If Hitler had died in 1939 he would be considered the saviour of Germany in the History books.
True or false?
1. Did the Nazi regime produce an “economic miracle”?
When the Nazis came to power the most pressing issue was an unemployment rate of close to 30%..Hjalmar Schacht, assumed office as president of the central bank under Hitler in 1933, and became finance minister in the following year. He was one of the few finance ministers to take advantage of the freedom provided by the end of the gold standard to keep interest rates low and government budget deficits high, with massive public works funded by large budget deficits. The consequence was an extremely rapid decline in unemployment–the most rapid decline in unemployment in any country during the Great Depression. Eventually this Keynesian economic policy was supplemented by the boost to demand provided by rearmament and swelling military spending.
Hjalmar Schacht was finally replaced in 1937 by Hitler’s lieutenant Hermann Goering when he resigned. Goering introduced the four year plan whose main aim was to make Germany self-sufficient to fight a war within four years. Under Goering, mports were slashed. Wages and prices were controlled–under penalty of being sent to a concentration camp. Dividends were restricted to six percent on book capital. And strategic goals to be reached at all costs (much like Soviet planning) were declared: the construction of synthetic rubber plants, more steel plants, automatic textile factories.
While the strict state intervention into the economy, and the massive rearmament policy, almost led to full employment during the 1930s (statistics didn’t include non-citizens or women), real wages in Germany dropped by roughly 25% between 1933 and 1938. Trade unions were abolished, as well as collective bargaining and the right to strike. The right to quit also disappeared: Labour books were introduced in 1935, and required the consent of the previous employer in order to be hired for another job. In place of ordinary profit incentive to guide investment, investment was guided through regulation to accord with needs of the State. Government financing eventually came to dominate the investment process, which the proportion of private securities issued falling from over half of the total in 1933 and 1934 to approximately 10 percent in 1935-1938. Heavy taxes on profits limited self-financing of firms. The largest firms were mostly exempt from taxes on profits, however government control of these were extensive enough to leave “only the shell of private ownership.”
Another part of the new German economy was massive rearmament, with the goal being to expand the 100,000-strong German Army into a force of millions. The Four-Year Plan was discussed in the controversial Hossbach Memorandum, which provides the “minutes” from one of Hitler’s briefings.
Nevertheless, the war came and although the Four-Year Plan technically expired in 1940, Hermann Göering built up a power base in the “Office of the Four-Year Plan” that effectively controlled all German economic and production matters by this point in time. In 1942 the growing burdens of the war and the death of Todt saw the economy move to a full war economy under Albert Speer.
It may be concluded that in certain restricted senses, the Nazis did indeed produce an economic miracle.
The war time economy of Nazi Germany can effectively neither be described as a free market economy nor as centrally planned. In the words of Richard Overy: “The Germany economy fell between two stools. It was not enough of a command economy to do what the Soviet system could do; yet it was not capitalist enough to rely, as America did, on the recruitment of private enterprise.”
2. Ideological solutions: Life in Nazi Germany was subjugated to the will of one man: Hitler
In contrast to Marxism-Leninism, National Socialism was anti-intellectual. It glorified the life force, basic drives, blood; it considered intellect as the opponent of the soul.
The National Socialist claim to control the world did not appeal to reason, which perceives all and orders it anew according to objective truth, but to will, which heroically defies the powers that be, subjugates them, and shapes them after its own subjective image. The “new German” wished to rule over fate, not in order to lead mankind into all condition of immutable happiness, but to take in hand his fate or that of his people in all struggle against the others, who were considered evil or too weak and who must therefore be justly destroyed. Hitler held that to see the weak protected from the strong was enough to make one lose faith in divine justice. “The essence of National Socialism does not lie in its program but in its will,” reads an editorial in the Voelkischer Beobachter of November 4, 1930; and Heinrich Himmler, the “Reich Leader of the SS,” styled the will as that which is most sacred in man.
Because it was claimed that Hitler fulfilled the vital law of the German people, his personal will as Fuehrer was granted the right of unrestricted realization. Totalitarian subjectivism, the unlimited claim of a single person to dominate an entire people, found its undisguised expression in the sentence, “Hitler is Germany–Germany is Hitler.” Since the authentic will of the people manifested itself solely in the will of the Fuehrer, Hitler could also act “against the subjective opinions of individual members of the nation and a misguided popular mood.” On this point, then, the National Socialist concepts led to the same practical ends as did the Communist ones: the totalitarian regime imposes on the people what is allegedly the people’s real will.
3. Social Solutions: The social architecture of a new world
Education under the Nazi regime focused on racial biology, population policy, culture, geography and especially physical fitness. Anti-Semitic policy led to the expulsion of Jewish teachers and professors and officials from the education system. All university professors were required to be a member of the National Socialist Association of University Lecturers in order to be able to be employed as professors.
