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Business and Industry in Nazi Germany

Edited by Francis R. Nicosia and Jonathan Huener

176 pages, 10 illus., bibliog., index

ISBN  978-1-57181-653-5 $120.00/£75.00 Hb Published (March 2004)

ISBN  978-1-57181-654-2 $27.95/£17.50 Pb Published (March 2004)

eISBN 978-1-78238-975-0 eBook

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"This stimulating volume …offers students and the interested general reader an excellent introduction to the topic…This very readable collection is ideally suited as a point of orientation for future research on the question of corporate behaviour and corporate social responsibility under the NS-dictatorship."  ·  Ingo Köhler, in sehepunkte 5

"With its five concise case studies, the book gives a good insights into methods, trends and results of recent research."  ·  Historische Zeitschrift

During the past decade, the role of Germany's economic elites under Hitler has once again moved into the limelight of historical research and public debate. This volume brings together a group of internationally renowned scholars who have been at the forefront of recent research. Their articles provide an up-to-date synthesis, which is as comprehensive as it is insightful, of current knowledge in this field. The result is a volume that offers students and interested readers a brief but focused introduction to the role of German businesses and industries in the crimes of Hitler's Third Reich. Not only does this book treat the subject in an accessible manner; it also emerges as particularly relevant in light of current controversies over the nature of business-state relations, corporate social responsibility, and globalization.

Francis R. Nicosia is the Raul Hilberg Distinguished Professor of Holocaust Studies at the University of Vermont. He has written on German Zionism and German Middle East policy during the Weimar and Nazi periods, and is author of The Third Reich and the Palestine Question, and co-author of The Columbia Guide to the Holocaust.

Jonathan Huener is Assistant Professor of History at the University of Vermont. He has written on aspects of memorial culture in postwar Germany and Poland, and is author of Auschwitz, Poland, and the Politics of Commemoration, 1945-1979.

Series: Volume 2, Vermont Studies on Nazi Germany and the Holocaust

LC: HD3616.G42 B87 2004

BL: YC.2005.a.13349

BISAC: HIS027100 HISTORY/Military/World War II; HIS014000 HISTORY/Europe/Germany; BUS023000 BUSINESS & ECONOMICS/Economic History

BIC: HBWQ Second World War; KCZ Economic history

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Business and Industry in Nazi Germany in Historiographical Context

In 1946, as the world began to confront the enormity of Nazi Germany's crimes, the International Military Tribunal in Nuremberg was in the process of conducting trials of some of the leading figures of Hitler's regime as the perpetrators of those crimes. That same year, Max Weinreich published an important and prescient book, Hitler's Professors: The Part of Scholarship in Germany's Crimes Against the Jewish People, in which he posed a question that few could have had on their minds so soon after World War II had ended: "[A]re Germany's intellectual leaders guilty of complicity in the crimes against humanity for which Germany's top politicians and generals have been brought to trial?"1

Weinreich quickly answered his own question in the following way: It seems to me that only one answer is possible. With the political and military leaders, the intellectual leaders first declared Germany the final judge of her own acts and then renounced accepted morality. With the political and military leaders, they arrogated to themselves the right to dispose of millions of people for their own and their fatherland's greater glory. With the political and military leaders, they prepared, instituted, and blessed the program of vilification, disfranchisement, dispossession, expatriation, imprisonment, deportation, enslavement, torture, and murder.2

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Financial Institutions In Nazi Germany

Reluctant or Willing Collaborators?

I would like to begin this essay by answering the question posed in the title. Banks and insurance companies, the two types of enterprises to be discussed here, were at times reluctant and at times willing collaborators with the National Socialist regime. How reluctant or willing they were varied with time, place, and the relevant interests and issues, and since corporations are not monoliths, with the individuals involved as well. This does not mean that generalizations cannot be made and conclusions drawn if they are placed in a well-grounded historical context. On the surface, this should seem reasonable and obvious to persons engaged in historical studies. The reality is, however, that this is a field in which commentary has not been limited to historians, and that has long been a playground for ideologists, journalists, and others for whom sound historical practice and method have often been of minor importance or no importance at all. Financial institutions seem to have an especially magnetic attraction to such persons.

