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How the Nazis financed their doomed attempt at world domination
on 11 July 2017
I had often wondered how the Nazis had financed the second world war, and this book gives it to you straight: They first taxed the Jews and finally stole everything from them. Then they paid armaments companies in IOUs and later in the war all but nationalised them. They used slave labour. They rapaciously pillaged the territories that they occupied for their resources and labour. They intended to starve tens of millions of Soviets to death through Project Hunger, while shipping back to Germany the food they would have eaten. They mobilised practically every able-bodied German for the war effort, and directed the majority of economic activity in the country towards war work. They left themselves no margin for error in their Blitzkreig campaigns, and left nothing in the tank (literally, in the Ardennes Offensive, when tanks went into combat with no additional petrol). They were like a swimmer in a competition to see who can get furthest from shore, who wins by leaving no energy for the return (see Gattaca). Two bizarre points come out of the book: Firstly, pre-war Germans were rather poor and Hitler's 'reason for being' apart from murdering Jews, was to improve the standard of living of the German populace towards American levels, through the more widespread availability and affordability of 'white goods' household appliances like radios and washing machines. Secondly, it becomes apparent in the book that the war was lost well before it was even begun. It was impossible for Hitler and the Germans to win a war on two fronts, even though a two-front war was all-but inevitable from the start. Hitler hubristically gambled (after the surprisingly-fast-even-to-the-Germans defeat of France), but it was a wager he could not possibly win.
Anyway, the book is brilliantly well-written, easy to read and concise. It does meander a bit (in time and space) in the middle, but there was so much going on in 1940-43 that this is forgivable. It certainly helps to know the background of the war, since many significant military events are dealt with cursorily (Stalingrad is mentioned a few times, but largely in passing). It might help to be forewarned that Adam Tooze has a big downer on Albert Speer: Chunks of the book are given over to demolishing Speer's reputation as the architect of the 'Armaments Miracle.' Fair enough, but Tooze does go on a bit about Speer.
Anyway, I loved reading the book and I would recommend it to anyone who wants an answer to the question 'How did the Nazis finance their doomed attempt at world domination?'