Recent research by academics such as Götz Aly has emphasized the role of the extensive Nazi social welfare programs that focused on providing employment for German citizens and insuring a minimal living standard for German citizens. Heavily focused on was the idea of a national German community. To aid the fostering of a feeling of community, the German people’s labour and entertainment experiences — from festivals, to vacation trips and traveling cinemas — were all made a part of the “Strength through Joy” (Kraft durch Freude, KdF) program. Also crucial to the building of loyalty and comradeship was the implementation of the National Labour Service and the Hitler Youth Organization, with compulsory membership. In addition to this, a number of architectural projects were undertaken. KdF created the KdF-wagen, later known as the Volkswagen (People’s Car), which was designed to be an automobile that every German citizen would be able to afford. The KdF wagon also was created in the idea that it could be converted to a military vehicle for war. Another national project undertaken was the construction of the Autobahn, which made it the first freeway system in the world.
According to the research of Robert N. Proctor for his book The Nazi War on Cancer, Nazi Germany had arguably the most powerful anti-tobacco movement in the world. Anti-tobacco research received a strong backing from the government, and German scientists proved that cigarette smoke could cause cancer. German pioneering research on experimental epidemiology lead to the 1939 paper by Franz H. Müller, and the 1943 paper by Eberhard Schairer and Erich Schöniger which convincingly demonstrated that tobacco smoking was a main culprit in lung cancer. The government urged German doctors to counsel patients against tobacco use.
German research on the dangers of tobacco was silenced after the war, and the dangers of tobacco had to be rediscovered by American and English scientists in the early 1950s, with a medical consensus arising in the early 1960s. German scientists also proved that asbestos was a health hazard, and in 1943 — as the first nation in the world to offer such a benefit — Germany recognized the diseases caused by asbestos, e.g., lung cancer, as occupational illnesses eligible for compensation. The German asbestos-cancer research was later used by American lawyers doing battle against the Johns-Manville Corporation.
As part of the general public-health campaign in Nazi Germany, water supplies were cleaned up, lead and mercury were removed from consumer products, and women were urged to undergo regular screenings for breast cancer.
The Nazis opposed women’s feminist movement, claiming that it was Jewish-led and was bad for both women and men. The Nazi regime advocated a patriarchial society in which German women would recognize the “world is her husband, her family, her children, and her home.” Hitler claimed that women taking vital jobs away from men during the Great Depression was economically bad for families in that women were paid only 66 percent of what men earned. This being said, Hitler never considered endorsing the idea of raising women’s wages to avoid such a scenario again, but instead called for women to stay at home. Simultaneously with calling for women to leave work outside the home, the regime called for women to be actively supportive of the state regarding women’s affairs. In 1933, Hitler appointed Gertrud Scholtz-Klink as the Reich Women’s Leader, who instructed women that their primary role in society was to bear children and that women should be subservient to men, once saying “the mission of woman is to minister in the home and in her profession to the needs of life from the first to last moment of man’s existence.” The expectation even applied to Aryan women married to Jewish men—a necessary ingredient in the 1943 Rosenstrasse protest in which 1800 German women (joined by 4200 relatives) obliged the Nazi state to release their Jewish husbands.
The Nazi regime discouraged women from seeking higher education in secondary schools, universities and colleges. The number of women allowed to enroll in universities dropped drastically under the Nazi regime, which shrank from approximately 128,000 women being enrolled in 1933 to 51,000 in 1938. Female enrollment in secondary schools dropped from 437,000 in 1926 to 205,000 in 1937. However with the requirement of men to be enlisted into the German armed forces during the war, women made up half of the enrollment in the education system by 1944.
Organizations were made for the indoctrination of Nazi values to German women. Such organizations included the Jungmädel (Young Girls) section of the Hitler Youth for girls from the age 10 to 14, the Bund Deutscher Mädel (BDM, German Girl’s League) for young women from 14 to 18.
On the issue of sexual affairs regarding women, the Nazis differed greatly from the restrictive stances on women’s role in society. The Nazi regime promoted a liberal code of conduct as regards sexual matters, and were sympathetic to women bearing children out of wedlock. The collapse of 19th century morals in Germany accelerated during the Third Reich, partly due to the Nazis, and partly due to the effects of the war. Promiscuity increased greatly as the war progressed, with unmarried soldiers often involved intimately with several women simultaneously. Married women were often involved in multiple affairs simultaneously, with soldiers, civilians or slave labourers. “Some farm wives in Württemberg had already begun using sex as a commodity, employing carnal favours as a means of getting a full day’s work from foreign labourers.” Marriage or sexual relations between a person considered “Aryan” and one that was not were classified as Rassenschande were forbidden and under penalty (people found guilty could face concentration camp, while non-Aryans death penalty).
Despite the somewhat official restrictions, some women forged highly visible, as well as officially praised, achievements. Examples are aviatrix Hanna Reitsch and film director Leni Riefenstahl.
An example of the almost cynical Nazi difference between doctrine and practice is that, whilst sexual relationships among campers was explicitly forbidden, boys’ and girls’ camps of the Hitlerjugend associations were needlessly placed close together as if to make it happen. Pregnancy (including disruptive repercussions on established marriages) often resulted when fetching members of the Bund Deutscher Mädel were assigned to duties which juxtaposed them with easily tempted men.
