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A Working-Class Youth in the Harz Region on the Expiry of the Anti-Socialist Law (September 30, 1890)

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Suddenly he got up. On the table in front of him he had a small piece of paper; he glanced at it once more and then began to speak. He mentioned the friends in attendance by name, and he said the hour that everyone had anticipated for so long had arrived. With the ringing of the bell at midnight a ruling system that had put the working class in chains was collapsing. It had brought great misfortune to the few faithful followers, and it had often seemed that the spirit of liberty would be crushed; but in the end brute force had been vanquished. Yet how could it have been otherwise? The first Christians had also been persecuted, ostracized, and killed, but no one was able to kill their spirit, which remained alive and went on to conquer the world.

The longer Lambert Smith spoke, the more one noticed that speaking became difficult for him, and people at our table quietly wondered what the matter was with him today. Soon his words only trickled slowly from his bearded mouth; he looked around as if looking for help, then fell silent, and sat down.

However, the crowd that had gathered knew Lambert well and realized that he had simply been overcome by emotion. The long arm of the law had dealt with him severely as well; for a long time he had been hunted until he found a place to stay in our town, and here the strains and privations had been difficult to bear.

Now the time was served, as it were, and one could understand that this ailing man, overwhelmed by emotion, lost command of the language that he usually mastered so well.

But at the very moment when stunned silence gripped the entire gathering, the old wall clock began to buzz and sounded twelve rattling strokes. At this moment every single person stopped speaking – apart from the sounds of the clock, the room was quiet, and the air was filled only with the heavy breathing of so many people.

When the strokes had faded away, the entire crowd rose up and all at once jubilation broke out; its concerted sound roared through the room like a single, long, deep cry. People at the tables shook hands, many hugged one another, a hotchpotch of shouts rang through the air, and everyone’s eyes sparkled. I stood behind my brother, squeezed his arm, and my heart pounded quickly. A group of people crowded around Lambert Schmitt, who now smiled and shook the many hands held out toward him.

Only the two police constables sat unmoved at their table; they had put on their helmets and they had no idea what was happening right in front of their eyes.

Source: August Winnig, Frührot. Ein Buch von Heimat und Jugend [Early Dawn: A Book About Home and Youth]. Stuttgart and Berlin, 1924, pp. 188-94.

Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds, Deutsche Socialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: Beck, 1982, pp. 401-03.

Translation: Erwin Fink

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