Hjalmar Schacht was an economist of the Weimar Republic and for the Nazis until his dismissal in 1937 due to his opposition to German rearmament. He was known for working with or developing several schemes that the Germans used throughout the interwar period.
The first scheme he was known for was the introduction of the Rentenmark. The currency of the Weimar Republic was normally the Reichsmark, but several things happened after World War I that caused great turmoil in the German economy. Many Germans considered the reparations to be a great outrage (as reparations are paid in “defeat,” and in the view of many Germans, Germany had not lost the war). To that extent, the Germans were willing to sabotage their own economy in an attempt to get the reparations waived or dismissed, due to a supposed German inability to pay it. This is all documented in Sally Marks’ “Myths of Reparations.”
One mechanism of their attempts to sabotage the reparations was to print large amounts of their currency. While there were several relatively sane ways that the Germans could purchase the gold and goods necessary for reparations, such as issuing bonds, raising taxes, or even taking on foreign currency debt, the Germans instead deliberately chose to print Reichsmarks, in an effort to wreck the German economy, thus bringing the Entente to the table to renegotiate the reparations. And it worked-the Dawes and Young Plans, created in the wake of the ensuing Weimar Hyperinflation, allowed to Germans to restructure and reduce the amount of reparations. This was of course at the expense of two years of German economic growth, which resulted in gross wealth destruction and was only fixed by the introduction of the Rentenmark. The Rentenmark, which Schacht was one of several economist that developed the scheme, was a substitute Reichsmark that used German land (real estate) as collateral, much in the lines several other countries used gold or silver to back their currencies. This was introduced into the German economy and helped to restore stability.
It should be noted that during this time, Schacht was only one of a handful of economists and political figures that assisted in the Weimar Republic’s return to economic growth. Hans Luther and Karl Helfferich were the main economists responsible for the Rentenmark.
Schacht in Nazi Germany, because of his political support and his rather sketchy if not outright illegal financial maneuvering to support the Nazis, was able to become Minister of Economics. During this time, he continued the programs of the previous German administration (namely, public works to artificially lower unemployment numbers, such as the autobahn) and expanded them into a general plan for German autarky. The two main issues he had to deal with were the lack of foreign reserves (caused by the German sell off due to the Great Depression) and the means of rearmament.
Simply put, if Germany ran out of foreign reserves, it would not only be hard pressed to trade with other countries but it would also severely weaken the strength of the German mark. To get around this, Schacht helped structure several trade transactions with South American, European, and even a handful of Asian countries whereby German could acquire strategic materials necessary for rearmament in exchange for either German marks or German goods, which would allow time for the Nazis to balance the foreign reserves deficit (which they never did, instead doubling down on it to increase the rate of rearmament).
The Mefos bills that he created were another tool whereby the Germans could secretly rearm themselves using economic tricks. As president of the Reichsbank, Schacht in theory was only supposed to be a lender of last resort-namely, his job was to be independent of the government and only to step in to preserve monetary stability. However, by issuing Mefos bills, he was able to secretly (if not fraudulently) loan money directly to the German government through a dummy corporation.
This allowed the German government to take on far more debt than any sane investor would have bought on, at a lower rate of interest. For a simple finance lesson, the more debt a country has, the greater the risk. An investor would demand a higher interest rate in return for taking on this higher risk. Since the interest rate for Germany was essentially fixed around 4.50%, this meant there was a theoretical ceiling after which nobody would be willing to buy German government bonds. Through the use of the Mefos bills, in addition to hiding arms purchases from Britain and France, they were also able to bypass this ceiling.
Of course, this would have been completely unsustainable, and would have required the acquisition of large amounts of foreign reserves to balance out the fact that the ostensibly independent Reichsbank was in fact loaning money to the German government, which would otherwise cause rapid inflation as it turned out German currency wasn’t worth what people thought it was. This was part of the reason why the Nazi government chose to invade many countries-one of their most important objectives was the seizure of all the currency and reserves in the various banks, to feed the gaping maw in the German economy left by Schacht and the Nazis’ policies.
