Modern history





On 27 June 1933 Hitler’s government issued a law authorizing the building of a new type of road, the motorway (Autobahn). The dual-carriageway roads would link Germany’s major cities with one another, establishing a communications network that would allow citizens and freight to be transported with unprecedented speed and directness across the land. The idea originally came from Italy, where a prototype had been built as early as 1924. A private enterprise scheme had already been proposed to link Hamburg, Frankfurt and Basel and planned in some detail from 1926 onwards, but in the circumstances of the Depression it had come to nothing. Almost as soon as he was appointed Reich Chancellor, Hitler took it up again. Speaking at the Berlin International Motor Show on 11 February 1933, Hitler declared that the state of the nation’s highways would in future be the chief yardstick by which its prosperity would be measured. An enthusiastic devotee of the automobile, he had travelled the length and breadth of the land by car during the election campaigns of the previous years, and regarded driving - or at least being driven - as an aesthetic experience far superior to that provided by flying or travelling by train. Thus the new motorways were going to be built along scenic routes, with lay-bys for travellers where they could get out of their vehicles, stretch their legs and admire the German countryside. For Fritz Todt, the man whom Hitler appointed on 30 June 1933 to oversee the building of the motorways, they even fulfilled a racial purpose, linking the motor-borne German soul to the authentic woods, mountains and fields of its native land, and expressing the Nordic race’s delight in the adventure, speed and excitement provided by modern technology.1

It was Todt who had been largely responsible for persuading Hitler to adopt the idea. A civil engineer by training and background, he had worked on tar and asphalt roads for the Munich firm of Sager and Woerner and had been a member of the Nazi Party since the beginning of 1923. Born in the Swabian town of Pforzheim in 1891, he had received a technical education and served in the air force during the First World War. His commitment to the Party was in the first place the product of his personal admiration for Hitler. After the failure of the Munich putsch, Todt avoided active political engagement and concentrated instead on his career, but by 1932 he had become a member of the stormtrooper reserve, and at this point he assumed the leadership of the engineers’ division of the Party’s Fighting League of German Architects and Engineers, founded the previous year. Like other professionally qualified men in the Party, he saw it as a decisive, energetic, modern movement that would do away with the dithering of the Weimar Republic and impel Germany into a new future based on the centralized application of science and technology to society, culture and the economy in the interests of the German race. Within the Party, he tried to counter the hostility of economic thinkers like Gottfried Feder to mechanization and rationalization, which they considered to be destroying jobs, by proposing ambitious new construction schemes such as the motorways, on which he submitted a report to the Party leadership in December 1932. By this time he had gained important backing for his ideas through his appointment as chief technological adviser in the office of Hitler’s deputy, Rudolf Hess. When Hitler announced the initiation of the motorway construction programme, it was largely Todt’s ideas that he proposed to put into action.2

On 23 September 1933, Hitler turned the first sod on the long-planned Hamburg-to-Basel motorways; by May 1935 the first stretch, from Frankfurt to Darmstadt, was open; 3,500 kilometres were completed by the summer of 1938. The motorways were perhaps the most durable of the propaganda exercises mounted by the Third Reich; they survive to the present day. Hitler took a close personal interest in the routes the motorways followed, intervening on occasion to redirect them when he thought they were not going by the most picturesque route. He also insisted on personally approving the design of bridges and service stations. Many of these were bold examples of modernism, and Hitler gave the task of designing them to architects rather than to engineers; the former head of the Bauhaus, Mies van der Rohe, even submitted plans for two of the service stations. The modernity of the motorways, the vast, simple bridges striding across rivers and gorges, the elegant dual carriageways cutting through hills and sweeping across the plains, made them one of the Third Reich’s most striking creations. Todt instructed the planners to merge embankments and cuttings into the landscape, to use native varieties of plants for the verges, and to construct the roads so that the landscape was clearly visible to all drivers and their passengers.3 But in fact they signified not the German soul’s merging with the landscape, but technology’s mastery over it, an impression strengthened in the propaganda that celebrated them as the modern age’s equivalent of the pyramids of Ancient Egypt, outdoing the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages or the Great Wall of China in the grandiosity of their conception. ‘Clear the forest’, declared the bold slogan on Carl Theodor Protzen’s illustration of a motorway bridge, ‘ - blow up the rock - cross the valley - overcome distance - drive a path through German land.’4

Map 9. The Motorway Network

There were other respects in which Todt’s plans failed to work out as he had predicted. Only 500 kilometres in addition to the 3,500 kilometres completed by 1938 were finished by 1945, since building resources were soon diverted to construction programmes more directly related to the war; the Reich Defence Ministry even vetoed strategically unimportant routes and insisted on priority being given to military roads in sensitive areas like East Prussia. As a result of such interventions and further postwar delays, the motorway linking Hamburg to Basel was not actually completed until 1962.5 Moreover, few people had the means to enjoy them before 1939, since Germany was one of the least motorized societies in Europe. In 1935, only 1.6 per cent of the population in Germany owned motor vehicles, compared to 4.9 per cent in France, 4.5 per cent in Britain, and 4.2 per cent in Denmark. Even Ireland had a higher proportion of vehicle-owners, at 1.8 per cent. All of these figures were dwarfed by vehicle ownership in the USA, which stood at 20.5 per cent, or one in five of the population.6

In his speech at the Berlin motor show, Hitler announced not only the inauguration of the motorway building programme but also the promotion of motor sports and the reduction of the tax burden on car ownership.7 The result was a 40 per cent increase in the number of workers in the motor vehicle industry from March to June 1933 alone. Motor car production doubled from 1932 to 1933 and again by 1935. Well over a quarter of a million cars were now being produced every year, and prices were much lower than they had been at the end of the 1920s. Foreign car sales in Germany had fallen from 40 per cent of all car sales in 1928 to below 10 per cent six years later.8 The number of passenger cars on the roads increased from just over half a million in 1932 to just under a million in 1936.9 Even Victor Klemperer bought himself a car at the beginning of 1936 despite his growing financial worries, though he soon came close to regretting his decision: ‘The car’, he wrote on 12 April 1936, ‘gobbles up my heart, nerves, time, money. It’s not so much my wretched driving and the occasional agitation it causes,’ he added, ‘not even the difficulty of driving in and out, it’s that the vehicle is never right, something’s always going wrong.’10

