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For example they had planes ahead of their time, also many unrealized projects. What factors made them so inventive ?
First, a correction. The Nazis were not inventive, the Germans were.
Germans were the most technically advanced nation of the world, they had organized systematic corporate research laboratories (in chemical companies) when everybody else was inventing stuff in an individual and disorganized fashion (early 20th century).
The switch to industrialized R&D, I'd guess, was the greatest source of competitive advantage for German companies. Once BASF, Bayer, Hoechst etc. etc. demonstrated the viability of their business model, other German firms followed them. One stunning early example is Carl Zeiss inviting Ernst Abbe in 1866 to do research in optics for his firm.
Pre-Nuremberg laws and pre-WWII, the international language of science was arguably German (major scientific journals). Late 19th century onwards Germany definitely benefited from high influx of talented Jewish students from Germany and Austro-Hungary into the natural sciences etc. departments at major universities.
Universities and scientific societies were qualitatively better than elsewhere. For instance, in 1907 Ludwig Prandtl founded the first aerodynamics laboratory.
Once a country has a slight edge in the quality of scientific research, the best and the brightest would flock there, further advancing the frontier of knowledge, so that's a kind of 'virtuous circle'.
During WWII, Nazi Germany swayed to and fro (and squandered a great part of the advantage it had before 1933):
- first, they relied on better doctrine and organization against numerically superior enemy (the USSR).
- Second, they switched to hoping that quality can beat quantity (Panthers and Tigers against Shermans and T-34s), at the same time being incapable of putting superior plane designs (jet fighters and fighter-bombers) into production.
- Lastly, they started producing numerous designs of "wonder-weapons" without any hope at all, as a sign of desperation.
The spirit of invention and the honed national education and innovation system were not used to their full potential. In one glaring example: the United States had one nuclear bomb project, while Germany had two (cf. Reichspostministerium funding of Manfred von Ardenne's laboratory).
The combined industrial power of the US, British Empire, and the USSR (and American manpower reserves) was simply too much of a steamroller for any single design produced in low numbers to stem the tide.
Comparison of Allied and German inventions
- Atomic bomb - UK & US (no operational impact in Europe)
- VT fuse - UK (produced in the States)
- Cavity magnetron - Germany (also klystron), UK (operationally significant)
- Acoustic homing torpedoes - Germany, US
- Liquid rocket fuels - Germany
- Air-to-air missiles - Germany
- Air-to-surface missiles - Germany
- Glide bombs - Germany, US
- Dam busting bombs - UK
- Camouflet bombs - UK
- Four-engine long-range bombers - US, UK
- Turbosuperchargers for high-power, high-altitude aircraft engines - US
- Surface-to-air missiles - Germany
- Surface-to-surface missiles (cruise and ballistic) - Germany
- Solid rocket fuels - US
- Pulse jets - Germany
- Jet engines for aircraft - UK, Germany
- Helicopters - US, Germany
- Remotely-controlled tanks - Germany
- Infrared homing guidance - Germany
- Joysticks - Germany
- Long-range guns - Germany
- Phased array sonars - Germany
- Rocket-propelled grenades - US, Germany
- Rocket artillery - Everyone (USSR, US & Germany heaviest users)
- Air-independent underwater propulsion - Germany
- Anechoic coating for submarines - Germany
- Mini-submarines - Japan, UK
- Electric torpedoes - Germany (others copied the design)
- Nerve gases (sarin - GB, soman - GD, tabun - GA) - Germany
- CNC machine tools - US
- Computers - UK, US, Germany
- Burst radio transmission - Germany
- Synthetic fuels - Germany
- Armor-piercing rounds - Germany (treibspiegel), UK, US
- Encrypted voice comms for top-level comms links - US
- Statistical control and operations research - UK (see also Patrick Blackett's work), US
- Guidance schemes - Germany
- Explosives - Germany (use of aluminum powder, a method of casting propellant grains with nitrocellulose, DEGN and TNT), UK
- Fire control computers - US, UK, Germany
The Germans weren't broadly more inventive than the British or the Americans. What they did have is different national priorities and desperation for wonder weapons to win the war which lead them down paths the Allies didn't bother with. Couple this with madmen in control of national budgets and they'd fund all sorts of crackpot ideas. Few worked out. Mostly they were a waste of war resources.
We tend to fixate on the fastest and biggest weapons: the biggest tanks, the fastest jets and rockets. But wars aren't won by wonder weapons, they're won by efficient weapons. It doesn't matter who invented it first, or who had a flashy prototype like so many German inventions during the war. The weapon has to work and you have to be able to produce it without bankrupting the country. The Greeks invented the steam engine, but it took 1700 years for it to be made practical. The Germans had all sorts of ideas about space, but it took 20-30 years and large chunks of the budgets of two superpowers to make just some of them happen and the rest are still on the table. The really hard part of invention is making it reliable and economical. It takes a lot of time, a lot of money, and a lot of people.
The Allies were well ahead of the Germans in computers, signal intelligence, radar, electronic miniaturization and nuclear weaponry. The Germans were well ahead in rocketry and in jets by about a year because they were a national priority. Let's look at them in some detail.
German liquid rocketry was fueled by Hitler's desire to have a vengeance weapon to strike at London and other strategic targets. The Germans lacked a heavy four engine bomber and, after 1941, the air superiority to deploy it. They were losing the air war, so they needed to try something else. Rocketry was heavily funded to produce the V2 rocket. Militarily it was useless, being wildly inaccurate. Politically it failed in its mission to bring the UK to its knees. It was a colossal waste of resources for Germany, but the rest of the world benefited by using the V2 design, and German rocket scientists, to get a jump start on their space programs.
The Allies had invested in heavy bombers and so had no need for a strategic rocket. They instead developed small rockets for ground attack.
German jets and solid rocketry were fueled by a desperate need to stop the around the clock Allied bombing campaign. Germany need a cheap, high performance interceptor that could reach the high flying and heavily armed Allied bombers. Range was not important, they were flying over Germany, so fuel hungry jet engines could be used. Many, many designs were tried. Only two were successful: the Me 262 and (to a much lesser extent) the He 162, but they came too late to change the war.
In contrast, the Allies needed long range fighters to protect their bombers; fuel hungry jet engines would not make it to Germany and back. Instead, they opted to stick with conventional, fuel efficient propeller driven aircraft. By the time the Me 262 appeared in 1944, there were so few of them with so little fuel and so few experienced pilots, slower Allied fighters overwhelmed them. The Allies quickly realized the jets had short legs and learned to follow them back to their bases and shoot them down as they landed.
But the Germans were only about a year ahead in jets. Most Allied nations were developing jets during the war and were operational shortly after. The Gloster Meteor was operational in 1944 and the P-80 Shooting Star was prototypes. With a range of just 600 miles, compared to the P-51 Mustang's 1500, the Meteor was relegated to defending the UK.
Synthetic fuel wasn't new, but the Germans greatly advanced the art of producing it driven by their extreme lack of oil. The US had their own program but with plenty of oil it remained lackluster.
Instead, the Allies focused on synthetic rubber. Japan's conquests had cut the Allies off from the world's supply of natural rubber and they needed a way to make tires for all those vehicles and gaskets for all those engines. By the end of the war, synthetic rubber production was twice the natural production before the war.
German guided weapons were driven by their desperate need to stop the overwhelming production of Allied armor, ships and bombers. Infantry and pilots needed a weapon that could reliably destroy them outside the range of their defenses. Thus an array of guided weapons were trialed by the Germans. Many used terrifyingly unstable fuels. Most did not see operational use and were cancelled with only the anti-ship missiles Fritz X and the Hs 293 seeing significant deployment.
The Allies were doing a fine job destroying German aircraft and tanks, but their bombers were woefully inaccurate. Their guided weapons focused on precision bombing. The Azon and the Bat were operational during the war. The GB-8 and VB-6 Felix were beginning production as the war ended.
In contrast, the British (and then the Americans) were well ahead of everyone else in radar. Radar had been around decades before WWII and the Germans had their own radar installations but it wasn't very good. It took the British to perfect it. They made radar a national priority to defend their island nation from air attack as well as to give them an edge in naval combat. The Americans were a naval power and wanted radar to detect ships and aircraft as well as to direct artillery fire. Collaboration between the two countries advanced radar by leaps and bounds.
By the end of the war, Allied radar and electronic miniaturization was so good they could pack it in anti-aircraft shells to explode when near an airplane and in artillery shells to burst above the ground.
While all nations developed radar guided night fighters, it was the Germans, with their increasingly desperate need to shoot down British bombers operating at night, who produced the most night fighters. However, they were all refits of existing heavy fighters such as the Do-217J. The ultimate expression of the night fighter in WWII was the American P-61 Black Widow.
Similarly, the pressures of the Battle of the Atlantic drove the British to invent and develop the first computers to speed the breaking of German encryption. First the Bombes and then Colossus the first programmable digital computer.
Why Coca-Cola invented Fanta in Nazi Germany
Narrator: This is Fanta, one of the most popular soft drinks in the world. It's easily identifiable by its bright colors and bold advertisements, which often feature a group of diverse people dancing to loud, upbeat music.
The brand presents itself as multicultural and fun-loving and lures consumers in with the promise of fresh, bold flavors. But would you believe the first bottle of Fanta was made from food scraps? Or that it was invented in Nazi Germany?
So, how did we get here. from here?
In the book "For God, Country and Coca-Cola," Mark Pendergrast tells the story of how Fanta came to be.
It started in 1923, when Robert Woodruff was elected president of The Coca-Cola Company. He had big dreams of expanding the brand and its global reach. In the years before, Coca-Cola's international production was somewhat reckless. French Coke manufacturers accidentally made consumers sick with unhygienic bottling practices. And international demand for Coca-Cola was relatively low.
But under Woodruff's guidance, the company established the Foreign Department, later come to be known as The Coca-Cola Export Corporation. This set up official bottling plants in over 27 countries and allowed Coca-Cola to oversee all of them. While Coca-Cola provided the flavoring, each country provided its own bottling equipment and sugar for its own production. This started a global boom. Coca-Cola sponsored the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, where people from all over the world became familiar with the Coca-Cola logo, which appeared on everything from hats and bulletins to the walls of the city streets. Coca-Cola quickly became associated with the ideal American life and became known internationally as a patriotic American icon.
Coca-Cola expanded throughout Europe, where it eventually reached Germany. An American expatriate named Ray Rivington Powers was put in charge of the German subsidiary. He was a charismatic figure and an excellent salesman who would often promise potential clients that they'd be rich and own villas in Florida for purchasing Coke. Powers skyrocketed sales from 6,000 cases a year to about 100,000 using this tactic.
But despite Powers' crafty salesmanship, he didn't care for the details of financial bookkeeping and often left bills unpaid and bank statements unopened. As a result, the German subsidiary was a financial mess, and the accounts were left in serious need of managing. Then, in 1933, Adolf Hitler rose to power and the reign of the Third Reich began, marking a new era for Germany and for Coca-Cola.
Enter Max Keith, a German-born man with a domineering air and an unwavering allegiance to Coca-Cola. Often described as imposing and a born leader, Keith was determined to save the subsidiary's accounts. With the German economy booming, he took measures to market the drink to the hardworking people of his country. At the time, this meant reestablishing Coca-Cola's reputation - not as an all-American icon, but as a brand fit for German consumption.
Much like the Summer Olympics in Amsterdam, the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin were the perfect marketing opportunity for Coca-Cola. It catered at the games once again. Just like with most brands active in Germany at this time, it appeared beside waving banners emblazoned with swastikas. After this, the Coca-Cola logo was seen at various athletic competitions in Germany and later even on trucks at Hitler Youth rallies. And the ninth annual concessionaire convention ended with a Keith-led pledge to Coca-Cola and a rousing "Sieg heil!" to Hitler.
Despite never actually joining the Nazi Party himself, Keith was willing to work with the Third Reich to keep the company afloat, Pendergrast writes. In a statement, Coca-Cola told Business Insider that there is no indication that Keith collaborated with the Third Reich. Woodruff, for his part, maintained close relations with Keith before the war. For both men, the top priority was ensuring the prosperity of Coca-Cola.
As the war ramped up, so did economic tensions. The German government began punishing foreign businesses. When Hitler invaded Poland in 1939 and declared war on Europe, Keith feared his American-owned business would also be seized by the government.
Then the war entered a new stage. With the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States formally entered World War II and declared Germany an enemy. It used the Trading With the Enemy Act of 1917 to enforce a full embargo on the Axis powers. Woodruff and Keith were finally forced to cut ties, and Keith's constant flow of Coca-Cola syrup was halted. Keith was effectively stranded.
While other multinational businesses operating in Germany at this time were unable to make products, Keith was determined to still produce something. So he made a tactical decision. He oversaw the creation of an exclusively German soft drink.
Keith had chemists concoct a soda that was vaguely similar to Coke, caffeinated and with an unidentifiable blend of tastes. But rather than being made with the secret 7X Coke flavoring, this product was made from the leftovers from other food industries, mostly scraps from produce markets. This was usually fruit pulp, like apple fibers from cider pressing and whey, the liquid byproduct of cheese curdling. The resulting liquid was a translucent beige that more closely resembled today's ginger ale. Keith asked his sales team to explore their fantasies while inventing a name, and the drink was christened. Fanta. The name was a hit.
