By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN He promised to bring jobs, equal rights, help for the poor, a changed health care system . . . . It all sounded so good.
“Hitler was a very clever politician,” said Kitty Werthmann, a survivor of Nazi-controlled Austria.
In 1938, economically depressed Austria was a nation eager for change, 84-year-old Werthmann explained to a large audience in the Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted High School auditorium Tuesday evening.
Werthmann was in sixth grade when Austria welcomed Hitler’s “new and improved” form of government.
“He promised the people he would seek employment and they would have a good living standard,” Werthmann said. Hitler had been in Germany since 1933, and it appeared that everyone there was happy with his leadership.
“After that, everyone was appointed. No one was elected anymore,” Werthmann said.
In order to “save money,” Hitler merged Austria’s government into fewer divisions.
“’Good idea,’ we thought,” Werthmann said.
Later, she realized what was really happening.
“Under socialism, it is most important to centralize everything to take away local control,” she explained.
Next came the nationalization of the media, banks, and education.
Werthmann remembers walking into her school to find the crucifix replaced by Hitler’s picture, hanging next to a Nazi flag.
“Our teacher told us we wouldn’t pray or have religion class anymore,” Werthmann said. “Instead, we sang ‘Deutschland, Deutschland, Uber Alles,’ and had physical education.”
Sundays were National Youth Day, and parents were forced to send their children to the school gymnasium at 8 a.m. each week. If they failed to comply once, the parents would be sent a strict warning letter. The second time, they’d receive a steep fine, and if it happened a third time, they would be jailed.
“The first two hours, we had political education what I would now call ‘political indoctrination,’” Werthmann said. “We were told not to listen to our parents. They were old-fashioned, old fogies. They didn’t understand the young people.”
The rest of the day was spent on recreation, and the students received free sports equipment.
“You can imagine how we came back to our parents at the end of the day,” Werthmann said. “We had so much fun, and said it was much better than going to church on Sunday.”
Werthmann’s mother was disturbed by this arrangement, and decided to send her away to a Catholic school.
“I almost hated my mother when she dropped me off, but she was a nice woman,” Werthmann said. “She told me, ‘Someday, when you are grown up, you will realize what I’m doing for you.’”
When Werthmann would come back home on holidays to visit, she was alarmed by what she saw.
“Sixteen-year-old girls were having babies for Hitler,” she said. People lived without moral conscience, blindly succumbing to the atheistic philosophies in their society.
Another step was the “equal rights” amendment that put Austrian women in the workforce, instead of caring for their children at home.
“What do you think happened to the children?” Werthmann asked. “The government had an immediate remedy for that child care.”
Parents were encouraged to leave their children in centers run by college-educated child psychologists.
“That way, they could be molded from early on exactly how the state wanted them,” Werthmann said.
“Equal rights” also translated to the economic sector. There was subsidized housing and heating, food stamps, and more.
“Everybody was entitled to something. We had a huge welfare system,” Werthmann said. “Our taxes escalated up to 70 percent.”
Then came the health care change. Before Hitler, Austria had a solid medical care system with good doctors, Werthmann said.
Once the government took over, Werthmann’s brother-in-law, who was a doctor, remembers long lines of patients.
“He said it was like practicing medicine on a conveyor belt,” Werthmann said. If a doctor prescribed a medicine that was not on the state’s list, it was taken directly out of the doctor’s salary.
The “free” health care system also led to forced abortions and euthanasia.
In 1944, when Werthmann was a student teacher in a small village, there was a group of 15 mentally-handicapped people who couldn’t read or write.
“They did a lot of manual work,” Werthmann said. She remembers one of the men, Vincent, very well.
“He was an excellent janitor,” she said.
One day, a van from the health department took all 15 of them. Supposedly, they were going to learn a trade and learn to read and write. The families were required to sign papers, with a clause stating that they couldn’t visit for six months.
“They were told visits might make them homesick,” Werthmann said.
Within the six months, however, each of the 15 families had gotten a letter back, stating that their loved one had died a “natural, merciful” death.
When the government runs health care, in a sense, it has the authority to decide who lives and who dies.
“I will never get a handicapped license plate, no matter what,” Werthmann said. “I would not want to be on the list.”
Gun control was another step toward government takeover in Austria.
“We had to register our guns,” Werthmann said. They were told that children were getting hurt, and that it would be easier to catch murderers if the serial numbers were tracked.
After awhile, the people were told that just tracking the guns wasn’t enough to stop crime. The best way to stop murderers would be for everyone to take their guns to the police stations. Since the government already knew who had guns, it was futile not to comply.
“After they took our guns away, we had total dictatorship,” Werthmann said.
Austria’s loss of freedom didn’t come overnight.
“It was gradual, step-by-step,” Werthmann said.
Werthmann travels throughout the United States warning audiences about the dangers of socialism.
“America is the greatest country, if we can keep it,” she said.
Werthmann said it is important for people to educate themselves, and to hold politicians’ “feet to the fire.” People need to know what candidates stand for, so that they can vote for the ones who will preserve freedom.
The master of ceremonies for the evening was retired Army Lieutenant Colonel Joe Repya, who served in three wars Vietnam, Desert Storm, and Operation Iraqi Freedom.
Werthmann did not charge a speaking fee, but CampAmerica, a local grassroots group dedicated to educating people about freedom, decided to pay for Werthmann’s airfare and lodging.
CampAmerica also provided a free meal before the event.
To learn more about the group, or to purchase Werthmann’s full story on CD, contact Laurie (612) 280-2250, John (612) 280-5021, or Al (612) 759-5094.