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Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State Hardcover – January 9, 2007
"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
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Where the author is original is in his reading of the data of Nazi robbery. He argues that the German people benefited from the Nazi thievery, and, he says, for that reason (among others) they gave their enthusiastic support to the regime. He is careful not to dismiss other factors altogether, such as anti-Semitism, but he stresses the importance of the economic benefit to the population.
There are a number of problems with this thesis.
First, the evidence for happiness with economic conditions during the Hitler regime is totally anecdotal. The author has talked with members of his own family and other acquaintances, but there is no assurance that such haphazard interviewing has resulted in a representative picture. The same goes for his unsystematic reading of published memoirs by famous writers.
Is it simply common sense to assume that people are happy when they reap economic benefits? Not in the absence of other considerations. The German people, after all, underwent great hardship under the Nazi regime, especially in wartime. Aly does not mention that, from the point of view of material comfort, they had as many reasons to be unhappy with the Nazis as to be happy. Their taxes were low during the war, says Aly, because the Nazis robbed the Jews and the occupied countries to pay for the war. And low taxes make people happy. Even if your cities get bombed and your sons and husbands die on the battlefield? If, as Aly suggests, it is material benefits that motivate people above all else, the Germans might have been expected to oppose Hitler.
In my view, writers who have assigned greater weight to non-material motivating factors, such as the Nazi theology of anti-Semitism, have given more satisfactory answers to the puzzle of the Germans' wartime approbation of Hitler.
The Germans' happiness with the Nazis, moreover, began long before Jewish properties were expropriated. Why were the Nazis so popular in 1933, 1934, 1935 - before the program of looting was put into effect? On this point, Aly is totally ahistorical. His thesis is one of cause and effect - Nazi robberies having the effect of Nazi popularity. But what if the effect began before the putative cause?
To this reader at least, Aly's thesis lacks logic.
Pointedly, National Socialism massively transferred wealth from non-Germans to Germans: "In terms of wartime revenues, internal and external, low- and middle-income Germans, who together with their families numbered some 60 million, accounted for no more than 10 percent of the total sum. More affluent Germans bore 20 percent of the burden, while foreigners, forced laborers, and Jews were compelled to cover 70 percent of the funds consumed every day by Germany during the war." (p. 292). Consequently: "On average, the vast and not particularly affluent majority of Germans enjoyed more disposable income during the war that they had before it." (p. 293). Nazism also appealed to those opposed to traditional moral conventions, and to those inclined towards anticlericalism and anti-elitism (p. 319).
Not surprisingly, once voted into power by the German people, Hitler never needed draconian methods to maintain power until the end. Nearly 90% of the German dissenters executed lost their lives after 1941 (pp. 303-304). Unlike Communism, Nazism never demanded absolute devotion (pp. 23-24). In 1937, merely 7,000 Gestapo employees sufficed to handle 60 million Germans, while, in later East Germany, 190,000 surveillance experts controlled 17 million people (p. 29).
Jews weren't the only victims of larcenous Nazi policies--far from it: "This land of milk and honey in Eastern Europe was to be conquered not for the benefit of landed Prussian Junkers and powerful industrialists but to provide ordinary people with a real-world utopia." (p. 31).
Aly breaks new ground by showing that virtually ALL sectors of German society were involved in the expropriation of conquered peoples' wealth. German soldiers not only sent a considerable amount of looted goods back home (p. 178), but were encouraged to do so (p. 311). Later-writer Heinrich Boll (Boell) wrote much about this (p. 110, etc.). Not mentioned is the fact that, in German-occupied Poland, any German could enter a Polish or Jewish shop at any time and take anything at will without paying.
Poles targeted by the Germans for deportation, imprisonment, or execution immediately lost all their properties to the Reich (p. 197, 236). The 8-12 million forced laborers in the Reich, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, toiled under inhumane conditions. They were paid a wage in order to forestall resistance back home, but then the earnings were recouped by the Germans in various creative ways (pp. 156-157).
German-occupied Poland actually had to pay Germany for being occupied (pp. 76-77) "...with the result that the local population endured acute shortages of grain, potatoes, meat, and other necessities." (p. 77), leading to famine (p. 170). (This enables the reader understand why some Poles didn't aid fugitive Jews and why Poles sometimes betrayed or killed Jews known or suspected of stealing from them). Polish guerilla resistance eventually forced the Germans to slightly reduce the harshness of their exploitation of Poland (p. 160).
The Wehrmacht invaded Russia under orders to live off the land, placing 21.2 million Soviet citizens in starvation mode (p. 178). Additionally, millions of Soviet POWs were starved to death by the Germans (p. 175). Aly touches on the eventual Nazi extermination plans against Slavs: "...the most extreme proposal envisioned forcibly relocating 50 million Slavs to Siberia. (For years, the German Research Foundation also supported the development of technocratic plans for the slaughter of millions of people. Funds for research in this area were still allocated in the Nazis' final budget for the fiscal year 1945-46)." (p. 30). Yet the term "relocation" had itself already become a euphemism for extermination.
One Holocaust myth would have us believe that the destruction of Jews had been so uniquely irrational that the Germans would rather sacrifice themselves than leave Jews alive. In actuality, the deportation of the Jews from the island of Rhodes never did challenge the Wehrmacht's transport needs (p. 268), and there wasn't even talk of German retreat at the time of the Rhodes Jews' deportation (pp. 269-270). Once it did occur, the Rhodes Jews' deportation was itself governed by economic considerations (p. 273).
The case for Aly's premise that the Holocaust can't be properly understood without the larceny behind it (p. 285) can be strengthened (see: INTO THAT DARKNESS). Treblinka Kommandant Franz Stangl rejected the presumed Nazi obsession with killing all Jews, citing the creation of "honorary Aryans". Stangl asserted that the Holocaust was actually motivated by financial gain. When confronted with the obvious fact that most Jews weren't wealthy, Stangl retorted with the comment that almost every Jew had some worthy possession that could be confiscated--and that the booty added up.