This week’s item is an Aufbaukarte or Construction Card issued as part of the GDR’s Nationales Aufbauwerk (NAW), the National Construction Project, which was called into life as part of efforts to clear East German cities from the destruction wrought by World War II. Construction Cards such as this one issued to a Ms. Johanna Goldberg, were used to keep track of the number of hours which individuals volunteered on NAW projects. Those who reached set milestones received pins and certificates of recognition at public ceremonies.
This piece is a new addition to my collection and I wanted to post on it as closer examination has raised a few interesting questions for me about the holder of the card. But before getting to those, allow me to give a thumbnail history of the NAW.
Trümmerfrauen and The Immediate Post-War Years (1945-46)
The massive destruction wrought in German cities by World War II required considerable effort and time to undo. In the immediate post-war period, the occupying powers throughout Germany (that is, in both what would later come to be become East and West) ordered all able-bodied women between the ages of 15 and 50 to take part in the clearing of rubble and reclaiming useable building materials from the war-ruined cities and towns. While such heavy labour was not previously carried out by women in Germany, the demographic situation after the war made this necessary (There were 7 million more women than men out of a total population of approx. 77 million). Indeed, scenes of women doing this work became ubiquitious in German and international media to the point where the Trümmerfrau (Rubble Woman) has become one of the best known symbols of Germany in the immediate post-war period.
Nationales Aufbauwerk Berlin
With the founding of the German Democratic Republic in the fall of 1949, the nascent state took steps to prioritize the rebuilding of its capital, the Soviet sector of Berlin, by creating the Nationales Aufbauprogramm Berlin (NAP) or National Construction Program Berlin. The main focus of the program was the construction of the “Germany’s first socialist street”, the Stalinallee (later renamed Karl-Marx-Allee), a wide boulevard running from the eastern edge of Berlin right into the city’s heart that was intended to demonstrate the attractiveness of the socialist system and function as a template for GDR urban planning. During the initial phases of the construction, citizens were encouraged to volunteer to help with the removal of war ruins and rubble to facilitate the rebuilding process.
The Nationales Aufbauwerk (NAW) emerged out of the experiences with the NAP and endeavoured to mobilize volunteer citizen labour not only in East Berlin, but in other cities and towns throughout the GDR. Typically, NAW activities included the removal of war ruins and the construction or renovation of public services such as fire stations, cultural centres, daycares, schools and sporting facilities. Projects realized through the efforts of NAW volunteers included the East Berlin Zoo (1955), the Zentralstadion in Leipzig (1956) and the Ostseestadion in Rostock (1954).
Aufbaukarte # 009833
This card was issued to Johanna Goldberg, a resident of the East Berlin district of Lichtenberg. It is an example of the cards issued in Berlin during the last years of the NAW, 1956-1960, and documents the fifty one hours of service she carried out on NAW projects between September 1956 and September 1957. Given the proximity of Ms. Goldberg’s address to the East Berlin Zoo, I initially thought that perhaps she had volunteered her time on that project, however, the dates of her performed hours postdate the completion of the Zoo so that eliminates that possibility.
Context: The Legacy of “Socialist Construction”
The slogans inside this booklet attest to the legacy of era of “Socialist Construction”, a period beginning in 1952 during which the Socialist Unity Party (SED) moved decisively to organize the country along the Soviet model. This drive saw the Party attempt to consolidate its control of all political and economic levers, but it created considerable tension within the country as the effort to establish a Soviet-style system came with heightened repression of those deemed “class enemies” (and there were many: churchgoers, those affiliated with the Nazi regime in any way, land holders, small businessmen, members of the bourgeoisie, etc.) and required significant sacrifices from an often skeptical and weary populous. On June 17, 1953, these tensions erupted with the first large scale protests by any East Bloc population. The widespread violence and unrest which took place throughout the GDR could only be put down by the intervention of Soviet tanks, but the legacy of this confrontation with its own workers chastened the SED leadership and saw them retreat from many of their harder line positions in the years which followed.
Despite this relative slackening, however, the rhetoric of “Socialist Construction” remained largely in place. This combined more or less ambiguous appeals to East Germans’ national pride (during this period, the vast majority of East Germans would not have had any strong sense of a distinct “East German” identity so explicit appeals to this would have had a difficult time rousing any passionate response) and vague promises of an improved economy. Examples of the former include: “Each construction hour is a patriotic act” and “Every construction helper is a patriot in the national struggle of our people (Volk).” Slogans reflecting the latter approach include “All our effort for the fulfillment of the second Five-Year Plan” and “Strengthen and consolidate the power of workers and peasants in our state”.
Who Was Johanna Goldberg?
For me the most interesting aspect of this Construction Card is the identity of the person to whom it was issued: Johanna Goldberg. There are few clues in this document, but what is here raises some interesting questions. First, the name Goldberg suggests Jewish roots, unusual in postwar Germany given the tragic fate which befell Germany’s Jews at the hands of the Nazis. Of the German Jews who survived the Holocaust, few chose to return to their homeland at the war’s end, but some did. In the GDR, these individuals were often “true believers” in the socialist cause who had spent the Nazi years in exile and returned to “the better Germany” in order to dedicate themselves to the building of Communism. Was Johanna Goldberg part of this group?
Another possible clue is the handwriting used to complete the personal information on the card. Assuming that Ms. Goldberg herself completed this section (and I’m not sure that is something that one can do with any confidence, but bear with me), it appears to me that the handwriting is that of a younger person. The signature is mature but has not yet evolved into something more idiosyncratic or personal. If the handwriting is Ms. Goldberg’s then I would suggest that she would have been no older than her mid to late 20s in 1956. Such a birthdate would make she a member of what was know as the Aufbaugeneration (or Construction Generation) in the GDR. This term was used to designate those individuals who passed into adulthood parallel to the founding of the East German state and who were more likely than their successors to identify with the state and its socialist project. There are a number of reasons for why this identification took place, but if one considers the way in which families, biographies and society were fractured by fascism and World War II, it seems unsurprising that many young people would have been attracted to the utopian aspects of socialist ideology and the opportunities open to those willing to contribute to the SED’s avowed intention to make the GDR an antifascist, socialist state that rejected all that Hitler’s Reich stood for.
A further avenue I explored in trying to find out more was the address found on the Construction Card, Treskowallee 44. Entering the terms “Goldberg” and “Treskowallee” into Google generated a hit for a photo of a Stolperstein (or Stumbling Stone) for one Dorothea Goldberg, née Hermann, born in 1863 and murdered at Theresienstadt concentration camp in September 1942. Stolpersteine are small memorials to the victims of Nazism, primarily but not exclusively Jews, which take form of a cobblestone engraved with an individual’s personal information and placed in the sidewalk adjacent to his/her last known home or work address. Dorothea Goldberg’s Stolperstein sits at Treskowallee 103, just up the street from Johanna’s listed address at 44. Goldberg was not an uncommon Jewish name so this commonality and the proximity of the addresses proves nothing, but does cause me to ask whether Dorothea was a relation of Johanna’s. If my speculation on her age is correct, Johanna could have been a granddaughter or niece of Dorothea. The address is a tenuous connection, but it does raise questions.
I will continue to pursue answers to these questions and update this post with any information I find.