At this time, Fanta was all he had to keep the company afloat. Fortunately for Keith, Fanta was also all Germany had. With few soft-drink alternatives, its popularity exploded. Its prominence allowed it to skirt the sugar rationing, making it the sweetest drink on the market. This made it increasingly popular as an additive in soups and stews. Sales gradually rose as it became a household staple.
Keith then used his connections in the Third Reich to gain a position overseeing all Coca-Cola plants in Germany and the territories it conquered. This allowed him to spread Fanta across Europe and save other subsidiaries from shutting down. The German branch sold about 3 million cases of the drink before the war was over.
And when the Allies eventually marched on German factories, production of Fanta ceased and Keith handed over the profits of his creation to Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta.
The version of the drink we know today gradually evolved from its rebrand, Fanta Orange, which was introduced to Italy in 1955. This new beverage was a vibrant orange color and was produced using local citrus ingredients, as opposed to leftover scraps. In this way, Coca-Cola continued to make a profitable product, while distancing itself from the associations it once had with the Third Reich. At least, for the most part.
Coca-Cola launched this ad celebrating Fanta's 75th anniversary in 2015. The company faced critical backlash for its apparent reference to World War II-era Germany as the "Good Old Times." As a response, Coca-Cola took the video down and issued a formal apology. When asked for comment, a representative said, "The 75-year-old brand had no association with Hitler or the Nazi Party." Fanta's origin is a tale of what happens when necessity meets moral ambiguity. What was once a concoction of scraps in the Third Reich became a fizzy, brightly colored soda in Italy and is now a drink shared internationally by all types of people.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This video was originally published in November 2019.
German Nazism and the Complicity of Ordinary People
Donald Trump’s remarks in the aftermath of the recent turmoil in Charlottesville, Virginia and the murder of Heather Heyer brought forth widespread condemnation from people across the political spectrum. As a student of the Holocaust, I was particularly struck by his comment about the “fine people” who choose to align themselves with white supremacists, Ku Klux Klansman, and neo-Nazis. I have studied and written about the role of ordinary people in the rise of German Nazism and the implementation of anti-Jewish policies, and I was motivated by Trump’s remarks to post this article. As we contemplate how we might respond to the greater visibility of hate groups in our time, and a president who enables them, let the experience of Nazi Germany be a lesson for us all about the potential for ostensibly “good” people to be complicit with “evil.”
The Rise of Nazism
In some respects, the Nazi movement in its early years may be understood as a social movement that, like other social movements, was attempting to mobilize adherents, raise financial resources, and seek popular legitimacy for its policies—in this case, unburdening Germany from the yoke of the post-World War I Versailles Treaty whereby the Allies forced Germany to relinquish considerable territory, pay $33 billion in reparations, and dramatically limit the size of its armed forces. The Nazis promised to reestablish Germany as a European economic and military powerhouse as well as resist the threat of Communism and take action to solve the so-called “Jewish problem.”
In regard to the “Jewish problem,” Adolf Hitler realized that anti-Semitism could be a vehicle for attracting public support, because there was much sentiment in German culture that was congruent with Nazi claims about Jews. I addressed this cultural background in an earlier Wise Guys article on “Bernie Sanders and the Jewish Question” and will not revisit it here. But I will note Hitler’s observation, made in 1922, when he said, “I scanned the revolutionary events of history and … [asked] myself: against which racial element in Germany can I unleash my propaganda of hate with the greatest prospects of success? … I came to the conclusion that a campaign against the Jews would be as popular as it would be successful.”
It was not always (or even usually) anti-Semitism, however, that was the Nazi’s most effective theme in garnering popular support. At various times and with different audiences appeals to German nationalism, opposition to Communism, and proposed solutions to economic problems were more attractive issues. Nevertheless, the Nazi’s vehement anti-Semitism was well known, and supporters were at best not bothered by this stance.
Sociologist Richard Hamilton suggests that the Nazis’ rise to power was not inevitable, not structurally determined, for “widely varying developments may occur within the same structural frameworks.” Other political parties did not offer attractive alternatives to deal with Germany’s problems, and the Nazis seized upon political opportunities that created an opening or historical contingency for change. They were able to “generate a plausible program and … mobilize cadres to sell it.”
The Nazi Party.The German Workers’ Party (GWP), later named the National Socialist Workers Party (NSWP), or Nazi Party, was founded in 1918. It was but one of many right-wing nationalist parties that existed in Germany in the post-World War I period. The Party’s initial financial sponsor was the Thule Society, a secret organization that took its name from an ancient legend of a mythological land of the north that was believed to be the original home of the Germanic race. Among the group’s members were wealthy businessmen, aristocrats, lawyers, judges, university professors, scientists, and police officials.
Hitler was an early Party member and provided the leadership and inspiration that transformed it from a rather inchoate group of beer brawlers to a potent political force. He gained notoriety as an exceptional orator who could mesmerize audiences.
A social movement’s success is in large part dependent on the development of a movement culture that links members’ personal identities to broader political objectives. Indeed, Hitler had a keen appreciation for the role of symbols and a celebratory atmosphere in creating a sense of belonging among adherents. He adopted the swastika, an ancient occult symbol that invoked the power of the sun, as the Party’s official insignia and this emblem was displayed on flags and members’ uniforms during rallies and parades. Hitler also introduced the heil salute. The word heil in German had a religious-medical connotation that meant “healed” or “saved” and was historically reserved for dignitaries like princes.
In 1920 Hitler changed the name of the GWP to the NSWP, a change that was calculated to evoke positive feelings among seemingly incompatible constituencies: nationalists and socialists. According to historian Klaus Fischer, Hitler saw “national socialism” as a symbolic slogan that could unify diverse ideological orientations under one banner. Socialism, for Hitler, did not refer “to a specific economic system but to an instinct for national self-preservation” and the promotion of “a homogenous and prosperous whole” over private interests. German nationals living outside German territorial borders (primarily in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Poland) were to be included in this vision, while immigrants and Jews who lived in Germany were not. However, it was nationalism, not anti-Semitism per se, that was the issue that attracted most new members. Anti-Semitism was such a pervasive and taken-for-granted part of German culture and political discourse that Party leaders viewed it as a weak recruiting device for distinguishing themselves from other political groups.
In the early 1920s Hitler thought that the Weimar Republic, the democratic-constitutional government that had been established after World War I, could be overthrown through armed resurrection rather than through the electoral process. Thus the Nazi Sturmabteilung, or Storm Troops, also known as the SA, became central to his strategy. First established under the auspices of a gymnastic and sport division of the Party, the SA became the armed force of the movement. Hitler sensed that the SA could be used not only to intimidate opponents but to draw new members. According to Fischer, his “immediate aim was to attract recruits with military backgrounds.” Indeed, the early Nazi rank-and-file was composed largely of “bands of World War I veterans who were unable to give up fighting and adjust to civilian life … [and] young people … attracted to a group that offered adventure in secret meetings, parades, the painting of slogans on buildings, and fighting with opponents.”
Nonetheless, by 1923 the Nazi Party (with a membership of about 55,000) attracted Germans from all social strata. Thirty-six percent were working class, 52 percent were lower-middle class, and 12 percent were upper class. By the latter half of the 1920s, the Party had more socioeconomic breadth than any other party of the far political right or left.
Raising Money from the Elite. The Nazi Party, like other social movements, required financial resources to sustain its activities. In addition to the Thule Society and right-wing military organizations, early contributors were anti-Communist Russian oil producers living in Germany in exile who hoped to overthrow Joseph Stalin’s regime in the Soviet Union with German help. Two key German industrialists, Ernst von Borsig and Fritz Thyssen, also contributed money. Borsig, who made his fortune manufacturing locomotives, boilers, and heavy industrial equipment, was the chairman of the Alliance of German Employers’ Association. Thyssen was at that time the “heir-in-waiting” to the fortune built by his industrialist father, which included the largest shareholdings of United Steel Works. In many cases the contributions secured from the elite were not in the form of cash but of valuable art objects and jewelry, which Hitler used as collateral to obtain loans.
In addition, the Party solicited money from beyond German borders. Hitler himself went on several fund-raising tours in Austria, Czechoslovakia, and Switzerland. Wealthy British oilman Sir Henri Deterding also contributed money, and there is evidence that the U.S. automobile magnate Henry Ford made contributions as well. Ford shared Hitler’s anti-Semitic and anti-Communist views. In the United States he financed anti-Semitic propaganda, including the Independent newspaper, which had a circulation of a half million by the mid-1920s. In the early 1920s reprints of anti-Semitic articles that appeared in the Independent were published in a four-volume compilation called The International Jew, which was translated into 16 languages and published throughout the world. In his book Mein Kampf (My Struggle), Hitler specifically praised Ford for his views and appears to have taken passages from it.
Appealing to Voters and Acquiring Power. In November 1923 Hitler led a failed putsch (coup) against the Weimar government in the city of Munich. The idea of a coup at that time was not novel. The Communists in Russia and Mussolini’s fascists in Italy had risen to power this way in November 1917 and October 1922, respectively. And in Germany there had been other attempted takeovers, albeit unsuccessful ones.
Hitler was convicted of treason and sentenced to five years in prison, although he served little more than a year, and it was while he was incarcerated that he wrote Mein Kampf. Upon his release, Hitler became more interested in an electoral strategy for gaining power, but the Party was still a membership organization without an electorate.
Following the Nazis’ electoral failure in May 1928, in which the Party received only 2.6 percent of the Reichstag (German parliament) vote, Hitler decided to reorganize the party into regions that corresponded to national election precincts. He gave the regional leaders greater flexibility to plan their operations and shift strategies if necessary to respond to local conditions. In turn, the regions were subdivided into districts, local groups, cells, and blocks.
The Party also established the Reich Propaganda Office, under the direction of Joseph Goebbels, and a public speakers’ program, the National Socialist Speakers School, to train members in rhetorical and propaganda techniques. Rallies with featured speakers were held, with an emphasis on making the gatherings entertaining. Appeals were made to the need to restore traditional communal values shared by a common German Volk, and Jews were blamed for the country’s problems. In some venues, however, appeals to anti-Semitism were deemed less effective with particular audiences and were replaced by references to other issues.
At the same time, other political parties did little to effectively repel the Nazi challenge. On the left, for example, the Communists tried to transform workers’ discontents into more radical actions against the state. But workers did not respond favorably when the Communists tried to turn wage strikes intended as short-term events with specific, immediate goals into protracted struggles that would keep them off the job for a longer period of time. Workers also were turned off when the Communists attacked both fascism and democracy as if both were both forms of government that did not have the workers’ interests at heart. Political parties on the right, on the other hand, became more extreme in their attacks on the Weimar Republic, making the Nazis appear more mainstream.
As a consequence of all this, the Nazis’ public standing improved, and in September 1930 the Party received 18.3 percent of the Reichstag vote, an eightfold increase from the 1928 election. Moreover, total party membership rose to 389,000. Only the leftist Social Democrats now had more members than the Nazis in parliament. The Weimar Republic was in increasing disarray, and it became difficult to maintain stable political coalitions to run the government. Repeated elections were held, and in July 1932 the Nazis received 37.3 percent of the vote and Party membership rose to 450,000. Although the Nazi vote declined to 33.1 percent in November 1932, Hitler had emerged as one of the leading political leaders in Germany.
Paul von Hindenburg and Hitler
At that time, the only politician of Hitler’s public stature was the aging General Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg. Hindenburg had been president of Germany since 1925, and as president he was the chief dignitary of the country and the military commander-in-chief. He also retained the power to appoint the Reichstag chancellor to run the government. After the November 1932 election, Hindenburg selected General Kurt von Schleicher to replace Franz von Papen as chancellor. Previously, von Schleicher had supported von Papen, but now he wanted his job. In January 1933, however, von Papen persuaded Hindenburg to appoint Hitler as chancellor with von Papen as vice chancellor. Von Papen managed to convince Hindenburg that Hitler could be co-opted and his radical impulses controlled. Von Papen, of course, was wrong.
The Weimar Constitution provided for the suspension of parliament and civil liberties in cases of national emergencies. Indeed, von Papen had invoked this power before, and Hitler got Hindenburg to agree to disband parliament for seven weeks and hold new elections in March 1933. In that period Hitler also convinced Hindenburg to issue an emergency decree directed at the Communists, which curtailed freedom of the press and outlawed public meetings of oppositional groups. In March 1933 the Nazi Party received 43.9 percent of the Reichstag vote.
Hitler immediately pressed for the passage of the Enabling Act, also called the Law for the Relief of the Distress of the Nation and State, which would give him the power to issue laws without the Reichstag’s approval for a period of four yours. The Enabling Act was passed on March 24 with 83 percent of the Reichstag vote. Hitler then proceeded to suppress all other opposition, eliminate trade unions and other political parties, and turn Germany into a one-party state. When Hindenburg died the next year on August 2, 1934, Hitler merged the offices of the chancellor and president and became the singular ruler, the Führer of the German Reich.
Implementation of Anti-Jewish Policies
After the war, a German architect shared his thoughts about what had transpired in Nazi Germany vis-à-vis the Jews with sociologist Everett Hughes:
Jews, were a problem. They came from the east. You should [have seen] them in Poland the lowest class of people, full of lice, dirty and poor, running about in their Ghettos in filthy caftans. They came here, and got rich by unbelievable methods after the first war. They occupied all the good places … in medicine and law and government posts! … [What the Nazis did] of course … was no way to settle the problem. But there was a problem and it had to be settled some way.