The regime sought to restore traditional values in German culture. The art and culture that came to define the Weimar Republic years was repressed. The visual arts were strictly monitored and traditional, focusing on exemplifying Germanic themes, racial purity, militarism, heroism, power, strength, and obedience. Modern abstract art and avant-garde art was removed from museums and put on special display as “degenerate art”, where it was to be ridiculed. In one notable example, on 31 March 1937, huge crowds stood in line to view a special display of “degenerate art” in Munich. Art forms considered to be degenerate included Dada, Cubism, Expressionism, Fauvism, Impressionism, New Objectivity, and Surrealism. Literature written by Jewish, other non-Aryans, or authors opposed to the Nazis was destroyed by the regime. The most infamous destruction of literature was the book burnings by German students in 1933.
In 1933, Nazis burned works considered “un-German” in Berlin which included books by Jewish authors, political opponents, and other works which did not align with Nazi ideology.
Despite the official attempt to forge a pure Germanic culture, one major area of the arts, architecture, under Hitler’s personal guidance, was neoclassical, a style based on architecture of ancient Rome. This style stood out in stark contrast and opposition to newer, more liberal, and more popular architecture styles of the time such as Art Deco. Various Roman buildings were examined by state architect Albert Speer for architectural designs for state buildings. Speer constructed huge and imposing structures such as in the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg and the new Reich Chancellery building in Berlin. One design that was pursued, but never built, was a gigantic version of the Pantheon in Rome, called the Volkshalle to be the semi-religious centre of Nazism in a renamed Berlin called Germania, which was to be the “world capital” (Welthauptstadt). Also to be constructed was a Triumphal arch several times larger than that found in Paris, which was also based upon a classical styling. Many of the designs for Germania were impractical to construct because of their size and the marshy soil underneath Berlin; materials that were to be used for construction were diverted to the war effort.
The majority of German films of the period were intended principally as works of entertainment. The import of foreign films was legally restricted after 1936 and the German industry, which was effectively nationalised in 1937, had to make up for the missing foreign films (above all American productions). Entertainment also became increasingly important in the later years of World War II when the cinema provided a distraction from Allied bombing and a string of German defeats. In both 1943 and 1944 cinema admissions in Germany exceeded a billion, and the biggest box office hits of the war years were Die große Liebe (1942) and Wunschkonzert (1941), which both combine elements of the musical, wartime romance and patriotic propaganda, Frauen sind doch bessere Diplomaten (1941), a comic musical which was one of the earliest German films in colour, and Wiener Blut (1942), the adaptation of a Johann Strauß comic operetta. The importance of the cinema as a tool of the state, both for its propaganda value and its ability to keep the populace entertained, can be seen in the filming history of Veit Harlan’s Kolberg (1945), the most expensive film of the era, for the shooting of which tens of thousands of soldiers were diverted from their military positions to appear as extras.
Despite the emigration of many film-makers and the political restrictions, the German film industry was not without technical and aesthetic innovations, the introduction of Agfacolor film production being a notable example. Technical and aesthetic achievement could also be turned to the specific ends of the Greater German Reich, most spectacularly in the work of Leni Riefenstahl. Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will (1935), documenting the Nuremberg Rally (1934), and Olympia (1938), documenting the 1936 Summer Olympics, pioneered techniques of camera movement and editing that have influenced many later films. Both films, particularly Triumph of the Will, remain highly controversial, as their aesthetic merit is inseparable from their propagandizing of Nationalsocialism ideals.
Established in 1934, the Nationalsozialistischer Reichsbund für Leibesübungen (NSRL), (sometimes also known under the acronym NSRBL) was the umbrella organization for sports during the Third Reich.
Two major displays of Nazi German art and culture were at the 1936 Summer Olympics and at the German pavilion at the 1937 International Exposition in Paris. The 1936 Olympics was meant to display to the world the Aryan superiority of Germany to other nations. German athletes were carefully chosen not only for strength but for Aryan appearance. However, one common belief of Hitler snubbing African-American athlete Jesse Owens has recently been discovered to be technically incorrect — it was African-American athlete Cornelius Cooper Johnson who was believed to have been snubbed by Hitler, who left the medal ceremonies after awarding a German and a Finn medal. Hitler claimed it was not a snub, but that he had official business to attend to which caused him to depart. On reports that Hitler had deliberately avoided acknowledging his victories, and had refused to shake his hand, Owens recounted:
“When I passed the Chancellor he arose, waved his hand at me, and I waved back at him. I think the writers showed bad taste in criticizing the man of the hour in Germany.” He also stated: “Hitler didn’t snub me — it was FDR who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send me a telegram.”
Hitler was criticized for this and the Olympic committee officials insisted that he greet each and every medalist. Hitler did not attend any of the medal presentations which followed, including the one after Jesse Owens won his four medals.