Germany’s “emergency relief” for 100 years
by Chris William
After Germany’s defeat in World War One, the Weimar Republic fell into a violent state of civil turmoil. Communist run unions stopped production and public services in protests, hampering the country’s fragile economy. Freikorps members (paramilitary groups raised from servicemen) were used to combat these workers’ groups, helping to maintain order and prevent the government from spiraling out of control during the post war depression.
In 1919, Otto Lummitzsch organized the Technische Nothilfe (Technical Emergency Relief — TENO) organization from ex-army engineers and engineering students to take over the Freikorps’ strike-breaking functions. As many of the country’s tradesmen were in the leftist unions, TENO members were not regarded well by them at that time. Despite this, by 1925, TENO membership had peaked to 441,772 men and women who kept factories, newspaper presses, railroads, busses, utilities, canals and other facilities running during times of crisis. The TENO worked with other organizations such as the German Red Cross during natural catastrophes including storms and floods. In addition, they helped in fire brigade assistance and, began to specialize in air raid protection training.
In January 1933, when Adolf Hitler and the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP — Nazi Party) came to power, the TENO organization had many Nazi party members in the ranks. By 1934, Lummitzsch was removed as head of the organization since his wife was part Jewish and did not meet Nazi standards. Erich Hampe, the deputy chief, became the new leader for 2 months, whenNazi party member, Hans Weinreich, replaced him.
After the NSDAP banned other parties and trade unions, free communists, and strikes became non-existent, TENO’s operations became less. The organization suffered another setback when the Wehrmacht (armed forces) began taking the group’s younger members to fill their own ranks. As a result, the TENO gradually became much smaller, with fewer than 150,000 members by 1939.
When Germany invaded Poland on Sept 1, 1939,the TENO followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht, providing many of the services of military engineers. Members restored power, helped with bombed-out buildings (demolition and reconstruction), restarted waterworks, revived industrial plants, cleared sunken vessels from waterways, and repaired any other of the damages left by warfare or saboteurs.
As the war raged on, many TENO members were absorbed directly into the army, navy and air force, becoming active parts of the military units for which they had independently worked. In 1942, the TENO organization fell under the jurisdiction of the Schutzstaffel (SS) where it became a branch of the German police.
By 1943, the TENO force had fallen below 100,000 members, mostly made up of men too old or unfit for service in the regular military. Even so, the remaining members worked diligently on massive projects, including the West Wall fortifications, countless bunkers, and other emplacements needed for the war effort.
When Hans Weinreich was dismissed from the TENO in 1943, SS-Gruppenführer Willy Schmelcher became head of the organization. With an ardent National Socialist now at the helm, TENO members saw increased training in anti-Semitism and Nazi racial theory. Later, while assisting the SS and police, some TENO men participated in ghetto demolition, forced labor, and the rounding up of Jews and others deemed undesirable in Hitler’s Reich.
TENO was divided into local Ortsgruppen. During the era of the Third Reich, there were more than 1,500 Ortsgruppen. These were overseen by larger governing bodies named Bereiche (areas). Within these groups, there were specialty branches such as the Technischer Dienst (TD — technical services provided for utilities and industry), the Luftschutzdienst (LD — responsible for air protection, rescue, bomb disposal and demolitions), Bereitschaftdienst (BD — readiness service used for aid during storms and natural disasters; later used in war casualty relief), and the Allgemeiner Dienst (AD — general service, administration, and all other activities).
TENO officers were trained at two TN-Reichsschulen. These schools offered 2- to 3-week courses specializing in technical innovations, management practices, and political theory.
TENO UNIFORMS, INSIGNIA, AND SIDEARMS
During the Third Reich, TENO dress uniforms were predominantly the style of dark blue tunics and pants adopted in 1935. The open-collar tunic had silver buttons and was worn with a white shirt and black tie, and a black leather belt with a silver claw buckle (or brocade belt with round TENO eagle buckle for officers).
The tunic sported shoulder boards in a combination of black and/or silver designs signifying the wearer’s rank. Ranks within the TENO consisted of 11 levels ranging from the lowest of Anwarter to the highest Reichsführer (National Leader). Black and piped collar patches further designated the rank of the wearer by using a series of cog wheels and laurel leaves produced in metal or bullion thread (gold for the highest ranks). The right tab contained the wearer’s Ortsgruppe and area, while the left one showed the bearer’s rank.