At the end of the day, Schacht wasn’t a particularly brilliant economist, but he did participate in both legitimate economic schemes (as the Rentenmark) as well as some more fraudulent ones (like the Mefos bills) in order to keep Germany’s economy afloat. Still, the fact remains that despite his willingness to fund German rearmament, Nazi rearmament was still too fast even for him, which eventually led to his resignation and collaboration with the German resistance. This should show that he was not in fact some lone genius, but rather one of several German economists that happened to be in a position of leadership during the Weimar Republic and later the Nazi regime.
Sally Marks, The Myth of Reparations
Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction
Afro-German soldier of the Nazi Germany – Free Arabian Legion; ca. September 1943
The Free Arabian Legion provided an opportunity for German blacks who wanted to fight for the Reich. The unit’s founder was Haj Amin Al Husseini, an anti-Semite Muslim.
The Legion included Arab volunteers from the Middle East and North Africa, war prisoners who opted to fight instead of go to prison … and blacks. In the end, the Legion saw very little combat action—and most of that during the Allies’ Operation Torch in French North Africa.
Nazi racial ideology in practice could be very inconsistent:
- 57% of Soviet prisoners and millions of Soviet civilians die as a result of intentional Nazi policy. But a Russian volunteer battallion is raised to fight for Nazi Germany
- Several groups of Africans fighting for France are murdered upon capture by German troops. But some African volunteers are enlisted in the German armed forces
- Ethnic Germans in Poland are deemed superior to Poles. But these ethnic Germans, when found guilty of rape, are punished and declared as not being like “true” German men
- Non-white colonial POWs who fought for France are treated badly and suffer worse mortality rates than white French POWs. But yet the Germans collaborate with certain groups of non-whites.
A little Russian girl touches her dead mother just after the liberation of the Ozarichi concentration camp in Belarus; ca. March 1944
Information on the liberation of the Ozarichi death camps.
Hitler asking a frostbitten and snow ravaged soldier not to salute him, but to instead rest and recover; ca. 1941- 42
Most likely taken sometime between November 1941 and March 1942. During the Winter Crisis, the majority of the Wehrmacht were still equipped with their worn out summer uniforms and summer boots (often stuffed with newspapers to try to make them warmer). This was a direct failure of the German High Command to properly equip their soldiers for winter combat in the inhospitable Russian terrain.
Additionally, across large portions of the front, the Germans were not able to successfully enter prepared defensive positions until late in the winter. As a result, the soldiers were literally lying in the snow in their summer uniforms while the temperature was regularly -40 degrees. For a German General’s view on this see Gotthard Heinrici’s recently published letters and diaries.
I don’t think this is a PR photo. At this point in time the German senior leadership was still trying to present events in the East in the most favorable light possible. Obviously, a photograph of this man’s injuries would shock anyone who saw it in a newspaper.
Also, this man’s injuries are directly attributable to Hitler himself. During the early autumn of 1941, he refused to ship adequate cold weather clothing to the front line as he perpetually believed that the Soviets would collapse in only a few weeks. Needless to say, this did not come to pass.
Adolf Hitler salutes a parade of his personal bodyguard regiment, the 1st SS Division Leibstandarte SS Adolf Hitler; January 30th,1937
Execution of the women SS Guards of Stutthof concentration camp for “sadistic abuse of prisoners” after on trial by the Polish Special Law Court at Danzig. The women did not seem to take the trial seriously until the end; July 4th, 1946
It was one of the few public executions in Poland after the war. This one was witnessed by about 100 000 people. They had been standing on trucks which drove off (which is why they swing a bit). Among the witnesses were former prisoners of Stutthof.
Hungarian Jewish children and an elderly woman on the way to the death barracks of Auschwitz-Birkenau, ca. May 1944
“From the chimneys of the Vatican, white smoke rises,
a sign the Cardinals have chosen themselves a Pope.
From the crematoria of Auschwitz, black smoke rises,
a sign the conclave of Gods hasn’t yet chosen,
the Chosen People.
