Translation by Hadding Scott, 2014, based on the 1942 reprinting of a text originally published with official approval of the NSDAP in 1935.
As soon as there is reference anywhere to the dangerousness of the situation in our population-policy, to the increasing senescence of our German people and to the low number of births, usually two counter-arguments are persuasively stated that are supposed to show our entire population-policy as the delusional endeavor of some fools. These are, first, the fact that the German people is still increasing numerically, and, second, unemployment. It is a rock-solid certainty — so it is said — that our people has increased enormously since the previous century, and even endured the severe jolt of the World-War in a manner worthy of admiration, so that even the span from 1925 until the last census in 1933 produced growth. And then — and with this it is believed that we have been utterly beaten — one must consider the economic distress in our country, the great adversity and the misfortune of unemployment that indeed oppose every call for families rich with children.
Such assertions, that our people has continued growing in the last decades and that today the bad economic situation has an oppressive effect on many folk-comrades, are indisputable, if they are considered as isolated facts. But they do not suffice for seeing where our people’s life as a whole stands.
The German People is Burdened with the Mortgage of Death
The life of the nation is diverse; old and young generations have a share in its structure, and in every moment death and birth intervene in this multitude of manifestations, changing the total picture. If we want to judge the vigor and the biological strength of a people, it does not suffice only to declare the total number; rather we must observe the increase or decrease of a people’s fecundity. Here, at the junction of the generations, the life of a nation is decided, whether it wants to continue growing and to arrange a future for itself, or whether it wants to effect weary resignation toward everything that preserves hope for an unknown future.
With such an assessment however one must affirm that the biological will to live of our German people is seriously dwindling, and that since the turn of the 20th century the number of births has declined so steeply that already today it no longer suffices even for maintaining the population. If the absolute number of the people has not declined but has continued rising for the time being, the reason is that due to medical advances, especially in the question of combating epidemics and in combating infant mortality, the number of deaths has declined very sharply, and we have accordingly many more older persons in our population-structure. This section of the population between the ages of 40 and 50 is significantly augmented furthermore by the fact that it issues from the fertile vintages of the decades before 1900. It is clear however that as soon as these generations enter the age of natural mortality, the number of deaths must rise in turn. This will be the case in roughly 10 to 20 years. We must soberly affirm, therefore, that Germany likewise is on the fastest path to becoming a dying people and to implementing the grisly utterance about the 20 million too many.
Economic Factors and Declining Birthrate
Many have now said that this decline in the number of births, perhaps to be expected over a very short period, is a necessary consequence of the bad economic conditions, and that the human consciousness of responsibility has regulated procreation, and must continue regulating. This view is wrong for two reasons: first, because the decline in the birthrate started already after 1876, and in a stronger form after 1900, thus in a time of highest economic prosperity; second, because it affected exactly the classes of the people that were experiencing no economic distress and that would have had enough space and air for a large number of healthy children. It was the circles of the intelligentsia, of the higher civil servants, officers and professors: one to two children per family was the average. Only much later did impoverishment of children, or rather childlessness, become “fashionable” in the middle class and even later among manual laborers, but among the latter only in the post-war period, when economic factors doubtlessly played a part. These last one to two decades however are meaningless compared to the fact that an essentially healthy nation has for two generations accepted the lessening of the number of its children and lost the will to live.
It could be said that nature acted frivolously when she left it up to the free will of the individual to decide whether or not the stream of life should come to a standstill. The idea seems frightening in its implications, that already countless competent and healthy families since a lifetime ago have set about cruelly and cynically throttling, never again awakening to new and young life, all that generation upon generation has assembled in the way of genetic legacy. Bitter it is, if distress alone determined people for such a choice. But this is in fact mostly not the case; instead people want to live it up and want in their short life to have a share of the so-called enjoyment of life and to bypass all of life’s hardships. They do not know that their miniscule something, compared to infinitely large life, is a nullity, which moreover falls into utter insignificance and eternal death if the choice is made that it be the end of a long series of generations. If it has happened, however, that the essentially healthy and highly valuable hereditary lineages do voluntarily forgo procreation, then a people’s will to self-preservation is seriously dwindling, and in the biological sense one can no longer properly speak of life, if the will for posterity, which is one of the essential properties of life, is lacking.
. The title of this chapter, “Is Germany Still a Growing People?”, is incongruous insofar as Germany (Deutschland) is a country (Land), not a people (Volk). This incongruity may have been necessitated by the political circumstances of 1935 when this book was initially published. At that time, National-Socialist Germany was still weak and had to avoid provoking neighboring states that had significant ethnic German populations, especially Poland. It seems likely therefore that this awkward title, with “Germany” substituted for the Germans, was chosen on political grounds to limit the discussion formally to the part of Germandom that was at that time governed from Berlin.
. Die Hypothek des Todes, “the mortgage of death,” is an idiomatic expression. In the 19th century, a person with tuberculosis was said to be living with die Hypothek des Todes, which obviously means something like the English expression living on borrowed time. In the 20th century die Hypothek des Todes seems to have become strongly associated with the kind of looming demographic crisis that Frercks describes here.
. “Il y a 20 millions d’Allemands de trop,” said French Prime Minister Georges Benjamin Clemenceau in response to the proposal to include Germans and Austrians in the post-war food-relief program that lasted from 1 December 1918 to 30 June 1919:
When Clemenceau was told that there were 20 million German and Austrian women and children on the verge of starvation, he said: “Let them starve! There are 20 million too many of them now!” But [Herbert] Hoover insisted on feeding them, declaring, “We never have made war on women and children, and it is too late to begin now.” [The Southeast Missourian, 14 September 1928]