Thus, most recently a professor of communications, Christopher Simpson, has republished the well-known OMGUS (Office of the Military Government of the United States) reports of 1946 on the Deutsche and Dresdner Banks. In his inadequate introduction, Simpson speaks of the kind of contextualization practiced by the historians working on the histories of the various banks as "spin-doctoring" for the banks that commissioned them to do this work.1 On the one hand, Simpson treats the OMGUS reports, written slightly over a year after the war ended and for prosecutorial purposes by persons who were also trustbusters interested in the breaking up of the big banks and who had a deficient understanding of the German banking system and its history, as some kind of holy writ, and he never properly places them into context. He asserts that "[N]o scholarship on Nazi-era banking produced in any language for almost forty years matched the OMGUS work in its scope, overall accuracy, or depth of documentary evidence."2 The forty years in question conveniently include the first publication of the OMGUS reports in German in 1986, but preclude all the work done since 1986.3

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Banks And Business Politics In Nazi Germany

In the early 1930s, Germany faced a general political and economic crisis. That crisis reshaped politics in a very obvious and destructive way. It also resulted in profound organizational changes in corporate bureaucracies that have been largely ignored by historical analysts who often assume that there is a single agent — such as the Dresdner Bank, the Deutsche Bank, IG Farben, and so on — and are blind to the organizational complexity of institutions in a state of profound crisis. This essay investigates the way in which organizational changes affected business policy and, in particular, facilitated increased engagement and collaboration with the Nazi regime. This was an engagement that initially looked unlikely, given the anticapitalist (and especially anti–finance capitalist) direction of Nazi thinking.

As a way of focusing such a discussion, this essay considers four bankers as examples of how the practice of banking changed, as different generations of business managers succeeded each other, and of how profoundly business values changed. The first, Georg Solmssen, was a major figure in the Weimar Republic. The last, Hermann Abs, is undoubtedly the most famous German banker of the twentieth century. The other two, Ritter von Halt and Walter Pohle, are barely known.

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The Chemistry Of Business-State Relations In The Third Reich

Business-State relations in the chemical industry under Nazism were structured by the prominence inevitably assigned to this branch of production by the Nazi goals of autarky and armament. To reduce Germany's dependence on imported raw materials and amass a modern, well equipped military force, Hitler's regime needed the inventiveness and manufacturing capacity of the nation's chemicals firms. Convincing them to turn their efforts in these directions, however, meant overcoming traditional market reasoning, since products derived from domestically available resources often could not compete in price and/or quality with substances made elsewhere, and reliance on proffered government purchases or subsidies entailed high political risks. The Third Reich thus presented the industry with both high prospective profits and considerable pressure, and the combination proved irresistible in the aftermath of a depression and in the context of a dictatorship. My book on the giant IG Farben concern, originally published in 1987, thus portrayed that firm as becoming ever more deeply implicated in the criminality of the Nazi regime between 1933 and 1945, yet always on the defensive against it, as both lured and lashed into serving Hitlerian purposes.1

Now, having completed a study of the Degussa corporation in the same period, I am struck by the degree to which the history of that rather different sort of chemicals enterprise duplicates the general pattern seen earlier, but also illustrates the idiomatic variations that arose in relations between particular firms and the Nazi state.2