Even he, however, had to admit that the new motorways were ‘magnificent’. Driving down one on 4 October 1936, he noted with enthusiasm that he and his wife enjoyed a ‘glorious view’ and he even ‘dared a speed of 80 km an hour a few times’11 Despite the spread of car ownership, however, the motorization of German society had still not got very far by 1939, and to describe it as the powerhouse behind Germany’s economic recovery in these years is a considerable exaggeration.12 By 1938, to be sure, Germany’s vehicle production was growing faster than that of any other European country, but there was still only one motor vehicle there per forty-four inhabitants, compared with one for every nineteen in Britain and France.13 The vast majority of personal travel and the movement of bulk goods was still accounted for by Germany’s railway system, Germany’s largest employer at this time, which was brought under centralized administration and provided with enough additional funds to produce a 50 per cent increase in the (very small) stock of electrically powered locomotives and a quadrupling of the number of small shunting engines between 1932 and 1938.14 However, in general the railways suffered from chronic under-investment during this period. The railway management, jealous of its leading position in goods traffic, succeeded in delaying the removal of taxes on commercial vehicle sales until January 1935, though as soon as this happened, production of commercial vehicles increased much faster than that of passenger cars - 263 per cent in 1934-5 as compared to 74 per cent for cars.15

None the less, even after this, the motor-car embodied an important part of Hitler’s technological vision of Germany’s future, which encompassed car ownership on an almost universal scale. Already in the 1920s he had come across an article on the ‘motorization of Germany’ as he whiled away his leisure time in Landsberg prison, and by the early 1930s he was drawing rough sketches of a small family vehicle that would sell for less than a thousand Reichsmarks and so be within reach of the vast majority of the population. Meeting with scepticism from the mainstream motor industry, Hitler secured the collaboration of the racing-car engineer Ferdinand Porsche, whose prototype design was ready by the end of 1937. At Hitler’s personal insistence, the car’s production was funded by the German Labour Front, the Nazi Party’s successor to the trade unions, which built a vast new factory to produce the car. In this way, the dominance of the American-owned Opel and Ford works over the small-car market in Germany would finally be broken. Dubbing the vehicle the ‘People’s Car’ or ‘Strength Through Joy car’, Hitler envisaged up to a million models a year rolling off the production line, and a huge advertising campaign was launched to persuade workers to put aside part of their wages to save up for one, with the slogan ‘a car for everyone’16

The campaign met with a good deal of success. In April 1939 a Social Democratic agent in Rhineland-Westphalia reported:

For a large number of Germans, the announcement of the People’s Car is a great and happy surprise. A real Strength-Through-Joy car-psychosis developed. For a long time the car was a main topic of conversation in all sections of the population in Germany. All other pressing problems, whether of domestic or foreign policy, were pushed into the background for a while. The grey German everyday sank beneath notice under the impression of this music of the future. Wherever the test models of the new Strength-Through-Joy construction are seen in Germany, crowds gather around them. The politician who promises a car for everyone is the man of the masses if the masses believe his promises. And as far as the Strength-Through-Joy car is concerned, the German people do believe in Hitler’s promises.17

Hitler proudly presented one of the first models in person to the International Motor Show in Berlin on 17 February 1939, and gave another one to his partner Eva Braun for her birthday. Although no production models came off the assembly-line during the Third Reich, the car stood the test of time: renamed the Volkswagen, or People’s Car, after the war, and popularly known as the ‘beetle’ from the rounded shape Hitler gave it in his original design, it became one of the world’s most popular passenger vehicles in the second half of the twentieth century.18


Creating a motorized society was not just a grand technological vision for the future. It was also intended to produce more immediate benefits. Fritz Todt calculated that building the motorways would provide employment for 600,000 men, not just on the roads themselves but also in all the industries that supplied the basic materials for their construction. By June 1935 there were some 125,000 men working on motorway construction alone, so the programme did indeed create jobs, though fewer than many supposed.19The Nazis had gained their stunning electoral successes of the early 1930s not least on the strength of their promise to pull Germany out of the catastrophic economic depression into which it had fallen. Six million people were registered as unemployed in January 1933, and three million more had disappeared from the employment statistics altogether, many of them women. Twenty million Germans had been in work in mid-1929; by January 1933 the number had fallen to 11.5 million. Many more were in short-time work, or had been forced to accept cuts in their hours, their wages or their salaries. Mass unemployment had robbed the labour movement of its principal bargaining lever, the strike, and made things easier for the new regime to destroy it in the first few months of 1933. Nevertheless, getting Germany back to work was the most immediate priority announced by the coalition government that took office under Hitler’s Chancellorship on 30 January 1933.20 Already on 1 February 1933 Hitler declared in his first-ever radio broadcast that the ‘salvation of the German worker in an enormous and all-embracing attack on unemployment’ was a key aim of his new government. ‘Within four years’, he declared, ‘unemployment must be finally overcome.’21

Hitler’s government was able to use work-creation schemes already set in motion by its predecessors. Germany’s effective departure from the Gold Standard in the summer of 1931 had allowed the state to pump money into the economy to try and revive it. Under pressure from the trade unions, General Kurt von Schleicher’s short-lived government in particular had made a significant beginning of this process late in 1932, building on plans already drafted under his predecessors Franz von Papen and Heinrich Brüning. While Papen had made 300 million Reichsmarks available in tax vouchers for road-building, agricultural improvement and housebuilding, Schleicher put 500 million directly into the economy for such purposes; this was increased to 600 million by the Nazis in the summer of 1933. This programme only started coming into effect on 28 January 1933, enabling the Nazis to take the credit for it. The plans were in large measure the brainchild of Günter Gereke, an economist who had become Reich Commissioner for Work Creation on 15 December 1932 and continued in this position in 1933. By 27 April 1933 the Labour Minister Franz Seldte was able to announce that the number of jobless had fallen by over half a million. Some of this was doubtless the result of seasonal factors as employment picked up after the winter slump. The beginnings of economic recovery that had already made themselves noticeable in the last months of 1932 also played a role. Hitler’s government was lucky in its timing.22

Nevertheless, the Nazi Party was not entirely without its own ideas in this field. The Party Programme of 1920 had presented leftish-sounding ideas for economic reform, including widespread state takeovers of private firms, so that when gaining power had begun to seem a real possibility ten years later, Hitler and the leadership had been forced to work hard to convince industrialists and financiers that they had grown up a good deal in the meantime. In 1930 the Party’s chief administrator Gregor Strasser had set up an Economic Policy Division which cultivated close contacts with business and devoted itself to working out job-creation schemes for the future. By July 1932 the Nazis were making great play in their electioneering with a proposal to use state credits for public works as a means of reducing unemployment, through schemes such as draining marshes, building canals, bringing moorland under cultivation and the like. Germany, they declared, needed to pull itself up out of the Depression by its own boot-straps; it could no longer afford to wait for international trade to recover.23

