Kitty Werthmann, 83, of Pierre,
is president of the South Dakota Eagle Forum.
She lobbies the state legislature on family issues. She has
lived in the United States since 1950 and has been a U.S.
citizen since 1962.
"After America , There is
No Place to Go"
By: Kitty Werthmann
What I am about to tell you is something you've probably
never heard or will ever read in history books.
I believe that I am an eyewitness to history. I cannot tell
you that Hitler took Austria by tanks and guns; it would
distort history. We elected him by a landslide - 98% of the
vote.. I've never read that in any American publications.
Everyone thinks that Hitler just rolled in with his tanks
and took Austria by force.
In 1938, Austria was in deep Depression. Nearly one-third of
our workforce was unemployed. We had 25% inflation and 25%
bank loan interest rates.
Farmers and business people were declaring bankruptcy daily.
Young people were going from house to house begging for
food. Not that they didn't want to work; there simply
weren't any jobs. My mother was a Christian woman and
believed in helping people in need. Every day we cooked a
big kettle of soup and baked bread to feed those poor,
hungry people - about 30 daily.
The Communist Party and the National Socialist Party were
fighting each other. Blocks and blocks of cities like Vienna
, Linz , and Graz were destroyed. The people became
desperate and petitioned the government to let them decide
what kind of government they wanted.
We looked to our neighbor on the north, Germany , where
Hitler had been in power since 1933. We had been told that
they didn't have unemployment or crime, and they had a high
standard of living. Nothing was ever said about persecution
of any group -- Jewish or otherwise. We were led to believe
that everyone was happy. We wanted the same way of life in
Austria . We were promised that a vote for Hitler would mean
the end of unemployment and help for the family. Hitler also
said that businesses would be assisted, and farmers would
get their farms back. Ninety-eight percent of the population
voted to annex Austria to Germany and have Hitler for our
We were overjoyed, and for three days we danced in the
streets and had candlelight parades. The new government
opened up big field kitchens and everyone was fed.
After the election, German officials were appointed, and
like a miracle, we suddenly had law and order. Three or four
weeks later, everyone was employed. The government made sure
that a lot of work was created through the Public Work
Hitler decided we should have equal rights for women. Before
this, it was a custom that married Austrian women did not
work outside the home. An able-bodied husband would be
looked down on if he couldn't support his family. Many women
in the teaching profession were elated that they could
retain the jobs they previously had been required to give up
Hitler Targets Education - Eliminates Religious
Instruction for Children:
Our education was nationalized. I attended a very good
public school. The population was predominantly Catholic, so
we had religion in our schools. The day we elected Hitler
(March 13, 1938), I walked into my schoolroom to find the
crucifix replaced by Hitler's picture hanging next to a Nazi
flag. Our teacher, a very devout woman, stood up and told
the class we wouldn't pray or have religion anymore.
Instead, we sang "Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles," and
had physical education.
Sunday became National Youth Day with compulsory attendance.
Parents were not pleased about the sudden change in
curriculum. They were told that if they did not send us,
they would receive a stiff letter of warning the first time.
The second time they would be fined the equivalent of $300,
and the third time they would be subject to jail. The first
two hours consisted of political indoctrination. The rest of
the day we had sports. As time went along, we loved it. Oh,
we had so much fun and got our sports equipment free. We
would go home and gleefully tell our parents about the
wonderful time we had.
My mother was very unhappy. When the next term started, she
took me out of public school and put me in a convent. I told
her she couldn't do that and she told me that someday when I
grew up, I would be grateful. There was a very good
curriculum, but hardly any fun - no sports, and no political
indoctrination. I hated it at first but felt I could
tolerate it. Every once in a while, on holidays, I went
home. I would go back to my old friends and ask what was
going on and what they were doing. Their loose lifestyle was
very alarming to me. They lived without religion. By that
time unwed mothers were glorified for having a baby for
Hitler. It seemed strange to me that our society changed so
suddenly. As time went along, I realized what a great deed
my mother did so that I wasn't exposed to that kind of
Equal Rights Hits Home:
In 1939, the war started and a food bank was
established. All food was rationed and could only be
purchased using food stamps. At the same time, a
full-employment law was passed which meant if you didn't
work, you didn't get a ration card, and if you didn't have a
card, you starved to death. Women who stayed home to raise
their families didn't have any marketable skills and often
had to take jobs more suited for men.
