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Photograph of "Strength through Joy” Event at Strandbad Wannsee

After the Nazi rise to power in 1933, the new regime immediately began efforts to bring German society completely under Nazi control in a process known as Gleichschaltung (German for “coordination” or “synchronization”). All political parties and trade unions were outlawed except for the Nazi Party and the Nazi German Labor Front (Deutsches Arbeitsfront). The German Labor Front started the “Strength through Joy” program ("Kraft durch Freude") in November 1933 to improve “Aryan” workers’ quality of life and build popular support for the Nazi regime.1

Nazi leaders hoped that the athletic and cultural programs of “Strength through Joy” would improve the health and productivity of the German workforce while easing class tensions within the so-called "national community" ("Volksgemeinschaft"). Providing organized alternatives to unstructured leisure time, the first “Strength through Joy” programs focused on filling workers’ evening and weekend time with classes, concerts, theatrical performances, art exhibitions, and sporting events.2 The program also began providing cheap vacation packages to German workers in 1934, but ambitious plans to expand German mass tourism further were abandoned in 1939 with the beginning of World War II.3

The featured photograph shows a “Strength through Joy” event held on the outskirts of Berlin on April 24, 1937. A large group of adults and children are gathered on the popular public beach at Strandbad Wannsee to perform exercises led by a “Strength through Joy” representative holding a bullhorn.4 The public beach facilities shown in this photograph were first constructed during the Weimar Republic (1918–1933) as part of a growing movement toward outdoor recreational activities that would greatly influence Nazi-era public health policies.5

Within months of the establishment of the Nazi regime in early 1933, local officials and business owners began banning Jews from public swimming pools.6 Strandbad Wannsee barred Jews from its beach and its public programs later that summer. As the first Nazi-era acts to exclude all Jewish Germans from public spaces, these prohibitions became a precedent for the increasing marginalization and segregation of Jews from German public life. 

Although Jews were barred from visiting Strandbad Wannsee under the Nazi regime, the beach continued to be a popular getaway for Berlin’s “Aryan” citizens—even during the last years of World War II. In fact, Strandbad Wannsee has remained a popular destination for generations of Berliners ever since the years of the Weimar Republic. The sun decks and walkways on the upper level of the buildings in the featured photograph have fallen into disrepair over the decades, but these very same facilities at Strandbad Wannsee continue to offer public recreation courses to Berlin-area beachgoers.

For more on the "Strength through Joy" program, see Shelley Baranowski, Strength through Joy: Consumerism and Mass Tourism in the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). To learn more about Nazi efforts to build support for the regime, see the Experiencing History collection, Nazi Propaganda and National Unity.

Although Nazi theories of eugenics taught that heredity and race were primarily responsible for alcoholism and crime, Nazi leaders also believed that unstructured leisure time contributed to what they often called "degenerate" behavior. For more on Nazi theories of eugenics, see the related Experiencing History collection, Targets of Eugenics.

In the 1930s, "Strength through Joy" developed the world's largest fleet of cruise ships and began construction on a planned series of enormous tourist resorts on the Baltic Sea. For more on the popular mass tourism programs of “Strength through Joy,” see Hasso Spode, "Mass Tourism and the Third Reich: The 'Strength through Joy' Seaside Resort as an Index Fossil," Journal of Social History 38, no. 1 (Fall 2004): 127–155.

The beach facilities in the featured photograph are located almost directly across a small inlet from the villa that hosted the Wannsee Conference in January 1942, at which many high-ranking Nazi leaders met to coordinate the implementation of the regime's planned annihilation of European Jews. 

For more on the influence of the Weimar era on Nazi public health policies, see the Experiencing History item, "Born from Necessity."

For more on the exclusion of Jews from public swimming pools under the Nazi regime, see the related Experiencing History item, Photo from a Public Pool in Fürth, Germany.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Source Number 68741
Date Created
April 24, 1937
Wannsee, Germany
Still Image Type Photograph
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