MERNA - Kitty Werthmann has made it her mission to educate people and set the record straight about what really happened during one of the most important events in history. Last Friday, Kitty brought her presentation to the student body and the public at Anselmo-Merna Public Schools.
The year was 1938 - Kitty was a 12-year-old girl living in her native land of Austria, which was in the midst of a deep economic depression. The unemployment rate in the country had climbed to 30 percent; farmers, banks and small businesses were going broke.
“In my home, it was not unusual for 30 people a day to knock on our day and ask for a bowl of soup or slice of bread,” Kitty recalls.
One of Austria’s neighbors, Germany, had experienced a similar depression just a few years earlier. But that country seemed well on their way to recovery, thanks everyone thought to its leader - Adolf Hitler.
Kitty says Hitler began courting the Austrian people, making promises that he would improve the economy of their nation just as he had in Germany. The Austrian people bought it.
“He was a very good orator. When he listened to him speak you could just become mesmerized, and he would draw people in,” says Kitty about Hitler.
Desperate for a way out of their crisis, the Austrian people elected Hitler as their ruler by a vote of 98 percent.
“The media throughout history has portrayed it as though Hitler came rolling into Austria with tanks and Armies and took over the country, but that is not true. That is not the way it happened at all,” Kitty explains.
“We had high hopes that we were getting better lives!”
Kitty explains that once elected, Hitler began appointing all his own officials, rather than allowing the people to elect them.
“But we didn’t ask any questions because the government in Germany was working, so we thought it was a good thing.”
She say little by little the government began to take more and more control. Free radios were issued to the citizens, but then the radio was nationalized and anyone caught listening to anything other than the government station would face the death penalty. He then nationalized the auto industry and the banks.
She says one of Hitler’s first orders of business was to get guns out of the hands of Austria’s citizens. He convinced the people that in order to protect them from criminals, they needed to bring their guns in to have the serial numbers registered. Before long he had taken all the private guns, and Kitty says that left the people unable to defend themselves against what they soon learned was a corrupt government.
Hitler also nationalized the school system. Kitty attended a Catholic school and recalled coming to school one morning and noticing all of the crucifixes has been replaced with pictures of Hitler, which they were forced to salute each morning.
“His dictatorship did not happen overnight - it took five years,” explains Kitty. “Little by little we lost our freedom. A majority of the people caught on to Hitler’s lies, but what could we do? We had no guns, and if you said anything against the government you were arrested and never seen again.”
At the age of 22, Kitty came to America to begin a new life - a free life. She recalled her first day in New York, finding her way to the police station so she could register, “but they chased me out of there.”
“I could not believe the government here did not want to know where I was going to live. That was completely foreign to me!”
Kitty warns to never take the freedoms we enjoy in America for granted.