Seldte presented further, more ambitious proposals based on a new issue of treasury bonds for labour-intensive public works projects. These were accepted by the cabinet, and on 1 June 1933, the government promulgated the first Law on the Reduction of Unemployment, which made an additional 1,000 million Reichsmarks available for public works in the so-called ‘First Reinhardt Programme’, named after the State Secretary in the Reich Finance Ministry, Fritz Reinhardt. A second Law on the Reduction of Unemployment, also known as the ‘Second Reinhardt Programme’, issued on 21 September 1933, made 500 million Reichsmarks in credits available for private businesses, particularly in the construction industry, to take on new projects and employ new workers.24Taking these schemes all together and adding other, minor interventions to them, it has been calculated that the government had placed more than 5,000 million Reichsmarks at the disposal of job-creation schemes by the end of 1933, of which some 3,500 million were spent by early 1936. In this way, it hugely expanded the modest dimensions of the programme it had taken over from the Schleicher government at the beginning of the year.25 In addition, the regime developed a scheme for subsidizing house purchases, conversions and repairs started under the Papen government in September 1932 to stimulate the construction industry. Finally, it steered substantial funds towards areas of special deprivation, above all mainly agrarian provinces; at the back of its mind was also the thought that when war broke out, the more industries that were relocated out of the big cities, the less damage would be done to industrial production by enemy bombing.26

The new regime also acted quickly to take people out of the labour market as well, thereby reducing the number of economically active persons against whom the proportion of unemployed were measured. The most notable scheme in this area was the issuing of marriage loans, begun as part of the Law on the Reduction of Unemployment issued on 1 June 1933 and backed up by subsequent regulations. Young couples intending to get married could apply in advance for an interest-free loan of up to 1,000 Reichsmarks provided that the prospective wife had been in employment for at least six months in the two years up to the promulgation of the law. Crucially, she had to give up her job by the time of the wedding and undertake not to enter the labour market again until the loan was paid off, unless her husband lost his job in the meantime. That this was not a short-term measure was indicated by the terms of repayment, which amounted to 1 per cent of the capital per month, so that the maximum period of the loan could be as much as eight and a half years. In practice, few loans were made at the maximum rate - the average was 600 Reichsmarks, amounting to roughly a third of the average annual earnings of an industrial worker. However, the loans were made more attractive, and given an additional slant, by a supplementary decree issued on 20 June 1933 reducing the amount to be repaid by a quarter for each child born to the couple in question. With four children, therefore, couples would not have to repay anything. Of course, the loans were only made to couples recognized as Aryan, so that like so much else in the Third Reich they became an instrument of racial policy in addition to their primary functions. Not only did all applicants have to undergo a medical examination to prove their fitness, as laid down in a supplementary decree on 26 July 1933, but they were likely to be turned down if they had any hereditary diseases, or were asocial, or vagrants, or alcoholics, or connected with oppositional movements like the Communist Party. Moreover, to stimulate production and ensure that the money was well spent, the loans were issued not in cash but in the form of vouchers for furniture and household equipment.27

The idea of reducing unemployment amongst men by taking women out of the labour market was not new in 1933. Indeed as part of government retrenchment measures in the stabilization of 1924 and the crisis of 1930-32, so-called double earners, that is, married women who augmented their husband’s income by engaging in waged or salaried labour themselves, had been fired from the civil service, and were also under pressure in the private sector.28 All political parties in the Weimar Republic, despite the advent of female suffrage, agreed that a woman’s place was primarily with her family, at home.29 The Nazis were only saying what others were saying, but more loudly, more insistently, and more brutally. Here, as in so many other areas, Hitler gave the lead. The idea of women’s emancipation, he told a meeting of National Socialist women on 8 September 1934, was the invention of ‘Jewish intellectuals’ and un-German in its essence. In Germany, he proclaimed, the man’s world was the state, the woman’s ‘her husband, her family, her children, and her home’. He went on:

We do not consider it correct for the woman to interfere in the world of the man, in his main sphere. We consider it natural if these two worlds remain distinct. To the one belongs the strength of feeling, the strength of the soul. To the other belongs the strength of vision, of toughness, of decision, and of the willingness to act.30

Goebbels had already put it in more homely terms in 1929: ‘The mission of the woman is to be beautiful and to bring children into the world . . . The female bird pretties herself for her mate and hatches the eggs for him. In exchange, the mate takes care of gathering the food, and stands guard and wards off the enemy.’31 This demonstrated among other things Goebbels’s extreme ignorance of ornithology: there are of course many species, such as peacocks or birds of paradise, where it is the male who is the gaudy one, and others, like the emperor penguin, where it is the male who keeps watch over the eggs. It was also characteristic of Goebbels that he should lay some emphasis on women’s duty to be beautiful, something that never seems to have concerned Hitler very much. However, the point was clear, and the analogy from the natural world telling. ‘The German resurrection’, as a primer of Nazi ideology put it in 1933, ‘is a male event.’ Women’s place was in the home.32

The marriage loans scheme and the declaration of war on women working outside the home were thus central to Nazi ideology as well as useful for the reduction of unemployment figures. And as soon as the scheme was launched, Nazi propagandists greeted it as an outstanding success. In the first full year of the scheme, 1934, nearly a quarter of a million loans were issued. The number fell to just over 150,000 in 1935, but increased to over 170,000 in 1936, by which time about a third of all newly contracted marriages were assisted by a state loan.33 These were impressive figures. Yet the effects of the measure on unemployment were less than the Nazis claimed. For women on the whole were not competing with men for the same jobs, so that taking a woman out of the labour market would seldom in practice mean freeing up a job for a man. The gender balance in the economy was shifting during the 1920s and 1930s. Still, the same basic pattern of gender differences remained as in the late nineteenth century. Less than a quarter of those classed as workers were female. Within this category they were concentrated above all in textiles, clothing and food and drink. Most domestic servants were also women, as were the greater proportion of ‘family assistants’. By contrast, there were very few women in the major industrial employment sectors. The main difference the marriage loans made, therefore, was to overall employment statistics; they did not in reality create space for unemployed men to get back to work, for no unemployed steelworker or construction labourer was likely to take up household cleaning or weaving, no matter how desperate his situation might be. Moreover, the take-up of the marriage loans has to be viewed in the context of the economic recovery that began tentatively in the second half of 1932 and gathered pace thereafter. During the Depression, previously unregistered women had come onto the labour market as their fathers or partners had lost their jobs, and as men began to find work again, above all in the heavy industrial sector that was so crucial to rearmament, so these women gave up their jobs, glad to be rid of the double burden of housekeeping and childcare on the one hand and working outside the home on the other. Many had delayed getting married and having children because of the economic crisis. The very high take-up of loans in the first year suggests that a large proportion of those who received them belonged in this category. Their decisions were taken largely independently of government incentives, therefore.34

