The Plight of 1930’s German Industrialists

German factory on August 13, 1939, just days before the invasion of Poland.

During the 1920’s, and especially the 1930’s, German industry had to decide whether or not to ally themselves with Hitler. They overwhelmingly did.

“It had taken the Imperial Army sixteen years — from 1898–1914 — to increase its strength from forty-three to fifty divisions, the Army of the Third Reich had jumped from seven to fifty-one divisions in just four years. Among them were five heavy armored divisions and four light ones, a “modern battle cavalry” such as no other nation possessed. The Navy had built up from practically nothing a fleet of two battleships of 26,000 tons, two heavy cruisers, seventeen destroyers and forty-seven submarines. From absolutely nothing, the Luftwaffe had built up a force of twenty-one squadrons… The armament industry, General Thomas said, was already producing more than it had during the peak of the last war and its output in most fields far exceeded that of any other country.” (The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, p. 654)

Untenable is the position that the the industrialists didn’t know what direction the nation was headed. Mein Kampf, published first in 1923, made it perfectly clear what Hitler envisaged for Europe, and how he would achieve it. Mein Kampf was promulgated throughout Germany in lieu of many great works of literature and science, including the Bible. It would be expected that the leaders of these German companies would have read it. A casual study by Iris Reading LLC found that executives read significantly more than the average person, at around four to five books per month. Although that’s an observation from a different era, I believe the principle remains: executives read a lot. It’s partially why they become so successful. At the time the industrialists were choosing to ally themselves with Hitler or not, I don’t think it’s possible for them to claim ignorance. Would they not want to complete the most basic background research to understand who they would be putting their faith in?

Hermann Goering, president of the Reichstag (parliament), addressed a group of industrialists in 1936 on the intensity of production demanded by the Reich. He declared, “the battle we are now approaching demands a colossal measure of production capacity. No limit on re-armament can be visualized. The only alternatives are victory and destruction.” p. 412

Even if Hitler had the best of intentions for these armaments, the position that business people weren’t aware that they shouldn’t have been producing armaments for Hitler would have remained indefensible. “A visitor to the Ruhr and Rhineland industrial area in those days might have been struck by the intense activity of the armament works, especially those of Krupp, chief German gunmakers for three quarters of a century, and I.G. Farben, the great chemical trust. Although Krupp had been forbidden by allies to continue in the armament business after 1919, the company had really not been idle.” (389)

Were not the business-people allying themselves with the Nazis just for profit? Hitler promised them he’d destroy organized labor, and then let them be, both of which would profit big business immensely.

“Would I have acted differently?”

If I saw a dictator looming on the horizon who I thought more than likely would become the sole leader of my country, would I have acted differently? Try and put yourself in the shoes of the 1930’s industrialists.

What were the alternatives for the morally sensitive industrialist? Really, what might you have done differently had you been a 1930’s German industrialist in charge of thousands of people’s livelihoods and many others’ standard of living less directly?

Close down shop and flee the country, leaving all your employees, customers, and capital owners high and dry (which by he way doesn’t really make sense as a figurative expression)? Deceive the Nazis by agreeing to produce armaments (or just general output for the total war economy), and then sabotage them (the Schindler route)? Shut the corporation down and move to Greenland? Forge a clandestine agreement with as many other industrialists as possible to burn all your factories down together and then flee to America? Kill Hitler? All of these were options. I see why most Germans business-people took the easy way out, and hope I would have had the foresight and moral resolve not to had I been in their shoes.


Daily Donut #5

Today’s Five Words:

Plenipotentiary: a person, especially a diplomat, invested with the full power of independent action on behalf of their government, typically in a foreign country.

Incipient: in an initial stage; beginning to happen or develop

Sally: a sudden charge out of a besieged place against the enemy; a sortie.

Plutocrat: a person whose power derives from their wealth.

Concentric: of or denoting circles, arcs, or other shapes that share the same center, the larger often completely surrounding the smaller.

Today I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich pp. 590–699 (109 pages), and a page of the Book of Mormon. (110 total)