Soon after this, the draft was implemented. It was
compulsory for young people, male and female , to give one
year to the labor corps. During the day, the girls worked on
the farms, and at night they returned to their barracks for
military training just like the boys. They were trained to
be anti-aircraft gunners and participated in the signal
corps. After the labor corps, they were not discharged but
were used in the front lines. When I go back to Austria to
visit my family and friends, most of these women are
emotional cripples because they just were not equipped to
handle the horrors of combat. Three months before I turned
18, I was severely injured in an air raid attack. I nearly
had a leg amputated, so I was spared having to go into the
labor corps and into military service.
Hitler Restructured the Family Through Daycare:
When the mothers had to go out into the work force, the
government immediately established child care centers. You
could take your children ages 4 weeks to school age and
leave them there around-the-clock, 7 days a week, under the
total care of the government. The state raised a whole
generation of children.. There were no motherly women to
take care of the children, just people highly trained in
child psychology. By this time, no one talked about equal
rights. We knew we had been had.
Health Care and Small Business Suffer Under Government
Before Hitler, we had very good medical care . Many American
doctors trained at the University of Vienna of Vienna .
After Hitler, health care was socialized, free for everyone.
Doctors were salaried by the government. The problem was,
since it was free, the people were going to the doctors for
everything. When the good doctor arrived at his office at 8
a.m. , 40 people were already waiting and, at the same time,
the hospitals were full. If you needed elective surgery, you
had to wait a year or two for your turn. There was no money
for research as it was poured into socialized medicine.
Research at the medical schools literally stopped , so the
best doctors left Austria and emigrated to other countries .
As for healthcare, our tax rates went up to 80% of our
income . Newlyweds immediately received a $1,000 loan from
the government to establish a household. We had big programs
for families. All day care and education were free. High
schools were taken over by the government and college
tuition was subsidized. Everyone was entitled to free
handouts, such as food stamps, clothing, and housing.
We had another agency designed to monitor business . My
brother-in-law owned a restaurant that had square tables.
Government officials told him he had to replace them with
round tables because people might bump themselves on the
corners. Then they said he had to have additional bathroom
facilities. It was just a small dairy business with a snack
bar. He couldn't meet all the demands. Soon, he went out of
business. If the government owned the large businesses and
not many small ones existed, it could be in control.
We had consumer protection. We were told how to shop and
what to buy. Free enterprise was essentially abolished. We
had a planning agency specially designed for farmers. The
agents would go to the farms, count the live-stock, then
tell the farmers what to produce, and how to produce it.
"Mercy Killing" Redefined:
In 1944, I was a student teacher in a small village in
the Alps . The villagers were surrounded by mountain passes
which, in the winter, were closed off with snow, causing
people to be isolated. So people intermarried and offspring
were sometimes retarded. When I arrived, I was told there
were 15 mentally retarded adults, but they were all useful
and did good manual work. I knew one, named Vincent, very
well. He was a janitor of the school. One day I looked out
the window and saw Vincent and others getting into a van. I
asked my superior where they were going. She said to an
institution where the State Health Department would teach
them a trade, and to read and write. The families were
required to sign papers with a little clause that they could
not visit for 6 months. They were told visits would
interfere with the program and might cause homesickness.
As time passed, letters started to dribble back saying these
people died a natural, merciful death. The villagers were
not fooled. We suspected what was happening. Those people
left in excellent physical health and all died within 6
months. We called this euthanasia.
The Final Steps - Gun Laws:
Next came gun registration.. People were getting injured
by guns. Hitler said that the real way to catch criminals
(we still had a few) was by matching serial numbers on guns.
Most citizens were law abiding and dutifully marched to the
police station to register their firearms. Not long
after-wards, the police said that it was best for everyone
to turn in their guns. The authorities already knew who had
them, so it was futile not to comply voluntarily.
No more freedom of speech. Anyone who said something against
the government was taken away. We knew many people who were
arrested, not only Jews, but also priests and ministers who
Totalitarianism didn't come quickly, it took 5 years from
1938 until 1943, to realize full dictatorship in Austria .
Had it happened overnight, my countrymen would have fought
to the last breath. Instead, we had creeping gradualism.
Now, our only weapons were broom handles. The whole idea
sounds almost unbelievable that the state, little by little
eroded our freedom.
After World War II, Russian troops occupied Austria . Women
were raped, preteen to elderly. The press never wrote about
this either. When the Soviets left in 1955, they took
everything that they could, dismantling whole factories in
the process. They sawed down whole orchards of fruit, and
what they couldn't destroy, they burned.. We called it The
Burned Earth. Most of the population barricaded themselves
in their houses. Women hid in their cellars for 6 weeks as
the troops mobilized. Those who couldn't, paid the price.
There is a monument in Vienna today, dedicated to those
women who were massacred by the Russians.
This is an eye witness account. It's true...those of
us who sailed past the Statue of Liberty came to a country
of unbelievable freedom and opportunity.