. Krippner said no. This, he declared, would be a horizontal or produce organization, while Krupp was a vertical or industrial organization.
It took two Ruhr coal miners, however, to dramatize the plight of the German industrial worker. Coming off the morning shift at the Amelia mine in the center of Essen, Wilhelm Marcaniak was taking off his work clothes. He is 47 and has been working in the mines 20 years. He has a wife and four children and finds himself hard put to feed them all. Also, he's a little unhappy that all his children are girls and thus unable to earn much.
Marcaniak figures the Allies are being pretty stupid about the food proposition. During the past two years he has lost 40 pounds. Before, he said, he could mine nine tons of coal a day. But the food has been so short that now he can take out only five and sometimes seven tons.
At this point, a grizzled old man, one of the oldest miners there, stuck his head over Marcaniak's shoulder. He announced himself as Karl Daskowski. Both were Germans of Polish descent.
Speaking with the authority of the voluble, aged and with the air of a man pleased that once more he could criticize authority, Daskowski shouted:
"We want to be Germans and a real working country. We are free and not slaves. But if this kind of feeding goes on, the Nazis will come again, not democracy."
One can only wonder what kind of food it would take to bring democracy to Germany.