Working girl

A Jungführerin of the Reichsarbeitsdienst der weiblichen Jugend (RAD/wJ, Female Youth National Labor Service) with her floppy hat and swastika-adorned brooch. At the same time that the RAD was officially established in July, 1934, it was also divided into separate sections for males and for females. The Reichsarbeitdienst Männer, or RAD/M, was set up for men, and the Reichsarbeitdienst der weiblichen Jugend, or RAD/wJ, for females. All young women between 18 and 21 years of age were expected to serve. For women the period of service had been six months since 1939, but this was often extended by an emergency service obligation. In July 1941, the service was extended by a further six months to twelve months, extended to 18 months in April 1944, and finally made indefinite in November 1944. The extra (wo)manpower gained by the extended service term of 1944 was mainly used for anti-aircraft defense.

The female RAD replaced male agricultural workers as they entered Wehrmacht service, but they also joined the workforce in offices, in the armaments industry, and in public transport. Their main tasks were to assist peasant families with childcare and as teachers or nurses, or to work in the household, in the field, or taking care of farm animals, milking cows, and so on.

The daily routine, with its detailed schedules, left the members of the RAD/wJ with little time at their own disposal and resembled that of the soldiers: not counting the lunch break, the work hours amounted to about 76 hours per week. Also, the evenings were usually planned, and with no time for activities outside of the camp; this required special permission, as in the case of the military. The RAD completely replaced the existing social environment. Thus, a collective identity was to be developed in the new “community”, indoctrinating the RAD/wJ members into the Nazi state.

Women were also able to serve as Wehrmachthelferinnen (Army female auxiliaries), like telephone operators (“Blitzmädel“). To this end, the period of service was extended by six months. From 1944 the RAD/wJ was also used for the operation of anti-aircraft searchlights in support of anti-aircraft guns and Luftwaffe nightfighter units.

The manpower shortages required that women served, just like in many other countries affected by the war. For the Nazis, women were mainly to be mothers and to take care of the household. The war production relied on slave and forced labor, which often resulted in sabotaged munitions and other war materiél. Had German women been employed earlier, the war industry might’ve run smoother.


Reaching out to younger generations

A soldier shows off his athletic skills on the bar while carrying a full combat load, schoolkids watching raptly. In many countries in the 1930’s, the reasons for the outbreak of the Great War (WW1) differed depending on who you asked. History was an important subject in school, where it mainly served to tell about a nation’s glorious past and to push a more or less nationalist agenda. In the 1960’s, the narrative began to change, and became less focused on kings and battles. Over the decades, the subject has deteriorated. In Swedish schools, the only thing they read about when it comes to WW2 is the Holocaust. That’s important, but considering what a decisive event WW2 was, and how it influences politics and life to this day, it should be taught a lot more, of course together with the rest of 20th century history.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched “Dunkirk” in the local cinema. Christopher Nolan’s latest movie is very stylish, but the non-linear, intersecting storylines can confuse the viewer. To make matters worse, there’s extremely little exposition on why the soldiers are where they are, what year it is, and even who the enemy is. The audience numbered perhaps 30-35 people, at least a dozen about 18 years old. I felt sorry for them, as they couldn’t possibly have enough knowledge of the background to fully appreciate the movie. Even someone with passing knowledge of WW2 would be probably be a bit confused, at least at first.

Given that many movies and TV series have historical themes, the poor public understanding of the periods portrayed probably helps productions with crappy historical accuracy to succeed more than they deserve. This is nothing new, though, and has left history buffs stewing in cinema seats and livingroom sofas for decades. My take on it is that the makers of such movies and series shouldn’t count on the audience needing to be clueless and ignorant in order to swallow the ludicrous plots.

I talked to a friend who is a teacher about the state of the history subject these days. He teaches young teenagers, all of them born after events like 9/11. To them, events two or three generations ago have a have an almost mythological air. They have only superficial knowledge of WW2, Hitler being reduced to a bogeyman like Darth Vader, or a ranting madman in countless “Downfall” YouTube clips spoofing some current trend. This sad state of affairs is common and surveys show a shocking lack of knowledge. Of course, it depends on who you ask… The problem has been around for decades, though, and the realist in me realise that it won’t go away.

Knowing about history, what caused this or that event, and what effect that had on other events, is essential to the understanding the world around us. If you have a sound schooling in history, you are less prone to fall for nationalist agendas or fake news. Also, it gives you a better appreciation of your own place in the chain of events that has led up to the world we live in today. We cannot know where we might be heading if we don’t know where we come from.

Your tax money at work

Curious German civilians crowd around a Messerschmitt Bf 109, probably an E-1, patiently waiting in line to get a chance to take a look in the cockpit. It’s apparently a publicity stunt, showing the people that Germany possessed some of the finest fighter aircraft in the world. The all-metal construction, powerful engine, and, starting with the E-3, improved armament made it a respected adversary on all fronts.

The Bf 109 was the mainstay of the Luftwaffe, serving in different versions during the entire war. 33,984 were built between 1936 and 1945, making it the most numerous fighter aircraft in history. It was the mount of aces like Adolf Galland, Hans-Joachim Marseille, Gerhard Barkhorn, Günther Rall, and the ace of all aces: Erich Hartmann, who with his 352 aerial victories will probably never be bested.

Today, just a few original Bf 109’s are in flying condition. The roar of their Daimler-Benz engines can still be heard at some airshows, and I hope to see one in the air sometime before I die.


“Links, rechts, links!”

Recruits of the 1. Zug (1st platoon) of some unknown company marching, commanded by Leutnant (2nd Lieutenant) Förster. This is probably in 1940 or 1941, as Förster wears a Wound Badge on his uniform, indicating that he has participated in the campaigns in Poland and/or France. The soldiers wear Drillich linen fatigue uniforms in a mix of off-white and olive green items.

Learning to march was one of the first things that new recruits were taught. To function as a unit, follow orders, and build up stamina were some of the goals. Later the soldiers were able to march up to 40 km (25 miles) in a day, as the bulk of the divisions weren’t motorized. Those marching boots would see many kilometers…

A boy and his cat (and soldier father)

It’s Caturday again, and the son of that Luftwaffe soldier is so proud of his cat, that he wants it in the family photo. The soldier himself appears to belong to a ground unit, possibly an antiaircraft unit. He also seems a bit older, probably in his 30’s. Family photos are common among soldiers’ photos, and while they aren’t that interesting from a military aspect, they meant a lot to the people in the photographs. Sometimes a collector stumbles on a photo that has something extra, making it a keeper. This is one of those.