BOOKS: Financing Genocide HITLER'S BANKER: Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht by John Weitz, Little, Brown, Pounds 18.99

By Mclynn, Frank | The Independent (London, England), May 1, 1998 | Go to article overview
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BOOKS: Financing Genocide HITLER'S BANKER: Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht by John Weitz, Little, Brown, Pounds 18.99


Mclynn, Frank, The Independent (London, England)


AT THE Nuremberg war crimes trials in 1946 Hjalmar Schacht was one of only three senior Nazis found not guilty. The tag "senior Nazi" was a misnomer, for Schacht was never a member of the party and his exact role in the events of 1933-39 is controversial. For those who take the new, fashionable view that all Germans were collectively and individually responsible for the horrors of the Second World War, his acquittal was an outrage; others take the view that it was the just outcome, given that he had spent 12 months in three different German concentration camps, after his arrest by the Gestapo in 1944 on suspicion of being involved in the July plot on Hitler's life. The task for John Weiz is to assess the degree and scope of Schacht's diminished responsibility.

Schacht was an arrogant, imperious individual with a real talent for finance and economics, but he was in many ways an outsider in terms of the main currents of German culture. He was born of Danish descent (hence the Christian name) in Schleswig but brought up in New York City where his father, a fantastical admirer of Horace Greeley (and hence the other given names) was merchant. On returning to Germany as a young man, Schacht quickly rose to the top in banking and by 1923 was president of the Reichsbank. Here he halted the infamous hyperinflation of that year by introducing a new currency, the Rentenmark. He resigned in 1929 but was recalled by the Nazis in 1933 and, as Minister of Economics, presided over Hitler's "economic miracle" characterised by public-works programmes and autobahns. He resigned in 1937, after the Fuhrer announced a five-year plan aimed at economic autarchy, with Goering as supremo. In 1939 he was sacked as director of the Reichsbank but continued to hold his meaningless title of Minister without Portfolio until his arrest in 1944.

What, then, was Schacht's exact relationship with the Nazis? He threw in his lot with Hitler in 1933 because he liked him personally while detesting his acolytes, especially Himmler, and he loathed the Treaty of Versailles, thus aligning himself ideologically with the Fuhrer. Much of his career from 1923-29 had been spent duelling with the Allies so as to avoid the payment of war reparations; his favourite ploy was to demand the return of Germany's colonial empire, so that she could generate the wealth with which to pay the indemnities. Schacht also represented that sector of German finance capitalism which foolishly thought it could manipulate the Nazis as its shock troops, but then found that the "sorcerer's apprentice" was out of control. He was a man of the Right who wanted to steer Hitler away from the "left Nazis" like Roehm and Gregor Strasser, and was delighted when this anti-capitalist fringe of the movement was liquidated during the "night of the long knives" on 30 June 1934.

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