After Auschwitz, no theology:
the inmates of extermination bear on their forearms
the telephone numbers of God,
numbers that do not answer
and now are disconnected, one by one.
After Auschwitz, a new theology:
the Jews who died in the Shoah
have now come to be like their God,
who has no likeness of a body and has no body.
They have no likeness of a body and they have no body.”
– Smoke by Jacob Glatstein
Russian slave laborer among prisoners liberated by 3rd Armored Division points out former Nazi guard who brutally beat prisoners, Germany; May 14, 1945.
Batterie Mirus, Guernsey; ca. 1942
Batterie Mirus was an artillery gun emplacement built in Nazi occupied Guernsey, disguised as a cottage to fool aerial surveillance.
(Background: During World War II, the Channel Islands were the only part of Britain captured by the Nazis. During a long and brutal occupation the Nazi’s essentially turned the islands into stationary battleships, pouring more concrete into fortifications and gun emplacements than was poured in the rest of the Atlantic Wall combined. The largest guns in The Channel Islands were situated in Guernsey, at the Batterie Mirus. They had a range of around 51km, meaning they could theoretically hit the coast of France.)
Hiter, Speer and entourage mesmerized at the Schwerer Gustav. Largest and Heaviest artillery ever used in combat; ca. 1941
Also know as Dora, Krupp was responsible for its development. It saw very little combat as the gun proved to be a logistical nightmare. Stands as the largest-calibre rifled weapon ever used in combat, the heaviest artillery piece ever built by weight and fired the heaviest shells of any artillery.
The Schwerer Gustav could fire armor-piercing rounds weighing over 7,000kg (~15,000lb) with a muzzle velocity of ~700 m/s (~2,400 ft/s)
(Size compared with the OTR-21 Tochka.)
Polish concentration camp survivor weeping near charred corpse of a friend, in Leipzig, Germany; ca. 1945
This photo was taken by Margaret Bourke-White (who was the first female war correspondent in WWII. Also she’s also the photographer of the iconic Kentucky Flood photo.) She was a badass with a robotic heart. I could have never done what she did and maintained her love of life and compassionate nature.
German soldier lighting his cigarette with a flamethrower; ca. 1940s.
Flamethrowers had two fuel lines. The line he is lighting is cigarette with is sort of like a pilot line. It is a smaller fuel line that stays lit and can produce a bit of a larger flame when its trigger is pressed. The second line is for the big fire. This contains a thicker gelatinous type of fuel. So the flamer will pull the first trigger making the pilot flame larger, then pulls the second trigger emitting the thicker fuel which gets lit by the pilot flame raining hellfire upon anyone in its path. So technically its not really a blowtorch, but just a little pilot flame.
The two main schools of thought are called the intentionalists and the structuralists. The intentionalist argument holds that Hitler meant to exterminate the Jews since the 1920s, and that there was a straight path from 1933 to the Holocaust. Structuralists argue that the Nazi dictatorship was weak and had to adopt anti-Semitic policies as a reaction to the activism of their mass base; they argue that there was no initial will to exterminate the Jews, but that the Holocaust was a culmination of events, that the road from 1933 to the ‘Final Solution’ was twisted, not straight.
I tend to subscribe to the structuralist interpretation for a number of reasons. Firstly, the official Nazi policy towards Jews until 1941/42 was emigration; why would a regime bent on eradicating the Jews encourage them to emigrate, mostly to neighbouring countries? According to this interpretation, events like Kristallnacht and the Boycott of 1933 were acts of brutality that were carried out to try to scare the Jews into emigrating. As well, some historians look at the fragmented decision making process of Nazi Germany which led to improvised bureaucratic decisions as an explanation for how anti-Semitic policies were concieved. Hitler would make vague suggestions regarding the Jews to his subordinates, who took these as a call for action to prove their reliability, efficiency of their organizations and their diligence. It was in this context that Goebbels organized the Kristallnacht pogrom which was given retrospective sanction by Hitler, and in which the policy of extermination was formulated. Understanding the Nazi decision making process is critical when studying a subject like the Holocaust.
