After finishing Blood Brothers by Ernst Haffner, I immediately wanted to find out more about the Weimar-era youth welfare homes which are so prevalent in the novel. I was unfamiliar not just with the youth welfare home as a German, post-World War I phenomenon, but in general. To my knowledge, there is no comparative institution in the present-day United States. I know vaguely of orphanages and foster homes, but these children’s narratives are not commonly brought into the public eye. In my earliest cursory attempt to find information about these homes, I inadvertently stumbled across this article by Eric Weitz, the author of one of our class books, Weimar Germany: Tragedy and Promise. I won’t be commenting on it in this post, but it does mention many things we’ve discussed in class, and, I believe, makes for a worthwhile read.
However, it is telling how sparse information on these homes is since the above article, in which welfare is barely touched upon, came up in my search. We learned in class that in the post-inflation Weimar Republic, women and children were generally seen as unable to take care of theirselves, and therefore in need of welfare, while men were blamed for their own ills, and portrayed as lazy. Therefore, though most sectors of work laid off employees in huge numbers as part of the austerity measures in place at this time, there were jobs created a result of the formation of these homes. At first, the only more specific details I could scrounge, from “alphahistory.com”, were that “The 1922 Youth Welfare Law declared that every German child had the ‘right to education, spiritual, physical and social fitness’ . . . [and] Article 155 of the constitution declared that the state must “strive to secure healthy housing to all German families, especially those with many children” . . . [so] the government responded by creating institutions . . . to accommodate children who were illegitimate, homeless, abandoned or at risk.”
Haffner’s novel, then, provides a particularly interesting window into the youth housing phenomenon. It is telling that Willi and Ludwig would rather “starve at liberty to being half-fed in welfare.” One of Haffner’s closing portraits of the welfare home is particularly chilling, that of “the soprano with milk teeth next to the gangland routinier [and] . . . the fifteen-year-old virgin . . . next to the young prostitute who already has her first dose and Salvarsan cure behind her.” (163)
Finally, I was able to find a well-written and in-depth analysis of the German youth welfare home in this JSTOR article by Jurgen Harder. I highly recommend giving it a look if you, too, want to find out more about Weimar-era youth welfare homes. In Harder’s paper, published in 2012, he writes, “Only a few statements and first-person accounts by inmates about the practices inside German reformatories exist.” (16) Ironically, Haffner’s novel would be republished in German only a year later, and published in English in 2015.