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Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother's Day in Germany

In the 1920s Germany had the lowest birthrate in Europe, and it was still declining. It was attributed to women's participation in the labor market. At the same time, all influential groups in society (politicians in both Left and Right, churchwomen and feminists) thought that mothers should be honored, but they couldn't agree on how to do it. All those groups agreed strongly in the promotion of the values of motherhood. This resulted in the unanimous adoption in 1923 of the Muttertag, the Mother's Day holiday as imported from America and Norway. The head of the Association of German Florists cited "the inner conflict of our Volk and the loosening of the family" as his reason for introducing the holiday, and he expected that it would unite the divided country. In 1925 the Mother's Day Committee joined the Task Force for the recovery of the volk, and the holiday stopped depending on commercial interests and it started being about the level of population Germany.
The holiday was now seen as a means to get the women to bear more children, and nationalists saw it as a way of rejuvenating the nation. The holiday didn't celebrate the individual women, but an idealized standard of motherhood. The progressive forces resisted the implementation of the holiday because it was backed by so many conservatives, and because they saw it as a way to cut the rights of the worker women. Die Frau, the newspaper of the Federation of German Women's Associations, refused to even recognize the holiday. Many local authorities made their own interpretation of the holiday: it would be a day to support economically larger families or single-mother families. The guidelines for the subsidies had eugenics criteria, but there is no indication that social workers ever implemented them in practice, and subsidies were given preferentially to families in economic needs rather that families with more children or with "healthier" children.
With the Nazi party in power during 1933–1945, this all changed radically. The propaganda for Mother's Day had increased in many European countries, including England and France, and Nazis increased it from the moment they entered into power. The role of mothers was unambiguously promoted as that of giving healthy sons to the German Nation. The Nazi party's intention was creating a pure "Aryan race" according to the nazi eugenics. Among other Mother's Day ideas, the government promoted the death of your sons in battle as the highest embodiment of patriotic motherhood.

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