Reconceiving the History of the Nazi War Economy

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Revised January 2006
Reconceiving the History of the Nazi War Economy

Chair: Lutz Budrass (Bochum)

Speakers: Adam Tooze (Cambridge)

Jochen Streb (Hohenheim)

Jonas Scherner (Mannheim)
The aim of this panel is to mount a concerted challenge to the prevailing historiography of the Nazi war economy. Ever since 1945 our understanding of the German war effort has pivoted around a sharp chronological break in early 1942. In early work organized around the idea of a Blitzkrieg strategy the winter crisis of 1941-1942 was seen as the moment at which the Nazi leadership finally realized the inescapable necessity of full mobilization. Richard Overy and Rolf Dieter Mueller writing in the 1980s disputed this periodization, insisting that Hitler’s regime did attempt full mobilization before 1942. For them, however, February 1942 remained crucial, since they saw Albert Speer’s appointment as giving a new organizational focus to the war effort and setting in motion a programme of determined rationalization. Whereas one literature was built on a contrast between minimal Blitzkrieg before 1942 and total war thereafter, the other was organized around the dichotomy between inefficient organizational chaos and rationalization. The remarkable thing is that both rested on a single quantitative source, the industrial statistics compiled by Rolf Wagenfuehr, Albert Speer’s chief statistician, in the later years of the war. On closer inspection these statistics appear distinctly fragile.
The panel will be top and tailed by chair/commentator Lutz Budrass, whose fundamental work on the German aircraft industry has been vital in re-energizing the debate about the German armaments economy. He is also the co-author of one of the papers to be presented. He is thus ideally qualified both to introduce the papers to our audience, placing them in their proper historiographical context and to provide an ‘internal’ critique suggesting further avenues for research. His introductory comments of 5-7 minutes will be followed by three papers each of no more than 15 minutes. Time keeping will be strict. In conclusion Budrass will set the stage for plenary discussion with a further brief comment of 5 minutes.
The panel will open with a critique of the Wagenfuehr index and the suggestion of alternative data sources with which to describe the aggregate development of German industry and armaments production in World War II (Tooze). We then present an industrial case study of a sample of large aircraft producers, representative of the most important sector of armaments production (Streb) This study confronts the macroeconomic Wagenfuehr-data with microeconomic firm-level data drawn from annual audit reports. Finally we present a revised estimate of the wartime investment boom (Scherner), one of the most remarkable features of the German war effort, which further calls into question the familiar narratives of the historiography. Converging from three entirely separate research projects these papers all call into question the reliability of the Wagenfuehr data and the well-worn narratives of the German war economy built on them. We hope that they will form the starting point for a new historiography of the Nazi war economy.

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