None the less, the Nazis soon began loudly to proclaim that with measures such as these, they had drastically reduced the catastrophic unemployment levels that had devastated the German economy and society since the end of the 1920s. By 1934 the official statistics showed that unemployment had fallen to less than half the levels of two years before; by 1935 it stood at no more than 2.2 million, and by 1937 it had dropped below the million mark. Hitler’s boast that he would solve the unemployment problem within four years of taking office seemed to have been triumphantly justified. Incessant Nazi propaganda boasting that the ‘battle for work’ was being won gained widespread credence. It helped win over many doubters and sceptics to the government’s side from May 1933 onwards, and pumped new euphoria into the Third Reich’s supporters. Belief that Hitler really was reconstructing the German economy was a major factor in underpinning popular acceptance of his regime in its early months.35 Was this, then, ‘Hitler’s economic miracle’, as some have suggested, involving the conquest of unemployment, a Keynesian kick-starting of the economy by a bold policy of deficit spending, a huge increase in investment, and a general recovery of prosperity and the standard of living from the depths to which they had sunk in the Depression? Did this sow the seeds from which, after the destruction of the war, the West German economic miracle of the 1950s sprang?36

To some extent, of course, worldwide economic recovery was already under way, though slowly; in Germany it was helped by rapidly growing business confidence as a result of the political stability that the Third Reich seemed to guarantee, in contrast to its immediate predecessors, and in consequence of the suppression of the labour movement, which gave employers the feeling they had far more room for manoeuvre than before. Moreover, while the unemployment problem of the Depression years from 1929 to 1931 had been made worse by the fact that the large birth-cohorts of the years immediately before the First World War were flooding onto the labour market after leaving school, the situation was reversed from 1932 onwards, as the small birth-cohorts of the war years entered adulthood. Indeed, over two million births expected according to observable statistical trends did not take place in 1914-18, while the death-rate amongst children in the war years, strongly affected by food shortages during the war, was 40 per cent above normal. So the labour market benefited from the consequent fall in people’s overall demand for jobs as well.37

The impression that the Nazis were extremely lucky in coming to power when the economy was already starting to recover is strengthened when it is realized that some of their much-trumpeted measures did little more than restore the status quo of the pre-Depression years. In housing, for instance, the numbers of newly built or converted dwellings looked impressive at 310,490 in 1936; but this was still below the figure of 317,682 which had been achieved by the despised Weimar Republic in 1929. The government had in fact cut public subsidies for housebuilding back from a billion Reichsmarks in 1928 to almost nothing by 1934 and concentrated its resources on subsidizing repairs. Beyond this, too, the figures of additional workers in the construction industry were mostly derived from employment, much of it compulsory, on large earth-moving projects that had no connection with housing at all.38 The regime was indeed far from averse to cooking the books. Not only men drafted into labour service but also previously unregistered family and other effectively unpaid farm helpers, most of whom were women, were now counted as employed. None of these people could be considered as active participants in the labour market; none of them received a regular wage with which they could support themselves, let alone support a family. On this reckoning there were at least one and a half million ‘invisible unemployed’ in Germany at this time, and the total number of unemployed, which Nazi statisticians put at just over two million, was in fact much nearer four.39 As late as January 1935, a contemporary observer reckoned that there were still over four million unemployed people in Germany.40 There were subtler methods of statistical manipulation too. Occasional workers were now counted as permanently employed. Between January 1933 and December 1934 the number of long-term unemployed dependent on welfare fell by over 60 per cent in cities with more than half a million inhabitants, an impressive achievement, at least on paper. Yet this was not least because the figures of ‘welfare unemployed’ were now drawn from those registered with labour exchanges for job applications rather than, as previously, those who had signed on at welfare offices for receipt of benefits. In Hamburg, for example, the labour exchange counted 54,000 welfare unemployed at the end of March, 1934, in contrast to the welfare office’s figure of close on 60,000.41

In addition, new regulations were introduced cutting working hours in some branches of trade and industry, making it necessary to employ more workers but cutting the wages of those already in employment quite substantially. Labour exchanges were usually able only to provide short-term employment; permanent jobs were still in short supply. Young men and some women too came under massive pressure to enrol in the so-called Voluntary Labour Service or to be drafted into agricultural work, where the peasants often resented their lack of experience and regarded them as simply more mouths to feed. Deprivation of welfare payments, forced labour or even imprisonment threatened those who resisted. In some areas all unemployed young men between the ages of eighteen and twenty-five were rounded up and given the choice of serving on the land or losing all benefits forthwith. Yet the payment for such work was so poor that in many instances it actually fell below welfare benefit levels, and if workers had to live away from home on these schemes they still needed benefits to meet the additional expenditure this involved.42 Even on the prestigious motorway projects, working conditions were so poor, food rations so low and hours so long that there were frequent protests, all the way to the burning down of the workers’ barracks. Many of those drafted onto the projects, such as hairdressers, white-collar workers or travelling salesman, were wholly unsuited to hard physical labour. Accidents were frequent, and repeated, acts of protest on one construction site led to the arrest of thirty-two out of the 700 workers in the space of a few months; the most vociferous complainers were sent to Dachau for ‘re-education’ and to intimidate the others into silent acquiescence.43 Such measures also helped, along with strict labour controls and the abolition of the unions, to keep net real wages down.44

The so-called Voluntary Labour Service was not in fact a creation of the Nazis; it had already been in existence before the seizure of power, with 285,000 men enrolled already in 1932. By 1935 the number had increased to 422,000, but many of these were city-dwellers employed as short-term agricultural labourers for jobs, such as bringing in the harvest, which would otherwise have been carried out by rural workers anyway. So while these schemes led to a reduction of the numbers of the unemployed that figured in the official statistics, they did not bring about a general increase in the purchasing power of the population. Informed observers pointed out that the recovery had not affected consumer goods, where production in May 1935 was still 15 per cent below the level of seven years previously. Retail trade actually declined in quantity between 1933 and 1934, as wages continued to be pegged down while prices of food and clothing rose. The classical Keynesian theory of job creation, adopted at least in theory by the Papen government, envisaged a kick-start to the economy as state loans and job-creation schemes put money into workers’ pockets and fuelled consumer demand, thus stimulating production, leading to more employment, and so on, until the process of recovery became self-sustaining. Two and a half years after Hitler had come to power, there was still little sign of this happening.45


