Module D: Local Administrative Policies from a Historical Point of View: Personnel Policies and Welfare Policies in Nazi Germany

Georg Erdelbrock/Bernd Schroller


Target groups
Public servants (especially public administration officials in training or in further education) as well as groups of health care professionals


Themes and goals
In this module, we focus on the professional conduct of people working in public administration under the Nazis, using the personnel policies and welfare policies of the Nazis as a foundation. We also look at what has stayed the same in public administration in terms of personnel and structures since the Second World War. Using biographies, laws and memoranda as a starting point, participants explore the following questions: Was there such a thing as a “typical civil servant” under the Nazis? How did civil servants become a reliable pillar of the Nazi regime? In what ways and in what areas of the welfare system and health care services did administrative personnel participate in crimes and acts of marginalisation?


Our experience has been that most participants of these seminars have not considered the role of public administration under the Nazis before. For the most part, they assume that, under the Nazis, public administration institutions and employees were apolitical – that they only carried out regulatory tasks set by the state and had neither taken part in criminal acts, nor could they be made responsible for them. We thus take a closer look at the function of the Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service (Gesetz zur Wiederherstellung des Berufsbeamtentums, BBG) from April 1933, which was primarily used by the Nazis not only to fire people from office who were not wanted because of their politics, but also to hire people who supported the Nazi ideology and place them in leading positions. The result of this was that administrative institutions became a key instrument of Nazi policies. Because § 3 of the BBG provided a legal basis for removing administration officials who were considered Jewish, we also use it as a starting point for discussing racist persecution in the civil service.


In another part of the seminar in which we explore the social reality of the early 1930s, we take a closer look at what is now Germany’s oldest homeless shelter, the Pik As (Ace of Spades), located in the Neustadt neighbourhood of Hamburg. What was the impact of the global economic crisis, and how did the treatment of poverty and poor people change throughout the Nazi era? For example, the Hamburg social office was made directly responsible for the Pik As in 1938, and of the 300 people who were sent to preventive detention during the campaign “Arbeitsscheu Reich” (work-shy Reich) in Hamburg in June 1938, at least 60 people were from this establishment. A central question is therefore: What role did the public administration of Hamburg play in the marginalisation, deportation and extermination of people who were labelled “antisocial” and “life unworthy of living”


Another key issue is how the Hamburg public administration treated people who were branded as mentally ill or physically handicapped. Using files from the archives of health and social welfare offices as a starting point, the participants reconstruct the processes of persecution in detail. For example, we look at the Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring (Gesetz zur Verhütung erbkranken Nachwuchses), which was the legal basis for forced sterilisations. That the Hamburg public administration cooperated closely with the mental health asylum Heil- und Pflegeanstalt in Langenhorn, where people with mental illnesses and handicaps were placed before being deported to killing centres, marks a shift from the policy of marginalisation in the 1930s to the policy of extermination in the 1940s.


We also look at four biographies of public administration officials and discuss what chances they had to act differently within the administration, while emphasising the responsibility of individuals and stressing that civil servants were a pillar of the Nazi regime. We also look at what happened after 1945 and follow the different career paths of the officials involved after the war while discussing the denazification practices in West Germany.