Having set out the rise and outlook of the Nazi government as well as its economic impulses during the 1930s until the onset of World War II, it is now time to get into the matter of the actual conquest and colonization process itself. In this, it will be necessary to focus as little as possible on the now very familiar history of the diplomacy, the war itself, military tactics and so on. These things, although interesting in their own right and important for understanding the history of the period, do not shed much light on the nature of the Nazi regime as seen from a larger perspective. The essence of this series of articles is, after all, not to answer the question what Nazi Germany did, but what Nazi Germany was: in other words, when seen from a larger historical perspective and put in its post-19th century context, what sort of class society was Nazi Germany and from where did its policy direction come? I hope to have already shown that Nazi Germany’s class support came mainly from the army, from the middle-sized and large farmers/landowners, and initially from those sections of industry (and banking) most affected by the Great Depression. Later, the more competitive and ‘liberal’ sections of industry joined the Nazi effort more fully as the rearmament and strategic investment shifts of the Goering plans led to prospects of an improved position for these industries in case of war. Industry and (large) agriculture indeed have been shown to be the main beneficiaries of the militarist restructuring of German society during the 1930s. I hope also to have shown that Nazi policies aimed at effectively applying colonial methods, which were familiar to German politics both from the cruelties in Africa and the Americas by other nations as well as their own, within Europe itself. Now it is time to address two other, related, topics. The first is that of the war and the full implementation, as could be done during wartime, of the Nazi government’s settlement plans for Eastern Europe and its colonization scheme for Europe altogether. The enormity of the horror of these plans, fortunately curtailed by events although still unbelievably destructive, is still not quite commonly understood, nor is its connection to colonialism as a phenomenon. The second topic is the question of cui bono? – who ended up benefiting from this, and how? These will now be addressed.
War was inevitable in the sense that the Nazi government was always going to aim for the eventual subjugation and colonization of the Eastern lands, merely awaiting the right moment and the right tools to do it. In a similar manner, Britain and the other powers had bided their time until they could use India as a stick to beat China with. Austria had been annexed; Czechoslovakia was to follow soon. Hitler was only barely restrained from going to war over this issue, and got the München Agreement in return, which granted it the Sudetenland and eliminated Czech defenses. In 1938 Germany also offered their old ally, Poland, which had been driven to their side by the failure of Britain to support the French guarantees on them, a deal: if they would return Danzig and permit troops to march over to East Prussia, they could join the Anti-Comintern Pact and receive the Carpathian regions they claimed. Poland however perceived that this would be the first step to vassalage, as with Czechoslovakia, and refused.(1) The war against Poland subsequently in 1939 then formed the opening salvo for WWII. However, it is not to be concluded from this that the German expansionism in the east was either not seen or disapproved of by foreign politicians. Nevile Henderson, the British ambassador in Berlin, declared:
“We should say quite openly that we have no intent of hampering Germany’s legitimate economic freedom of action in Central or Eastern Europe. (…) Personally I am only too glad to wish that she should look Eastwards instead of Westwards.”
And even then, Hitler still aimed for his alliance with Britain, at the expense of the East and of France, an idea which the pro-German British upper class at times considered and which only the preference for the alliance with France blocked. As he put it in 1938 to Chamberlain:
“Between us there need be no conflicts… we will not stand in the way of your overseas interests, and you can allow us a free hand without fear on the European continent in Central and Southeastern Europe.”
Although the British government did not pursue this option, and by 1939 Hitler may well have half expected retaliation from the British for his invasion, it does show that the Nazis’ first interest was colonization in Europe, not elsewhere, and that they were quite willing to consider the British territories off-limits for now. After all, why settle small numbers of Germans in an ethnically hostile territory when you can make a larger and more strategic settlement plan for the East? In any case, Germany, Italy and Japan, now formed as the Axis, not only had rearmed and geared up for war, but so had the other powers. France, Britain and the United States all substantially started rearming as well, now possible because of the slow but steady recovery from the Depression. Hitler responded to this by shortening the war preparation time, and setting the date for April 1939.(4) To pay for this, every last reserve existing in Germany had to be thrown into the war effort, ensuring that it would be all or bust by the time 1939 came round – which also explains why the British guarantees for Poland made little difference, whether they were expected to be followed up on or not. More than 20% of the total national income was to be spent on rearmament, compared to a contemporary average of 4.7% of GDP for the United States with ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.(5) This, together with the Todt fortification projects to be finished post-haste before war broke out, led to significant inflationary shocks to an economy with almost full employment but low living standards.