To be sure, a policy of extermination was not what this architect and other Germans had in mind as a solution to the “Jewish problem.” But the legal disenfranchisement and eventual compulsory deportation of German Jews was an entirely different matter. In an earlier Wise Guys article on “Christianity and Nazi Germany” I wrote about the acquiescence, and in some cases collaboration, of the Christian churches. I will not repeat that discussion here, but rather review other ways in which the German population was complicit with Nazism.
After acquiring political power and taking control of the German state, the Nazis were in a position to develop and implement specific policies against the Jews. The solutions they adopted evolved through progressively radical (though overlapping) stages before culminating in the Final Solution of extermination, which began in the latter half of 1941. But only with the Final Solution were the Nazis truly inventive, for at first they employed policies that were quite consistent with historical precedents—for instance, the laws requiring Jews to wear badges or specially marked clothing and live in compulsory ghettos, as well as the laws prohibiting Jews from holding public office, practicing law and medicine, attending institutions of higher education, and marrying or having sexual relations with Christians.
Although Hitler and other Nazi officials sometimes encouraged hooliganism and random violence against Jews, they preferred a more systematic, legal approach in order to acquire and maintain public support for their policies. All told, they issued more than 2,000 legal decrees against the Jews that restricted their rights of citizenship and eventually their right to live.
Among the most influential new agencies created by the Nazis were the Schutzstaffel, or SS, and the Geheimes Staatspolizei, or Gestapo. The SS was initially created for the purpose of protecting Hitler and other Nazis leaders but evolved into an organization whose functions included surveillance and intelligence gathering, mobile military units that killed civilians, and operation of the concentration camps. The Gestapo was the national policing agency that handled political offenses, including Jewish matters.
The Nazis placed anti-Semitic ideologues and specialists in Jewish affairs into key positions in the SS, Gestapo, and other organizations such as the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda. In large part, however, they relied upon the pre-Nazi bureaucratic apparatus, whose occupants tended to favor the “racial dissimilation” of Jews and who often acted as if they were engaged in the most ordinary operations, following orders and performing routine tasks. Indeed, many of the bureaucrats of the Nazi regime were bright, ambitious university (especially law) graduates who sought successful administrative careers and understood that power and influence would come to those who cooperated with anti-Jewish policies. They played an indispensable role in drafting legal decrees, maintaining files on Jews, investigating disputes about individuals’ Jewish status, prosecuting and convicting Jews in stacked courts of law, expropriating Jewish property, segregating the Jewish population, deporting Jews to concentration (including extermination) camps, and even killing innocent people. They helped direct unsystematic Nazi violence into legal channels, hence sanitizing and legitimating anti-Jewish policies.
These bureaucrats competed with each other to expand their organizational domains and sought their superiors’ favor by pursuing and attempting to anticipate their wishes. Initially working without a blueprint for the Final Solution, they often improvised policies to operationalize rather vague Nazi goals. Practically speaking, as political scientist Raul Hilberg observes, the Final Solution could not have been accomplished “if everyone … had to wait for instructions,” and it was this bureaucratic initiative that “eventually brought about the existence of experts accustomed to dealing with Jewish matters.”
The Role of the German Citizenry. One of the ways in which ordinary German citizens played a role in the persecution of Jews was by identifying Jews who were trying to hide or disguise themselves to Nazi authorities. For example, under the so-called Nuremberg Laws that were passed in 1935, Jews were required to register with the authorities and otherwise identify themselves with special cards and insignias on their clothing. They also were prohibited from “racial mixing,” and especially sexual contact, with Germans. But it was the general population, rather than Nazi officials, who posed the most danger of detection. As Nazi leader Reinhard Heydrich told Hermann Göring, Hitler’s second-in-command, in 1938, “The control of the Jew through the watchful eye of the whole population is better than having … a control of his daily life through uniformed agents.”
In many respects, anti-Jewish law enforcement operated much like contemporary, conventional law enforcement, where the majority of police interventions occur in response to citizen reports. During the Nazi period, the Gestapo was the policing agency that had primary jurisdiction over violations of anti-Jewish laws. Although the Gestapo was undoubtedly a brutal, repressive organization, it lacked the personnel resources to exercise effective surveillance over the population. Historian Eric Johnson estimates that in the cities there averaged only about one Gestapo officer for every 10,000 to 15,000 citizens and in the countryside there were next to none. Thus “the perceived omnipresence of the Gestapo was not due to large numbers of Gestapo officials” but to the omnipresence eyes of the citizenry.
The Expropriation of Jewish Assets. The Nazi campaign against the Jews, though driven by racial ideology, was marked by myriad opportunities for self-enrichment through the plundering of Jewish assets in Germany and throughout Nazi-occupied Europe. Arisierung, or Aryanization, was the term the Nazis used to denote policies aimed at transferring Jewish-owned businesses to “Aryan” (i.e., German) ownership. In the early years, from 1933-1938, Aryanization took the form of unsystematic “voluntary” sales of Jewish property. The Nazis organized boycotts of Jewish businesses and harassed and intimated merchants, sometimes violently. They tried to make conditions so bad for Jews that they would simply choose to sell their property and emigrate. For Jews who decided to leave, however, the prices they received were far below market value, and many Germans prospered from the bargains.
Although few of the approximately 100,000 Jewish businesses in Germany were of sufficient size or importance to attract the interest of major companies, some were. Historian Peter Hayes notes that at first the larger German firms tended to offer Jews a better price than the smaller ones, but this was not always the case, and by 1938 many of the largest German companies “plunged into the scramble for the spoils.”
The banking industry was at the forefront of the feeding frenzy, with Dresdner Bank setting what Hayes calls “the standard for rapacity.” Some German bankers contended that failure to take advantage of Aryanization would make them uncompetitive and leave them open to charges of failing to protect their stockholders’ and depositors’ interests. In early 1938 Deutsche Bank headquarters urged its regional offices that “it is very important that the new business possibilities arising in connection with the changeover of non-Aryan firms be exploited.” To be sure, there were risks involved in taking over Jewish enterprises that were unprofitable or laden with debt. Nevertheless, according to historian Harold James, the banking industry (especially Dresdner Bank) played “an active role in brokering deals, finding buyers and sellers, and [providing] the financing for purchases and acquisitions.” In addition, the banks began trading Aryanized securities around the world—in New York, London, Zurich, and other financial centers.
As early as 1935, German Minister of Economics Hjalmar Schacht realized that the government was losing out on the profits of Aryanization, so he initiated a variety of taxes and transfer charges to ensure that more of the capital gain would go directly to the state. And after the infamous Kristallnacht pogrom of November 1938, Aryanization moved into its second stage.
While most of the Nazi leadership was pleased with the destruction of Jewish property that took place during Kristallnacht, Göring was concerned that too much property the Nazis could have otherwise seized was destroyed. To make the pogrom more profitable, he ordered an “atonement tax” to be paid by every Jew who owned assets of more than 5,000 marks, an amount that yielded 1.25 billion marks. In addition, 250 million marks of insurance payments that were due to the Jews who lost their property during the pogrom were confiscated. Göring also ordered the compulsory Aryanization of the economy, requiring the closure of all Jewish businesses and the “sale” of Jewish property and valuable possessions (through government-appointed fiduciaries) at a fraction of their market value.
The Role of Corporations. Hitler was well aware that he needed the support of big business for reviving the economy and for building and maintaining his war machinery. Initially, corporate leaders were not enthusiastic about the Nazis rise to power, and they were concerned about the state’s interference with the market economy. Nevertheless, they understood that their profits depended upon their willingness to cooperate with the regime.
Hitler permitted Göring to assume virtual dictatorial control over the economy and, according to Fischer, Göring “alternately cajoled and bullied big business into expanding factories … [that produced] synthetic rubber, textiles, fuel, and other scarce products.” He placed restrictions on imports and exports, initiated wage and price controls, and demanded that profits be limited and used for a firm’s expansion and for buying government bonds to help finance the military build-up. In 1937, after industrialists found it unprofitable to invest in the conversion of low-grade iron ore to steel, Göring established the Reichswerke Hermann Göring, or Göring Reichs Works (GRW). GRW was primarily a state-owned enterprise, with the government financing 70 percent of its operations (with help from Dresdner Bank loans) and the private sector financing the rest. It soon became a huge industrial complex, employing some 700,000 workers, nearly 60 percent of whom were slave laborers. In the process Göring acquired a large personal fortune.
In addition, the SS-owned Wirtschafts-Verwaltunghauptamt (WVHA), or Economic-Administrative Main Office, operated a vast array of business enterprises that exploited slave labor. The WVHA also profited from generous low interest loans from Dresdner Bank and the Reichsbank (German state bank) and from the expropriation of valuables taken from concentration camp victims. SS leader Heinrich Himmler and Oswald Pohl, who headed the WVHA, were the principal shareholders of most of the SS companies. It was Himmler’s intention to make the SS profitable enough to become a financially independent empire, and both he and Pohl had extensive access to the funds and used them as they saw fit.
Himmler also personally profited from the leasing of concentration-camp laborers to private corporations. He had been trying to attract corporate interest in this idea since 1935, when a contingent of industrialists visited Dachau. Although corporate officials were at first reluctant to do this, the war depleted the available labor pool and thus made Himmler’s offer more attractive. As Auschwitz commandant Rudolf Höss recalled:
Prisoners were sent to enterprises only after the enterprises had made a request. … In their letters of request the enterprises had to state in detail which measures had been taken by them, even before the arrival of the prisoners, to guard them, to quarter them, etc. I visited officially many such establishments to verify such statements. … The enterprises did not have to submit reports on causes of death. … I was constantly told by executives … that they want more prisoners.
As more and more firms pursued this labor policy, the competition for camp workers intensified. By mid-1942 the SS had become a major provider of slave labor for virtually every important sector of the economy. As time went on, the treatment of these workers became more ruthless, and many were either worked to death or sent to concentration camps to be gassed.
Arguably the most notable collaboration between the SS and private industry involved IG Farben, a huge chemical conglomerate whose subsidiaries included Bayer and Degesch. IG Farben, the largest corporation in Europe and the biggest chemical firm in the world, produced products such as synthetic oil and gasoline, synthetic rubber, explosives, plasticizers, dyestuffs, and even the Zyklon B gas that was used in gas chambers. Carl Krauch, a senior IG Farben executive, also served as Göring’s Plenipotentiary General for Chemical Production. In this latter capacity Krauch was charged with procuring Germany’s chemical needs, a sphere that included fuel, explosives, and light metals. Eventually IG Farben became the government’s main supplier of these materials, especially during the war years, and operated more than 330 plants and mines across Germany and Nazi-occupied Europe. Nearly 40 percent of its workforce consisted of slaves.
IG Farben’s most infamous operation was the synthetic oil and rubber plant that the SS contracted to run at the Monowitz subsidiary of the Auschwitz concentration camp. IG Farben officials had been attracted to this location because of its ample coal and water supply and convenient access to highway and rail facilities. There was of course a ready-made supply of concentration-camp laborers. Hayes notes that the company had decided on this location before the Final Solution and its interest in the site “contributed mightily to [Auschwitz’s] expansion and … eventual evolution into a manufacturer of death.”
IG Farben was not the only German corporation to provide Zyklon B or aid in the extermination program in other ways. For example, J.A. Topf und Söhne, a manufacturer of ovens and incinerators, was contracted by the SS to help design and construct larger gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau. Topf provided the special multiple-muffle ovens that could accommodate more bodies. And AEG, a major electrical equipment company, helped design and install the electrical system that was used in the new buildings.
Finally, it is worth noting the complicity of foreign corporations, including U.S. corporations, which had major investments in Nazi Germany. Anaconda, Ford Motor Company, General Motors, Goodrich, International Business Machines, International Harvester, International Telephone and Telegraph, Standard Oil of New Jersey, Texaco, and the United Fruit Company were among them. Some of these companies invested heavily in German military vehicle and weapons production, operated German subsidiaries during the war years, and even had joint investments with German corporations that exploited concentration-camp labor and profited from the plunder of Jewish property.
The Role of the Railways. Another way in which ordinary Germans were complicit in the Final Solution was through the operation of the railways that sent Jews to the death camps. The Reichsbahn, or German State Railways, was a large administrative unit housed in the Ministry of Transportation that employed about 1.4 million personnel who serviced both civilian and military transportation needs. All told, the Reichsbahn used about 2,000 trains to transport Jews to death camps and other locations where they were killed.
Bureaucrats in the Reichsbahn performed important functions that facilitated the movement of trains. They constructed and published timetables, collected fares, and allocated cars and locomotives. In sending Jews to their death, they did not deviate much from the routine procedures they used to process ordinary train traffic. As Hilberg explains, the Reichsbahn was willing to ship Jews as if they were like any other cargo as long as it was paid for its services by the track kilometer, with “children under ten going half-fare and children under four going free.” While the guards on the train required a round-trip fare, the Jews only had to be paid for one way. The party responsible for payment was the Gestapo, which had no separate budget for its transportation needs. However, the proceeds from the Jews’ confiscated property were usually enough to cover the costs if the Gestapo received group rates. According to Hilberg:
The Jews were … shipped in much the same way [as] any excursion group … granted a special fare if there were enough people traveling. The minimum was four hundred. … So even if there were fewer … it would pay to say there were four hundred … [to] get the half-fare. … If there [was] exceptional filth in the cars … [or] damage to the equipment, which might be the case because the transports took so long and because five to ten percent of the prisoners died en route, there might be an additional bill for that damage.
