11 January 2012

Weimar Wednesday: No. 1

I am in the midst of translating Hans Ostwald's Sittengeschichte der Inflation (Berlin: Neufeld & Henius, 1931). The book is frequently cited in works dealing with the Weimar hyperinflation (where it is usually referred to as A Moral History of the Inflation, or Tales of the Inflation), but up until now it has not been published in English.

In these times of quantitative ease, I thought it might be amusing to post something from it each week. I also know that marketing people are keen on using "practical" excerpts to drum up book sales. So, here is the first in a series of lessons from the Weimar inflationary period.

Should your country enter an inflationary death spiral, don't send things by mail:
In recent years at the Wilmersdorf post office quite a few packages were either stolen or had a substantial portion of their contents removed. A significant number of front-line staff were involved in these thefts. 
Very valuable property was taken and in such amounts that criminals were able to do a roaring trade. The list of stolen items, in so far as they could be identified during the initial investigations, reads like a department store inventory. They stole food of all kinds, as well as fabrics, furs, laundry, silver spoons, and watches. 
The shop steward Mr. K. was the head of the gang. He used his wife to shift some of the stolen goods while he moved other items through his mistress, who worked as an assistant at the post office and also served on the workers' council. The post office manager Mr. B., who used to be a city councillor, played a leading role, as did the mail clerks Mr. M. and Mr. W. 
Mr. M. stole U.S. dollar bills, cheques, as well as letters, while Mr. W. had already served three months in prison for taking dollar bills out of the mail. The main buyer of the stolen goods was the merchant Mr. H. 
The accused Mr. K. had managed to gain the post office superintendent's trust and was put in charge of the package sorting crew. Packages were sorted in a separate room in the basement, and Mr. K. was supposed to monitor the operation.  Mr. K. was a member of the workers' council along with Mr. B., and he made very sure that unreliable people were taken off the job. 
Mr. K. is said to have told his work crew that they did not need to worry about being found out: as shop steward he would take full responsibility, so each man could take whatever he wanted from the packages. The postal workers were happy to comply with these orders. 
In addition to the people from the post office (who were mainly managers, clerks, and assistants), most of the male defendants' wives were also charged.