Robert Ley was the director of the NAZI Reich Labor Front (DAF). His father was a poor peasant farmer. Robert was born in Niederbreidenbach (1890). He was a pilot during World War I. He was shot down over France, but survived (1917). He was a POW for over 2 years. After the war Ley he worked as a chemist for I.G. Farben, but was fired because he came to work drunk. Unemployed, he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NAZIs) as it was recovering from the Beer Hall Putsch fiasco (1925). Hitler was apparently impressed by him and made him Gauleiter for Rhineland South. Gregor Strasser in the radical wing of the SA had a falling out with Hitler as President Hindenburg and Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher attempted to split the NAZI Party (1932). Ley replaced Strasser as leader of the Reich Organization. Ley also began publishing the NAZI magazine Westdeutscher Beobachter. (Hitler saw Strasser as a dabgerous rival and he was he was one of the targets during the Night of the Long Knives. After Hitler was appointed Chancellor and armed with the Enabling Acts, he moved against the free trade unions. Hitler suppressed the trade unions and ordered labor leaders arrested. Almost all were socialists or communists and opposed to Hitler and the NAZIs. He then ordered Ley to forming the NAZI German Labour Front (DAF) to replace the free trade union movement. Ley seized the union funds and facilities. The DAF sponsored the Strength through Joy program. Given his role in mobilizing labor for the War, Ley was deeply involved in the NAZI slave labor program. He encouraged Hitler to use poison gas against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. American airborn soldiers arrested Ley who was hiding near the Austrian border. The Allies charged him with war crimes. The IMT defendants were confined at Nuremberg for their trial. Ley rather surprisingly given the statements he made earlier, he penned a statement denouncing Anti-Semitism. He then hanged himsel in his cell (October, 1945).
Robert Ley's father was a poor peasant farmer.
Robert was born in Niederbreidenbach (1890).
Despite his working-class background. he managed to enter the university. He studied chemistry at the universities of Jena and Boon and earned a doctorate in natural science.
Ley was a fighter pilot during World War I, very dangerous duty. He was shot down over France, but survived (1917). He was a POW in France for over 2 years.
After the war Ley he worked as a chemist for I.G. Farben. This promised a rewarding career. His interests were apparentlyvelsewhere. The company fired because of heavy drunking and because of increasing time he was soendung in political activity as a NAZI Party member.
Unemployed, he joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NAZIs). He was first attracted when a speech by Hitler appeared in the newspaper during the trial following the Beer Hall Putch (1923). Ley was an ultra-nationalist who was attracted by Hitler's ideas. He then joined the Party. Ley demonstrated a talent for political organization which was important for a new political party. Hitler was impressed and appointed him the Gauleiter of Rhineland South. He was elected as Nazi Party delegate to the Prussian Landtag (1928), a state legislature, but a very important state. He was subsequently then to the national Reichstag (1930). Ley became the chief deputy to Gregor Strasser at the Reich Organization. Strasser was the party's chief of organization. He was also radical left (Socialist) wing of the SA had a falling out with Hitler as President Hindenburg and Chancellor Kurt von Schleicher attempted to split the NAZI Party (1932). Ley shared many of Strasser's idea, but was absolutely loyal to Hitler. He replaced Strasser as leader of the Reich Organization, essentially the NAZI Chief of Organization. (Hitler saw Strasser as a dangerous rival and he was he was one of the targets during the Night of the Long Knives.
After Hitler was appointed Chancellor and armed with the Enabling Acts, he moved against the free trade unions. Hitler suppressed the trade unions and ordered labor leaders arrested. Almost all were socialists or communists and opposed to Hitler and the NAZIs. He then ordered Ley to forming the NAZI Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Party--DAF) to replace the free trade union movement. Ley seized the union funds and facilities. He essentially became the NAZI labor dictator. The DAF was a mass organizarion, but one desihned to pass on orders from the top rather to respond to worker concerns. Ley turned the DAF into one of the most important NAZI non-security organization with nore than 25 million members. Ley while a nationalist and perhaps because of his childhood background had socialist ideas and a desire to improve the situation of tge rural and urban working-class families. He introduced a range of schemes. Thebest known is the Strength through Joy program. He saw to the financing for the Wilhelm Gustloff on which workers were able to take vacation cruises. Before the NAZIs, cruises were something only the affluent did. Other DAF activities included free gymnastic programs, and trips abroad (primarilt to Italy). Another well known project was with car maker Ferdinand Porsche in developing the Volkswagen--an inexpensive people's car. Car ownership was something beyond workers in Germany. The Volkwagen program proved particularly profitable to the DAF and Ley. Workers subscribed and paid monthly allotments and were to receive their cars in the future--providing Ley a huge and growing pot of cash. Hitler launched the War, howevdr, before any VWs were actually built. Another pet project was the Adolf Hitler Schools, a joint venture with the Hitler Youth. Ley's interest was to provide training for working-class children so they could fill NAZI leadership positions.
Running the DAF gave Ley access to huge amounts of funds. Workers paid dues to belong to the DAF. Membershiop was virtually compulsory to work in Germany. There was jno real accounting for the funds. Ley becane a rich man with mansions and villas, some formerly owned by Jews. He was proud of his collection of fine automobiles. He had his own private train coach. He embelzed liberally from DAF funds. He continued to drink heaviky and freely womanized.
His second wife shot herself during a drunken brawl (1942).
