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Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht

by John Weitz

Pub Date: Oct. 13th, 1997
ISBN: 0-316-92916-6
Publisher: Little, Brown

This biography of a major figure of the Nazi regime raises tough ethical questions about the nature of collaboration and patriotism. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht was born in 1877 into a prominent family from Schleswig-Holstein. By the turn of the century he had already acquired a reputation as an economist. But his real fame came in 1923, when, four days after Hitler's failed putsch, he became currency commissioner for the Weimar Republic; he controlled the disastrous inflationary spiral that had already destroyed Germany's economy and the middle class. By the end of 1923, he was also named president of the Reichsbank. Schacht was such a hero that in the cabarets of Berlin they literally sang his praises. After a period of prosperity in the mid-1920s, Germany again faced economic ruin, brought on by the Depression. Hitler's political success, according to Schacht, was based on ``poverty and unemployment.'' Such a simplistic evaluation suggests that Schacht misunderstood the true nature of the Nazi regime. Seeing himself as first and foremost an economist, and a patriot obliged to work with whatever regime was in power, no matter how odious, he had no qualms about collaborating with Hitler. Although never a fanatical Nazi, Schacht faithfully served the new regime (he was named minister of economics in 1934), yet managed to maintain his contacts with the anti-Nazi movement. Although dismissed by Hitler in 1943, Schacht was among those tried for war crimes at Nuremberg. He was acquitted, as he knew he would be; but that does nothing to resolve the question of his moral culpability in working with the Nazis. Weitz (Hitler's Diplomat, 1992) weaves an interesting and useful story, and although not the work of a professional historian, it sheds light on those Germans who, while not Nazis, elected to work with the regime, convincing themselves that it was the right and patriotic thing to do. (9 b&w photos, not seen)