A machine woven patch (or bullion for officers) was sewn on the upper portion of the left sleeve. This insignia consisted of a straight-winged eagle clutching a canted swastika with an upright hammer and capital “N”, surrounded by a gear. On the front of the tunic, military and paramilitary awards could be worn in their respective places. Black boots or shoes completed the basic uniform.
TENO visor caps were dark blue with a mohair cap band and black leather visor. The front peak bore the TENO eagle and swastika emblem in aluminum. This was mounted over a unique laurel wreath which surrounded a black, white, and red roundel. Enlisted caps had black leather chinstraps with twin buckles on their visors. Officers’ caps had bullion wire chinstraps in silver (or gold for elevated ranks). Dark blue overseas caps with TENO insignia could also be worn (with piping added to the edges for officers).
Service uniforms were made of coarse green or blue herringbone tweed and had plain buttons and no markings except a TENO cuff title of black with white script. If members were assigned to a Wehrmacht unit, they wore the unit’s military uniforms to which they added TENO insignia.
When Heinrich Himmler assumed control of the TENO in 1942, members were ordered to change to a green uniform as worn by the police. Though this was started, it was never fully implemented by the end of the war, due to lack of supplies. In 1943, as Himmler tried to absorb the TENO into his ranks, collar rank insignias were changed to the pips and stripes used by the SS.
Armbands were an important for TENO members. The basic brassard introduced in 1933 consisted of a white field with a red square under an overlapping canted black swastika. In the center of the swastika was a white cogwheel surrounding an upturned hammer under a capital “N.” Simplified variations of TENO armbands were produced with Technische Nothilfe in script, containing the TENO eagle, or the “T,” “N,” and gear symbol sewn on different colored cloth. When working with soldiers of the Wehrmacht, TENO members would often wear a yellow or white armband with the phrase Deutsche Wehrmacht printed or sewn in black script.
Members were authorized to carry unique daggers: A massive white handled hewer with a TENO eagle cross guard for subordinates, and an impressive yellow handled model (somewhat similar in style to an army dagger, but much larger) for officers. In war zones, TENO members were often allowed to carry a variety of side arms and standard infantry weapons.
Membership pins were worn by TENO members when in civilian clothing. The first pins used during the Weimar Republic bore simple combinations of gear, hammer, and “N’s.”
In 1934, a new badge was adopted by Hitler’s regime that was distributed until 1938. It came in either a pin-back or stickpin form. Each was made of a red enamel square and black canted swastika supporting a silver gear, upturned hammer and “N.” On the reverse was the member’s serial number and “GES. GESCH” (protected by patent). In the event of the member’s death, the pin was to be returned to the TENO organization.
An ornate honor badge was designed for those that had been in the TENO from its first few years. This large pin back featured a closed winged eagle over an oak leaf border, with a raised diamond in the center overlapped by the TENO swastika, hammer, and “N” in bright enamel. The base of the award displayed a small banner with the year that the member had joined. On the reverse was a serial number, “GES. GESCH” and manufacturer’s mark on the pin. This award was later replaced with a gold and black, dated cuff title indicating that the wearer had been a recipient of the honor award.
At large meetings and during parades, the standard TENO flag was proudly displayed. This copied the armband, displaying a white field with colored insignia in the center. Trumpet banners were also constructed with the same emblem, but had their edges accented with silver fringe.
Vehicle pennants were introduced for the TENO in 1937. A TENO pennant featured a dark blue field with an eagle, swastika, gear, hammer, and “N” displayed across the center in silver or gold. Like-colored bars ran along the edges designating elevated ranks.
AFTER THE WAR
In the last days of Hitler’s failing campaigns, TENO engineers, technicians, and builders were forced to fight side-by-side with the remainder of the beaten Wehrmacht soldiers. When surrender finally came, the TENO disbanded. Many of the former TENO men and women returned to the trades where they had once worked — this time rebuilding the homeland that Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had almost destroyed.
In 1951, the German government approached the man who founded the TENO back in 1919, Otto Lummitzsch. The government asked him re-establish the group. Thus, the TENO was reborn as the Technisches Hilfswerk (technical aid work). To this day, it helps with disaster relief in the new democratic Germany.