Work between National Socialism and the Economic Miracle: A Forgotten Crisis in the Early Federal Republic

Joerg Neuheiser’s current research focuses on post-war Germany and the history of work in 20th century Europe. He is working on a book on the West German work ethic after 1945 in which he analyzes the legacy of Weimar and Nazi work experiences after 1945, the migration of so-called “guest workers” from the 1960s onwards and the German experience of economic, technological and cultural change in the 1970s and 1980s. A key aspect of the book is a critical reevaluation of contemporary sociological research on values after 1970 and the role that public debates on value change and a declining German work ethic played for actual work processes. The book combines shop floor analyses from major industrial factories such as Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart and case studies on work-related social practices both in New Left work projects and among the white-collar workforce in a local city administration with a detailed examination of fundamental discourses on work and its meaning both for society and the modern individual.

In this lecture, Joerg Neuheiser will focus on West Germany in the late 1940s and 1950s, a period commonly associated with “Trümmerfrauen” (rubble women) who cleared up war-devastated cities, and hard-working Germans creating the economic miracle. However, while some observers criticized the post-war “work mania” as an attempt to repress guilt and traumatic memories of the Nazi past, others were concerned with “Americanization” and the negative influence of modern technology on traditional “German work”. His paper will show that the meaning of work was highly contested among contemporaries, and that debates on work, unemployment and the future of production were closely related to fundamental questions about German identity, Germany’s past and the country’s position in the world.

Joerg Neuheiser is a Visiting Associate Professor at UCSD sponsored by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD). His current research focuses on post-war Germany and the history of work in 20th century Europe.