I have always believed that the secret to solving the question of workers in the countryside is maintaining fairness as a superior, and serving as a benevolent confidant in all situations. I inherited this secret from my father, who would tell me whenever he happened upon the subject of employees: “One day, when you run the operation yourself, remember one thing: in a pinch you might pretend not to be home when the Provincial Governor calls, but never do so to your people.”
So I introduced the rule that I would be available to my people at all times and concerning any matter. To be sure, I was not lenient; rather, I insisted that, on the estate, obedience was the highest principle. In this way, in the course of decades, a relationship based on trust developed between me and my people on all of my estates, the manifestations of which may seem rather odd to some Germans who do not come from the East.
But whoever knows the land and its people in the East, and whoever has learned to love both as I have, knows that behind the roughness of manners lies nothing but sincerity. Many a marital dispute was presented to me by my people, and I was able to mediate many of these quarrels, even though I did not make use of measures stipulated in the Civil Code; instead, I applied criteria that corresponded to the people’s very own horizon and sentiments.
Being an agricultural worker has always been one of the most secure forms of livelihood. According to longstanding tradition – which dates back much further than the recent establishment of those countless insurance schemes – the farmhand in the German East is provided for during old age. He or she is not chased from the farm but continues to live on the estate and receives a pension. The sons of the agricultural worker do not have to bother looking for work. They simply take the place of their father. In other words, they start out where their father left off.
Source: Elard von Oldenburg-Januschau, Erinnerungen [Memories]. Leipzig, 1936, pp. 43ff.
Original German text reprinted in Gerhard A. Ritter and Jürgen Kocka, eds., Deutsche Sozialgeschichte 1870-1914. Dokumente und Skizzen [German Social History 1870-1914. Documents and Sketches], 3rd ed. Munich: C.H. Beck, 1982, pp. 188-89.
Translation: Erwin Fink