For this reason, it is useful to look into how all this was paid, other than in the form of borrowing on future conquest. First of all, it was paid for by significantly cutting civilian public projects, such as housing. Although the German housing situation was already vastly worse than for even the average low-skilled American worker would have been acceptable, all public spending on housing was ended in 1938 by decree, although the government still spent small sums by underwriting mortgages for landlords.(6) Secondly, it paid for it by highly taxing the population. Corporations were significantly taxed, which Götz Aly reads as an example of the “populism” of Nazi Germany in favor of its lower class. But because the Nazis, by destroying the left and the unions and by keeping living standards low, thereby also enforcing much savings for investment, restored their profitability in the first place, this is not much of an argument. More interesting is besides not the fact of taxation itself, but for what purpose it was used, namely rearmament. Taxation of higher incomes was only implemented during the war, and was not done for the purpose of redistribution, but simply to repress the living standards and so in fact to prevent inflation and maintain investment levels.(7) Although Aly does not note this in his analysis, all taxation and all policies favoring holidays for workers etc. were arranged in such a manner as to evade actual increases in purchasing power as much as possible, and to force savings among the lower class for war investment, while paying for the war efforts favoring industry partially with industry’s own money. The latter is properly not so much seen as taxation or anti-bourgeois policy, but rather as forced investments as part of a greater strategy in which German capital was forced to follow its interests against their own will – precisely what fascism was constituted for since the Harzburger Front days. At the same time, the Nazi policies forced agricultural labor to stay in its extremely underpaid and exploited position by compulsory work orders, and agricultural landlords became particularly wealthy. The latter were well rewarded for their support for the Nazi regime.(8)
Another major source of income, however, was the expropriation of the ‘undesirables’, in particular Jews. It is no coincidence that in 1938, when other than the Austrian annexation windfall all funds had run out, the campaign against the German Jews was taken to a new level. The pogroms of late 1938, often summarized in the experience of Kristallnacht, were the severest campaigns against Jews in Western Europe since Renaissance times.(9) Jewish migration from Germany was of course officially encouraged, because they were to be gotten rid of; and yet because Germany lacked foreign exchange and funds, Jews were required to pay enormous sums for the privilege of leaving, which allowed only the wealthiest to do so. Few Jewish organizations abroad were willing or able to pay such sums either, except for the Zionist group Haavara. When it was calculated that the combined assets of Jews in Germany alone, not counting Austria, were estimated at between 2.2 and over 5 billion RM, it was decided to stoke up the heat further so that Jews unwilling for financial reasons would be made to leave anyway. This is the context for the great pogroms of 1938. Jews were by law excluded from the economy altogether, and their stores and companies expropriated, after their assets were registered in accounts. The total business and other assets of Jews expropriated over the period of 1938-1941 turned out to be some 1.1 billion RM, with hundreds of millions more being taken in the form of taxes.(10) Yet the total effect on the German economy was not large enough – even at its peak income gained from robbing Jews constituted no more than 5% of total revenue.(11) It must also be stressed that since this constituted mere shifts of ownership and expropriation by the state, virtually nothing of this came to the benefit of ordinary Germans yet, only the state and some banks. As an emigration maneouvre, it was nonetheless a ‘success’. Some 200.000 Jews fled Germany and Austria between 1938 and 1939, leaving virtually everything behind. Unfortunately, many of them fled to surrounding nations, which would leave them in a dangerous position once the war began and the Nazi government could fully deploy its murderous plan.
With the declaration of war on Poland, WWII broke out. Hungary and Slovakia appeared as vassals; Italy, Japan and eventually Finland as allies. Romania was suborned for its oil possessions, which the German armies desperately needed. The war had to take place in 1939: not only was the German government entirely out of money, but industry depended on war for further armaments orders, and more importantly, this was probably the last year in the foreseeable future that the Nazi government could be certain of its superiority. It spent in that year 23% of national income on defense, compared with 17% for France, 12% for Britain and only 2% for the United States. A fast war against enemies in the east and west could win the war before the United States would have the time to put its full industrial capacity behind British-French alliance, if it came to that (as it did). With Britain and France combined already outspending Germany, there was not much time to waste, even though the Italians complained of unreadiness.(12) Its war machinery was at its peak, with the rate of increase so unsustainable that already aircraft production had to be reduced several times. Against Poland’s 30 infantry and 7 cavalry divisions, Germany could set 48 infantry divisions and 6 armored divisions, although the latter still were mostly light tanks, inferior to those of France. Defeating Poland would be no difficulty – the sign was given.(13) As Hitler explained:
“We have nothing to lose; we have everything to gain. Because of our restrictions our economic situation is such that we can only hold out for a few more years. We must act.”
What became decisive in the short term as the war effort went were two things. The first was the inability of Britain or France to sign an alliance treaty with the USSR, presumably because they feared the Communist state more than Nazi Germany, and in any case likely hoped they would destroy each other. What’s more, with Japan refusing Germany a commitment to attack the USSR, a temporary treaty, to be observed only in the short term by either side, became favorable to both Germany and the Soviet Union. A treaty was made, to the hypocritical consternation of the Western powers. In fact, the German industrialists felt about the USSR much as the British did – Fritz Thyssen became so angry at the treaty that he exiled himself to Switzerland.(15) Again, fascism had to be the crowbar that could open doors for the bourgeoisie it could not do itself. For the Soviets, it meant a temporary reprieve as their own armaments buildup proceeded and they recovered from the disorganization following the purges. Moreover, it was a chance for a trade deal. The USSR delivered great quantities of the desired raw materials to Germany, in exchange for German machine tools and military goods, equally desired by the Soviets.(16)