Walter Stier, a bureaucrat who booked Jews on transports to the Treblinka extermination camp, told filmmaker Claude Lanzmann that his job was “barely different” from any other work. Although he denied that he knew Treblinka was a death camp, Stier admitted that “without me these trains couldn’t reach their destination.” For him, Treblinka was nothing but a destination, a place where people were “put up.” As he said, “I never went to Treblinka. I stayed in Krakow, in Warsaw, glued to my desk. … I was strictly a bureaucrat!”
The Wehrmacht and Order Police. Although the SS Einsatsgruppen, or Special Action Squads, were the first German troops that were deployed for the mass murder of civilians, they were substantially assisted by the Wehrmacht, the regular German army. The Wehrmacht not only permitted the Einsatsgruppen to operate in the eastern territories under its control, but it also turned Jews over to them and even engaged in mass killings themselves. In fact, historian Omer Bartov notes that Wehrmacht troops were directly “involved in widespread crimes against enemy soldiers and the civilian population, acting both on orders by their superiors and in many instances … on their own initiative.”
The Ordungspolizei, or Order Police (OP), was also involved in the mass killing of Jews. The OP was established in 1936 when the entire policing system (including the Gestapo) was reorganized on a national basis under Himmler’s control as Chief of the German Police. Under the command of Kurt Daluege, who had risen through the ranks of the SS, the OP consisted of both stationary and mobile formations that were initially intended to carry out ordinary civilian police functions. They were organized into battalions and reserve units, much like the U.S. National Guard, and those who enlisted in it were exempt from military conscription. The OP grew from about 131,000 troops on the eve of World War II to about 310,000 by 1943.
Whereas the Einsatsgruppen was a select group of Nazis who received special training for deployment in the killing of civilians, what is noteworthy about the OP is that they consisted of men who, in political scientist Daniel Goldhagen’s words, “were not particularly Nazified” in any significant way except that “they were, loosely speaking, representative of the Nazified German society.” While Daluege was a dedicated SS man, only a fifth of the OP officers were SS, and a third were not even Nazi Party members. Among the rank-and-file, only a fourth were Nazi Party members and none were SS. The rank-and-file were older than the average military recruit (especially the reserves, who constituted about 42 percent of the troops), and many were thus socialized in the pre-Nazi era. According to historian Christopher Browning, they “were men who had known political standards and moral norms other than those of the Nazis … [and] would not seem to have been a very promising group from which to recruit mass murderers on behalf of the Nazi vision of a racial utopia free of Jews.”
Some OP had participated in the civilian killings that began with the invasion of Poland in 1939, but they were used to a greater extent during the invasion of Soviet territory in 1941. Himmler in particular was aware that the execution of civilians would be difficult for these men. Thus at first the men were told that they were eliminating anti-German resisters, saboteurs, and looters and the victims were limited to male Jews between the ages of 17 and 45. However, according to historian Richard Breitman, Himmler reasoned that “once they carried out mass murder in response to an alleged crime or provocation, it would be easier to get them to follow broader killing orders” and later kill men, women, and children of all ages.
Himmler was right, for few men refused to participate. There is no evidence of significant dissent among the troops or of significant punishment for those few who were unwilling or unable to kill. Nevertheless, as Himmler had expected, many of the men had difficulty coping with their task. They were instructed to position their rifles on the victim’s backbone just above the shoulder blade in order to make a “clean” shot. But they did not always shoot their victims properly and blood, bone, and tissue were splattered all over the ground and on the men’s faces and clothes. Killing people one to one, face to face, can indeed be a messy business. Alcohol was passed out to dull the men’s anxiety. Most of the men who quit shooting appear to have done so more because they were physically repulsed and less because they thought what they were doing was wrong. After the war, one OP participant described the range of reactions this way: “When I am asked about the mood of [my] comrades, … I must say that I … observed nothing special, that is the mood was not especially bad. Many said that they never again wanted to experience something like that in their entire lives, while … others were content with saying an order is an order. With that the matter was settled for them.”
Other OP shooters were notably enthusiastic about their work. One man observed that “with few exceptions, [they were] quite happy to take part in shootings of Jews.” Some even improvised special humiliations, for instance, making the Jews run a gauntlet and beating them before they were killed, or making the Jews strip naked and crawl to the mass graves that awaited them. Some took souvenir photos that they sent home to their wives and girlfriends. At night the men would celebrate and make jokes about their actions or keep scores on the number of kill. When “Jew hunts,” or Judenjagd as they were called, were organized to track down Jews who had fled into the forest, more men volunteered than was necessary for the job. According to Goldhagen, in German the term Judenjagd has a positive valence insofar as jagd suggests “a pleasurable pursuit, rich in adventure, involving no danger to the hunter, … its reward … a record of animals slain.”
To relieve the OP of its more gruesome duties, the Nazis increasingly relied on SS-trained, Ukrainian, Latvian, and Lithuanian prisoners of war to do the actual killing. Browning notes that these men, who were screened for their anti-Communist and anti-Semitic sentiments, were “offered an escape from probable starvation, and promised … they would not be used in combat against the Soviet army.” This enabled the OP to be deployed mostly as “ghetto clearers” who rounded up Jews for deportation or delivered Jews to others who did the killing. After their earlier experiences, this type of work seem relatively innocuous to the men.
In this article I have illustrated ways in which ordinary people were complicit in the scourge of German Nazism. It is not, unfortunately, an exhaustive account, because more could be said about this complicity. School teachers, for example, taught Nazi racial “science” to children and medical doctors were an integral part of the extermination program. To be sure, the Nazis exercised considerable control over the social institutions that they used for propaganda and indoctrination purposes and that helped build broad popular support for their policies. And of course the regime dealt ruthlessly with those who opposed it in any meaningful way. Nevertheless, outside of Germany’s defeat in the war, many Germans subjectively experienced the Nazi period as an empowering era. As one citizen recalled, “To be honest … I wasn’t really against the Nazis at that particular time. I often found their methods appalling … [but the] truth is, all that business about the ‘unity of the German people’ and the ‘national rebirth,’ really impressed me.” Another person remembered the 1930s this way: “Of course later on we found out that mistakes had been made, that certain things happened that shouldn’t have. But [Hitler] … really did accomplish the impossible! Millions of desperate people found new happiness, got decent jobs, and could face the future once more without fear.”
Thus after the war many Germans interpreted the Final Solution not as an abomination for which they should be held responsible, but as a “mistake” made by a few bad Nazis. In his study of German public opinion during the Nazi era, historian David Bankier concluded that “on the whole the population consented to attacks on Jews as long as these neither damaged non-Jews nor harmed the interests of the country, particularly its reputation abroad.” It is arguably true that the average German citizen never expected things to go as far as they did, but after all, as the architect told Everett Hughes, “the Jews … were a problem … [that] had to be settled some way.”
David Bankier, The Germans and the Final Solution: Public Opinion Under Nazism (Oxford University Press, 1992).
Omer Bartov, Hitler’s Army: Soldiers, Nazis, and War in the Third Reich (Oxford University Press, 1992).
Ronald J. Berger, The Holocaust, Religion, and the Politics of Collective Memory: Beyond Sociology (Transaction, 2011).
Richard Breitman, Official Secrets: What the Nazis Planned, What the British and Americans Knew (Hill and Wang, 1998).
Christopher R. Browning, Ordinary Men: Reserve Police Battalion 101 and the Final Solution in Poland (HarperPerrenial, 1992).
Klaus Fischer, Nazi Germany: A New History (Continuum, 1995).
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler’s Willing Executioners: Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust (Knopf, 1996).
Richard F. Hamilton, Who Voted for Hitler? (Princeton University Press, 1982).
Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge University Press, 1987).
Raul Hilberg, “The Bureaucracy of Annihilation,” in Unanswered Questions: Nazi Germany and the Genocide of the Jews, ed. Francois Furet (Schocken, 1989).
Everett C. Hughes, “Good People and Dirty Work,” Social Problems, vol. 10, no. 1 (1962).
Harold James, The Deutsche Bank and the Nazi Economic War Against the Jews (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Eric A. Johnson, Nazi Terror: The Gestapo, Jews, and Ordinary Germans (Basic Books, 1999).
Claude Lanzmann, Shoah: An Oral History of the Holocaust (Pantheon, 1985).
Life under Nazi rule: the occupation of the Channel Islands
Occupied by the Germans between 1940 and 1945, the Channel Islands were the only part of the British Isles to have been seized by the Nazi regime. Here, Rachel Dinning talks to Duncan Barrett, author of Hitler's British Isles, to find out what it was like to live under German rule
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Published: November 25, 2020 at 12:15 pm
Q. What was it like to live in the Channel Islands during the German occupation?
A. It was extremely tough, but compared to the German occupation in France or Holland it was a much ‘softer’ occupation. The attorney general of Guernsey, Ambrose Sherwill, actually referred to it as a ‘model occupation’, which very much captured the essence of what the German authorities were trying to achieve. Adolf Hitler saw it as an opportunity for a bit of PR – he wanted to prove that the Germans could run an occupation without the abuses of power and violence that were happening elsewhere. He considered the Channel Islands to be his ‘stepping stone’ to the British Isles.
At the same time, for five years the residents lived an existence that wasn’t completely free. They couldn’t speak freely, they were living under curfew and they were often struggling for food. Before the war, the island had been massively reliant on importing and exporting with the mainland. They managed to do a certain amount of trading with France – the Germans actually allowed that – but after D-Day [the Allied invasion of Normandy in June 1944], they were cut off and began to starve. Towards the end of the war, the question wasn’t whether the allies would win, but whether they would die of starvation before the island could be liberated.
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Q. How did the local residents view the Germans?
A. I interviewed hundreds of residents for my book, Hitler’s British Isles, and something that came up repeatedly was this idea that “there were Nazis, and there were Germans”. Many local people saw the Germans as normal men who had found themselves in uniform. While there were a few real Nazis – individuals committed to national socialism and Hitler – the majority of Germans on the island were just ordinary soldiers who wanted to go back to their homes and families. Some of them were actively looking for opportunities to form friendly relationships with the locals and to prove that they weren’t the kind of monsters that they had been painted as by Allied propaganda. I think it helped that the people in charge of the occupation were these German aristocrats who, if anything, were quite suspicious of Hitler and his fascist ideology.
Obviously not every Guernsey resident felt the same way. Many of the men who had served in the First World War, and who were perhaps too old to fight in the Second World War, found it difficult to accept the presence of the Germans. From their perspective, they had “beaten them once”, and now they were back again – this time right on their doorstep.
I would also argue that the so-called ‘model occupation’ became harder to sustain as tensions grew and trust began to break down. This was exemplified in an instance relatively early on, in 1940, when two local Guernsey lads who had signed up to the British Army returned to the island on a reconnaissance mission. They were in a precarious position: if they were discovered and classified as spies, then they could be shot. When the Germans became aware that there were British soldiers on the island, they set an ultimatum: the soldiers were to hand themselves in by a certain date and they would be sent to a prisoner of war camp to live out the remainder of the war in safety. The soldiers did hand themselves in, but the Germans went back on their promise and they were sentenced to death. Although they were granted a last-minute reprieve on Christmas Eve 1940, by this point one of the men’s fathers had already committed suicide. The handling of the situation led to a lot of people losing trust in the Germans.
Q. Did the Germans and the Channel Islanders live together?
A. Depending on the area, there could be as many as one to two Germans per islander. Many of them lived in people’s houses, so if you had a spare room, then you were likely to have a German living with you.
Q. You previously said that the islanders’ relationship with the Germans was reasonably civil, in some cases even friendly. Why, then, were people outraged when women had relationships with German soldiers?
A. It was one thing to be polite to someone, but it was a massive taboo to actually be in a relationship with ‘the enemy’. This was the case for both sides – the Germans could be in trouble for forming relationships with the local women too. But when you have tens of thousands of young men and women in one place, it’s inevitable what will happen.
The women who entered into relationships with Germans were called ‘jerrybags’, and there was this assumption that they were doing it for selfish reasons – to get more food or luxuries like lipstick and silk stockings from Paris. I think for some of the local men, the resentment that they had about the occupation was targeted at these women. Those who were discovered to be having these illicit relationships had their heads shaved and were ‘tarred and feathered’ – had liquid tar and feathers poured over them. I interviewed a man who was involved with tarring at least one of these women, and he told me that the ‘jerrybags’ were considered just as much ‘the enemy’ as the Germans.
I was quite shocked to hear how angry people can get about this subject even all these years later. Having a relationship with someone from the ‘other side’ was considered much worse than some of the wrongdoings that – to me – seemed more deserving of anger: collaboration, dodgy trading with the Germans, etc.
Q. How were Jewish people living in the Channel Islands treated by the Germans?
A. It varied between the islands to some extent. In Jersey a number of Jews were deported along with other islanders – they were treated comparatively better than many other Jews in occupied Europe and survived the war. But a couple of Jews did die as a result of the occupation and the impossible new German laws – for example, one man’s shop was forcibly closed and he committed suicide, and another had a mental breakdown. In Guernsey, three women who were deported ended up at Auschwitz and were killed there.
Most Jews had already evacuated from the islands before the Germans arrived. Others remained undiscovered or in hiding. In Jersey, for example, one physiotherapist hid a Jewish woman in his basement for years while he treated the German soldiers in his consulting room directly above.
