Address by Eleanor Roosevelt at Stuttgart, Germany

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Address by Eleanor Roosevelt at Stuttgart, Germany

23 October 19482

This is a very difficult time for the women of Germany, for many women have seen two wars which have required of them great sacrifice and they are now going through a post-war period in many ways probably more difficult than any they have experienced before.

After World War #1 they were not completely occupied. Now part of their country is lost to them and the Germans who lived there, have had to find homes in other parts of Germany, and besides the whole of their country is occupied by foreign troops and foreign civilian officials.3 In addition, the camps of refugees still complicate their lives.4

The nationals of a country naturally always feel that they have not been responsible for bringing about the disasters which have over-taken them. In this last war, however, I think it is well for the people of Germany as a whole, to realize that the people of the rest of the world feel that it was in large part the violation of human rights and a willingness to allow a dictator to make the decisions which should remain with the people themselves, which alienated the peoples of the rest of the world and consolidated public opinion in opposition to the German people.

As far as my own country is concerned, it has always been very easy for us to like the German people. Many of those who came to settle in our country came, of course, to escape political or religious persecution in their own country, or because their ideas of freedom were more advanced than those of their fellow country men. Many have come to us since the days of Carl Schurz.5 The standards of living in our two countries are more nearly similar than in most of the other countries of Europe, and yet we have found ourselves opposed to one another in two great wars on matters of principle. That is because, in the main, we are a country built from many nations. We evolve into a type which is a very distinct American type, but we keep a sense of divergence of background even in our unity. We can not imagine believing that any one race is superior to any other race and we also believe in the rights of the people to make the final decisions in their government and to hold the reins of power in their own hands. It is true that sometimes we fall short of our ideals, but as a rule, we abide by the will of the majority of our people peacefully expressed in elections held after free and open discussion of the questions at issue in which we have participated by secret ballot.

We elect people to office whose backgrounds as far as heredity goes, may come from any one of the racial strains present in different parts of the European Continent and some times even mixed with strains from other continents. We have prejudices and discriminations but we fight against them and we try constantly to perpetuate the pattern of our free and equal democracy. Sometimes fear or a temporary laziness induces us to permit certain divergences from real ideals, but before long we find ourselves rallying in the majority, to our beliefs.

Now that the German people have been through these years of trial it may be that they will be more anxious to lend their weight to the growth of real democracy in their country. No occupying army is ever a very good example or a very good vehicle through which to teach the ideals of democracy, which are bound up so closely with peace and the obedience to the will of the majority. But I think the analytical and reasonable German people will be able to assess certain differences in the ways of democratic countries and in the ways of totalitarian ones.

It is frequently said that democracies are not as strong as nations under other forms of government, and yet it has been the Democracy of the United States in two European wars which has had to be the final balance, called upon in the hour of need to supply the goods and the men to bring about a final decision. In an economic way, partly because of our resources but also partly because of our freedom, we have become a powerful nation. We glory in our own accomplishments, but we have no desire to control the development and the will of other nations.

The realization that we were to some extent dependent on the well being of certain European nations and that with the development of modern science and economic systems, the world as a whole was more interdependent than ever before, has been in some ways none too easy a fact for our people to assimilate.

The initial move for some joint organization which might maintain peace once it was made, came from our country for the reason that by painful experience we realized that against our will, we were drawn into disturbances which arose in other parts of the world.6 We want greatly to see the United Nations succeed because we feel that eventually if all the nations of the world are in that organization and stay in it, there will of necessity, grow better understanding and a more cooperative feeling in the various fields where joint action can bring more health and happiness and mutual prosperity to the peoples of the world.

We realize that this will require spiritual growth and leadership as well as material growth, and we hope that the women of the world will be in the forefront of those who exert their influence to these ends.

We were shocked to find that the women in many cases did not stand out as firmly as they should against the encroachment of totalitarian power in Germany, but we hope that the realization will come to all women the world over that they themselves as individuals have a responsibility within every nation to act as citizens to prevent anything which may bring suffering and deprivation again to the people of the world.

There is no longer room in the world for individual self-interest. It leads to nothing but sorrow and suffering and death. The world has become too small for selfishness, too small for purely nationalistic interests.

It is true that the people of Germany exist in the heart of a Continent where a battle is going on between two types of economy and two types of political and spiritual beliefs, but this can be made a peaceful battle. It need not degenerate into an argument carried on by force. It can only remain a peaceful battle if we have firm convictions and beliefs in the freedom of the democratic ideal and if we fight as citizens and refuse to allow again a totalitarian system to engulf us.

The words nazism and fascism will forever be looked upon with horror by the free peoples of the world and communism8 must not be allowed to fill the vacuum left by nazism and fascism, and carry on any of the same methods which created the fear and hatred of the other systems.

Democracy believes in the right of people to develop peacefully and in the right of discussion and the rule of the majority. People may change their opinions, but they must do so under the rule of law and through persuasion and not force, if the world is to be freed from the fear of war and the horrors that follow it.

Women can play a role in the development of democracy. They bring children into the world and they are the most influential factor in the early years of the lives of those children. They can build character, they can stand firm for the principles that can lead to the maintenance of peace.

My husband had a deep interest in the well-being of individual people and in their freedom throughout the world. He wanted to broaden the base of security, of freedom from want and freedom from aggression, of free speech, of free action which would allow the individual to grow and develop his fullest powers. He believed that people could make mistakes and through the understanding of those mistakes and a real repentance, could redeem themselves and be again factors in the constant rise to better things that we strive for in this world for the peoples as a whole.

I believe it is easier for women to get together and to work together than it is for men some times. In this matter of developing a basis for democracy in the world, and of supporting the ideas of the United Nations and the gradual development of understanding among the peoples of the world, I believe that women can make and should make a very great contribution.

