Reading

A New Economic Crisis

Gain insight into the devastating poverty, unemployment, and hopelessness experienced by Germans during the Great Depression.  
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At a Glance

Reading

Language

English — US

Subject

  • History
  • Human & Civil Rights
  • The Holocaust

In October of 1929, a worldwide depression began. A depression is a severe economic downturn that forces businesses to decrease production and lay off workers. Germany felt the effects of the depression almost immediately. By 1932, 6 million Germans were unemployed in a nation of about 60 million people. Among them were Lea Langer Grundig, who was a Communist, and her husband, Hans. Like other job seekers, they stood in long lines at labor exchanges day after day:

The misery years of unemployment colored everyone the same shade of gray. Work qualifications, special abilities, skills, and knowledge based on experience—these were all as outmoded as vanished snow. The radiance and color of particular occupations were lost in the gray of welfare misery. Endless conversations, discussions, resigned grumbling and cursing, simple, childish hopeful chatter, political arguments—all this was woven into the never-ending talk of those standing in line.

Unemployment became a tragedy for many. Not only because of the poverty that mutely sat at their table at all times. Not working, doing nothing, producing nothing—work that not only provided food, but also, despite all the harassment and drudgery, was satisfying, developed skills, and stimulated thinking; work, a human need—it was not available; and wherever it was lacking, decay, malaise, and despair set in. . . .

The grim poverty, the hopelessness, the laws governing the crisis that were incomprehensible for many, all these made people ripe for “miracles.” Sects shot out of the ground. Diviners of the stars or coffee grounds, palm readers, graphologists, speculators and swindlers, clairvoyants and miracle workers had a great time; they reaped rich harvests among the poor, who along with their poverty and idleness fell prey to foolishness. 1

Connection Questions

  1. What words and phrases does Lea Grundig use to describe the effect that the depression had on Germans?
  2. Why did the depression make people “ripe for miracles”?
  3. How might a depression change attitudes about “we” and “they”? How might it affect a country’s universe of obligation? Can such changes be prevented in a democracy? How?
  • 1From Lea Grundig, “Visions and History,” in Roderick Stackelberg and Sally A. Winkle, eds., The Nazi Germany Sourcebook: An Anthology of Texts (London: Routledge, 2002), 97.

How to Cite This Reading

Facing History and Ourselves, "A New Economic Crisis," last updated May 12, 2020.

 

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