The really barbaric dimension of Nazi anti-Semitism began with the German invasion of Poland and later the USSR. Previous policies were constrained by German public opinion, which was actually opposed to actions like the Boycott of 1933. When the Germans occupied Poland they also came in control of a much larger Jewish population. The Nazis had to materialize their plans for eastern colonization, and could act with more brutality against Polish Jews because they were generally disliked by the Poles and were unrestrained by German public opinion, which facilitated individual initiatives as I’ve described above. Consequently, Polish Jews were forced into ghettos to make room for German settlers. This ghettoization and a policy of forced labour for all able-bodied Jews in camps created the momentum for the Final Solution; the Nazi leadership accepted the possibility of killing thousands of Jews through starvation and exhaustion. They didn’t begin with a clear, formalized idea of exterminating the Jews, but took a step in that direction through these policies.
Further conquest placed even more strain on the Nazi leadership concerning the Jews because every country they occupied left even more Jews under their control; most of those who emigrated moved to countries in Western Europe that would later be occupied, and the occupation of Eastern Europe resulted in a huge Jewish population under German control. The invasion of the USSR in 1941 was the final radicalization concerning the Nazis’ Jewish Policy. In the first year or two of the invasion, the Nazi leadership envisioned some kind of mass deportation of Jews to Madagascar or east of the Urals once the Soviet regime collapsed. While the leadership was still thinking in terms of emigration, the gears of genocide had begun turning on a localized scale in occupied Soviet territories. The Kommissarbefehl was issued by Hitler before Operation Barbarossa and demanded that Soviet Political Commissars and other ‘bolshevized’ elements be liquidated. It was liberally interpreted by the einsatzgruppen, German death squads, to include any potentially subversive elements in the conquered population, especially Jews. In the Nazi worldview, Bolshevism and Judaism were inseparably intertwined, which motivated both their goal of eastward expansion and the impetus to eradicate the Soviet Jewry.
Because of Operation Barbarossa, the machinery used in the Holocaust were developed as well. Auschwitz was expanded to house more Soviet POWs, who were actually the first victims of the gas chamber. This coincided with Jews from Western Europe being deported to the East, where the gauleiters (regional governors) were in the process of ‘Aryanizing’ their respective territories. There were essentially given quotas on what percentage of their population had to be Germans, which made the permanent housing of Jews untenable. The machinery and local will to commit genocide had already begun, but it wasn’t until December 1941 that the Nazi leadership had committed itself to the policy of extermination. Hitler had prophecized at the sixth anniversary of his rise to power in 1939 that:
if the international Jewish financiers in and outside Europe should succeed in plunging the nations once more into a world war, then the result will not be the Bolshevizing of the earth, and thus the victory of Jewry, but the annihilation of the Jewish race in Europe!
Historians like Adam Tooze and Ian Kershaw contends that the entry of America into the war in December 1941 (even though Hitler declared war on them!) was what finally committed the leadership to genocide because of Hitler’s statement. After the Wannsee Conference in January 1942 it became official government policy, even though genocide had essentially been going under way since the invasion of the USSR. The most contentious part of the Holocaust is arguably the existence of a ‘Hitler Order’; there are some scraps of evidence that suggest that Hitler may have given a direct order to exterminate the Jews, but it is very uncertain. What is likely is that Nazi officials lower on the food chain had begun the extermination process to advance in the Party, and to show their reliability and decisiveness to the leadership. The Holocaust was not necessarily realized by rabid racists, but by ambitious Party members who used implemented the genocide in order to advance themselves, which was given sanction following the Wannsee Conference.
Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction. London: Penguin Books, 2006. p. 461-485
Ian Kershaw, “Hitler and the Holocaust”, in Ian Kershaw, The Nazi Dictatorship, Problems & Perspectives of Interpretation, 4th edition, New York, Oxford University Press, 2004, p. 93-133.
Lorna L. Waddington, “The Anti-Komintern and Nazi Anti-Bolshevik Propaganda in the 1930s”, in Journal of Contemporary History , Vol. 42, No. 4 (Oct., 2007), pp. 573-594.
