“Work ennobles”

Members of the Reich Labor Service at the annual Nazi Party Congress in Nuremberg, September 1937.

The theme of the 1937 Party Congress was “labor.” The parade of “working men” lined up in ranks was considered the highlight of the Party Congress, which featured many such processions marching past Adolf Hitler.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz

Building facade in a Reich Labor Service camp with the slogan “work ennobles,” 1935.

Source: ullstein bild, Berlin

“Labor service. Honorable service for German youth.”

Reich Labor Service propaganda poster, 1935.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Koblenz

Reich Labor Service camp in Dorsten (Westfalia), 1939.

Military training exercises were part of daily life in the Reich Labor Service.

Source: Historicmedia-Verlag Dietrich Klose

Reich Labor Service camp in Dorsten (Westfalia), 1939.

The military training exercises served as paramilitary preparations for war.

Source: Historicmedia-Verlag Dietrich Klose

Reich Labor Service camp in Dorsten (Westfalia), 1939.

On special occasions such as Adolf Hitler’s birthday, the young workers donned uniforms similar to those worn by Wehrmacht soldiers.

Source: Historicmedia-Verlag Dietrich Klose

Agreement on the deployment of prisoners in the Emsland, 17 December 1936.

The Emsland was divided into regions in order to distinguish the prisoners‘ forced labor from the “honorable service” performed by the men of the Reich Labor Service, who were also working in the Emsland.

Source: Bundesarchiv, Berlin

“Work Ennobles”

The motto “Arbeit adelt” (“work ennobles”) was invented to shed a positive light on the “Reich Labor Service,” an institution which, established in 1935, was rigorously military in nature. Every young German male was required to serve in it for six months. Labor wase quated with sacrifice for the “people’s community.” The workers assisted in road construction or cultivation of the land. In addition to reducing unemployment, the labor service also fulfilled the purposes of ideological training and paramilitary preparation for war.

The Reich Labor Service was thus a fundamental means of enforcing National Socialist social policies and an integral element of state control over young people: boys graduated from the “Jungvolk” (“German Youth”) to the “Hitlerjugend” (“Hitler Youth”), then they fulfilled their labor service obligations and, finally, were conscripted into the “Wehrmacht” (German army).

Work as an “Honorable Service to the German People”

During the National Socialist Era, work did not mean the same
thing for everyone. Whereas members of the “inferior races” had
to perform humiliating forced labor, the work of “Aryan” Germans
was considered an honorable service to the German people.

Every German was to make his or her contribution to the “Volksgemeinschaft”
(“people’s community”) through some form of work.
This community was conceived of as a superior “blood community”
faced with the challenge of defending itself against everything
racially foreign. Propaganda portrayed German workers and soldiers
as the ideal combatants in this struggle. The racist ideology
of achievement masked social inequalities while at the same time
creating a pretext for persecuting supposedly inferior persons and
the “work-shy.”