A sprawling history that ably fulfills its intention “to reposition economics at the centre of our understanding of Hitler’s regime.”
In the 1930s, writes Tooze (Economic History/Cambridge Univ.), Germany’s economy was comparable to Iran’s or South Africa’s today, of middling importance internationally but regionally influential. Well into the Hitler years, Germany still had 15 million people employed making traditional handicrafts or engaging in peasant agriculture—and well along, for all the mechanized blitzkrieg, German war-planners figured that the army would need to employ one horse for every four soldiers. Tooze opens with a footnote to history, namely, the planned sequel to Mein Kampf, in which Hitler projected that an Anglo-German alliance would conquer the east and fend off the threat that the US posed to Europe; Britain’s failure to jump at the opportunity meant that Hitler had to undertake the project with lesser partners. Tooze observes that the Nazi armaments program—made possible by defaulting on US loans and reparation payments—was the largest transfer of resources ever made in peacetime in a capitalist economy; even so, he adds, Germany lacked the resources financial and natural to sustain an army that could defeat all the enemies it courted. Though Hitler from the start had advanced an economic program meant to help Germany’s poor, and though he paid for the war machine not by taxation but by a steady project of rationing and “rationalization,” the chief beneficiaries of his policies were rich and major corporations such as I.G. Farben and Porsche. And anyone who paid attention could have seen the war coming: Though it was on its face economically ruinous, Hitler had demanded in 1936 that the “German economy must be fit for war within four years,” and the state and economy obliged as best they could.
A strong contribution to the historical literature surrounding WWII and the Nazi era; indeed, one of the most significant to arrive in recent years.