In fact, the Nazi job-creation programme was about something quite different than starting a general economic recovery. Its real aims were explained by Hitler to the Ministers on 8 February 1933:

The next 5 years in Germany must be devoted to the rearmament of the German people. Every publicly supported job creation scheme must be judged by the criterion of whether it is necessary from the point of view of the rearmament of the German people. This principle must always and everywhere stand in the foreground . . . Germany’s position in the world will be decisively conditioned by the position of Germany’s armed forces. Upon this, the position of Germany’s economy in the world also depends.46

The motorways, he added, were also to be built ‘on strategic principles.’47 When Hitler presented the motorway construction plan to industrialists on 29 May 1933 he even suggested that the motorways should be roofed over with reinforced concrete to protect them against enemy attacks from the air while tanks and armoured troop-carriers rumbled along beneath them on their way to the front. In the end, the routes they followed were too far from any possible front lines in a war, and the road surface was too thin to carry tanks and heavy military equipment. Their gleaming white surfaces were to provide enemy aircraft with such an easy means of orientation that they had to be covered in camouflage paint during the war. Still, for all the importance given to their ideological, aesthetic and propaganda functions, the intention behind them, not only in Hitler’s mind but also in the mind of their architect, Fritz Todt, was primarily strategic.48 Hitler called attention to what he believed was the vital, if indirect importance of the motor industry for Germany’s military future. ‘Automobiles and airplanes have a common basis in the motor industry,’ he declared: ‘Without the development of, for instance, the diesel engine for motor traffic, it would have been practically impossible to lay the necessary groundwork for its utilization in aviation.’49 The build-up of automobile production would allow factories to be converted to military production at short notice, while the profits from motor manufacture could be used to finance the development of aero engines by the same companies.50

The ‘motorization of Germany’ turned out to be another false Nazi vision, as the diversion of resources to military production from the mid-1930s put a brake on the manufacture of cars, which began to level off and was in no way keeping pace with demand by 1938. The scheme by which workers, under the influence of a massive advertising campaign, parted with a portion of their wages each week to put towards buying a ‘Strength Through Joy car’ turned out to be no more than a means of getting them to put in more overtime so that they could contribute to the financing of rearmament. By the end of 1939, 270,000 people had lent 110 million Reichsmarks to the state in this way. In the end, no fewer than 340,000 people invested their money in the scheme. Not one of them ever got a Volkswagen in return. The factory was converted to war production in September 1939.51 The army itself considered that the expansion of motor vehicle manufacture was an essential precondition for the later rapid motorization of the armed forces. More generally, basic industries like iron and steel, manufacturing and engineering were to be given priority over the consumer goods industries because they would provide the basic infrastructure for rearmament. And getting Germans, especially German men, back to work would toughen them up and turn them from unemployed layabouts into potential fighters: hence it was more important to discipline them than to pay them well. From Hitler’s point of view, the camps and barracks in which young men toiled for wages below the benefit level in voluntary labour schemes that in reality were not voluntary at all were important not least because they trained them for the privations of a future war.52

More immediately, Hitler also wanted to get arms production under way again after the many years in which it had effectively been banned by the limitations imposed on Germany’s armed forces by the Peace Settlement of 1919. Addressing leading figures from the armed forces, the SA and the SS on 28 February 1934, Hitler said that it would be necessary in about eight years’ time to create ‘living-space for the surplus population’ in the East, because the economic recovery would by then have run out of steam. Since the ‘Western Powers would not let us do this . . . short, decisive blows to the West and then to the East could be necessary’. Rearmament thus had to be complete by 1942.53 There was a long way to go. In 1933 Germany was more or less without an air force, without capital ships, without tanks, without most basic items of military equipment, and restricted to an army of no more than 100,000 men. Already in early February 1933 Hitler set a programme of rearmament in motion, where possible disguised as job creation (the revamped Schleicher programme, he said on 9 February, ‘facilitates in the first place the disguising of work for the improvement of national defence. Particular stress must be laid on this concealment in the immediate future’).54 The army itself asked for 50 million Reichsmarks from the Schleicher programme to fund the initial phase of expansion, along lines it had already drafted in 1932, while the commissioner for aviation asked for just over 43 million. These sums were far too modest for Hitler, who thought that rearmament would require ‘billions’ of marks and had to be done as quickly as possible in order to get over the difficult period when Germany’s enemies began to realize what was going on before it had reached a stage where any serious German resistance to, say, a Polish invasion was possible. The military eventually convinced Hitler that more was not possible in the initial stage of rearmament. He ordered that priority in the allocation of resources from the economic recovery programme was to be given to the military, and he gave the armed forces control over their own rearmament budget in April 1933.55

The army drew up a register of 2,800 firms to which arms orders could be sent; in 1934 these accounted for over half of all iron and steel, engineering and motor vehicle production. The effects of the Depression included a massive under-utilization of productive capacity, so initial arms orders were in many cases just taking up the slack, and did not require major new investment. Investment in German industry in 1932 had been less than 17 per cent of its 1928 level, but it now began to increase, reaching just over 21 per cent in 1933, 40 per cent in 1934 and 63 per cent in 1935. Work began almost immediately in preparation for the creation of a German air force. In March 1934 a production schedule was drawn up aiming at 17,000 aircraft by 1939; many of these were disguised as passenger planes though intended for conversion to bombers when the time was ripe. Fifty-eight per cent of them were listed, somewhat implausibly, as ‘trainers’. By 1935 there were 72,000 workers employed in aircraft construction, compared to fewer than 4,000 at the beginning of 1933. Similarly, Krupps embarked on the large-scale production of what were coyly described as ‘agricultural tractors’ in July 1933; in reality they were tanks. In 1934, the Auto Union company launched another military vehicle production department, disguised in its accounts under the vague name of ‘Central Office’. In November 1933 the navy ordered over 41 million Reichsmarks’ worth of military equipment and another 70 million Reichsmarks’ worth of ships. Major firms such as Borsig, in Berlin, and the Bochumer Association, in Hanover, started up production of rifles and guns. All this had an immediate effect on employment. Already in January 1933 the Mauser rifle factory increased its workforce from 800 to 1,300; in the first four months of 1933, the Rhine Metal Company, which made howitzers and machine guns, took on 500 new workers too. Similar developments could be observed in hundreds of companies across Germany. All this feverish activity inevitably had a knock-on effect on industry more broadly, as iron and steel, engineering, coal and mining companies stepped up production and hired additional labour to cope with the new and rapidly rising demand from the arms and arms-related sector. By the end of 1934, the government, noting the reduction of unemployment figures to less than half the level at which they had been when it had taken office, suspended specific job-creation programmes. From now on, it did not need to rely on such measures to absorb the remaining German unemployed.56