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The Business Of Genocide

The SS, Slavery, and the Concentration Camps

Most slave labor in Nazi Germany took place under the aegis of German corporations. Concentration camp prisoners represented only a small minority of compulsory laborers in Germany's wartime workforce, that is, "only" about 700,000 at the height of wartime production. In comparison, millions of prisoners of war and slave laborers conscripted in the East made up over 25 percent of the German workforce by 1945. The SS served as a labor lord, to be sure, but it was, to mix metaphors, the handmaiden of slavery in the German war economy, not its initiator. It has been widely assumed that the SS sought to use its captive pool of slave labor in order to increase its influence over German corporations and, indeed, to "control the German economy." But, in fact, well-known German companies such as Volkswagen or IG Farben came to the SS looking for labor. Business partnerships between them and the SS solidified only at the very end of the Third Reich. The first tentative projects, involving no more than a few thousand prisoners, did not begin until 1941, when labor was desperately scarce. A network of slave labor in SS "satellites" of the major concentration camps did not really begin to spread throughout Germany until late 1943 and early 1944. After this point, scarcely any German factory of importance had not applied for concentration camp prisoners.

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Corporate Social Responsibility And The Issue Of Compensation

The Case of Ford and Nazi Germany

The conventional use and widespread acceptance of the concept of corporate social responsibility has only become more popular globally in the course of the last decade. The whole notion fuses questions of accountability and ethics with that of transparency in influencing the behavior of major corporations in their role as conduits for progressive change. While there is skepticism expressed regarding the importance of multinational corporations as global actors in some elements of the international political economy literature, scholars, policy makers, and multilateral institutions have generally come to regard corporations as engines of prosperity and, indirectly, of democracy.1

In essence, corporate social responsibility asserts that major corporations have more dimensions to their role than purely the economic one of satisfying stockholder demands. Through their behavior, they may also choose to contribute to maintaining political stability, to the provision of public welfare services, and to addressing social and developmental problems across the globe. In many of the world's poorer countries, multinational corporations have a greater capacity to administer educational and medical services, feed and clothe populations, and ensure that rights are respected than do the governments who rule those countries.

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Writing The History Of Business In The Third Reich

Past Achievements And Future Directions

This concluding essay is designed to take up some of the key problems relating to the role of business in the Third Reich that the other contributors to this volume have raised. It will attempt to contextualize them historiographically as well as historically. In addition to looking back in time, it will suggest a few directions in which future research may fruitfully go.

One of the key issues with which the preceding contributions have been grappling is the political responsibility of German businessmen under Nazism (i.e., how far they had a hand in the rise and consolidation of Hitler's power), on the one hand, and their moral and criminal culpability (i.e., how far they were involved in the regime's crimes as defined by international law and Nuremberg Tribunal codes), on the other, and whether in this context they were, as Gerald D. Feldman puts it, "reluctant or willing collaborators."1 The question of business responsibility was first debated among Marxist and non-Marxist social scientists during the 1930s as they set out to explain the rise and stabilization of the Hitler regime.2 It was only during World War II that Western and Soviet analysts fully turned their attention to the question of business culpability, as the world became increasingly aware of the massive crimes committed by Germany after 1938. By 1944-1945, the concepts of political responsibility and moral culpability had become completely intertwined. At war's end, preoccupation with criminal culpability had pushed the question of political responsibility into the background. Later, in the 1950s, there was a reversal of this imbalance, with the issue of political responsibility once again overshadowing that of culpability. Much of the more recent scholarship, it seems, has been concerned with delineating the two concepts more sharply in an attempt to pinpoint where in the period 1933-1945 we can, and indeed must, speak of political responsibility to be borne by a strategic elite group such as businessmen, and where we can and must speak of criminal culpability.

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  • Law for the Restoration of the Professional Civil Service, 7 April 1933
  • The Leadership of the German Government on the Effect on the Economy of German Policy toward the Jews, August 1935
  • The Launching of the Four-Year Plan, August to September 1936
  • The Structure of Business Organization
  • Regulation for the Elimination of the Jews from the Economic Life of Germany, 12 November 1938
  • An "Aryanization" Contract, 27 December 1938
  • German Court Order Declaring Ford-Werke Enemy Property and Placing It under Nazi Custodianship, 15 May 1942
  • Research Findings about Ford-Werke under the Nazi Regime (Report Summary), 2001

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Index (Free download)

Bibliog (Free download)

Contributors (Free download)