Ley founded the virulently anti-Semetic NAZI magazine Westdeutscher Beobachter (West German Observer). It is unclear how much detailed information he had about the Holocaust, but as a Hitler intimate within the inner circle, he must have known a great deal. The Westdeutscher Beobachter consistently promoted the supression of Jews. He also addressed the subject in his speeches. Ley was present in a meeting along with Speer, Bormann and Field Marshal Wilhelm Keitel during which Hitler exponded on the "Jewish question" at length, (February 1941). Hitler spelled out that the Jews were to disappear in one way or another. [Kershaw, p. 350.] Ley was subsequently quoted just as the NAZI death camps in Poland were coming on line, "It is not enough to isolate the Jewish enemy of mankind, the Jews have got to be exterminated ..." (May 1942), This was a highly significant statement from the person responsible for making sure that there was adequate labor to operate the German war economy. Clearly Ley was not intending to use the huge number of Jews in German custody for labor. The implications are all too obvious. And by this time. the Whermact was badly mauled in the Soviet Union and the Red Army very much alive. And Hitler had declared war in America, It should have been obvious that the War would not be a short one and that labor was needed to fight what was becoming a protracted conflict. But here the top NAZI labor leader is not planning to use the Jews as labor. Hitler was giving the kiiling of Jews a higher priority than even the war effort.
Given his role in mobilizing labor for the War, Ley was deeply involved in the NAZI slave labor program.
Ley during the War helped organize the recruitment of slave labor in occupied countries to assist in the war effort.
With World War II began, Ley's responsibilities became even more important to make sure that labor was mobilized for the War. This became an increasing problem when what Hitler expected to be a short successful war turned into a long drawn out struggle. And when Britain was joined by the Soviet Union and United States as a resukt of Hitler's decesions, more and more German men were needed for combat at the front. This meant workers had to be conscripted, creating labor shortages even in critical war industries. Ley was involved in bringing workers from occupied countries, usually against their will into the Reich. Jews were used temprarily for labor in Poland, but the killing process began on an industrial scale in the Soviet Union (June 1941) and subsequently in Poland. This eliminated large numbers of people who could be used for labor. Ley was involved in the labor prgrams for non-Jews. Poles, Ukranians and Soviet POWs were and captured Russian prisoners were forced to work under appalling conditions. Workers were also brought in from the West and conditions were somewhat better. Not all of the workers were slaves. Some such as the Spanish were voluntary paid workers, but most were either forced or slave workers. There were SS punishment camps for civilians in occupied countries that resusted the NAZIs. Many thousands died of mistreatment or were sent to the concentration camps for eventual death. Ley was not involved in the sctual killing as far as we know. The SS did that. Ley did, however, hrlp set up the overall system. We worked closely will both Reichminister of Armaments and Munitions Albert Speer and Slave Labor Recruitment Director Fritz Sauckel, fellow IMT defendants.
Ley encouraged Hitler to use poison gas against the Soviets on the Eastern Front. Ley wa a chemist and had worked for I.G. Farben. He thus knew about the extremely lethal chemical weapons that had been developed. Speer who Ley worked closely with on labor issues relates, Ley "took me along in his special railroad car to a meeting in Sonthofen held in the autumn of 1944. As usual, our conversation took place over glasses of strong wine. His increased stammering betrayed his agitation. 'You know we have this new poison gas - I've heard about it. The Fuehrer must do it. He must use it. Now he has to do it!' Hitler, to be sure, had always rejected gas warfare; but now he hinted at a situation conference in headquarters that the use of gas might stop the advance of Soviet troops. He went on with vague speculations that the West would accept gas warfare against the East because at this stage of the war the British and American governments had an interest in stopping the Russian advance. When no one at the situation conference spoke up in agreement, Hitler did not return to the subject." [Speer, p. 417.]
As the Allies pushed into the Reich (early 1945), Ley was among the Hitler intimates and high government figures who remained loyal to the F�hrer. The final meeting with Hitler was for the F�hrer's birtday celebration (pril 20, 1945). The Soviets were in the process of curring off Berlin. The following day, Ley departed for Bavaria where there was talk of setting up a NAZI redoubt to make a final stand against the Allies in the more easily defended Alps. He thought that Hitler would soon follow. In fact no real preparations had been made for this. And Hitler decided to remain in Berlin. Thus the National Redoubt idea was abandoned. This in Bavaria Ley was on his own as American troops poured into the south.
American airborn soldiers of the 101st Division arrested Ley who was hiding near the Austrian border where he had a home (May 16). He was hiding after the assumed name of Dr. Ernst Distelmeyer. Frnz Xaver Schwarz, the former NAZI Party treasurer and old enemy, pointed him out to the Americans. Ley was held with other top NAZIS in Nuremberg. He was indited for crimes against humanity as a resultment of the treatment of foreign labor. He was shocked when he learned of the unditement. He told the American prison psychiatrist Gustave Gilbert, "Stand us against a wall and shoot us, well and good, you are victors. But why should I be brought before a Tribunal like a c-c-c- ... I can't even get the word [criminal] out!" Ley rather surprisingly given the statements he made earlier, he penned a statement denouncing Anti-Semitism. Four days after beung informed of the inditement, he hanged himsel in his cell (October, 1945).
Kershaw, Ian. Hitler, 1936�45: Nemesis (New York: W.W. Norton, 2000).
Speer. Albert. Insude the Third Reich: Memoirs (1970). Speer wrote his book after he was completed his sentence abd was released from Spandau Prison. The book is often self serving and where he ciomnents in his personal role has to be taken with considerable skepticism. His comments about others, however, we think are often very accurate.
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