I am grateful that you have asked me to come and speak to you today and through you, to many of the people of Germany. I have no hatred for any people, but I do have a great desire to see efforts made through deeds so that the people of the world are willing to move forward together to greater confidence in one another and to greater spheres of cooperation. It is the little people who bear the brunt of what the people who are the rulers of their countries decide upon. That is why it is important that the countries be democratic, that they choose their rulers or representatives in government and that they keep in close touch with them so that when their representatives do not respond to the people's wishes, they refuse to keep them in office and put in new people who more rightly represent the longings of the average man and woman. That day, I hope, will come in Germany and in every other nation of Europe.

I offer you my friendship and cooperation if this is the ideal for which you strive. I am sure that the United States will prove to be, not only through the plans it now has made to help in the rebuilding of independent democracies in Europe, but when all the countries have greater strength, a continued help through mutual cooperation for the good of mankind in the world as a whole.


1. ER to David Gurewitsch, 25 October 1948, DGC, FDRL; Irving J. Fasteau to ER, 28 September 1948, AERP; "Mrs. Roosevelt Warns Germans on 'Sovietism,'" NYT, 24 October 1948, 12; MD, 27 and 28 October 1948.

2. Although the document used for this transcription carries the handwritten date of October 24, accounts given by the Associated Press, and verified by ER's personal correspondence, indicate that the speech occurred October 23 ("Mrs. Roosevelt Speaks to 1000 German Women," WP, 24 October 1948, M3; ER to David Gurewitsch, 25 October 1948, DGC, FDRL).

3. See note n14 Document 99 for the division of Germany into zones governed by Allied forces. Stuttgart lay in the American zone.

4. Before she delivered her address, "several" German women doctors treated her to a lunch "designed … to give me some ideas of their difficulties in obtaining a variety of foods." After complaining of a diet consisting of "potatoes and vegetables, vegetables and potatoes," the women read ER "a formal report" detailing the conditions they confronted. As ER reported, one section stated that they were:

… fully aware and regret very much that not only Germany has to suffer from the consequences of the war and National Socialism, but that all European countries are terribly struck and have to fight great difficulties. One problem, however, is characteristic for Germany and seems to be our most difficult and most critical problem, which cannot be solved without foreign assistance. It is the problem of German expellees.

In addition to addressing their concerns in her speech, ER devoted her October 27 column to them as well:

It is very hard for nationals of any country to face the fact that their present sufferings were brought on by past actions. When I was in Germany in early 1946 the people still seemed to be stunned. Now, after three years of occupation, they have done a great deal of work. There is hope, but the problems loom very large.

In Stuttgart,… after three years, housing facilities are only 65 percent of what they were before the war and very little has been rebuilt in the way of schools and hospitals. The schools are so crowded that children go on a staggered schedule….

… Overcrowding and a lack of calories and certain vitamins have greatly increased the incidence of tuberculosis …

Also, displaced-persons camps are a burden, and should be removed as soon as possible from the German economy. German expellees from Czechoslovakia and parts of Germany taken over by Poland have meant that a tremendously large number of people are migrating into Germany. From 1945 to 1947 more than fourteen million destitute people came into the British and United States zones, which were already overpopulated and devastated by the war. That's a large migration of people, to say the least, and they are not taken care of by the IRO but are entirely charges on the Germany economy …

I kept thinking to myself that this is what a man like Hitler could bring upon the people of his own nation. And it is no worse, of course, than what he brought on the peoples of many other nations … who are now struggling under similar conditions to rebuild their countries and rehabilitate their people.

For more examples of ER's impressions of displaced persons camps and Germany generally, see MD, 28 and 29 October 1948.

5. Carl Schurz (1829–1906) was a German-born American politician, orator, and journalist of much renown. After immigrating to the United States in 1852, Schurz rose to prominence as a vocal Lincoln supporter in 1858 and as commander of a division of German-American troops in the Union army. After the war and a brief career as a reporter, he served as US senator from Missouri (1869–75) and secretary of the interior (1877–81). Upon retirement from public service, he returned to journalism, expressing his opposition to expansionism and war with Spain in editorials for the New York Evening Post, the Nation, and Harper's Weekly (DAB).

6. On the origins of the League of Nations, see n17 Document 74.

7. This sentence is crossed out in the text ER preserved, thus there is a possibility that ER omitted this sentence when she spoke.

8. Newspaper accounts quoting this section of the speech reported that ER used the term "Sovietism" where "communism" appears in the text ("Mrs. Roosevelt Warns Germans on 'Sovietism,'" NYT, 24 October 1948, 12; "Mrs. Roosevelt Speaks to 1000 German Women," WP, 24 October 1948, M3).

On "Truce Enforcement" in Palestine

Approximately 10:00 PM, November 3, ER met with Secretary Marshall, Warren Austin, John Foster Dulles, Philip Jessup, and "Chip" Bohlen to review the American position on the draft UN Security Council Resolution calling on Egypt and Israel to withdraw their forces to positions occupied in the Negev Desert area prior to the outbreak of hostilities there on October 14. Because the Negev had been allocated to the Jews as part of the original United Nations partition plan, ER believed that by endorsing the resolution it would not only appear that the United States was withdrawing its support for partition, but that it was attempting to impose a "final settlement" under guise of "truce enforcement." To resist this charge, Marshall agreed to insert language stipulating that the cease-fire resolution would in no way prejudice the "rights, claims or position with regard to a peaceful adjustment of the future situation of Palestine," but ER remained convinced that the resolution was a change in US position.1 She expressed her reservations to Marshall in the following letter written shortly after the meeting adjourned.

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Address by Eleanor Roosevelt at Stuttgart, Germany

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Address by Eleanor Roosevelt at Stuttgart, Germany