Margaret Sanger, "Women in Germany, Part I," Dec 1920.
Source: " The Birth Control Review Dec. 1920, p. 89 Margaret Sanger Microfilm, Smith College Collections S70:0846."
For typed draft of this article see LCM 131:427. A second article of the same name appeared in the Jan. 1921 Birth Control Review.
On the surface of things Germany seems dead, crushed, broken. One who is sensitive to thought feels at once a terrible sadness in this poverty-stricken land. People have forgotten how to smile: millions of children do not know how to laugh or play. There is a grim silence everywhere, for there is little traffic even in a city the size of Berlin.
When one talks to the men here, the hope for the future seems very dark unless Labor emerges to Power. They are optimistic according as they have a philosophy, a religion or a cause. But the women break down all the reserve of one's emotions. They are the sufferers; they have neither faith, hope, philosophy nor religion; they look out of eyes saddened by suffering, deepened by hunger. They are the sufferers in defeated Germany, as they were the sufferers in militaristic Germany. They are resigned to poverty and to want, for the rest of their lives. They are resigned: resigned to peace or war, to love or hatred: a living death or a sudden ending.
But there is one thing they are NOT resigned to--and that is to continue to be breeders of children for any State, either militaristic or socialist!! They have gone so far in this that there is now pending a bill before the Reichstag entirely removing the penalty for abortion. There is another bill introduced by the Independent Socialists, not quite so radical, but making abortion legal, if done before "quickening." Only the Catholic Party is opposed to these bills, and it seems a foregone conclusion that one or the other of these will be carried before this article reaches America.
The women say quite frankly, in defending abortion, that if it is right for the State to take a child and kill it in wars, after it has been brought into the world, then it is equally just to assert the mother's right to prevent its coming here.
The church cannot talk to these mothers about the sin of taking life (in the womb) while it approves of wars, and applauds the wholesale slaughter of men. This may sound cruel and inhuman to many of us in England and America who do not advocate abortions, but no one can refute its logic. It is a noteworthy fact that not one of the women to whom I have spoken so far believes in abortion as a practice; but it is principle for which they are standing. They also believe that the complete abolition of the abortion law will shortly do away with abortions, as nothing else will. They say that women will not desire continued abortions, consequently she will seek the best methods of contraception as the best and safest method of limiting her family.
Germany, like England, has been the strongest opponent of the principle of Malthus. The Socialists especially have opposed it, and influenced Labor, both here and abroad, to discount its principle and practice. Rosa Luxemburg followed Marx's footsteps in this line of thought. The Syndicates in France, however, have long recognized the population question as one of importance to the working class, and have recently influenced the Syndicate in Germany to recommend its practice.
This organization has increased from five thousand members before the war, to two hundred thousand today; it has newspapers, (daily and weekly) circulating in every trade and industry. The Syndicaliste is the only Radical and Labor organization in Germany that carries the Birth Control message to workers, and includes it in its propaganda. this seems to be the rising Radical group of action here. Thousands of working women have just joined it as a women's group; even children now take part in its activities.Berlin, September 4, 1920.
I have just come from a visit to a friend. She took me out to see five hundred children congregated together for their supper. This consisted of white bread (one roll) and cocoa, given to them by the Quakers, made from white flour sent from America.
These are only a small part of the five million starving children in Germany. They, like all the children, were and still are kept alive by the splendid work of the American Quakers. Were it not for these workers, who have given so generously of their time and energy and money, it is safe to say there would be few children alive in Germany or Austria today.
The one conspicuous thing I noticed about the children was the absolute cleanliness of their bodies and clothing. This was later on more appreciated, when I learned the scarcity as well as the price of soap. The clothing is darned and mended and patched until the garments look like the old-fashioned "crazy-work."
The next thing one finds is the condition of anaemia in everyone. The bread one eats is almost black, except that given to the children by various societies. At first I rather liked it, but after a few days the results are so apparent on one's health that I wonder anyone is alive at all. I am constantly hungry; nothing satisfies except eggs, and these cost over two marks each. Fruit is plentiful just now, plums especially, but potatoes and other vegetables are both scarce and expensive. Meat is rationed to half a pound a week for each person; milk is obtained only by a doctor's certificate as Germany's cows were given over to France.
There is no doubt that there are two sides of Germany to visitors, the working district life, and the hotel life. I have been for two weeks living in a working-class district; here conditions are miserable. In the down town district, especially in hotels, there is a little meat and vegetables, provided one can pay the high prices for them. The stories the women tell of their privations during the war are unbelievable. They tell of the time when, for months there was practically no food except turnips. They ate turnip soup, turnips raw, turnips mashed, turnip salad, turnip coffee, until the whole system revolted physically against the sight of turnips. The contact of other persons in the trains and carriages, for even a few minutes, became unbearable from the reeking odor of turnips. They tell too of the daily concern of the children's lives; the torture of watching their children slowly starve to death under their eyes; little faces growing paler, eyes more listless, little heads drooping day by day, until finally they did not even ask for food at all.
Then the Revolution! They were thankful for that, but it has not brought much relief, and the coming winter is dreaded. Men are now working only three days a week, averaging one hundred and fifty marks a week for a family. here too, the women are the sufferers. The best food must be given to the men. Charities and kind societies give the children cocoa and soup, but the mother goes without, or lives on what she can scrape together. Her life is a constant hunt for food; all her days are occupied with the problem of feeding her family. It is a terrible problem!
In two weeks I find myself hunting food shops like a hungry animal. I have learned to examine each new article as keenly as any war sufferer. If cheese, or American evaporated milk is on the market (which costs 12 marks, by the way; or 36 cents at today's exchange) I find myself delighted and interested. I know it is time for me to move on. How can women think of anything but food in this environment? Yet they are thinking and thinking hard. They find time to be kind and thoughtful to others too. I did not register at the Police Station, and consequently did not get my ration cards; but a neighbor, a mother of three lovely girls, got some bread for me, and gave me her potatoes while she gave her family rice, instead. Naturally I was moved to tears by such thoughtfulness. This is only one of many such experiences, so far.
Copyright, Margaret Sanger Project