Map 10. The Fall in Unemployment, 1930-38

The final step in the reduction of the unemployment figures was taken by the introduction of compulsory military service in May 1935. Already in October 1933, Hitler had asked the British Ambassador if his government would agree to a trebling of the size of the German army to 300,000; and the army itself soon took advantage of an international agreement signed on 11 December 1932 that proposed to replace the disarmament clauses of the Treaty of Versailles by a convention that gave Germany equal rights within a new system of international security. Massive recruitment drives in the course of 1934, initially launched to replace the drafting of thousands of troops into the newly formed German air force, resulted in an increase of the army’s strength to 240,000 by 1 October. But this was not enough. Hitler had already promised the army on 3 February 1933 that he would reintroduce conscription. Taking a proposed increase in the length of French military service as a pretext, Hitler made the formal announcement to the Reich Defence Council on 15 March, taking many of the officers present by surprise. From now on, all able-bodied, non-Jewish German men would have to serve for one year in the armed forces - extended to two in August 1936 - once they reached the age of eighteen and served the required six months in the Reich Labour Service. By 12 June 1936, the General Staff was estimating that the total personnel strength of the army stood at just over 793,000 men, including reservists and non-combatants; by the eve of the war, there were nearly three-quarters of a million men on active army service, and more than a million in the reserve. In the spring of 1935, too, the German government formally announced the existence of an air force (Luftwaffe), which by this time had 28,000 officers and men serving in it; by August 1939 this number had grown to 383,000.57 Naval rearmament began more slowly, initially based on plans drawn up in November 1932, but here as well, expansion eventually reached a headlong pace. There were 17,000 naval officers and seamen in service in 1933, an increase of only 2,000 on the previous year, but by the beginning of the war in 1939 the number had grown to almost 79,000.58 Taken together, these increases soaked up any remaining unemployment amongst the young. After 1936, Hitler and the leading Nazis did not trouble to mention the ‘battle for work’ again; the fact that it had been won had long since been accepted by the overwhelming majority of the German people.59


Germany’s government was in a parlous financial state when Hitler became Reich Chancellor in January 1933. More than three years of the most catastrophic economic depression in German history had forced his predecessors to cut back sharply on state expenditure. Bankruptcies, business failures and mass unemployment had led to a huge drop in the gross domestic product and a precipitate fall in tax revenues. This situation did not change overnight. In 1938, for example, state expenditure took up 35 per cent of national income. The 17,700 million Reichsmarks that came into the state’s coffers from taxation was only sufficient to cover little over half the money that the state actually spent - 30,000 million Reichsmarks in all. How did the regime manage to pay for its massive programme of rearmament and job creation? It could only pay for it by what it called ‘creative credit production.’ Such a policy was anathema to traditional economic managers in view of the danger of inflation that such a policy threatened to bring. Nobody wanted a repeat of the uncontrollable hyperinflation of 1923. The President of the Reichsbank, Hans Luther, was unsympathetic to the regime’s aim of deficit-financed rearmament. A high priest of monetary orthodoxy, he also had a political past, as a former Reich Chancellor. His concern to maintain the neutrality of the internationally guaranteed Reichsbank led him to protest to Hitler in person when brownshirts ran up the swastika over the bank building on 30 January 1933. All this made him an uncomfortable bedfellow for the Nazis. So Hitler replaced him in the middle of March 1933 with Hjalmar Schacht, the financial wizard who had been largely responsible for bringing the inflation under control at the end of 1923.60

Schacht was an anomalous figure in the leadership of the Third Reich. On official occasions, while other ministers appeared in jackboots and uniforms, Schacht stood out in his grey civilian suit, high white collar, shirt and tie, dark overcoat and bowler hat. His thin, somewhat unassuming physical presence and his rimless glasses lent him a slightly withdrawn, academic air which was equally at odds with the rough energy of other leading figures in the regime. Nor was his background in any way similar to theirs. Born in January 1877 into a family of modest means, he was christened Horace Greeley Hjalmar Schacht; his father had spent seven years in the United States and so admired the founder of the New York Herald Tribune and coiner of the phrase ‘Go west, young man’ that he named his son after him. ‘Hjalmar’, the name by which he was generally known in Germany, was a traditional name in the Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein family from which his mother descended. Educated at a famous grammar school in Hamburg, he studied political economy under Lujo Brentano at Munich University, then, after gaining practical experience as a cub journalist, learned French in Paris and wrote a doctorate on British economics. Schacht’s background was thus both varied and cosmopolitan, and he went on to work with major economists and commentators of the Wilhelmine period such as Hans Delbrück and Gustav Schmoller. He gravitated naturally towards the National Liberal Party, and wrote for the Trade Treaty Association, which brought him into contact with Georg von Siemens, founder of the Deutsche Bank. Through this connection, he entered the real world of finance, and rose rapidly through the ranks. Schacht played a part in the economic management of the German war effort in 1914-18, but he was in no sense a right-wing nationalist, and indeed, if he is to be believed, he eventually separated from his first wife in 1938 because of her radical, pro-Nazi views. Schacht’s allegiance during the Weimar years lay rather with the Democrats.61

Schacht shot to fame towards the end of 1923 through his role as Commissioner for National Currency, a post to which he had been appointed by Hans Luther, at that time Finance Minister. He probably owed this preferment to the extensive connections in financial circles he had built up over the previous few years as director of a succession of major banks. His role in ending the hyperinflation brought him appointment as President of the Reichsbank after the previous incumbent died suddenly on 20 November 1923. Here he cemented his reputation as a financial miracle-worker by successfully maintaining the stability of the Rentenmark and then - to a chorus of disapproval from the far right - playing a key role in the renegotiation of reparations under the Young Plan. When early in 1930 the government renegotiated parts of the Plan that Schacht considered should have been retained, he resigned and went into temporary retirement. This suggested he had now moved to the nationalist far right politically; and indeed by this time, he had left the Democratic Party, though without transferring his allegiance anywhere else. Introduced to Hitler at a dinner-party thrown by Hermann Goring early in 1931, he was favourably impressed by the Nazi Leader. Like many other Establishment figures, he thought Hitler’s radicalism could be tamed by associating him with more conservative and more experienced figures such as himself.62

