Skip to main content

I’ve never been prouder to pack a union card than I was when I visited the Topography of Terror museum in Berlin and the Dachau concentration camp memorial near Munich.

Hitler Hated Unions

Both are stark, sobering memorials to victims of Nazi savagery. Both include haunting, black-and-white photos of men and women whom the Nazis murdered, tortured or imprisoned for opposing Adolf Hitler.

Walter Miertschke and many others in the photo galleries carried union cards. His fate is evidently unknown, but he apparently did not survive the Nazi terror.

Hitler feared Germany’s powerful unions as a serious threat, says Dr. Kenneth Wolf, a retired Murray, Kentucky, State University historian and author. “So he destroyed them.”

The unions strongly opposed Hitler, who wove his hatred of organized labor into his genocidal anti-Semitism. The latter resulted in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of six million European Jews. Many Jews were in unions, too.

The unions strongly opposed Hitler, who wove his hatred of organized labor into his genocidal anti-Semitism. The latter resulted in the Holocaust, the systematic murder of six million European Jews. Many Jews were in unions, too.

In Mein Kampf, his infamous autobiography, Hitler claims unions “created the economic weapon which the international world Jew uses for the ruination of the economic basis of free, independent states, for the annihilation of their national industry and of their national commerce, and thereby for the enslavement of free people in the service of the above-the-state-standing, world finance Jewry.”

Soon after he took power in 1933, Hitler smashed Germany’s unions, whose leaders were among the staunchest opponents of Nazism. Too, they were among the strongest supporters of Germany’s democratic, post-World War I Weimar Republic.

Walter Miertschke

Walter Miertschke

Hitler replaced the unions with the bogus German Labor Front, a Nazi puppet organization. The Front’s job was to squeeze more and more production out of German workers and enforce their obedience to him.

Right-wing German industrialists and business leaders eagerly embraced the Labor Front.

Many of them were enthusiastic Nazis who helped bankroll Hitler.

Scroll to Continue

Recommended Articles

The Labor Front turned German workers into industrial serfs, according to The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer. (During World War II, Hitler happily provided owners of German industries and businesses with thousands of slave laborers from Nazi-conquered countries.)

Under the Labor Front, the German worker was “bound to his master, the employer, much as medieval peasants had been bound to the lord of the manor,” Shirer writes. “Hitler decreed a law bringing an end to collective bargaining and providing that henceforth ‘labor trustees,’ appointed by him, would ‘regulate labor contracts’ and maintain ‘labor peace.’ Since the decisions of the trustees were to be legally binding, the law, in effect, outlawed strikes.”

Hitler named Dr. Robert Ley, whom Shirer described as “the alcoholic Cologne [Nazi] party boss,” as Labor Front chief. Ley promised “to restore absolute leadership to the natural leader of a factory – that is, the employer,” the author adds.

Of course, Germany’s free unions were the antithesis of Hitler’s perverse racist and anti-democratic ideology. In unions, everybody is equal. Rank-and-file members elect their officers, from shop stewards to their national leaders. Union policies are arrived at democratically. At the same time, unions champion reforms that benefit the whole working class, not just union members.

berry craig

After Hitler started World War II, thousands of union members served in the U.S., British, Canadian and other Allied forces. Many sacrificed, and lost, lives and limbs defeating not only Nazism, but also Italian Fascism and Japanese militarism.

Likewise, many German workers risked arrest, torture and death by going underground against the Nazis. They distributed anti-Hitler publications, supplied military intelligence to the Allies and helped Jews and others escape the Nazis.

Pre-Hitler union leaders Julius Leber, Jakob Kaiser and Wilhelm Leuschner were part of the 1944 attempt to kill Hitler with a bomb and overthrow the Nazis, Shirer writes. The failed coup was the subject of the 2008 movie Valkyrie.

The Nazis executed Leber and Leuschner. Kaiser hid until the war ended in 1945.

Today, unions in Germany are under the Deutscher Gerwerkschaftsbund, or German Confederation of Trade Unions. The DGB “strives for a society founded on solidarity. Employment and income have to be distributed fairly and people have to be given an equal chance regardless of origin, colour or gender. The DGB offers future-oriented concepts for a social market economy which is tailored to the changed social conditions of today. Humane modernisation and fair distribution: That is what we stand for.”

Berry Craig

Julius Leber, Wilhelm Lauschner, Walter Miertschke and countless other union members stood for the same principles. The Nazis arrested, tortured, starved, shot, hanged, beheaded and worked them to death in Dachau and other concentration camps.

Berry Craig