Hitler, the Economist for War

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When you think of Adolf Hitler, immediately, you are inclined to think World War Two, Nazi, Holocaust, which is true, however, have you ever thought how Hitler was enabled to do these. Those who studied Modern History in high school will remember Night of the Long Knives, where Hitler removed his out of control party men and his consolidation to power with the Enabling Act. They determined how Hitler was able to become Fuhrer and Chancellor of Germany, but what about how Hitler was able to afford to engage in warfare and the Holocaust after Germany lost in World War One, had to repay Britain and France, and suffered hyperinflation during the depression?

Hitler was remembered for commanding respect from a large crowd at rallies with everyone saluting and chanting his name.  But we delving a little deeper and look at what was happening behind the scenes with Hitler and the Nazi party, in particular, Germany’s economic situation and Hitler’s judgments and decisions. How Germany went from men carrying wheelbarrows full of money to buy one loaf of bread during hyperinflation to conducting a war on two major fronts for six years.

Germany before Hitler

Towards the end of World War One and for a period after it, Germany suffered economically which affected the quality of life of German people. To give you an example, in 1918, German people were mixing sawdust with flour to make larger portions of bread. During the Weimar Republic, the economic situation stabled, however industries and agriculture suffered, as Germany had to repay Britain and France monetarily, with food supplies and infrastructure like telegraph poles and road building materials. When the Great Depression occurred in the 1930’s, Germany suffered the worst as they were indebted to France, Britain and America. It is here that Adolf Hitler enters the scene as Chancellor, then as Fuhrer and Chancellor, with the Nazi Party.

Germany during Hitler

When Adolf Hitler came into power, he predicted that Germany would be engaged in war in towards the end of 1930s and thus wanted to gear, or prepare, Germany its economy for war. Many modern historians will be familiar with the term, ‘Lebensraum’ – translated to ‘living space’ which has been considered one of the main ideologies of Hitler’s that led to war. To gear Germany and its economy for war Hitler implement several policies: stop paying reparations, Four Year Plan and autarky (self-sufficiency).

Stopping war reparations:
– As mentioned previously, Germany owned money and materials to France, Britain and America, which made it hard to economically recovery and build new infrastructure in Germany. The result of this was that money which was allocated to repayments, was now free to spend on improving the quality of life of German’s, which was one of Hitler’s ideologies. On a side note, his intentions were for families to be able to afford cars – hence the Volkswagen, or peoples’ car. Industries and agriculture sectors improved as their products could be purchased and traded instead of being given to France and Britain. The importance of this, is that Germany became independent, which began the shift towards the Four Year Plan. 

Four Year Plan:
– The Four Year Plan was intended to have Germany prepared for war by a certain date. Hitler had chosen 1939, which is when he said “No nation will be able to avoid or keep from this historical conflict” in regards to war with Russia.

Although there was no real plan or target to achieve, Hitler increased production of war materials and increased war machines like tanks and warplanes. Hitler was able to increase war machines as he had helped industries rebuild by stopping war reparations and because he had set up factories like Volkswagen, which, instead of producing cars – began to produce tanks.

Funnily enough, the outbreak of war with France and Britain was in 1939, coincidence?

 Autarky:Image– Autarky, or self-sufficiency was Hitler’s ideology implemented to make sure that if war was to occur, Germans could depend on themselves. Why would this matter? In World War One, Germany depended on imports for food, and when Britain blocked all their ports, Germans, as mentioned previously, had to mix sawdust with flour to make large portions of bread. Although not areas of the economy could achieve autarky and some industries suffered as a result of this policy, German production increased which further prepared itself for the war.

Adolf Hitler’s economic decisions were intended to prepare Germany for an inevitable war. Stopping war reparations, autarky and Hitler’s Four Year Plan geared Germany for war, and also stimulated the economy which was swayed towards military spending. Without Hitler’s intervention in Germany’s economy, Germany could not have waged a six year war as effectively as it did (this does not mean efficiently though). 

Further reading:

Barkai, Avraham. Nazi Economics: Ideology, Theory and Policy. Oxford: Berg Publishers Limited, 1990.

Hitler, Adolf. “Memorandum on Autarky”. 

Hossbach, Friedrich. “Hossbach Memorandum”. 

Overy, Richard. War and Economy in the Third Reich. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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