Q. What might a British occupation have looked like? Would a ‘model occupation’ have been possible?
A. Hitler’s ‘model occupation’ in the Channel Islands was possible because there wasn’t much resistance. This was for two reasons: firstly, Britain didn’t have the resources to fight for the islanders, and the local people had been told not to resist secondly, the geography of the Channel Islands would have made it very difficult for a potential resistance to hide and organise – the islands were very small, flat and easily searched.
In comparison, resistance in German-occupied France was possible because the Maquis [rural guerrilla bands of resistance fighters] were able to disappear into the mountainous terrain from which they took their name. So if the Germans had invaded Britain, I think people would have been able to fight back in a way that just wasn’t possible on the Channel Islands.
Q. Were there moments of rebellion?
A. While there wasn’t a resistance in the militarised sense of the word, there were definitely moments of rebellion – acts of arson and graffiti, for example. Throughout Europe there had been a massive campaign, partly encouraged by the BBC, to encourage people to chalk up V-signs on buildings. This happened in Guernsey.
There was humanitarian resistance too. Although the Germans treated the local people reasonably well, they imported slave workers from various European countries to build the fortifications on the island. A large number of these people were Russians who were treated particularly badly by the Nazis, who viewed them as “Untermenschen” (sub-human). The locals would feel terribly sorry for them, and would offer them food and shelter. When the slave workers escaped, locals would often let them hide in their homes.
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People were always pushing the boundaries of what they could get away with. I spoke to a woman whose husband got himself into a rather difficult situation when a German came to his farm to ask how many “swines” he had. “I don’t have any swines,” he told the German – although he did, in fact, have two pigs hidden in a secret pig sty. The German heard the animals grunting and became very angry with the man. The pig-owner had to pretend that he hadn’t understood the original question – and luckily, he got away with it.
People didn’t always get off so lightly. Some ended up in prison or even lost their lives for going against German authority. There was one woman, for example, who was working for a pro-Nazi Swiss chef. He greeted her one morning with the usual “Heil Hitler” and she replied: “To hell with Hitler!” She ended up going to prison, but she became a local hero of sorts. Speaking your mind could get you into a lot of trouble.
Q. What happened after the Germans left the island, and what was the lasting impact on the people?
A. It was extremely difficult for everyone. Tens of thousands of islanders had been evacuated to Britain just before the Germans arrived on the Channel Islands in 1940, and when they returned there was a difficult period of reintegration. There was a feeling among the islanders who had stayed that the ones who had left had been cowardly, while the ones who had left felt that they had experienced the Blitz and been properly “at war” while their friends and relatives at home had been “making friends” with German soldiers. It took a long time for these two sides of society to make peace with those different experiences.
Q. Are the Channel Islands a symbol of resilience against the odds? How does this image of them as ‘collaborators’ sit within their history?
A. There were people who did denounce their neighbours or became paid informants working directly for the Germans, but it would be unfair to call the vast majority ‘collaborators’. To this day, the locals are very aware that this idea exists about them. I interviewed one woman who was a small girl at the time of the occupation. She had an autograph book that contained some friendly notes from the Germans soldiers she got to know. Although these were just notes written to a child, she was very worried about showing them to me in case I thought she had been a ‘collaborator’. So there was definitely this feeling among the locals that they were judged by the outside world for even quite innocent interactions like that.
Although there were instances where the people in authority made questionable decisions to keep the peace, you have to remember that everyone was in a very difficult situation and it’s easy to judge actions in hindsight. I feel a degree of sympathy for the islanders because they were really abandoned by Britain during the war.
Q. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society was released in UK cinemas in 2018, depicting life on the island of Guernsey in the aftermath of the German occupation. Did people really eat ‘potato peel pie’?
A. Yes, the title of the film is not an exaggeration – potato peel pie really was a dish that people were eating at the time. It was a meal you could make if you only had potatoes, with potato peelings on top.
Duncan Barrett is the author of Hitler’s British Isles, which is due to be published by Simon & Schuster in June 2018.
Rachel Dinning is Digital Editorial Assistant at HistoryExtra
Changes after World War II
From 1946 education was included in the plans developed by the central planning commission in France. In general, government was friendly to educational development and reform. Student protests in the late 1960s caused an antagonistic reaction, however, and teacher resistance appeared to work against many government reform initiatives. Government reform trends moved toward increasing administrative efficiency and accountability, meeting national economic needs through improved technological education, improving the articulation of system parts, opening the school to the community, and correcting inequalities, through both curricular and organizational provisions. Attention was given not only to “socializing” the system but also to correcting inequalities suffered by French ethnic minorities and immigrant children, to amending social-geographic inequalities, and to increasing options for the handicapped in both special schools and, after the mid-1970s, regular schools.
In 1947 a commission established to examine the educational system recommended a thorough overhauling of the entire school system. Education was to be compulsory from age 6 to 18. Schooling was to be divided into three successive stages: (1) 6 to 11, aimed at mastery of the basic skills and knowledge, (2) 11 to 15, a period of guidance to discover aptitudes, and (3) 15 to 18, a stage during which education was to be diversified and specialized. The system consistently developed from one featuring a common elementary school to one incorporating a progression into separate paths. Reforms aimed to provide equality of educational experience at each stage and to create curricular conditions that furthered career advancement without abridging general education or forcing students to choose a profession prematurely.
Preschool education was given in the école maternelle, in which attendance was voluntary from age 2 to 6. Education was both compulsory and free between 6 and 16 years of age. The five-year elementary school was followed by a four-year lower secondary school, the collège unique, which was the object of much attention. The first two years at the collège unique constituted the observation cycle, during which teachers observed student performance. During the remaining two years, the orientation cycle, teachers offered guidance and assisted pupils in identifying their abilities and determining a career direction.
At the upper secondary level, from age 15 to 18, students entered either the general and technological high school (lycée d’enseignement général et technologique), successor to the traditional academic high school, or the vocational senior high school (lycée d’enseignement professionel), encompassing a range of vocational-technical studies and qualifications. Students entering the former chose one of three basic streams the first year, then concentrated the next two years on one of five sections of study: literary-philosophical studies, economics and social science, mathematics and physical science, Earth science and biological science, or scientific and industrial technology. The number of sections and, particularly, the number of technological options were scheduled for expansion. There was a common core of subjects plus electives in grades 10 and 11, but all subjects were oriented to the pupil’s major area of study. In grade 12 the subjects were optional. The baccalauréat examination taken at the end of these studies qualified students for university entrance. It consisted of written and oral examinations. More than half of the 70 percent who passed were females. The proportion of the age group reaching this peak of school success increased continuously, with corresponding effects on entrance to higher education.
Vocational-technical secondary education included a wide variety of options. Each of the courses leading to one of the 30 or so technical baccalauréats required three years of study and prepared students for corresponding studies in higher education. Students might also choose to obtain, in descending order of qualification requirements and course demands, the technician diploma (brevet de technicien), the diploma of vocational studies (brevet d’études professionelles), or the certificate of vocational aptitude (certificat d’aptitude professionelle). A one-year course conferring no specialized qualification was also available. As an alternative, youths might opt for apprenticeship training in the workplace.
Higher education was offered in universities, in institutes attached to a university, and in the grandes écoles. Students attended for two to five years and sat either for a diploma or, in certain establishments, for university degrees or for a competitive examination, such as the agrégation. Undergraduate courses lasted for three or four years, depending on the type of degree sought.
The universities went through a period of violent student dissatisfaction in the late 1960s. Reforms ensued encouraging decentralization, diversification of courses, and moderation of the importance of examinations. Nevertheless, the failure or dropout rate in the first two years remained high, and there were marked differences in status among institutions and faculties.
Teachers were graded according to the results of a competitive academic examination, and their training and qualifications varied by grade. The five grades ranged from the elementary teacher to the highly qualified graduate agrégé, who enjoyed the lightest teaching load and the highest prestige and who taught at the secondary level or higher. The differences had long been a matter of concern, as had the entrenchment of the higher levels of the teaching establishment. The system had resisted reforms calling for more uniformity in teacher status, changes in method and content orientation, teacher cooperation, interdisciplinarity, and technological familiarity. Reforms to extend the level of common education, to increase options at the upper secondary level, to strengthen the technological component, and to introduce steps to improve the link between school and work were nonetheless achieved. Internal reform proposals included the more flexible organization of time and content and the addition of extracurricular activities appropriate to the real life of youth and society. Government forays into decentralization promoted community links at the school level and school program initiatives. The outcomes affected the system at best gradually, however.
The German national football team during the era of Nazis and the story of Austrian player Matthias Sindelar
The exit of Germany from the League of Nations in 1933 created a new situation around the projection of Germany in international level. So football appeared probably as only way that the nation could promote its image abroad. During the Nazi era national football team had the role of German Ambassador in International competitions of 1930’s, the 1934 World Cup and especially in 1938 World Cup when appeared in France the “Great German” national team after Anschluss. (Deutschland über Alles: discrimination in German football, p.755-756, Soccer & Society, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2009, 754–765)
The annexation of Austria on March of 1938 was something that gave a new opportunity for German football. Because of the annexation, the Nazis believed that the inclusion of several brilliant players who were the best of Austria’s national team until 1938 was a good chance for the German team to strengthen. The Austrian football Association stopped to exist and the Nazis started to think about a Great Germany team for the 1938 World Cup in France. But however the Germans failed again. The national team of Great Germany lost to Switzerland in two matches and was eliminated in the first round. Probably the reason for failure was the two completely different styles of play in one team. (The Hidden Social and Political History of the German Football Association (DFB), 1900-50, Udo Merkel, p.184, Soccer and Society, Vol.1, No.2 (Summer 2000), pp.167-186)
An important fact after the annexation of Austria was the mysterious death of the Austrian international footballer Matthias Sindelar in 1939. Sindelar who was known as a “paper man” because he was very thin, he was the greatest player in Austria but he refused to play for the German national team in 1938 World Cup. Because of his refusal he became the greatest symbol of Austrian resistance to the Nazi invasion. The international player of FK Austria Vienna found the death in his house but they never discovered the reasons of his death. His refusal to play in German national team after the annexation of Austriain the Third Reich, they created the fames that the Nazis were hidden behind of his death. Some others said that probably Sindelar committed suicide because he didn’t want to live anymore under the Nazi tyranny. (Between Manipulation and Resistance: Viennese Football in the Nazi Era, Matthias Marschik, p.222, 224-225, Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 34, No. 2 (Apr., 1999), 215-229, BBC Documentary: The history of football)
At this time when fascist regimes took the power in European countries, international football matches between Germany and Democratic states had great ideological significance. Such case was the friendly match between Nazi Germany and Liberal Democratic England in May of 1938. Through this kind of matches had promoted the ideological differences of two states. A possible victory against democratic state meant also victory of ideology against the other. (German football: cultural history, Pyta W, p.6-7, Deutschland über Alles: discrimination in German football, p.756, Soccer & Society, Vol. 10, No. 6, November 2009, 754–765)
Back to international competitions and World cups of 1930’s, the German national team did not achieve to prove the German superiority in international level than Fascist Italy of Benito Mussolini. Italian Fascism prevailed German National-Socialism because of the Italian national team’s victories in the decade of 1930. At the 1934 World Cup inItaly, the Germans reached in fourth place. At 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin despite that the German athletes won the most gold medals, the football team was defeated in the preliminary round by the football dwarf Norway. At 1938 World Cup inFrance, the post-Anschluss ‘Great German’ national team disgraced itself when failing to get past the first round after losing from Switzerland. So the Nazis failed via football to promote their superiority as the Aryan Race. Football was proved inadequate in the promotion and demonstration of racial superiority of Germans (German football: cultural history, Pyta W, p.6).
Perhaps one of the reasons that Germany failed in international tournaments was the intense interest of Hitler in other sports and mainly in boxing because he was convinced that this sport was more able than football to develop physical aggressiveness and to toughen the human body. Thus Hitler gave more emphasis in individual sports because his belief that the Germans could grow up with the ideals of National-Socialism through individual physical programs that toughen the human body. (The Hidden Social and Political History of the German Football Association (DFB), 1900-50, Udo Merkel,, p.181, Soccer and Society, Vol.1, No.2 (Summer 2000), pp.167-186 ) That’s why the Nazis established the German Reich’s Committee for Physical Exercises in 1934, to promote the strategic plan for the Reich’s sport. Football failed to promote the Aryan race superiority, so the Nazis turned their interest in other sports through which they were able to prove their supremacy as nation and prepare the nation for the Second World War. (The Hidden Social and Political History of the German Football Association (DFB), 1900-50, Udo Merkel, p.182, Soccer and Society, Vol.1, No.2 (Summer 2000), pp.167-186)
At Last, Recognition and Praise for the Resistance in Nazi Germany
When the British historian A. J. P. Taylor declared in the 1960's that German resistance to the Nazis was a myth, his was a widely held view. Even today many people in Germany and elsewhere believe there was little internal opposition to Hitler.
After decades of bitter debate, however, the German resistance's tangled history is coming into sharper focus. Since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the cold war in 1989, newly released K.G.B. and C.I.A. files and long-ignored documents in the Roosevelt Library in
Hyde Park, N.Y., reveal that the once-scorned Communist and socialist resistance deserves more credit.
