by Chris William
The German Stenographers’ Union
The national, regional, and local systems of government that made up Adolf Hitler’s dictatorship contained numerous departments and professions. Each contributed to the complex machinery that kept their daily operations running as smoothly as possible during Germany’s turbulent history of the 1930s and 1940s. Starting during the earliest period of the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP – the Nazi Party) up until the final throes of the defeated Third Reich, these groups of committed bureaucratic professionals churned out enormous quantities of records and communications to satisfy the leaders of a detailed-obsessed culture. When each ranking member of the Nazi Party communicated through the written word with other party members or with the German citizenry as a whole, he would often rely on the fast and proficient members of a small and highly skilled clerical group – the Deutsches Stenographenschaft (German Stenographers’ Union).
Originally organized in 1875 to teach and promote typing, dictation, and shorthand skills, the Stenographers’ Union members worked in both private and governmental office environments. By 1933, though still retaining its individual identity, the Stenographers’ Union (along with most of the other professional trade groups within Germany) became a sub-branch of the 20 million-member Deutsches Arbeitsfront (National Trade Labor Union).
Members’ technical abilities were continually developed through courses taught by leaders within the organization, periodicals circulated regularly to each member, and by presentations that demonstrated the newest and best recording equipment and techniques available at the time. Along with technical skills, Nazi indoctrination was reinforced as a way to strengthen the party’s hold over each of its workers.
Though the majority of members in the Stenographers’ Union were female (as keeping with the Nazi perception that secretarial roles should be filled by women), some male members were enrolled as draftsman or technicians to maintain and repair the Dictaphones, typewriters, and other machinery used in the craft.
A members of the Stenographers Union did not a wear standard uniform to designate their affiliation, but instead, wore a unique membership pin. These small (11.5 x 16 mm ) pins were 6-sided and diamond-shaped, containing a gold-outlined, downward- pointing white enameled pen with outstretched wings supporting a rotated swastika laid over a background of dark blue translucent enamel.
The pins were produced in either pin back or stick pin versions, and contained “Ges Gesch” (Gesetzlich Geschutzt – “patent applied”) on the reverse. These membership pins were produced until 1940, at which time there were approximately 6,000 members in the national union.
Urkunden (certificates) were awarded to stenographers for proficiencies in shorthand, typing, and other clerical skills. For long or meritorious service in the group, members could receive honor pins that varied from diamond to rectangular shapes; bronze, silver, or gold toned; and often surrounded with a border of a gold colored oak leaves. Some honor pins were cast in sold metal with oak leaf wreaths surrounding the center, while others bore year-of-presentation bars attached to either side.
Besides membership pins, members received a substantial Ausweis (membership identification book) bound in either heavy, dark blue cardboard with the winged pen/swastika emblem embellished in gold on the cover. The booklets contained a photograph of the recipient along with personal information such as their name, address, membership entrance date, age, and a record of their paid dues shown through the use of dues stamps.
For formal meetings, some stenographer groups displayed small “table top” or wall banners to show their group’s allegiance to a city or region. Construction and content of these could vary according to the faction, but almost always contained the winged pen insignia.
WITNESSES OF HISTORY
Though starting as a rather mundane professional group, as the war progressed and the “final solution” murdered millions across the occupied lands of the Third Reich, many of these women were destined to become unwilling witnesses. In their roles as stenographers, they recorded and communicated the worst atrocities committed by the regime.
With the final defeat of Hitler’s Germany, the German Stenographers’ Union was officially disbanded in 1945. The thousands of members melded back into the new private and public cultures, ready to take their places in rebuilding the post-war German state.