Academic journal article German Quarterly

Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich

Academic journal article German Quarterly

Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich

Article excerpt

Gregor, Neil. Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich. New Haven: Yale UP 1998. 276 pp. $30.00 hardcover.

This is a timely book. It coincides with class action suits being brought by former slave laborers against Daimler, as well as against other German companies; it appears just as Daimler has merged with Chrysler; and it joins the ranks of a number of publications, most notably Hans Mommsen's study of Volkswagen, that deal with large German corporations and their collusion with the Nazi regime.

Analyzing the development of DaimlerBenz from the 1920s to the end of the war, the author raises some important historical issues, including continuity/discontinuity, the impact of the Nazi regime on company management, social policy and production patterns, and, in particular, the impact of World War II on the firm's trajectory and on its collaboration with the Nazi regime.

Gregor places his version of the company history within the context of German rearmament and the subsequent war economy and avails himself of recent, compelling analyses. He largely accepts Richard Overy's conclusion that Hitler meant to unleash a long, total war and that the pre-Speer production deficits were largely the result of a very poorly conceptualized and badly botched management of the war economy on the part of the regime. He also accepts the Tim Mason thesis that 1936 was a crucial year, during which big industry lost its previous united front, and was forced to come to terms with the regime in piecemeal fashion. He rejects the thesis propounded by Zitelmann that the Nazi regime was consciously an important modernizing phenomenon.

One striking result of Gregor's research is the degree to which company executives consistently placed the interests of the firm above those of the regime, but in such a way as not to earn the disapprobation of the Nazis. In the early days this was not difficult. DaimlerBenz's social policy already in the period prior to the Nazi takeover was in broad outline similar to that which would be pursued by the regime, i.e., it accelerated production largely at the expense of the labor force through such expedients as cutting piece rates, intensifying production patterns, freezing or lowering wages, etc.

Even the initial rearmament initiatives created no tension between Daimler and the regime, for they helped overcome the effects of the Depression. As time went on, however, Daimler resisted committing too much capacity to rearmament, fearing that at some time in the near future it would lose competitive advantage in the civilian sector. This hesitation continued throughout the war, initially because victory seemed imminent; later because defeat loomed. …

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