As Germany celebrates the 10th anniversary of reunification this week, there are signs that the left's contributions are finally being recognized. Streets in western Germany are being named for members of the Red Orchestra, a leftist resistance group that had been maligned for decades, while the high-speed trains plying from Hanover through the former eastern zone to Berlin bear names of German resisters like Count Claus Schenk von Stauffenberg, who had been honored only in the former West Germany.
But this searching re-examination has not been painless. Old East-West antagonisms have shot through attempts to correct the record.
Delicate political sensibilities are part of the reason that a more complete picture of the German resistance has been so long in coming. During the Nazi era the breadth of internal opposition was hidden from the German people and, except for the failed Stauffenberg plot of July 20, 1944, to assassinate Hitler, from the rest of the world. Yet Gestapo records reveal that approximately 800,000 Germans in a population of more than 66 million were jailed for active resistance during the Reich's 12-year reign. Indeed, the first concentration camps, notably Dachau, built near Munich in 1933, were meant for left-wing dissidents. In 1936, a typical year, 11,687 Germans were arrested for illegal socialist activity, according to Peter Hoffmann's standard 1977 study, ''The History of the German Resistance, 1933-1945.''
Even after the war the record was obscured. To many Germans the resistance was an awkward reminder that choices were possible, even in wartime. In Germany's western sector, influential voices echoed the Nazi judiciary in defining all resistance against the fatherland as high treason.
This view persisted after the founding of the German Federal Republic, or West Germany, in 1949. Survivor benefits, for example, were denied to the widows and children of the conservative officers who tried to kill Hitler in 1944, even though the widows of SS officers were receiving benefits.
As West Germany became the anchor of Western Europe, its frontiers guaranteed by NATO, a less defensive populace began to honor some resistance leaders like the army officers led by Count Stauffenberg who tried to assassinate Hitler in 1944, churchmen like Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the Catholic students in the so-called White Rose group. Even so, Communist opponents were still shunned. In 1956 the Bonn Parliament voted to compensate many German victims of Nazism, but when the Communist Party was declared illegal in West Germany, the Communists were excluded from any benefits.
Perhaps no group was more consistently misrepresented during the cold war or better illustrates the current re-examination of German resistance than the Red Orchestra. The Red Orchestra was a loosely organized group of about 120 Catholics, socialists, conservatives and former Communist Party members centered on Arvid Harnack, a former Rockefeller scholar and official in the German Economics Ministry his American wife, Mildred a Luftwaffe lieutenant, Harro Schulze-Boysen and his wife, Libertas, who worked for the film section of the Propaganda Ministry.
Although often portrayed as a Soviet agent, Harnack in fact provided top-secret intelligence to an American diplomat in Berlin as well as to the Soviets. And despite Soviet requests to cease all resistance activities, the group printed and distributed anti-Nazi literature and helped Jews and dissidents escape until, because of a gross Soviet intelligence blunder, the Gestapo arrested 120 people in 1942 and 1943. One result was the torture, secret trial and execution of 31 men and 18 women, including Mildred Harnack.
In East Germany, the Soviet-installed government celebrated the Red Orchestra and other 'ɺnti-fascist heroes'' to lend a measure of legitimacy to the regime. Streets and schools were named after Marxist resisters. History was rewritten with Orwellian zeal. Arvid Harnack's last words, uttered before he was executed, were changed from ''I believe in the power of love'' to ''I die as a convinced Communist!''
In West Germany the truth was obscured in a different way. Writing in 1954, the historian Gerhard Ritter expressed a common West German judgment about the Red Orchestra: ''This group had nothing to do with 'German resistance.' They were frankly in the service of the enemy. They not only sought to induce German soldiers to desert, but they also betrayed important military secrets and so destroyed German troops.'' They were, Ritter declared, traitors.
Information that emerged after reunification has renewed the debate over who deserves to be honored. In 1992, for example, the Memorial Museum of the German Resistance in Berlin installed a corrective exhibition on the Red Orchestra intended as a ''tardy atonement for the victims and their survivors, and an apology for long neglect in the history of the German resistance.'' But the group's inclusion at the memorial site provoked an outraged protest by families of the July 20 conspirators.
And when an exhibit from the museum was sent to Washington and New York in 1994, Maria Hermes, the daughter of the Catholic resister Josef Wirmer, insisted that a distinction be made between the men who planned the overthrow of Hitler to restore peace and re-establish Germany as a free constitutional state 'ɺnd those of the anti-fascists who wanted to establish Communist rule.'' Schulze-Boysen's brother, Hartmut, fired back that unlike the officers who served Hitler loyally until 1944, his brother and friends had never served the National Socialist state. They ''had given their lives not for Stalin but rather in fighting Hitler,'' he said.
Yet with the 10th anniversary of reunification, critical opinion is decisively turning in the revisionists' favor. A permanent exhibit honoring Schulze-Boysen and a comrade, Erwin Gehrts, opened last December in the Finance Ministry, a building which at onetime housed Hermann Goring's Luftwaffe.
Perhaps the most telling signal of the shift in German public opinion was the warm reception accorded ''This Death Suits Me,'' the collected letters of Schulze-Boysen, when it was published last fall. Many people were moved by the final letter that the 33-year-old Schulze-Boysen sent to his parents: ''I am completely calm and ask that you accept this with composure. Such important things are at stake today all over the world that one extinguished life does not matter very much. . . . Everything that I did was done in accordance with my head, my heart, my convictions, and in this light you, my parents, must assume the best. . . . It is usual in Europe for spiritual seeds to be sown with blood. Perhaps we were simply a few fools, but when the end is this near, one perhaps has the right to a bit of completely personal historical illusion.''
Even the reviewer in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, the most conservative of dailies, described the Red Orchestra as one of the ''most moving, most courageous and most farsighted groups of the German resistance.''
Hitler's Use of Film in Germany, Leading up to and During World War II
German cinema from 1927 to 1945 was affected drastically by the political environment that grew within the nation. After Germany suffered drastically at the hands of the Versailles treaty and its reparations clause, Adolph Hitler, the Fuhrer of Nazi Germany, and the Nazi Party ascended to power, preaching unity and the rise of a new order. Their guidance of the economy away from extreme inflation and starvation won the people over to their side.
With them, they brought forth an iron fist of control and regulation that affected every aspect of German culture, including the cinema. With the Ministry of Propaganda led by Joseph Goebbels, developing as the controlling force of German cinema, propaganda became a major thematic element of the films produced in this period, always favoring and advocating the Nazi party. Hitler, an early fan of the cinema, saw its true power and the scope of influence it had.
Metropolis (Fritz Lang, 1927) and Triumph des Willens (Leni Riefenstahl, 1934), two important German films separated by almost a decade, reflect very different feelings of nationalism and revolution as a result of different historical and cultural pressures. One is reflection of society&rsquos desire to break class ranks and seek equality within a fascist state. Seven years later, the other is a representation of the same society in the previous film, bound by the same constraints and attempting to hide this fact behind a false propaganda front of volatile nationalism.
Lang&rsquos masterpiece focuses on an oppressed lower class that rises to rebellion through the inspiration of one individual. Riefenstahl&rsquos Triumph des Willens, however, is a propaganda piece about German society fighting outside international oppression and rebuilding itself to a world power under the guidance of &ldquotheir hero,&rdquo Adolph Hitler. When compared to one another, Triumph des Willens is easily seen as a propaganda reinvention of Metropolis through the eyes of Hitler, envisioning himself as the hero of his people but really representing every ideal the original Metropolis stood against.
First of all, the two films have a major connection: Hitler. &ldquoHitler was a movie fan he cultivated friendships with actors and filmmakers and often screened films as after-dinner entertainment. Even more fascinated with the cinema was his powerful Minister of Propaganda, Dr. Josef Goebbels, who controlled the arts during the Nazi Era. Goebbels watched films every day and socialized with filmmakers&rdquo (Bordwell, 307).
Adolf Hitler and Hermann Göring, March 1938.
Two of the most influential men in the Nazi Party both loved movies and understood their true propaganda power. &ldquoDespite his hatred of communism, Goebbels admired Eisenstein&rsquos Potemkin for its powerful propaganda, and he hoped to create an equally vivid cinema expressing Nazi ideas&rdquo (Bordwell, 307).
With this desire of both the head of the Ministry of Propaganda and the Fuhrer, films became an intricate part of the Nazi campaign to gain control throughout Germany. An avid advocate of the cinema, Hitler was an early fan of Fritz Lang&rsquos, especially Metropolis, his expose against fascism and totalitarian rule. In Fritz Lang: The Nature of the Beast, a Biography, Patrick McGilligan writes,
&ldquoThe propaganda minister (Goebbels) told the director (Lang) that the Fuhrer was one of his most avid fans. The Fuhrer had &lsquoloved&rsquo Metropolis, which he had seen at a low point in his career, and of course Die Nibelungen, too whose majesty had apparently caused the Nazi leader to break down and weep. Lang quoted Goebbels quoting Hitler: &lsquoHere is a man who will give us great Nazi films.&rsquo Hitler, in short, wanted Lang to serve as the head of a new agency supervising motion picture production in the Third Reich. He would become the Nazi&rsquos Fuhrer of film&rdquo (McGilligan, 175).
Hitler&rsquos admiration and regard of Lang was so high, in fact, that through Joseph Goebbels, he invited Lang to become the lead producer and studio head of films in Germany in 1933. He was Hitler&rsquos first choice for studio head because Lang&rsquos films, especially Metropolis, embodied the ideas that Hitler wished to use within his propaganda campaign in order to promote himself and the Nazi party.
Lang, fearing his life since his mother was Jewish, fled to America, loathing every ideal that Hitler represented. Oddly enough, later that year, Riefenstahl, through the careful &ldquoExecutive Producer&rdquo guidance of Hitler, made Triumph des Willens, his vision of a real life Metropolis.
The parallels between the films stretch from plot to message though the latter film is a façade, an allusion of reality carefully crafted and manipulated to allure its viewers and coax them with false ideals and promises. One of the major similarities of the two films is the idea of the hero, the sole individual that stands apart from the masses, offering hope and preaching equality.
In Metropolis, this is Maria, the animated blonde played by Brigitte Helm, who unlike the bald, drone workers, stands out. Where the viewer is unable to separate the workers and registers them more as one mass than as actual individuals, Maria jumps to the forefront, captivating the viewer in every scene.
Lang films her scenes in such a manner that she comes across as this larger than life figure as opposed to the indistinguishable masses that surround her. In this manner, she becomes the heroine, leading the oppressed and mistreated in a revolution of hope. In Triumph des Willens, Riefenstahl&rsquos crafts the film in such a manner to bring Hitler to the forefront in a similar manner. Using low camera angles and extenuated lighting, Riefenstahl ensures that the audience is drawn to Hitler, attempting to manipulate them into believing he is a hero of a similar caliber.
In the Sea of Flags scene, no other person is really even discernible except for Hitler. He stands out amongst the crowd, silhouetted in an iconic, almost god-like aura. Directly on the film&rsquos commentary, Historian Dr. Anthony R. Santoro, states, &ldquoIf you think of Fritz Lang&rsquos film Metropolis, nobody counts for anything but the leader. And, in this film here, really everyone is diminished in size except for Hitler. He&rsquos a larger than life figure always speaking on top of a large podium&rdquo (Triumph des Willens, 1934). Once again, at the commemoration ceremony for recently deceased Reich President Von Hindenburg, Riefenstahl&rsquos photographs an immense sea of people that almost seems to blend together as one, while Hitler speaks a top a stone pillar, standing out as a towering force. Roy Frumkes, editor of Films in Review, comments,
&ldquoHitler&rsquos stage bravura performance as Hitler slightly edges out Chaplin&rsquos as Adenoid Hinkel in The Great Dictator. While delivering his long and emotionally complex speech to the massive stadium crowd, he hardly ever appears in the same shot as they do. That is because his cyclonic rages and hurricane eyes of benevolence, lit glamorously by the director in medium shot, could be edited against any crowd or character cutaway that seemed relevant so that the track elements &ndash the roar and applause of the crowd &ndash could be manipulated in the editing room&rdquo (Triumph des Willens, 1934 &ndash DVD leaflet).
Besides his outlandish performance, Hitler also attempted to manipulate his appearance in order to stand out. Where his subordinates wore ornate military outfits and multiple gaudy medals, Hitler wore a plain uniform with a single medal, his Iron Cross from WWI. He did this to set himself apart and come across as a man of the people. In Metropolis, Maria&rsquos hair, attitude, and appearance set her apart from the masses, and Hitler&rsquos attitude and dress along with Riefenstahl&rsquos photography of him have a similar purpose.
Another similarity between the two films is found within their theme. Though simplistic, Metropolis&rsquo message of equality and fair treatment of anyone regardless of class, rank, gender, or race is timeless. Born from the brilliant mind of German director Fritz Lang, the film revolves around a fascist controlling state, in which the majority of people are oppressed by an overbearing, rich minority. The masses are forced into hard labor and to live underground beneath the actual &ldquocloud&rdquo city where the rich minority dwells in comfort and solace with little, if any, work to do except supervise the masses and frolic in their beautiful, ornate gardens. Continued on Next Page »
Culture in Nazi Germany.
