In the Room Where German Tycoons Agreed to Fund Hitler’s Rise To Power

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David de Jong in Literary Hub: The invitations, sent by telegram four days earlier, left no doubt. The capital was calling. On Monday, February 20, 1933, at 6 pm, about two dozen of Nazi Germany’s wealthiest and most influential businessmen arrived, on foot or by chauffeured car, to attend a meeting at the official residence of the Reichstag president, Hermann Göring, in the heart of Berlin’s government and business district.

The attendees included Günther Quandt, a textile producer turned arms-and-battery tycoon; Friedrich Flick, a steel magnate; Baron August von Finck, a Bavarian finance mogul; Kurt Schmitt, CEO of the insurance behemoth Allianz; executives from the chemicals conglomerate IG Farben and the potash giant Wintershall; and Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, chairman-through-marriage of the Krupp steel empire.

Three weeks earlier, Adolf Hitler had seized power in Germany after concluding a backroom deal that led the Reich president, Paul von Hindenburg, to appoint Hitler as chancellor. Now the leader of the Nazi Party wanted to “explain his policies” to the group of industrialists, financiers, executives, and heirs, or at least that’s what he’d led them to believe. The businessmen were hoping for reassurance concerning the direction of Germany’s economy under this new government. They would not get it. Hitler had his own plans for the meeting, and the country.

The tycoons clearly had no qualms about funding the demise of their democracy. Illustration by Moonis Sajjad

The businessmen arrived on time at Göring’s palatial sand-red residence on the south bank of Berlin’s Spree River, next door to the Reichstag. But they were kept waiting — not something that the impatient tycoons were particularly used to or fond of. Göring, their host, didn’t greet them until fifteen minutes after the scheduled start time. In tow was Walther Funk, the dumpy and balding chief press officer for Hitler’s government.

The new chancellor arrived even later, accompanied by Otto Wagener, his main economic adviser. The master of ceremonies was Hjalmar Schacht, formerly president of the Reichsbank. (As it turned out, Funk, Schacht, Göring, and Schmitt, four of Hitler’s future ministers of economic affairs, were all present.) The meeting was the culmination of years of careful groundwork laid by Hitler’s officials—years of cultivating relationships with the tycoons to build up enthusiasm for the Nazi cause.

Hitler didn’t speak about abolishing labor unions, rearmament, war, or the removal of Jews from German life. But he did provide a glimpse of what was to come.

After shaking hands with the businessmen, Hitler launched into a rambling ninety-minute speech, delivered without notes or pauses. But instead of the policy talk that had been promised, Hitler gave a sweeping diagnosis of the current political moment. The year 1918 had been a catastrophic turning point in German history, with the defeat of the German Empire in World War I and the revolution in Russia, during which the Communists came to power. In Hitler’s eyes, the time had come to settle the struggle between the right and the left once and for all.

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