About 70 people attended the talk of an Austrian-born woman, who lived under the Hitler regime for seven years.
Kitty Werthmann, president of the South Dakota Eagle Forum, spoke Tuesday night in Eppley Auditorium on the Midland University campus.
Werthmann’s talk was sponsored by the conservative IWIN (Informed Women in Nebraska), the Win It Back Tea Party Patriots and Our Vote Should Count.
The South Dakota Eagle Forum is said to be an off-shoot of the Eagle Forum, a conservative interest group founded by Phyllis Schlafly.
Werthmann, who said she’s been a lobbyist for more than 40 years, spoke in Fremont about Hitler’s rise to power, the subsequent loss of freedoms and her concerns about potential losses in this country.
Calling herself a “witness to history,” Werthmann said those who don’t know history will walk blindly into the future.
In 1933, Germany was in an economic Depression when Hitler was elected by one vote, she said. Hitler built the Autobahn, putting Germans to work, and five years later the country’s economy was better.
By contrast, Austria’s economy was very poor in 1938, when Werthmann was just 12 years old.
“We had more than 30 percent unemployment and when you borrowed money from the bank you paid 25 percent interest and, hence, a lot of farmers were going bankrupt and businesses also,” she said before her talk. “They couldn’t pay their taxes so they lost their farms.”
Two political factions, the Communist Party and the National Socialist (Hitler’s) Party, were fighting
Hitler promised the Austrians that he’d build an Autobahn there and give the people good jobs. He said he’d give every farm back to every farmer and business back to every businessman.
Werthmann said 98 percent of the Austrians voted for Hitler, who gave them free radios so they could listen to him.
Hitler nationalized the radio station so the Austrians would only hear what the government allowed. Newspapers were censored.
The morning after the elections, Werthmann, who was then in sixth grade, went into her public school classroom. There, the teacher said they’d no longer pray in school. Religious education would be replaced by physical education.
“Also, our teacher said, on Sunday we couldn’t go to church anymore, because that was National Youth Day,” Werthmann said.
Instead of going to church, students had to report to the gym for two hours of what she called political indoctrination and were told not to listen to their parents.
They spent the rest of the time playing sports. The government gave the students free tennis racquets, skis and golf clubs. Boys, age 16, got motorcycles so they would form a squad. Students went home saying how much fun they had.
Werthmann’s mother put her in a private school.
Austrians would see more regulation and bureaucracy. Farmers were told what to plant and livestock was counted. Banks and the car industry was nationalized. Instead of producing cars, tanks were produced.
Werthmann was told she had to become a teacher instead of a journalist. During her practice teaching in a small town, she noticed that about 15 mentally challenged adults were put on a van.
Their parents had been told that the adults were being taken to an institution to learn to read and write. Six months later, families got letters saying the adults had died a “natural, but merciful death.”
Health care was nationalized and made free for everyone. People went to doctors for things such as cleaning out ear wax and removing splinters.
Werthmann said her brother-in-law, a family physician, would get to work and find 40 people waiting for him.
“He said it was like practicing medicine on a conveyor belt,” she said.
When a doctor prescribed medicine not on the government’s list the cost was taken from his salaried paycheck. Many doctors, including Werthmann’s late husband, went to practice medicine in the United States.
Churches were nationalized. Hitler charged a church tax saying the beautiful cathedrals needed expensive upkeep and restoration.
Werthmann also said Hitler mocked the Austrian police force — and started his own, known as the Gestapo.
Many in this secret police force wore civilian clothes. People began disappearing.
“We were so scared of the government and, of course, we lost our freedom of speech,” she said.
She warned people not to let the government tell them what to say and think.
Werthmann said she believes President Donald Trump is a godly man. She believes Trump’s conversion came through his wife, Melania, whom she said is a “devout Christian woman,” who lived under Communism in Yugoslavia.
She said the United States is a great country of unbelievable freedom and opportunity.