In her 2016 book, Art of Suppression, Pamela Potter sums up the simplistic but still widely shared view about Nazis and culture: ‘that Hitler, with Propaganda Minister Goebbels at his side, controlled all manifestations of artistic creation and established rigid guidelines, according to their own personal tastes, of what was acceptable or unacceptable. They stamped out all forms of modernism and debased the arts, à la Stalin, to mere tools of ideology and propaganda’ (p. 1). Potter shows that all aspects of this view have been undermined by decades of research her important book explores why that research has failed to shake this popular consensus. Michael H. Kater’s scholarship—from his 1974 study of the SS’s Ahnenerbe project to his three books on music in Nazi Germany—has played a key role in challenging elements of the old narrative, as Potter notes with appreciation. It is therefore surprising and disappointing that Kater’s new book essentially restates this discredited view.
In Culture in Nazi Germany, Kater proposes to tell ‘the story of culture in the Third Reich’. He pursues this goal by describing the role that the visual arts, literature, music, film and the news media were made to play in the regime’s effort to control the German population and, from 1938, to dominate Europe. ‘The National Socialists’, we are told, ‘systematically set out to destroy Modernism in the arts throughout Germany, to make room for their own kind of culture’ (p. 1). Having purged the arts of the democratic ethos of Weimar modernism, the Nazis exploited them to serve propaganda, crafting art, novels and movies that were mediocre in quality and yet awesomely powerful in their ability to spread lies, misinformation and Nazi ideology.
Kater does add important caveats to the view that Potter caricatures. He documents the infighting and confusion that characterized the regime’s policy-making he acknowledges that it was never possible to define ‘Nazi’ music, art or architecture he notes that aspects of modernist art and jazz music did survive under Hitler. Nonetheless, the dominant narrative throughout the book’s six chapters remains a new version of the old storyline.
That Kater ends up relying on this narrative is the result, I think, of two of the book’s central features. First, Kater has chosen to prize the individual story at the expense of any kind of broader, structural argument. Exploring a period through the lives of several of its key participants is a technique Kater pursued to excellent effect in his Composers of the Nazi Era: Eight Portraits (2000). Here, however, the capsule narratives are too short to offer much real insight, and putting several of them in a list does not make up for the absence of a broader perspective. The result is an emphasis on personal motivations that is more conducive to moralizing than to analysis.
Second, the analytical claims the book does make rely on a simplistic understanding of the relationship between culture and power. According to Kater, art and culture had three uses under Hitler: propaganda (‘to influence popular attitudes toward the regime’), entertainment (‘to keep the people satisfied, diverting their attention’) and diplomacy (‘to impress foreign governments’) (pp. 62–63). As Kater gives this third claim almost no attention, we are left with ‘culture’ as nothing more than a tool for mind control, applied by a mighty state to a passive and undifferentiated population, as either mass propaganda or mass entertainment. This narrow model stands in the way of a richer analysis that might more fully have taken stock of the last several decades of historical research on so many aspects of cultural life in Nazi Germany—to say nothing of the sophisticated theoretical literature on the relationship between culture and power.
The combination of Kater’s emphasis on the micro-perspective with the bluntness of his analytical instruments rather limits what this book can offer. A chapter on the exclusion of Jews from German cultural life has many compelling stories, but offers no explanation of the significance of anti-Semitism in Nazi cultural policy. Anti-Semitism appears here less as an ideology, with deep roots in German and European cultural history, than as a set of falsehoods, advanced by regime-sponsored cultural products that were really propaganda, ‘to be ingested by the general population that did not have the means or desire to check message content for the truth’ (p. 149). A discussion of Nazi culture during World War II amounts to a list of examples of the Nazis’ use of cultural forms—movies, music, literature and visual art, as well as radio, print media and newsreels—to spread ideological indoctrination and misinformation to wartime German audiences, or simply to distract them. Because Kater fails to distinguish between cultural politics and propaganda, he can offer no analysis of the Germans’ sophisticated, multi-pronged mobilization of high and popular culture at home and abroad in support of the war effort. When Kater presents what he sees as evidence of ‘a transfer of Nazi culture, or artists working under Hitler, into post-war Germany, certainly the western part’ (p. 309), he does this chiefly through stories of German writers, artists and scholars who managed to find employment in their fields after 1945. As he heaps scorn on their efforts to downplay or justify their cooperation with the regime, it is clear how Kater judges these people. It is not equally clear what he thinks these continuities mean for German history or for our interpretation of Nazi cultural policies.
The book’s final chapter offers a welcome, if brief, comparison of the Nazis’ manipulation of culture with cultural policies of fascist Italy and the Soviet Union, based on an overview of relevant secondary literature. But the chief finding here—that in all three regimes ‘culture had to be an instrument of autocratic rule, manipulated by political revolutionaries from the top, on the path to or in perfection of totalitarianism’ (p. 338)—amounts to a restatement of the book’s point of departure.
Kater commands an extraordinary wealth of knowledge about German cultural history in the Nazi period. Each of the book’s chapters presents striking and often shocking vignettes, portraying a varied and colourful set of characters as they fled from, profited from, or were crushed by the Nazis’ cultural-political project. Ultimately, however, because they are presented without a broader explanation of the social, economic, political and cultural context in which individuals acted, these scenes end up inviting readers to join Kater in shaking our heads in disapproval at the horrors committed by the Nazis and their collaborators, or at the vulgarity and mediocrity of ‘Nazi culture’. This may feel good, but it does little to advance our understanding. In particular, it cannot help us answer what, to my mind, remains a vital question: why did so many highly educated and ‘cultured’ men and women—in Germany and around Europe—support Hitler’s regime?
Rather than confirm our self-righteous condemnation of the errors of the past, historical research on culture and fascism might challenge us, forcing us to think critically about the relationship between aesthetic expression, social life, economics and politics in our own day. In a time marked by the resurgence of nationalist and authoritarian political forces, the historical example of Nazi Germany continues to have much to teach us in this regard. Scholars seeking to conduct such research will find rich materials here, materials that testify to Kater’s eye for the compelling narrative. Readers looking for a nuanced, up-to-date historical analysis of culture in Nazi Germany will, however, need to look elsewhere.
The Nazi Party: German Industry and the Third Reich
Six years ago, Oskar Schindler, a German businessman who protected Jews working in his factory during World War II, became renowned through the medium of the motion picture. For many Americans and Europeans, the film Schindler's List (1993) was their first contact with the subject of the Holocaust. While people of all ages were moved by Schindler's genuine heroism, some found it revealing -- and somewhat frustrating -- that it took, in effect, a "good German" to introduce the Holocaust to the general public. And for those familiar in 1993 with the history of German business during the Third Reich, the singularity of Oskar Schindler's courage was particularly striking. The reality was that the great majority of German businessmen behaved in a decidedly unheroic manner during the Nazi era. Most of them, especially leaders of larger companies, not only refrained from risking their lives to save Jews, but actually profited from the use of forced and slave labor, 1 the "Aryanization" of Jewish property, and the plundering of companies in Nazi-occupied Europe.
Much has changed in six years. The point was driven home to me recently when, on the first day of my German history class, two students separately approached me, eager to present their ideas for a required research paper. Both of them proposed the same topic in the same way: "something to do with German companies and Nazism." The two students cited as their motivation the stories about German business that have made their way on to television and into newspapers in recent years: the flurry of class action lawsuits brought by former forced and slave laborers against German companies that exploited them during World War II the current negotiations between American officials and lawyers and German politicians and industrial representatives over the establishment of a compensation fund for these workers "Nazi gold" and Swiss complicity reports of European insurance companies and banks that were involved in denying Jews their legal and civil rights in the 1930s and even after the war. After 50 years of relative ignorance about German industry's relationship to the Third Reich, the subject has now reached a mass public around the world.
This is not to say that such interest is entirely new. What I hope to demonstrate in the following pages is that since 1945 the issue of German industrial complicity with Hitler has, in fact, engaged the attention of academia and segments of the general public (in the U.S., Europe, and especially East and West Germany) more than is currently assumed. However, it is indeed true that the topic is only now receiving the attention it truly deserves. Let us try to understand how we have reached this point.
German Business and the Nazis:
The East German View
After 1945, the Allied occupying forces in Germany not only charged former Nazis with a host of war crimes and crimes against humanity, but also tried to educate Germans and their own publics back home about what they perceived to be the origins and particular characteristics of National Socialism.
In the Soviet zone (later East Germany), overt anticapitalism underpinned the "official" view that Hitler rose to and maintained power primarily through the support of German industry. Communist writers argued (incorrectly) that by bankrolling the Nazi party, powerful companies like Krupp (steel and weaponry), I.G. Farben (chemicals and pharmaceuticals), and Siemens (electronics) had undermined the fragile Weimar Republic. Throughout the entire history of East Germany, the connection between fascism and big business was a fundamental aspect of the country's ideology. Communist writers, however, focused more on the years leading up to Hitler's assumption of power in 1933, in order to reinforce East Germany's dogma about the dangers of "finance" or "monopoly" capitalism. The relationship between German big business and the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945 and the ugly practices that all too many companies were guilty of during that period -- labor exploitation, the Aryanization of Jewish property -- were of considerably less interest to these writers. As the Cold War escalated, the suffering inflicted on Jews and others by German industry became almost a taboo subject in East Germany (though the ordeals endured by communist "freedom fighters" were much celebrated). Indeed, the Holocaust itself disappeared from most of the literature on National Socialism in East Germany.
German Business and the Nazis:
The Western Approach
After World War II, many people in Germany's Western zones of occupation, and in the United States, also argued that businessmen, even free enterprise as a system, were responsible for Hitler's rise, his wars of aggression, and his crimes against humanity. In 1947 and 1948, the communist countries watched with bemusement as the United States, the preeminent capitalist country, prosecuted dozens of executives of three of wartime Germany's largest companies for war crimes and crimes against humanity. In the dock were directors of the Krupp and Flick (steel and coal) companies, both of which had built weapons of war and had employed forced labor, and board members of I.G. Farben, the chemical and pharmaceutical giant that had run a synthetic rubber factory at Auschwitz. During the trials at Nuremberg, the American prosecutors were careful not to portray the proceedings as attacks on the market economy, but rather as attempts to punish individuals who had committed crimes. Nonetheless, it was clear that they had established a strong link between German industry and all aspects of the Nazi economy and, more specifically, between German business and the crimes of National Socialism. The trials resulted in the conviction and imprisonment of a number of important company owners and directors. Most prominently, Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, the sole owner of Krupp, was found guilty of employing slave labor and plundering businesses in France and the Netherlands. Krupp was stripped of all his property and business holdings and sentenced to 12 years in prison.
After these trials, the American government's interest in the prewar and wartime behavior of German industry abated -- until now. The long lull can be explained primarily by Cold War considerations. As the fear of Soviet communism grew, American and Western European leaders (political and otherwise) became uneasy with the continued imprisonment of German businessmen, influential figures who were perceived as integral to the creation of a vigorous capitalist economy in West Germany. In January of 1951, during the Korean War, those businessmen still in prison were released through a declaration of clemency by the U.S. High Commissioner for Germany, John J. McCloy, and almost all of their assets were returned to them.
International tensions and political ideology also inevitably affected how others in the West -- scholars, et al. -- approached the theme of business complicity in the Third Reich. From the late 1940s until the mid-1980s, it was, again, the years before 1933 that were the focal point of debate, for Marxists wanted to prove and anti-Marxists wanted to refute the claims that capitalism and fascism were linked. During the prosperous years of economic growth, many West Germans and Americans, particularly government and industrial leaders, were uncomfortable with this debate, because they felt it dredged up a past that might tarnish the postwar achievements of German companies and might reinforce the communist world's anti-capitalism crusade.
German Businesses Defend Themselves
It is important to note that German companies themselves did not simply ignore the debates over industrial guilt. Quite the contrary German businessmen took the lead in defending their own and their companies' reputations. For the duration of the Cold War there existed, in West Germany, an ongoing struggle between German industry's critics and the country's largest companies, which strove by a variety of means to defend their reputations. Business leaders used aggressive public relations methods to gain the confidence of the national and international publics and, indeed, workers within their own companies. While some writers produced pamphlets and publications condemning the "return to power" of capitalist criminals, companies hired journalists and historians in Germany and the U.S. to write sympathetic corporate histories and to exonerate the companies from accusations that they were involved in the Nazis' criminal activities. Much of the work produced by these writers was, frankly, a whitewash. These histories usually blamed Nazi leaders and the SS for drawing industry "unwillingly" into reprehensible conduct. Clearly, big business was not owning up to its compromised past.
Two examples will serve to illustrate how sensitive German companies have been to reminders of their complicity with the Nazis. The first concerns an autobiography written by Richard Willstätter, a Jewish Nobel Prize-winning chemist (1915) who had been forced to flee Germany in 1939. 2 Willstätter, who wrote his book while in exile in Switzerland, died in 1942. In 1949 his memoirs were posthumously published, and executives of the Bayer corporation, the chemical and pharmaceutical giant, read with dismay a short passage in which the scientist criticized Carl Duisberg, the company's late director (and the founder of the chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben, of which Bayer had been the cornerstone), for making anti-Semitic comments when Willstätter resigned from the University of Munich in 1924. No one appears to have paid any attention to Willstätter's criticism of Duisberg until Bayer began to lobby the book's publisher to withdraw the work. One particular Bayer director, retired executive and company scientist Heinrich Hörlein, launched an all-out campaign to besmirch the reputation of Willstätter and promote the reputations of Carl Duisberg and Bayer. Hörlein himself had been tried and acquitted at the I.G. Farben trial in 1947, and bitterness probably prompted him to take vigilant action on behalf of his firm. For a short while in 1949, a debate broke out within the West German chemical industry about anti-Semitism and the Nazi past. In much of the discussion, people ignored the sad events of Willstätter's life, particularly the anti-Semitism he had endured in the 1920s and 1930s, and instead focused on whether he had done some great wrong by criticizing Carl Duisberg. In the end, Bayer and Hörlein prevailed. In future editions and in an English translation of the memoirs, publishers removed the disputed passages. Since 1949, the short-lived but vitriolic campaign against Willstätter has been almost entirely forgotten.
