Strength Through Joy

kdfwagen

Strength through Joy‘ (‘Kraft durch Freude,’ KdF) was a large state-controlled leisure organization in Nazi Germany. It was a part of the German Labor Front (‘Deutsche Arbeitsfront,’ DAF), the national German labor organization at that time. Set up as a tool to promote the advantages of National Socialism to the people, it soon became the world’s largest tourism operator of the 1930s.

KdF was supposed to bridge the class divide by making middle-class leisure activities available to the masses. This was underscored by having cruises with passengers of mixed classes and having them, regardless of social status, draw lots for allocation of cabins. Another less ideological goal was to boost the German economy by stimulating the tourist industry out of its slump from the 1920s.

It was quite successful up until the outbreak of World War II. By 1934, over two million Germans had participated on a KdF trip; by 1939 the reported numbers lay around 25 million people. The organization essentially collapsed in 1939, and several projects, such as the massive Prora holiday resort, were never completed.

KdF set up production of an affordable car, the Kdf-Wagen, which later became the Volkswagen Beetle. Buyers of the car made payments and posted stamps in a stamp-savings book, which when full, would be redeemed for the car. Due to the shift to wartime production, no consumer ever received a Kdf-Wagen (although after the war, Volkswagen did give some customers a 200DM discount for their stamp-books). The Beetle factory was primarily converted to produce the Kübelwagen (the German equivalent of the jeep). What few Beetles were produced went primarily to the diplomatic corps and military officials.

Starting in 1933, KdF provided affordable leisure activities such as concerts, plays, libraries, day trips, and vacations. Large ships, such as the Wilhelm Gustloff, were built specifically for KdF cruises. They rewarded workers by taking them and their families to the movies, parks, keep-fit clubs, hiking, sporting activities, and concerts. Borrowing from the Italian fascist organization ‘Dopolavoro’ (‘After Work’), but extending its influence into the workplace as well, KdF rapidly developed a wide range of activities, and quickly grew into one of Nazi Germany’s largest organizations. These activities were parodied in the 1942 Disney short propaganda film ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face,’ in which an overworked Donald Duck is told that it was ‘time for vacation’ — the vacation being a torn curtain depicting the Alps, in front of which Donald was forced to exercise.

The National Socialists sought to attract tourists from abroad, a task performed by Hermann Esser, one of the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda’s secretaries. A series of multilingual and colorful brochures, titled ‘Deutschland,’ advertised Germany as a peaceful, idyllic, and progressive country, on one occasion even portraying the ministry’s boss, Joseph Goebbels, grinning and hamming in an unlikely photo series of the Cologne carnival.

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