From Hitler’s point of view, Schacht was simply the best financial manager around. He needed him to provide the money for his rearmament programme, and to ensure that the rapid growth in state expenditure would not create any problems. Schacht did not even have to become a member of the Nazi Party. He later claimed, like many others, that he had accepted a position in the regime in order to prevent anything worse from happening. In fact, however, by this time Schacht’s political views had moved much closer to Hitler’s own. He may not have been a rabble-rousing apostle of violence, but he had certainly become enough of a radical nationalist to approve wholeheartedly of the regime’s primary aim of rearming Germany at maximum speed. By the end of May 1933 he had come up with an ingenious scheme for deficit financing. A Metallurgical Research Institute (Metallurgisches Forschungsinstitut), set up by four big companies with a capital of a million Reichsmarks, was authorized to issue so-called ‘Mefo bills’, which were guaranteed by the state and discounted by the Reichsbank. The bank in turn simply met the bills presented to it by printing banknotes. Fifty per cent of arms purchases by the military were made in these bills between 1934 and 1936. Since the Reichsbank covered the bills by printing money, the notes in circulation increased by 6,000 million by the end of March 1938, by which time about 12,000 million Mefo bills had been spent. Schacht was already worried about the inflationary effects of these measures, and he stopped the issue of Mefo bills in 1937, after which point tax vouchers and non-interest-bearing treasury notes were used instead. In the meantime, gross Reich debt had spiralled almost out of control. But neither Hitler nor his economic managers considered this very important. For deficit financing was only a short-term measure in their view; the debts would be paid by territorial expansion in the near enough future. And besides rapid rearmament, Hitler was busily taking other steps to ensure that this would not only be possible but would also, as he saw it, bring the maximum economic benefit.63

From the outset, Hitler wanted Germany to be economically self-sufficient. In preparation for the coming war, the German economy had to be freed from its dependence on foreign imports. Hitler had seen the effects of the Allied blockade of Germany in the First World War for himself: a malnourished and discontented population; arms production hamstrung by lack of basic raw materials. He did not want this to happen again. ‘Autarky’, the Nazi term for self-sufficiency, was a basic precept of Nazi economics from the early 1920s on. It took up a large part of the economic discussion, such as it was, in Hitler’s politico-autobiographical tract My Struggle. It was intimately connected with another basic idea of Nazi policy, that of the conquest of ‘living-space’ in Eastern Europe, which Hitler believed would secure food supplies for Germany’s urban population. Thus from the outset, Nazi policy focused on withdrawing trade from international markets and reorienting it towards countries, for example in South-eastern Europe, which one day would be part of the Nazi empire. Given the current depressed state of the world economy, Hitler told military leaders in early February 1933, it was pointless trying to boost exports; the only way to a long-term, secure recovery of the German economy was through the conquest of ‘living-space’ in the East, and preparations for this now had to take priority over everything else.64

At home, the Third Reich pursued the objective of autarky in food supplies through the Reich Food Estate, promulgated on 13 September 1933. Headed by the ‘blood-and-soil’ ideologue Richard Walther Darré, now adorned with the title of Reich Farmers’ Leader, this was a characteristic Nazi organization, hierarchically structured on the basis of the leadership principle, with Farmers’ Leaders appointed at every level through to districts and localities. The idea, long advocated by farming lobbyists, was to unite producers, wholesalers, retailers and consumers in a single chain that would eliminate the exploitation of one by another and ensure a fair deal for all. Thus in the fishing industry, for example, fishermen, fish processors, fish wholesalers, fish distributors and fishmongers were organized into a single association run from Berlin, and the same was done for other branches of agriculture, from fruit farmers to grain producers. These elaborate structures were backed up by import agencies to protect the domestic producers of particular products, and enforced by sanctions including hefty fines and even imprisonment for contravention of the regulations. In this way, the whole national production and supply of foodstuffs could be controlled, prices fixed, and quantities and quotas determined in the interests of the producers. In some ways, the Reich Food Estate, which was intended to function as an independent corporation, was seen by Darré as the vehicle through which peasant farmers would strengthen their economic interests and claim their rightful place in the new Germany. It was also an imitation of the institutions of the Corporate State in Fascist Italy, binding together everybody in a particular area of society and the economy in a structure that, theoretically at least, would replace mutual antagonism with mutual co-operation and generate a sense of community through removing real and potential sources of conflict.65

But the Reich Food Estate proved a problematical institution.66 Very soon, Darre’s ideological vision of a future Germany based on a healthy and stable community of peasant farmers began to be pushed aside by the more immediate imperatives of autarky and rearmament. In line with general economic policy, the Reich Food Estate had to keep prices down, restrict imports (including animal fodder) and ration consumption. Price controls squeezed farmers’ profits and meant they could not compete with the big industrial firms in the level of wages they paid their workers. The shortage of iron and steel and the prioritizing of the armaments industry in allocating them meant severe restrictions on the manufacture of agricultural machinery that might have been an acceptable substitute for their vanishing labour force, assuming that farmers could afford to pay for it. Already in September 1934 Schacht launched a ‘production battle’ aimed to make Germany self-sufficient in food supplies, a goal that the Reich Food Estate had to play its part in fulfilling. Yet success proved elusive. Subsidies for the construction of grain stores, silos and the like had some effect. But this was more than counteracted by the requisitioning of large quantities of agricultural land for motorways, airfields, barracks and camps, and army training areas, and the drafting of agricultural labourers into arms-related industries in the towns and cities. Between 1933 and 1938, 140 villages were broken up and 225 rural communities disrupted or displaced by compulsory army land purchases, while in the last two years of peace, the building of the defensive emplacements known as the ‘West Wall’ caused the abandonment of 5,600 farms with 130,000 hectares of land. Grain yields generally failed even to reach the levels of 1913, while there was a shortfall in domestic production against demand of between 10 and 30 per cent in pork and fruit, 30 per cent in poultry and eggs, around 50 per cent in fats, butter, and margarine, up to 60 per cent in legumes and over 90 per cent in vegetable oils.67 In this as in other areas, the diversion of production to armaments and associated industries from consumer goods manufacture and the clampdown on non-military-related imports had created a shortage of consumer goods by the autumn of 1936, as demand began to outstrip supply. Prices therefore began to rise. A Price Commissioner - the conservative politician Carl Goerdeler, Mayor of Leipzig - had already been appointed late in 1934, but his advocacy of a slow-down in rearmament as the remedy had been brusquely rejected, and his office was little more than a propaganda show. To prevent a resurgence of the dreaded inflation of the early 1920s, the government imposed a compulsory freeze on prices on 26 October 1936. On 1 January 1937 it introduced rationing of butter, margarine and fat. Thus consumers began to feel the pinch as well as producers.68