Twenty-three years later, another controversy erupted over the publication of a book critical of German industry. In 1972, a German satirist, F. C. Delius, published (in Germany) a mock history of Siemens to coincide with the one hundred and twenty-fifth anniversary of the company's founding. 3 The book, Unsere Siemenswelt (Our Siemens World), was a fake official company publication that proudly listed some of the famous electrical company's numerous "accomplishments": the mistreatment of slave laborers in its factories during World War II, the installation of the crematoria at Auschwitz, etc. It was not immediately obvious that this book was an unauthorized satire, and less than a month after its publication, Siemens took legal action against Delius in an attempt to suppress his mocking commentary on corporate guilt. Ironically, a series of depositions, trials, and appeals drew attention to the conduct of Siemens during the Nazi years (and initiated a debate within the literary community about the role of satire in a democratic society). After three years of legal wrangling, a district court and a provincial appeals court in Stuttgart determined that several of the book's claims, including the Auschwitz assertion, were false, and ruled that Delius's ideas, despite being presented as satire, were damaging to Siemens. (The district court also thought it was suspicious that Delius's evidence had been derived from "communist" publications.) Eventually both parties reached a settlement, part of which stipulated that future editions of the book could only be published with the controversial lines -- including the crematoria claim -- literally blacked out. The most recent edition (1995) of this book still bears the legacy of this settlement: many pages contain black bars concealing lines of text.
Delius has been vindicated in some ways. Contemporary scholars are continuing to learn about the extent to which Siemens, and every major German business in the Thirties and Forties, was implicated in the brutality of Nazi economic policies, most egregiously through the abuse of forced and slave laborers. Siemens ran factories at Ravensbrück and in the Auschwitz subcamp of Bobrek, among others, and the company supplied electrical parts to other concentration and death camps. In the camp factories, abysmal living and working conditions were ubiquitous: malnutrition and death were not uncommon. Recent scholarship has established how, despite German industry's repeated denials, these camp factories were created, run, and supplied by the SS in conjunction with company officials -- sometimes high-level employees.
American Writers Look at the Issue
Until recently, most of the controversies about German industry and the Nazis surfaced in West Germany, not in the United States. To be sure, for many decades some Americans refused to buy German products, particularly automobiles made by Volkswagen, BMW, and Daimler-Benz. But American writers, from the mid-1950s to 1968, did not publish much about German corporate complicity. This changed somewhat with the publication in 1968 of William Manchester's The Arms of Krupp, 4 a 950-page book about Germany's "royal family" of armaments manufacturers, a family whose company produced weapons during many conflicts, including the First and Second World Wars. Though Manchester had gotten some of his facts wrong, he did reveal how the suffering of many individuals during the Second World War was the result of the conduct of Germany's major industries. His damning revelations, combined with his hyperbolic style, rankled the German business world (particularly, of course, Krupp) to such an extent that after 1968 companies were more reluctant than ever to allow outside scholars into their archives to research the Nazi period. (How reluctant were these businesses to cooperate with independent historians before the publication of The Arms of Krupp? Here is a telling anecdote. After the book was published, Manchester recalled how the company and the residents of Essen -- the site of Krupp's headquarters -- kept close watch on him as he carried out his research in that city. He even claims to have caught a Krupp employee rifling through his papers as he entered his hotel room one day. 5 )
Despite German industry's lack of cooperation, academics and others continued in the 1970s and early 1980s to scrutinize and debate German business guilt. The debates became volatile at times. In 1981 the Princeton historian David Abraham published The Collapse of the Weimar Republic. 6 The book, which was initially well received in academia, sought to demonstrate a connection between "organized capitalism" and the rise of the Nazi party during the Great Depression. While Abraham avoided the simplistic equation of capitalism and fascism, his structuralist-Marxist approach could not accommodate the findings of the Yale historian Henry Turner, whose prior articles (and his later book 7 ) successfully disproved the suggestion that German industry, before 1933, supported Hitler to any great extent, either financially or ideologically. When researchers checked the accuracy of Abraham's evidence, they found a number of serious errors in his footnotes. Abraham cited documents that did not exist and turned paraphrases into quotes. The controversy eventually became less concerned with the role of industry in the downfall of Germany's first democracy than with a scholar's use and misuse of sources, and with how historians' politics and ideological leanings affect their research and their response to others' works. However, what also emerged from the angry exchanges, in my opinion, was a more nuanced picture than had existed before of pre-1933 industrial behavior in Germany. It became clear that despite some financial links between individual industrialists and the Nazi party, big business did not, to use the German phrase, "in den Sattle heben" ("lift Hitler into the saddle"). On the other hand, German industralists did little to help salvage the crumbling Weimar democracy during the Nazis' ascendancy in the early 1930s.
The "Abraham Affair," for all intents and purposes, marked the end of scholarly debates about German business and National Socialism before 1933. Researchers, with the cooperation of some corporations, now turned their attention to German industry's behavior after 1933. They examined the relationship between businesses and mass murder and attempted to understand the motivations of individuals like the executives of I.G. Farben, whose company worked people to death in Auschwitz. 8 The research that emerged from these scholarly inquiries indicated that German industrialists in the Thirties and Forties weren't, by and large, ideologues as much as opportunists it was their eagerness for profits that led them to participate in a number of heinous endeavors: securing control of Jewish-owned companies, producing war matériel for the Wehrmacht, exploiting forced and slave laborers.
Conclusion: Addressing a Shameful Record
Some businessmen, it is true, resisted the demands of the Nazi regime some, like Oskar Schindler, protected Jews some even allied themselves with the anti-Nazi underground. But there were relatively few such people. Greed drove all too many "apolitical businessmen" to engage in odious conduct. This behavior, however, was not an exclusive function of capitalism. Rather, it was the result of the social and political realities that existed in the Third Reich. Most industrialists were opportunists who saw the occupation of Europe and the Nazis' persecution of the Jews as a chance to enrich themselves and their companies. Undoubtedly, latent and overt anti-Semitism, anti-Slavic sentiments, and German nationalism also allowed some industrialists to work with the regime out of a sense of patriotism, and without ever reflecting upon the moral boundaries they were crossing. Fear and the desire for self-protection were also important factors motivating businessmen. (Indeed, few Germans demonstrated the courage to speak out against the Nazi regime. Finally, as the war escalated, the desire to merely survive into the postwar period prompted many companies to take advantage of concentration camp labor. 9 The point is that industrial behavior under Nazism cannot be reduced to simple structural explanations. Even within the context of a dictatorship that demanded high levels of production for war, industrialists made choices as individuals. They approached the SS for cheap labor they decided whether to buy a Jewish company at a fraction of its value they determined how forced and slave laborers would be treated in their factories.
Today, companies are finally addressing this shameful record. Since the unification of Germany in 1990, increasing numbers of German businesses -- Volkswagen, Krupp, DaimlerChrysler, to name a few -- are allowing scholars to study their archives. Why the change? The end of the Cold War has greatly reduced the fear in many companies that the dissemination of information about German industry's relationship with the Nazi regime will somehow undermine the contemporary German economy. And no doubt a fair amount of political calculation -- even desperation ­ motivates most of the businesses assisting scholars. "Candor" is seen as a good public relations ploy when a company is sued by former forced and slave laborers. With few exceptions, I personally have been treated quite magnanimously by the large German companies -- Krupp, Siemens and Bayer -- whose assistance I have sought for my own research. Some businesses have been quite open in their discussions with me about their use of slave labor and about National Socialism, even though they would rather not have their names splashed across the headlines.
The decision by certain businesses to actually pay historians to research their past, has, however, sparked some recent controversies. Since late 1998, there has been a running debate between the British historian Michael Pinto-Duschinsky and several scholars who have written or are in the process of writing company-sponsored histories. Pinto-Duschinsky has suggested that these scholars have compromised themselves by accepting money from organizations they are writing about. 10 In my opinion, Pinto-Duschinsky's accusation is unjustified. The many historians who are now looking not only into German corporate behavior, but that of American companies like Ford and General Motors -- both of which had subsidiaries in Nazi Germany -- have established their credentials as rigorous scholars who are not afraid to expose the ugly facts about forced and slave labor, and corporate opportunism during the Nazi era. I believe it is unfair to accuse these historians of somehow "selling out."
Undoubtedly, as noted, German business's new openness has been influenced by the lawsuits initiated in the past few years by former forced and slave laborers. Moreover, the German and American publics are following the negotiations over the establishment of a joint German government and industry fund to compensate slave and forced laborers who are still alive. This, too, is a factor in the decision of many German businesses to be more forthcoming about their past. (German companies have been sued before by individuals who were forced and slave laborers during the Second World War. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the Conference on Material Claims Against Germany, an organization representing Jewish Holocaust survivors, approached Germany's major companies -- Siemens, Krupp, Rheinmetall, and others -- and requested compensation for people they had abused during the war. Several years of acrimonious negotiations and corporate stubbornness eventually yielded meager payments for some Jewish victims. The companies involved disingenuously portrayed their grudging recompense as a generous gesture of good will. 11 Today, hundreds of thousands of Jewish and non-Jewish survivors of forced and slave labor -- many of them from former communist countries -- who were not covered by these earlier settlements, are seeking compensation.)
The current fund negotiations and lawsuits have, unfortunately, brought about some disturbing developments. Some Germans have made anti-Semitic remarks about the plaintiffs in the lawsuits. They have also intimated that the plaintiffs' attorneys are greedy opportunists, who are seeking to make money off of the suffering of old and dying Holocaust survivors. This kind of reprehensible rhetoric must, of course, be monitored, and condemned whenever encountered.
Moreover, some German politicians and industrialists are intent on portraying themselves and German companies as the victims of unfair legal demands. (This view is not new in Germany. During the Cold War, West German industrialists often felt they were being persecuted by critics who pressed them to account for their companies' past misdeeds.) Earlier this year, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, referred to the lawsuits by former coerced workers as "a campaign being led against German industry and our country." 12 There is still a long way to go before the great majority of German business leaders and politicians acknowledge the full extent of German industrial complicity in the Holocaust. But there has been progress.
A German commentator recently bemoaned the fact that the more positive developments pertaining to these issues have not received enough media attention in Europe or the United States. Certainly, businesses must be credited for their new openness. Individual companies, like Volkswagen, have been quietly establishing their own foundations to pay former forced and slave laborers. But corporations currently being sued are probably hoping that positive news stories, financial settlements and company biographies will swiftly consign the subject of German industry's complicity with Hitler to a kind of limbo. This, however, is wishful thinking. The theme of corporate complicity will remain in the news for many years to come. It is not so easy to bury the past companies cannot do so simply by acknowledging their behavior during the Nazi era. Moreover, it is inevitable now that damning new facts will emerge. It remains to be seen what companies and the publics of various countries do with this information.
1 Historians, politicians, industrialists, and attorneys are now struggling with the distinction between "slave labor" and "forced labor." There is by no means a consensus on how the terms should be differentiated, but in recent discussions, the category of "slave laborers" has come to include all Jews who worked in death camps, concentration camps, and other work camps in Nazi-occupied Europe. In most cases, industry's use of slave laborers was in keeping with the SS's intention to eventually work these particular Jews to death. "Forced laborers," on the other hand, included anyone who was compelled to leave his or her home in order to work for Nazi Germany. These are hardly precise distinctions.
2 Richard Willstätter, Aus Mein Leben: Von Arbeit, Musse und Freunden (Munich: Verlag Chemie, 1949) the English edition is Willstätter, From My Life (New York: W.A. Benjamin, 1965).
3 F. C. Delius, Unsere Siemenswelt: Eine Festschrift zum 125jährigen Bestehen des Hauses S. (Berlin: Rotbuch Verlag, 1972).
4 William Manchester, The Arms of Krupp (Boston: Little, Brown, 1968).
5 William Manchester, William Manchester Discusses The Arms of Krupp with Columnist Robert Cromie (Tucson: Motivational Programming Corporation, 1969).
6 David Abraham, The Collapse of the Weimar Republic: Political Economy and Crisis (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1981).
7 Henry A. Turner, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler (Oxford: University Press, 1985).
8 See Peter Hayes, Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
9 On the use of forced and slave labor by business to keep factories running, see Neil Gregor, Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998).
10 Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, "Selling the Past," Times Literary Supplement (October 23, 1998): 16-17.
11 See Benjamin Ferencz, Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1979).
12 "German Companies Set Up Fund for Slave Laborers under Nazis," New York Times (February 17, 1999)
Sources: Dimensions: A Journal of Holocaust Studies, Volume 13, Number 2. Copyright Anti-Defamation League (ADL). All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.
S. Jonathan Wiesen, an assistant professor of modern European history at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, teaches courses on modern German history and the Holocaust. He is the author of the book, Reconstruction and Recollection: West German Industry and the Challenge of the Nazi Past (University of North Carolina Press)
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