In the "In Focus" section, we present special highlights from archives that are represented in Archivportal-D. These selected archival materials provide insight into the holdings and offer research suggestions for a possible search in Archivportal-D or in the thematic portal "Weimar Republic". This month, we are pleased to present a scholarly contribution by Pierre Schmuck of the Albrecht Ludwigs University of Freiburg with sources from the State Archives of Baden-Württemberg and the Federal Archives. In the information on further research possibilities below, we refer to our object gallery on the start page of the topic portal, where we present further sources on this complex of topics.
Between 1919 and 1933, the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst was the first German government agency responsible for political and civic education. It emerged from the Zentrale für Heimatdienst, which had been founded during the First World War in March 1918. In the Weimar Republic, its mission was to provide factual information on foreign policy, economic policy, social and cultural issues, not in the spirit of individual parties, but from the standpoint of the state as a whole, in accordance with a corresponding resolution of the Reichstag. As such, the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst can in some respects be interpreted as a forerunner of today's Bundeszentrale für politische Bildung.
The Reichsheimatdienst was headed by Oberregierungsrat (later Ministerialrat) Dr. Richard Strahl (1884-1957). In addition to the central management in Berlin, the authority structure at times included more than 20 state departments, which were established throughout the entire territory of the German Reich. These field offices were important pillars of the official political enlightenment and educational activities: they were responsible for the distribution of printed material and organized local events of the Reichsheimatdienst. In addition, they acted as contact and coordination points with local administrative authorities as well as with those clubs, associations, and institutions of contemporary popular education that had adopted a similar political educational mission.
The Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst committed itself to political objectivity and neutrality. Its activities were to be free of partisan political tendencies and to focus solely on the welfare of the state as a whole. In order to live up to its own claim to have a balancing effect in contemporary battles of opinion and thus to establish a basic political consensus, the Reichsheimatdienst, according to its own statements, endeavored to publish only material that was based on scientific knowledge and on facts. On this basis, each and every individual was to be able to form his or her own opinion on contemporary political challenges.
In practice, the Reichszentrale used a variety of methods to communicate its content. The agency published the regular periodicals "Der Heimatdienst" and the "Richtlinien," in which it prepared political issues for a broad audience. Another important field of activity was lecturing. The Reichsheimatdienst organized information, training and educational events in various formats. In addition to lecture series lasting several months, these included weekend conferences - so-called Staatsbürgerliche Bildungstage - and numerous individual lecture events. The latter often took place in smaller towns and rural regions of the republic; the potential reach of political awareness and educational activities was thus quite high. The spectrum of content ranged from economic and sociopolitical topics to constitutional issues and focal points of German foreign policy.
In addition, the Reichsheimatdienst was responsible for disseminating official announcements in the form of billboards. This field of activity included not only appeals to the population to participate in elections, but also propagandistic attempts to influence the referendums in Schleswig-Holstein (February/March 1920), East and West Prussia (July 1920) and Upper Silesia (March 1921), as well as journalistic support for the "Ruhrkampf" during the French occupation in 1923.
The claim of factual-objective popular enlightenment on the one hand and the sometimes propagandistic methods of the Reichsheimatdienst on the other appear as two contradictory aspects of this authority. Not least for this reason, the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst was also criticized at the time - with different arguments depending on the political standpoint: Communist and German nationalists articulated the accusation that the agency was engaged in government propaganda. Republican-minded politicians, on the other hand, complained that the Reichsheimatdienst was not working efficiently enough for Weimar democracy and the Republic. Despite such criticism and calls for the abolition of the agency, the Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst remained in existence until the end of the Weimar Republic. It was not until the National Socialist takeover that it was dissolved on March 15, 1933. The establishment of the Reich Ministry for Public Enlightenment and Propaganda had made the agency superfluous in the eyes of the new regime.
This text is a scholarly contribution to the "In Focus" series. We would like to thank Pierre Schmuck of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität Freiburg for making it available to us.
If you are interested in further sources on Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst in the Deutsches Reich, use the A-Z Index to select Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst and combine this thematic keyword with the Deutsches Reich geographical index.
In the object gallery on the front page of the online collection you can find more sources related to the keywords Reichszentrale für Heimatdienst and Propaganda.