With this arranged, Poland’s resistance was destroyed within three weeks, despite the ferocious bravery of the Polish troops. But the war against France and Britain was by no means certain. With the Allied blockade, Germany was cut off from 80% of its total imports, reducing the raw materials level to vastly below that of the deepest point of the Great Depression. Moreover, the French army, supported by a British Expeditionary Force, was larger than the German one and had better tanks, and Royal Navy superiority in the sealanes was assured. It seemed suicide to attack, yet it was certain suicide not to. Hitler being who he was, all-out attack was inevitably decided on. With the army preparing for war against France, the industrialists used the opportunity to install their own men, first and foremost Fritz Todt, at the procurement offices. This guaranteed their control over wartime production and ensured their profits were maintained. At the same time, the consumption levels of the common people dropped further – by 1941, consumption spending was at -18% compared to 1938, which already was a low year.(17) Although, as Götz Aly also points out, during the war wages and salaries slowly increased as a result of vast labor shortages, this did not translate into higher living standards because there was nothing to spend it on. Instead, the money went into savings and was as such, through state borrowing, invested in further armament.(18)
France was indeed defeated. Not because of the inferiority of its troops, nor because of lack of military expenditures, nor because of lack of bravery, or want of technology. It is hardly necessary to repeat at length the sad tale: Germany invaded the Netherlands in May 1940 with all its troops committed, with practically no reserves. In an enormous feint maneouvre, it invaded with Armeegruppe B the entire Dutch-Belgian line until the Maas. Everything now depended on the Allied response. As expected, they made the greatest military error since the Napoleonic wars, and moved virtually the entirety of the French army together with the Belgians and the British Expeditionary Force to the line between Breda and Dinant. This was an excellent defensive position against a strategic southward attack as the Germans had undertaken in WWI. But it was disastrous: against all expectations of possibility, the German Armeegruppe A, with 7 of the now 9 armored divisions, moved as fast as was humanly possible through the Ardennes, which had been considered impassable for tanks. Before the French and British commanders knew what was happening, the bridges at Sedan had been taken, and merely ten days after the campaign started the Germans stood at Abbeville. It was the greatest encirclement in all of military history, with 1.7 million Allied soldiers captured in the pocket, including virtually all of the Belgian and French armies. The British immediately retreated and fled by boat, 370.000 men strong, back to the island; some 100.000 French managed to break through southwards, but had to leave all their artillery and armor behind. The other 1.2 million or so were made prisoners of war. In one single maneouvre, the entire defense of France and the Low Countries evaporated. Nonetheless, the remaining French troops and the small strategic reserve fought ferociously against the German onslaught, losing 120.000 men against 49.000 Germans in another month or so of fighting. Then, France sued for peace.(19) Soon, to ensure the deliveries of Swedish iron ore (more than 40% of German industrial use), Germany also annexed Denmark and Norway, ignominiously driving out yet another British expeditionary force. As mentioned, Romania was suborned into the Axis for use as oil supplier.(20)
There is no need after this for us to go entirely into the process of the war itself. The campaigns in Africa, the annexation of Greece, the start of Operation Barbarossa, these are all well known to the general public. What is of interest is the manner in which the great plan for colonization was finally carried out by the Nazi regime. Having conquered most of Europe, the Nazis immediately ran into two major problems: the fact that instead of driving Jews and other undesirables from their lands, they now had a vastly larger number of Jews in their domains than before; and the fact that due to the use of nitrogen and horses for war, an agricultural crisis occurred over 1940 that led to severe problems in feeding the entire population of the German-occupied countries. The manner in which the Nazi government responded to this shall remind us of the British Raj’s attitude to the famines in India (including the one in 1943, as this very same war was raging), or the death of the Herrero.
In 1939, upon the conquest of Poland, the western parts of the country were immediately annexed to Germany, as was Alsace-Lorraine. The eastern parts, mainly Lithuanian and Ukrainian, were ceded to the USSR by treaty. The middle part was made the Generalgouvernement, under the command of Dr. Hans Frank; to this zone, all those not welcome in the settling areas were to be expelled provisionally. Already in late 1939, as one of the very first moves, the Nazi government made treaties with Estonia and Latvia to resettle a great number of Baltic Germans into the Reich, to be precise, into the areas annexed from Poland. In a manner similar to the American treatment of the Natives, the Germans would systematically deport Jews and Poles from this area so that German settlers from other parts of Eastern Europe could be concentrated into this zone. From Estonia, these were 12.868 people, and from Latvia, 48.868.(21) From Volhynia and other regions further east, another 128.000 Germans were brought as settlers ‘home’ to colonize western Poland during early 1940.(22) These vast numbers of people, to which are added certain numbers of Germans from Südtirol, have to be settled temporarily in transit camps, as ‘room’ has to be made for them. This living space is made by the deportation between late 1939 and April 1940 of some 261.517 Poles and Jews to central Poland.(23) Before the war, this area had contained 12 million Poles, of which 1.5 million Jews, with the western areas populated by some 8 million Poles of which 550.000 Jewish Poles. The latter category was planned, in the overall strategy, to be moved in its entirety into the Generalgouvernement, making ‘room’ for 500.000 ethnic Germans from elsewhere plus another 300.000 German small farmers to be resettled. These resettlements were not voluntary, but part of German treaties or enforced by the Nazi government directly. The war had increased the number of Jews under Nazi control from some 350.000 to several millions, and in order to ‘cleanse’ the German zones (to be), these were to be systematically put in a “Jewish reservation” of sorts, eventually in the Generalgouvernement and particularly around Lublin.(24) The intent of this plan was clear from the start: rather than evacuating them, which the war had made practically impossible, the Jews and undesired Poles would be put into this special zone and essentially left to rot there. As The Times worriedly described the plans in October 1939:
Herr Hitler now proposes to concentrate the 3.000.000 Jews of Poland in a State which is to be cut out of the body of Poland and will have Lublin for its centre. (…) To thrust 3.000.000 Jews, relatively few of whom are agriculturists, into the Lublin region and to force them to settle there would doom them to famine. That, perhaps, is the intention.
All Jews and Poles deported to the Generalgouvernement had their properties expropriated, though more severely in the case of the Jews, who were robbed entirely of the means of life support, sometimes even clothing.(26) With this, the German settlers were ‘compensated’ for their forced settlement. With the annexation of Alsace-Lorraine, the Jews there were also deported along with undesirable French elements, and their property also confiscated; this, too, went to the settlers. The same applied to the so-called “euthanasia” or T-4 program, which meant the execution by means of gas vans of several tens of thousands of chronically and mentally ill patients of hospitals in the Warthegau and surroundings. These hospitals were emptied in order to free up space for elderly settlers and for housing. In this manner, the ‘ideological’ T-4 program was directly connected to the general plan or strategy for settlement in the East, as it was ever so slowly being implemented.(27)
Despite all the efforts put into mass deportations and colonization of the Warthegau, it became readily apparent that at the pace manageable during wartime there could be no possibility of creating a special reserve for Jews around Lublin and to actually deport all the remaining Jews there. Because of the war, a great demand existed for transport capacity, something which became worse after the start of the war against the USSR. Even the Madagascar plan for emigration, to which this was supposed to be an interim step as long as the war had not been won, looked ever less likely as the full scale of the proceedings dawned on the participants and the war did not look like it would be won fast. Therefore, already halfway June 1940 Heydrich started demanding a “territorial final solution”, since “the resolution of the Jewish problem through emigration had become impossible”.(28) Madagascar was still to be the name for this plan – but in preparation for the distant future of expulsion there, all Jews were now to be segregated as much as possible, not just in Poland, but also in the conquered Western lands. In total, it would involve some 4 million people, a number that would increase with every conquest in the USSR. At the same time, colonization of the Alsace-Lorraine was also planned in the longer run, which was to be cleared of French, and eventually even the Bourgogne (although no steps were ever taken to attempt the latter). Already, 24.210 Jews from the Alsace had been deported to southern France, along with some 70.000 French and Luxembourgers. When the war was won, there would eventually be a “German Central African colonial empire”, with the sole purpose of providing raw materials and food for the 150 million people in the European “greater economic sphere”, and to expel the Jews to.(29) The comparison with Australia, the Japanese conquests in Asia (which would form a nice parallel, but which we cannot now go further into) and the French approach in Algeria are obvious.
The grand strategy for the east also included plans for ‘Germanization’ of already conquered lands and people. As mentioned, Alsace-Lorraine was to become entirely German. The Czechs could mostly, according to Nazi leadership discussions, be assimilated; those that could not be, were also to be deported to a yet undetermined reservation, “until the entire region can be cleared of remnants of a Czech nation”.(30) The great contradiction was, of course, that with all the deportations to central Poland, that area became vastly overpopulated. The food crisis, mentioned before, struck hard. Some 200.000 German small farmers and disinherited sons languished in transit camps all over the Warthegau, while food supplies plummeted. The Germans came first in priority, of course; as a result, during the winter of 1940-1941, the official ration in Belgium and France was a mere 1300 calories per day, with 1600 calories per day being general in the Netherlands and the ‘Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia’. Since stocks still existed and some agriculture remained, black market activity prevented outright famine, but prices soared. This despite the relentless plundering of France, vast amounts of whose capital goods were shipped off to Germany as ‘reparations’ and which was purposely sucked dry by German policy: in the course of three years, some 24.5 billion RM in assets were plundered out of France to benefit the German war economy and the German population, which was to be kept satisfied during war time, as we shall see.(31)
The failure to achieve rapid military success against the Soviet Union, despite the enormous initial gains against the very poorly prepared Red Army’s defensive lines, made the outlook vastly more grim for the Nazis. Paradoxically, this made the situation worse for their victims also. As part of the “Four Year Plan”, the Buna factory complex for the production of synthetic rubber and fuel was to be built at the site of a small SS-run camp, in the Polish town of Oswiecim, by the Germans called Auschwitz. Some 776 million RM was spent for IG Farben on producing there and in Dwory, called Monowitz, factories for synthetic rubber and methanol; about that sum again was spent on building, not far away, the facilities for iso-octane aircraft fuel in Heydebreck and Blechhammer. The mere building of the plant at Monowitz, undertaken by slave labor from conscripted Jews and Poles, cost 30.000 lives.(32) Precisely the threat of a longer war and the resulting production competition by the Americans made this investment into a huge project in one cursed site. By the end of 1944, Auschwitz alone was responsible for 15% of Germany’s methanol production (used as fuel and for explosives). Ironically, it is now in Polish hands as a synthetic rubber facility still, one of the world’s largest.(33) The importance of these plants to the war effort must not be underestimated. For the invasion of the USSR, Germany had plundered the horse stocks of basically every part of Europe they controlled, since only a small part of their army could be motorized for want of trucks. Some 600-750.000 horses invaded the USSR along with them in 1941, and the main reason for this was that there was insufficient rubber and fuel for trucks.(34) Given the meaning that the Auschwitz complex later got, it is clear that the plans for conquest in the East had a logic of their own which both in case of success and in case of failure meant the direst consequences for the local population or the ones driven there. The same also applies to the plans for the USSR itself. The focus of the campaign, on instructions from Hitler, was to be strongly on the swift conquest and exploitation of the Ukraine, from which some 4 million tons of grain were to be “freed up”.(35) In order to free this area for colonization and exploitation, all undesirable elements were to be removed. The SS Einsatzgruppen were sent behind the army lines to murder as many Jews and other racial undesirables as possible, while the so called “Commissar Order” on the part of the military high command implied the murder of all Soviet officials and Party members the army encountered.(36)
While these plans were implemented during the initial assault on the USSR, the final “grand strategy of racial war”, as Tooze describes it, was finally put into motion. We have noted before the paradox between on the one hand wanting to get rid of the Jews and others, and at the same time concentrating them all in the Generalgouvernement. This was all the more clear once the Jews elsewhere in Poland were locked up in ghettos, such as in Warsaw. We have also seen how the T-4 “euthanasia” program expanded as the pressure for housing German settlers increased, in an almost proportional ratio.(37) Eventually, it became clear that the Generalgouvernement itself would also be ‘necessary’ for the purposes of settlement. As Meyer, the specialist for settlement questions, pointed out:
It must be noted that even if a total of 60.000 sq. km agricultural land in the new western territories [Alsace-Lorraine] were used exclusively for the settlement of Germans from the Old Reich, the entire area of the Generalgouvernement, with its approximately 60.000 sq. km, would still be needed to achieve healthy agrarian structures in the Old Reich.
Frank described the future of the Generalgouvernement ‘in twenty years’ as follows:
We are about to experience an event, after which something new will emerge. The Generalgouvernement as we know it and have developed it will become much richer and happier, and it will receive much more support, and above all, it will be de-Jewed. But it will also lose the characteristic sight of the Polish life that still prevails, for with the Jews, the Poles will go as well.
This, too, was to be done in stages. First, to get rid of the Poles remaining in the Warthegau and ‘clear’ the area for German settlement, the Poles were to be deported to the cities of the Generalgouvernement, such as Warsaw and Krakow. In these cities the Jews massed there then had to be packed together and locked in ghettoes, in order to free the housing for the deported Poles. In this manner, the settlement policies constantly created a chain of events, where every chain meant a worsening of the situation of the ‘to be removed’ population.(40) Secondly, to make the Jews in the ghettoes not merely a drain on food, it was decided to employ those that could work in forced labor. The economic specialists of the SS, however, considered the planned slave labor projects, such as drainage works in marshes, to be inefficient and impossible to manage. They pointed out also that maintaining the ghetto population cost RM 55 million a year; so it must be considered whether to “view the Jewish ghetto as a means of liquidating the Jewish people”.(41) Therefore, a split was made between Jews suitable for work and those not suitable, and a start was made with the mass murder of the latter. Given the huge number of Jews to be dealt with in total, estimated at some 5.8 million by Eichmann, this situation could not last forever, especially since the Nazi government wanted to deal with the matter during the war itself. One last plan was made, in which the two issues of colonization of the East and the dispensing of the Jews came together: Generalplan Ost.
This Generalplan Ost foresaw the following future for the conquered East. The cities of Leningrad and Moscow were to be entirely depopulated, preferrably through hunger, and the urban structure itself levelled. From Poland, some 80-85% of the native population was to be expelled further eastwards, from the Ukraine 64% and from Belarus 75%. If necessary, in these cases “physical annihilation” would be considered. In fact, in many cases it is suspected that “evacuation east” meant, at least in part, a conscious policy of destroying these populations. In Zamosc, for example, an ‘evacuation trial run’ of Jews in fact meant all the Jewish population was destroyed in Belzec.(42) As part of this plan, it was also planned to perhaps remove all the Jews and Poles from the Generalgouvernement towards the zones of the USSR expected to be annexed. Direct after the Wannsee Conference, Heydrich still stated that he wanted to “take over the Russian concentration camps” and sent the Jews to the White Sea region, presumably to perish there on forced labor.(43) How literally this was meant is not clear, as perhaps it was already code for the final solution that was settled on soon after, but it certainly fits the overall settlement and exploitation plan. In the context of this essay, it is important to emphasize once again the direct parallels between prior colonization and settlement historically and the plans devised by the Nazi apparatus. In the autumn of 1941, Hitler himself declared that
“The Volga would be Germany’s Mississippi (…) Here in the East a similar process will repeat itself for a second time as in the conquest of America”.
The manner in which settler ideology and the inherently integrated racial hierarchy directly inspired the Nazis in their genocidal schemes is clear as daylight.(44) The target of the Generalplan Ost was to settle the Soviet territories with a density of 80/km², and what had been Poland with 100/km²; for comparison, the German population density at the time, which was considered so unbearable, was 133/km².(45) These settlements were mainly to be achieved by using the farmers’ sons disinherited by the abolition of partial inheritance, and also by drawing racially desirable settlers from countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium, plus colonists from the poor urban areas of Germany if possible.(46) (In fact, colonists not just from Germany but also from the Netherlands, Denmark etc. did end up settling east, be it in small numbers. Many were murdered by Soviet partisans.) The Nazis had no illusions about the costs in terms of infrastructure and machine building involved. Therefore, as part of this Generalplan, they estimated the necessary quantities of Jewish, Polish, Soviet etc. forced labor needed to achieve the necessary production against as little cost as possible, mainly by working and starving the forced laborers to death. The creation of the concentration camps in Poland was a direct response to these estimates. There were in early 1941 ‘only’ 60.000 people in various small camps spread out; immediately construction was ordered of two new camps for 50.000 each, one at Majdanek and one at Birkenau. Later, these camps were expanded to 125.000 and 150.000 respectively.(47) These plans would over time ‘productively’ rid the Nazi government of Jews and Soviet prisoners of war, while aiding the Generalplan. At the same time, the ‘clearing’ of the eastern areas as part of the Generalplan was left to a sub-plan, dubbed the “Hunger Plan”. To supply the some 3 million troops and 600.000 horses of the German invasion army, it was declared that as much as possible they should feed off the land, in particularly in the Ukraine. The problem however was that since the industrialization under Stalin, the urbanization of the USSR had massively increased, and all these people depended on supplies from those same agricultural zones in western and southern Russia and the Ukraine. Therefore, Herbert Backe, the Nazi chief of agriculture in the East, proposed to simply cut them off from supplies altogether. This would kill an estimated 30 million in the western Soviet Union, and allow the grain and oil seed to go to the German population and troops. The head of planning in Nazi Germany, Colonel Thomas (later General), simply stated it like this:
1.) The war can only be continued if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia in the third year of the war.
2.) If we take what we need out of the country, there can be no doubt that many millions of people will die of starvation.
3.) The most important issues are the recovery and removal of oil seeds, oil cake and only then the removal of grain.
Goering reiterated to the Italians that the destruction of some 20-30 million Soviets was an essential element of Germany’s occupation policy, and the ‘Green Book’ for exploitation of the USSR simply said: “Many tens of millions of people in this area will become surplus to requirements and will die or will be forced to emigrate to Siberia.”(49)
As is now all too known, these plans were partially effective, and partially not. The failure to defeat the Red Army made any ‘evacuation’ of entire peoples beyond the Volga impossible, and in this manner the survival of the Red Army’s fighting capacity has meant the survival of entire peoples of Eastern Europe, putting the hue and cry about the later ‘occupation’ of these countries by the USSR in a different light. The destruction of the Jews and of those Soviets that came into the hands of the Nazis was however all too effective, as we all know. The implementation of the ‘Hunger Plan’ was limited due to the focus of the German army on feeding itself, rather than patrolling the vast reaches of the western USSR, and the urban population of these regions fled, as best they could, back to the countryside. Nonetheless, the siege of Leningrad purposefully killed some 700.000 Soviets, and another 1.6 million or so of Soviet POWs were starved to death directly in 1941 before they even arrived in any camps, with another 600.000 shot under the ‘Commissar Order’. By that point, hundreds of thousands of Jews had also already been murdered by Einsatzgruppen and the Wehrmacht itself.(50)
To round off the analysis, we shall briefly also deal with the other forms of exploitation applied in Germany and elsewhere and their meaning. After all, under Fritz Sauckel there was also a large application of forced labor in Germany itself. Not just some 1.3 million Poles in agriculture, but also some 1.2 million French (and other) POWs were doing forced labor in Germany by early 1941.(51) In order to defeat the competition from Britain, the USSR, and above all America, it was however necessary to exploit much more consistently the occupied areas in the West (as well as the Czech ‘Protectorate’). Forced labor in Germany therefore became obligatory for all of working age in the West and the Czech area, with additional conscription of youngsters from Eastern Europe, usually between 12 and 22 years old, and mainly from the occupied USSR. Within one and a half years, this program ‘delivered’ 2.8 million new foreign workers to Germany, and by summer 1943 the total was 6.5 million, of whom about 5 million coerced civilians rather than POWs. In autumn 1944, it was even 7.9 million.(52) It is useful to realize that these people, working in the German factories, were the most likely victims of the Allied strategic carpet bombing campaign. A great amount of German armaments production was made by foreign, not German, labor, and the need for it was so great that even retreating Wehrmacht troops often took great numbers of forced laborers from the East with them.(53) Although death rates were significant among these foreign workers, especially the ones from the East (of the estimated 2.75 million Soviet civilians put to forced labor in Germany, the overall death rate was some 6.2%), they were not nearly as high obviously as the rates in the concentration and extermination camps. It has therefore normally been seen as contradictory that on the one hand so much labor was recruited for the German war effort, and on the other hand at the same time in 1942 the destruction of the Polish Jews was undertaken, murdering some 2 million in the period of about two years. Add to this the destruction of the Jews in their hundreds of thousands from the Netherlands, the USSR, Hungary (from 1944 on), France and so forth, and it seems wholly irrational. Another million or so Soviet POWs were so destroyed. Of course, sometimes in the camps there was ‘useful’ labor, such as those working for German industry in camp facilities like that of IG Farben, or that of Oskar Schindler. Yet all this becomes explainable, if not quite understandable in any normal scheme of human behavior and morality, once again if one realizes it was part of a greater plan for colonization and settlement. Within this plan, the final goal was not just to get rid of Jews and other undesirables and to win the war through production, but overall to ‘cleanse’ Eastern Europe altogether for German settlement. If the Germans merely wanted to dominate Europe, they could have sufficed with forced labor, and in fact would have kept their productivity high and exploited and plundered in a more traditional manner (this was in fact generally the advice given by the military leadership). But they wanted to settle, and this always, everywhere requires a series of steps which leads to the elimination of the peoples that are ‘in the way’ of settlement. From that perspective, the loss of Polish and Jewish etc. labor was not quite a loss. The motto was Vernichtung durch Arbeit, with the emphasis on the former.
The exploitation also consisted of those forms that benefited the German population, not just the Wehrmacht. Although Götz Aly greatly exaggerates the degree to which the average German, rather than the industrialists and farmers, benefited from Nazi imperialism, it is most definitely true that the German civilians maintained their living standards during the war at the expense of the other peoples. This, after all, is always and everywhere the point of imperialism. Total deliveries of grain, meat and fats provided by France and the occupied Eastern territories increased from 3.5 million tons to 8.8 million tons of grain equivalent between 1941 and 1943, all this coming at the expense of the local population. Occupied Europe provided Germany with more than 20% of its grain, 25% of its fats and almost 30% of its meat; these amounts went into the rations for soldiers as well as civilians.(54) Even the Generalgouvernement was made to export 51% of German rye imports, 66% of oats imports and 52% of German potato imports (not unimportant given German cuisine). By that time, only a small number of Jews still lived in this area, but the Polish population remaining also suffered greatly.(55) In the meantime, the profitability of the German industry, now suffused with forced labor at every point, remained high. Aly makes much of the extra profit taxes that were applied, but those only applied to profits more than 50% higher than those of 1938, virtually safeguarding the position of those industrialists that had supported the Nazi program from the start. Moreover, all deliveries to the Wehrmacht from the captured industries of occupied Europe were worth some RM 4.6 billion in 1943 alone, and most of these were ‘paid’ on state credit that was not repaid.(56) Occupied Europe suffered enormous inflation as a result of the emptying for the benefit of Germany, with great drops in living standards. In 1943, Greek national output was half of that of before the war, and prices had increased over 340%. In Romania, prices had doubled by late 1942, in France and Belgium similar results. Besides, France was plundered so thoroughly of everything that German ‘reparations’ and seizures accounted for about full half of all national income.(57) During the ‘hunger winter’ of 1944, thousands of Dutch starved, while the German forces took off with food, bicycles, machinery and anything else that could be carted off. Moreover, the destruction of the Jews and others itself benefited the German population materially. As Odilo Globocnik described the process of the exterminations in Poland, so-called “Operation Reinhard”:
Valuables from Operation “Reinhard” were submitted to the SS Main Office for Economic Administration in Berlin to be forwarded(…). This included a total of RM 100.047.983,91. (…)Spun fabrics, clothing, linens, blanket feathers and rags were collected and sorted according to quality. The sorted objects than had to be examined for hidden valuables, and finally disinfected. (…) Not only were these supplies used to clothe ethnically alien laborers, but a large amount of it was respun. (…) The best articles of clothing were separated out for use by ethnic Germans. Valuable furnishings and household goods were repaired and most of them given to ethnic German settlers.
(58) The impoverishment of the conquered peoples made the wages of German soldiers relatively high, which had the effect of raising prices above the level of what anyone in those conquered areas could pay. This will have worsened the living standards situation for the occupied peoples (and not contributed to the popularity of German occupying troops, except with shopkeepers). Especially in France this was a problem, where countless German soldiers profiteered from the war prices.(59) But civilians directly profited too, and not just settlers. The houses and furniture of Jews deported from Germany and the occupied West were given to civilians affected by the strategic bombing or otherwise directly sold to the German population. Just in France alone this meant 250.000 houses, and from each German city hundreds of waggonloads of goods.(60) The Jews were officially permitted to take 50 kg of goods per person with them at the point of deportation. As is familiar from movie scenes by now, these goods were loaded on separate carriages, which were then simply left at the train station of departure. All those possessions were sent to the German Red Cross or to war veterans and the like.(61) Germany also plundered vast sums in goods that were ‘bought’ on credit, i.e. through clearance deals with the German central bank that were never repaid and thereby effectively at the expense of the locals. Some 2.6 billion RM worth was stolen from Belgium in this manner, including practically all rail infrastructure and building materials; another 2.4 billion RM was ‘charged’ for the occupation costs. Also the 41 tonnes of Belgian gold from the central bank were taken via Vichy France, worth another half billion RM or so.(62) From the Netherlands, the value of goods ‘bought’ or ‘charged’ came to an astounding total of some 12.8 billion RM over the course of the war.(63) From Norway, by late 1942 the Germans had ‘charged’ 240 million Kr, representing at the time (before the country’s oil wealth) 95% of the national annual income.(64) And so on and so forth. If one adds to this the value of seized Jewish and ‘hostile’ businesses, goods etc. from Poland, Hungary, Italy and so forth, it is clear that Germany maintained itself for a significant part at the expense of the occupied nations. Now this seems obvious and nothing remarkable of itself, but it matters insofar as this allowed them to not charge the entire costs of war onto the German population itself. Although, as mentioned, Götz Aly tends to exaggerate the degree of ‘social-democracy’ which would allow the imperial spoils to elevate the German living standards, it is clear enough that for an important part the regime remained in office because of its ability and will to at least maintain German living standards roughly speaking, low as they were. It was to be other peoples that would suffer before Germans did. That political considerations played a role here is clear from the consternation when the food rations had to be lowered in 1942 as a result of the recurring food crisis. The principle that imperialism benefits the whole people of the imperialist country is only true to the extent that that country’s politics is social-democratic, or in other words, to the extent that the imperial spoils are redistributed downwards. This was, with some small exceptions, not much the case in Nazi Germany. But the state itself, and the main profiteers from the system from major industrialists down to the smallest Schindler, benefited greatly from imperialism, and those so exploited suffered proportionally.
This then brings us to a close, and allows us to answer the question: what was Nazi Germany? Nazi Germany was a state that aimed the conquest of the world, or most of it, and the destruction of the Jews, yes. But this is not all it was, and perhaps not even mainly what it was. Above all else, Nazi Germany was a settler state and a colonialist state. It aimed to conquer, racially segregate, exploit and settle vast territories along the same lines as this had been done before in Africa and in the Americas. The great racial hierarchy was more pronounced and rabid in Nazi Germany than it had been anywhere else or has been since, but this was and is still part and parcel of the ideology of settlerism. For one cannot settle and reorganize whole territories without encountering other peoples living there, and one cannot do away with those without considering them inferior. The manner in which all of German society was seen as an organism whose ‘health’ was to be maintained by expansion and cleansing was certainly unique in its application in Nazi Germany, and much has been written about its intellectual origins, but it was by no means unique as an idea. As early as the colonization of America by the English, and as late as in apartheid South Africa or Israel, one finds similar principles. In this context, the destruction of the Jews and of Soviet POWs and many other ‘undesirables’ in the Shoah is to be seen at an equal level, and as part of a greater plan: the goal was not destroying Jews irrationally, of which the other millions of deaths were a byproduct, but the goal was a general plan for settlement and colonization of Eastern Europe, along the lines of the settlement of America. The explicit parallels to that occasion made by Hitler are but the verbal proof of what was demonstrated in practice.
