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Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War,…
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Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State (2005)

by Götz Aly

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Götz Aly's book examines two questions. Firstly, he tries to explain why ordinary Germans supported Hitler for so long. He claims (with quite some merit) that it was economics not racial motives that kept the Nazis in power. Deliberate Nazi policies improved the economic welfare of the people, the Volk at the cost of those declared not part of it. (Smart) progressive taxation apart, the Nazis robbed and redistributed Jewish wealth. One of the most vivid impressions of Auschwitz is seeing the collection of meticulously sorted used Jewish goods - suitcases, glasses, clothes and shoes - intended for redistribution. It is hard to understand today that anyone could want and appreciate those used goods, but this neglects the abject poverty caused by the Great Depression. Socializing the Jewish property, while nobody cared for the sort of their former owners, was one way to improve the average German's welfare. To this must be added the indirect looting of foreign property and goods in the conquered territories in WWII. The Nazis requisitioned goods and paid for it by paper money, largely financed by the occupied nations themselves due to disadvantageous exchange rates and accounting shenanigans. For most of WWII, German soldiers sent an unending stream of goods home, so that food deprivation became only an issue in Germany after the end of the war. While the occupied nations suffered and hungered, Germans lived better than before. It was a marvel of German logistics that soldiers could send home eggs and dairy products on a weekly basis (I don't think that the current postal system would manage to deliver eggs safely and in time across Europe). Overall, Aly's explanation sounds plausible, although the complete separation of economics from moral questions is doubtful. Mankind, unfortunately, is all to accepting of other people's suffering as long as one's own economic situation is improving.

His second question deals with the topic of war finance. The shallow popular support of the Nazis meant that they couldn't burden the people without fear of political backlash. Thus, in contrast to the British who financed their war by bond issues and increasing the taxes of the average man, the Germans financed their war by indirect expropriation of first the Jews and then the conquered nations. More and more parts of these groups' fortunes had to be exchanged for German government debt papers, which the Nazis never intended to repay. The Jews were killed and their assets stolen. The conquered nations were expropriated by unfair exchange rates and inflation. The Germans imported goods and services without actually paying for them (handing out worthless paper instead. As these worthless papers had the official approval of the conquered nations, the conquered populations were quite eager to collaborate with the Germans). Making the foreigners pay for the German war also solved the classic "guns and butter" production problem in Germany. Instead of producing inflation caused by the extra demand for scarce resources in Germany, the Nazis exported the excess demand and inflation to the conquered nations. The main defect of the scheme was its Ponzi nature: The Nazis could not stop attacking and conquering other nations without risking bankruptcy. The Lebensraum was needed not for territory but for the loot it contained. Aly argues that the attack on the Soviet Union was triggered by financial motives.

Overall, I found Aly's arguments quite convincing. I wish he had at least mentioned that the Nazis not only relied on the frightened petit-bourgeoisie but also the plutocrats (a similar coalition holds together the current US Republicans). The plutocrats and the large corporations disappear from the discussion, which is rather surprising given his supposedly leftist political point of view. He also fails to mention how Austria often served as a laboratory for anti-Jewish and occupation policies. Many of these tools were applied first in Austria and Austrian "expertise" in exploitation was crucial in plundering and killing in the conquered territories. An important read of how evil policies are sustained. ( )
2 vote jcbrunner | Jul 31, 2012 |
Everyone who knows anything about the Third Reich knows about its kleptocratic tendencies. Everyone who knows anything about the Nazis knows that they nominally considered themselves socialists. Gotz Aly examines what the conjunction of these two tendencies meant in practice and the conclusions really take one aback. While the rhetoric may have been that of a "Thousand-Year Reich," the Nazi government was content with buying support in the moment at any cost to anyone who fell out of the magic circle of the "Volk." This meant a fine social welfare state to generate the best life possible for the man in street, so long as one didn't ask too many questions about how one came by one's fine comfortable status in life; Hitler's greatest achievement might well have been the creation of a nation of compliant receivers of stolen goods. I could go on and on about all the disquieting little tendencies that Aly teases out of the historical literature, but this portrait of a nation on the make will most certainly haunt your imagination. Or you can simply say that this is just another illustration about how the root of evil is usually selfishness. ( )
1 vote Shrike58 | Apr 26, 2007 |
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» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Götz Alyprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gandini, UmbertoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gravey, MarieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0805079262, Hardcover)

A stunning account of the economic workings of the Third Reich--and the reasons ordinary Germans supported the Nazi state

In this groundbreaking book, historian Götz Aly addresses one of modern history's greatest conundrums: How did Hitler win the allegiance of ordinary Germans? The answer is as shocking as it is persuasive: by engaging in a campaign of theft on an almost unimaginable scale--and by channeling the proceeds into generous social programs--Hitler literally "bought" his people's consent.

Drawing on secret files and financial records, Aly shows that while Jews and citizens of occupied lands suffered crippling taxation, mass looting, enslavement, and destruction, most Germans enjoyed an improved standard of living. Buoyed by millions of packages soldiers sent from the front, Germans also benefited from the systematic plunder of conquered territory and the transfer of Jewish possessions into their homes and pockets. Any qualms were swept away by waves of government handouts, tax breaks, and preferential legislation.
Gripping and important, Hitler's Beneficiaries makes a radically new contribution to our understanding of Nazi aggression, the Holocaust, and the complicity of a people.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:27:21 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

In this groundbreaking book, distinguished historian Gotz Aly addresses one of modern history's greatest conundrums: How did Adolf Hitler win the allegiance of ordinary Germans for his program of mass murder and military conquest? The answer Aly provides is as shocking as it is persuasive. By engaging in a campaign of theft on an almost unimaginable scale, and by channeling the proceeds into a succession of generous social programs, Hitler literally bought the consent of the German people. Drawing on secret Nazi files and unexamined financial records, Aly shows that while Jews and citizens of occupied lands suffered crippling taxation, mass looting, enslavement, and destruction, most Germans enjoyed a marked improvement in their standard of living. He documents the many millions of packages soldiers sent from the front stuffed with valuables and provisions; the systematic plunder of conquered territory for raw materials, industrial goods, and food supplies; and the disappearance of Jewish property and fortunes into German homes and pockets across the Reich. Whatever moral qualms Germans may have felt toward Nazi policies were swept away by waves of government handouts, tax breaks, and preferential legislation.… (more)

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