As Darré was also Minister of Agriculture, he had to go along with these measures. Every time the interests of the state clashed with those of the Reich Food Estate, it was the latter that had to yield. Moreover, by 1936, therefore, it was clear that the goal of self-sufficiency in food was as far away as ever. The Reich Food Estate was caught between the Party and the state. Formally an institution belonging to neither, it lost its functions as each of the two asserted its own interests. Darre’s star was now waning rapidly. His deputy, Herbert Backe, persuaded Göring and Himmler that Darré was an ideologue who lived in a dream-world and the practical goal of achieving self-sufficiency in food production could only be achieved by an expert such as himself. In addition, a war of attrition with Robert Ley over the interests of agricultural labourers had led to further inroads into the position of the Reich Food Estate in rural society. Ley was also able to use his role as Reich Organization Leader of the Party to remove a variety of functions, for example in education and training, away from Darré’s organization as a prelude to incorporating it into the Labour Front. Attempting to shore up his waning power, Darré had in fact already yielded to the demands of autarky, for example sponsoring a law of 26 June 1936 that allowed the state to merge farms together compulsorily to create larger and more efficient units. Moreover, he was also compelled to cede the care of the social and cultural welfare of its members to the Party and its subordinate organizations. The unpopularity of his schemes amongst the peasantry sealed his fate.69

Göring and Backe devoted considerable energy to boosting the country’s home-produced food supply: measures taken included cheap loans to farmers for the purchase of machinery, price cuts for fertilizers, price incentives for producing grain, eggs and the like, and the requirement in some cases to cultivate crops that would provide the raw materials for textile fibres, such as flax, or vegetable oils and fats. They also tried to remedy the growing labour shortage on the land. From the outset of the Third Reich, hundreds of thousands of young people had been drafted onto the land to try and offset a long-term shortage of agricultural manpower, although many of them were too young, lacked the physical strength, or were too ignorant of the countryside and its ways to be of much use. Even concentration camp inmates were roped into clearing moorland for cultivation. This was not what Darré had imagined when he had set up the Reich Entailed Farms and the Reich Food Estate. On the eve of the war, his original vision had all but disappeared.70

Germany did indeed become self-sufficient in some basic foodstuffs like bread, potatoes, sugar and meat by 1939, but there were still many products, notably fat, pulses (except lentils), and even eggs where imports were still necessary on a considerable scale to meet demand. The number of rural workers dropped by 1.4 million between 1933 and 1939, partly because of the removal of foreign workers, partly because of a continuing drift to better-paid jobs in the towns.71 The land brought under cultivation was not enough to make a significant difference. Thirty per cent of fodder for horses, still a vital component of the army transport system in 1938, had to be imported. Crop yields for cereals in 1939 were not much better than they had been in 1913. On the eve of war, roughly 15 per cent of Germany’s food supplies still came from abroad.72 All this pointed yet again in the minds of the Nazi leaders to the need for ‘living-space’ in the East to make up the deficit. On the other hand, the fact that the trade agreements Schacht had negotiated brought in cheap agricultural produce from South-eastern Europe allowed Hitler and Goring to avoid taking yet more draconian measures to subordinate peasant farmers completely to the dictates of autarky, which would have alienated them even more. The peasants were not going to be militarized or dragooned into a new kind of serfdom to satisfy the demands of the state. Some of the measures introduced by Darré early on thus remained, and the farming community could look back in 1939 to an improvement in its situation during the previous six years, in which the overall proceeds of agriculture had grown by 71 per cent in comparison to 1933, far less than those of industry but still, by the eve of the war, better than the situation of the late 1920s.73

German consumers did not do so well. More and more foodstuffs were subject to official rationing as the government stockpiled supplies in preparation for war and requisitioned agricultural workers and crafts-men for arms-related industries. Butter and fat had long been restricted; fruit and coffee were also rationed from the early spring of 1939. Apples remained unpicked because workers had been drafted into the towns. People were urged to grow their own fruit and to make preserved fruit for use in the winter months. Food supplies were not helped by a series of poor harvests in the mid-1930s caused by bad weather, a cold snap in the spring of 1938 that froze a lot of fruit blossoms off the trees and a bad outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease among the nation’s cattle the same year. Coffee imports fell as the shortage of hard currency in Germany began to limit the ability of importers to pay for it. The shortage of wheat and rye meant official controls on bakers, who were instructed to bake only ‘homogenized bread’ made from an amalgam of inferior flours. White bread could be purchased only on presentation of a medical certificate. To prevent people evading controls on the purchase of milk by going directly to the producer, dairy farmers were obliged from 1 January 1939 to deliver all their supplies to central milk depots. Later the same year, it was reported that no eggs were to be had in Munich for the whole of Easter Week, while in Elberfeld people were unable to bake Easter cakes for lack of fat. Training courses were put on for Saxon housewives to show them how to cook ‘Hungarian fish gulash’ since meat for the real thing was so hard to come by. On 28 March 1939, the meat counter at the Hertie department store on the Dönhoffplatz in Berlin was opened only to sell registered customers their weekly ration of fat; there was no fresh or frozen meat available at all. Shortages inevitably led to a flourishing black market in scarce foodstuffs. Berlin’s markets were already cleared out of fruit by seven in the morning, before the price commissioners came in to check that stallholders were adhering to the official price limits. Imported fruit, such as bananas and oranges, was particularly hard to come by. Only well-off early risers could afford to circumvent the regulations in this way, though at a price well over the official maximum. In the Ruhr, many workers were only able to eat meat once a week. ‘The people’, reported a Social Democratic agent in May 1939, ‘are suffering a great deal from the shortage of all kinds of foodstuffs and respectable, solid clothing. Still,’ he added, ‘this has not led to any kind of unrest, apart from queueing in front of shops, which has become a daily occurrence.’74

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