Who benefited from all this? First and foremost those who had supported and enabled the NSDAP to come to power: the industrialists of the “Harzburger Front” and later also the Brüning coalition; the Prussian military caste; the medium and large landowners in Germany, each in their own way; some petty profiteers, families of soldiers, and those German settlers that succeeded in gaining something out of the whole affair. The settlement as such was not much of a success, and the postwar expulsion of over 11 million Germans from all of Eastern Europe was the inevitable reply to the settler destruction of Nazi Germany. Up to 1.7 million of those so expelled may have died along the way, given the raging famines of 1945 and the destruction wrought by the war that Germany started; but this, too, is to be put on the account of Nazi settler ideology, finally rebounding on the very people with whom they had planned to create the new order in Europe. The precise fact that until the very end the profiteering went to the captains of industry, to the armaments dealers, to individual traders and exploiters in the occupied countries, and so forth, rather than rebounding onto the population as a whole, as well as the fact that all gains for Germany were to be losses for others, also shows Nazi Germany to have been explicitly a capitalist empire.
Capitalist empires have murdered millions time and again in history, have permitted famines and eradicated whole peoples. Even during WWII, the famine in British-colonized Bengal killed some 3 million people, without the administration so much as batting an eyelid. This cannot explain the terrible moral and ideological shock that Nazi Germany was to the consciousness of the world’s leaders. What was particular about Nazi Germany is that for one time in history, entirely against all expectations, the methods and ideology of capitalist colonialism were aimed against Europe itself. Speaking of the invasion of the USSR in 1941, Adam Tooze writes this:
The concentrated focus on the destruction of the Jewish population has come to be seen as the truly defining aspect of the campaign. However, in Eastern Europe, the epicenter of the Holocaust, the Judaeocide was not an isolated act of murder. The German invasion of the Soviet Union is far better understood as the last great land-grab in the long and bloody history of European colonialism.
If one understands this not just of Operation Barbarossa, but of Nazi Germany altogether, one will have the answer to the question: what was Nazi Germany?
1) Paul Hehn, A Low Dishonest Decade (New York, NY 2005), p. 127.
2) Cited in Hehn, p. 124-125.
3) Hehn, p. 126.
4) Tooze, p. 249-250.
5) Tooze, p. 255-256. For the American budget, see “The President’s Fiscal Year 2010 Budget”, http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/budget/fy2010/assets/hist.pdf.
6) Tooze, p. 258.
7) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 75.
8 ) Tooze, p. 261. Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 71.
9) Tooze, p. 274.
10) Tooze, p. 276-277.
11) Tooze, p. 279.
12) Tooze, p. 310-311.
13) Tooze, p. 315.
14) Cited in Tooze, p. 316.
15) Tooze, p. 320.
16) Tooze, p. 321.
17) Tooze, p. 351, 353.
18) Tooze, p. 355.
19) Tooze, p. 368-370. This is not to suggest that the Franco-British defeat was purely a military, tactical matter. Much has been written on this topic, but it is clear that the state of virtual civil war within France greatly undermined the ability of its leadership to provide a serious war strategy, and the British upper class had appeased Germany and frustrated France’s efforts at every turn. It is also clear, given the complete commitment of all tanks, planes, oil stocks and so forth, that in case of a systematic French defense against Germany lasting more than a couple of months, the Germans would have lost.
20) Tooze, p. 381-382.
21) Aly, Final Solution, p. 35, 37.
22) Aly, Final Solution, p. 42.
23) Aly, Final Solution, p. 51.
24) Aly, Final Solution, p. 14.
25) Aly, Final Solution, p. 18.
26) Aly, Final Solution, p. 78.
27) Aly, Final Solution, p. 76, 78.
28) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 79.
29) Aly, Final Solution, p. 81.
30) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 99.
31) Tooze, p. 393, 419.
32) Tooze, p. 445.
33) Tooze, p. 446.
34) Tooze, p. 454-455.
35) Tooze, p. 459.
36) Tooze, p. 466.
37) Aly, Final Solution, p. 120.
38) Aly, Final Solution, p. 150.
39) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 161.
40) Aly, Final Solution, p. 164.
41) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 170.
42) Tooze, p. 467-468.
43) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 174.
44) Cited in Tooze, p. 469.
45) Tooze, p. 470. The current German population density is 229/km², but of course at much higher living standards and with vastly more efficient agriculture.
46) Tooze, p. 471-472.
47) Tooze, p. 475-476.
48) Tooze, p. 478-479.
49) Tooze, p. 480.
50) Tooze, p. 482, 485.
51) Tooze, p. 517.
53) Tooze, p. 518.
54) Tooze, p. 548.
55) Tooze, p. 549. It must be noted that 1943 was a good harvest year.
56) Tooze, p. 640.
57) Tooze, p. 643. Additionally, the western Allies destroyed almost the entire French infrastructure in the northern half as part of their invasion in 1944.
58) Cited in Aly, Final Solution, p. 270.
59) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 119.
60) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 140-142, 147-148.
61) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 151.
62) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 161-162, 165.
63) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 167.
64) Aly, Hitlers Volksstaat, p. 212.
65) Tooze, p. 462.