A British soldier gives a “two-fingered salute” to German POWs captured at the Second Battle of El Alamein, Egypt; ca. 1942
The “two-fingered salute”, is commonly performed by flicking the V upwards from wrist or elbow. The V sign, when the palm is facing toward the person giving the sign, has long been an insulting gesture in England, and later in the rest of the United Kingdom; though the use of the V sign as an insulting gesture is largely restricted to the UK, Ireland, New Zealand, and Australia. It is frequently used to signify defiance (especially to authority), contempt, or derision. The gesture is not used in the United States, and archaic in Australia and New Zealand, where the finger tends to be used in such situations instead.
Here’s a report on the behavior of British POWs during the war, hopefully making it the Britishest thing you’ve read today.
US Marine raising the Confederate battle flag after the Battle of Okinawa; June 22nd, 1945.
Once the castle had been taken, Dusenberg took off his helmet and removed a flag he had been carrying for just such a special occasion. He raised the flag at the highest point of the castle and let loose with a rebel yell. The flag waving overhead was not the Stars and Stripes, but the Confederate Stars and Bars. Most of the Marines joined in the yell, but a disapproving New Englander supposedly remarked, “What does he want now? Should we sing ‘Dixie?'”
MG Andrew Bruce, the commanding general of the 77th Division, protested to the 10th Army that the Marines had stolen his prize. But LTG Buckner only mildly chided MajGen del Valle saying, “How can I be sore at him? My father fought under that flag!”
LTG Buckner’s father was the Confederate BG Buckner who had surrendered Fort Donelson to then-BG Ulysses S. Grant in 1862.
*Well, if I ever go to war I’ll bring the flag of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. I’ll die waving that flag!
Otto Frank, Anne Frank’s father and only surviving family member, revisiting the attic; May 3rd, 1960.
August 1, 1944 was the date of Anne Frank’s last diary entry; the last paragraph reads:
Believe me, I’d like to listen, but it doesn’t work, because if I’m quiet and serious, everyone thinks I’m putting on a new act and I have to save myself with a joke, and then I’m not even talking about my own family, who assume I must be ill, stuff me with aspirins and sedatives, feel my neck and forehead to see if I have a temperature, ask about my bowel movements and berate me for being in a bad mood, until I just can’t keep it up any more, because when everybody starts hovering over me, I get cross, then sad, and finally end up turning my heart inside out, the bad part on the outside and the good part on the inside, and keep trying to find a way to become what I’d like to be and what I could be if . . . if only there were no other people in the world.
Yours, Anne M. Frank
Her family was captured 3 days later. Of the 7 people hiding in the Secret Annex, only her father survived the holocaust, and he had her diary published.
A virtual tour of the secret annex, for anyone interested.
Nazi General Anton Dostler is tied to a stake before his execution by a firing squad, Italy; ca. 1945.
General Dostler ordered and oversaw the unlawful execution of fifteen captured US Soldiers. The soldiers were sent behind the German lines with orders to demolish a tunnel that was being used by the German army as a supply route to the front lines. They were captured and upon learning of their mission, Dostler ordered their execution without trial. The US soldiers were wearing proper military uniforms and carried no civilian or enemy clothing and were in compliance with Hague Convention to be considered non-combatants after their surrender. Under the 1907 Hague Convention on Land Warfare, it was legal to execute “spies and saboteurs” disguised in civilian clothes or enemy uniforms but excluded those who were captured in proper uniforms. Since fifteen U.S. soldiers were properly dressed in U.S. uniforms behind enemy lines and not disguised in civilian clothes or enemy uniforms, they were not to be treated as spies but prisoners of war, which Dostler violated. They shot the Americans and buried them in a ditch by their field headquarters.
The general was convicted and sentenced to death by an American Military Tribunal. The trial found General Dostler guilty of war crimes, rejecting the defense of superior orders. He was sentenced to death and shot by a firing squad on December 1, 1945 in Aversa. The execution was photographed on black and white still and movie cameras.
*You can see this photo being taken at 1:22 here: