Austrian Banks in the Period of National Socialism by Gerald D. Feldman (review)
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Austrian Banks in the Period of National Socialism, Gerald D. Feldman, introduction by Peter Hayes (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2015). x + 581 pp., hardcover $145.00.

This translation of Gerald Feldman's posthumously-published contribution to the jointly authored Österreichische Banken und Sparkassen im Nationalsozialismus und in der Nachkriegszeit (2006, with Oliver Rathkolb, Theodor Venus, and Ulrike Zimmerl) investigates Austrian bankers' Nazi-era persecution and dispossession of Jews; facilitation of the Anschluss in 1938; and contribution to Nazi empire-building in Southeast Europe (p. 1). The Creditanstalt-Wiener Bankverein (CA) and the Länderbank Wien (itself the product of the merger of Mercurbank and the French-owned Banque des Pays de l'Europe Centrale, BPEC) figure in the present volume.

Feldman's work challenges the myth that Creditanstalt-Wiener and Länderbank Wien were the victims of Nazi imperial ambitions in Austria or Southeast Europe. Readers will get the sense that Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank divided Austria into spheres of influence, with Deutsche entering a marriage to CA and Dresdner to Länderbank. Feldman does not deny that Austrian bankers justifiably felt themselves colonized; indeed, Feldman chronicles how CA lost holdings as a result of integration into the Reich (pp. 61−85). Yet CA held "on to its branch network and its very important provincial banking holdings and even [expanded] them" (p. 85). The war offered opportunities that Feldman characterized as making the Austrian banks "partners in crime" (p. 156). In chronicling the creation of Länderbank Wien, Feldman [End Page 126] rejected later claims by BPEC that the takeover had been unfair (p. 433). His analysis of Länderbank not only proves that it benefitted from wartime expansion, but convincingly documents the fact that its executives were already Germanizing (dismissing non-German employees) and "Aryanizing" Jewish-owned property before the Anschluss (p. 395).

War opened Eastern Europe to German colonization, and banks saw in this numerous prospects: Aryanization, taking over Polish banks, opening branches in allied countries, financing war industries. Some bankers perceived a path to restoring historical ties with a region the Hapsburg Empire once reached. In the euphoria of victory the CA undertook its most risky venture, in Poland; but indeed expansion everywhere in Eastern Europe would prove temporary, though until the end of 1942 the CA and Länderbank believed German gains would be permanent. Feldman demonstrates that, even early on, wartime contexts created unpredictable, fluid situations, and that political ideology influenced personnel and policy decisions. Yet the author also provides sufficient evidence to show that Austrian bankers took advantage of the situations, dispelling the myth promoted after the war that they had been victims.

Feldman's detailed, country-by-country description of Austrian banking's expansion into East and Southeast Europe proves that bankers were thinking longterm. The fluidity of the situation in the East appears in Feldman's account of the CA's creation of a regional affiliate in Cracow; Feldman cautions the reader that the motive underlying this project, initiated in 1942, "is not to be interpreted as the CA on the march … but rather the CA in retreat" (p. 217). Why? Cracow was the political center of the General Government, and notorious for the corruption of the German administration there. Expansion into the region by the CA and Deutsche Bank revealed an odd mixture of opportunism with a sober analysis of long-term prospects in Poland that would enable them to divorce themselves more easily if necessary. The project had to adapt to the corruption and violence characteristic of the General Government in 1942, but there seemed little reason to suspect that Germany would lose the war. Feldman recounts developments dispassionately, yet speculates that CA personnel had to be aware of how Cracow was "cleansed" of Jews; notes that the CA was involved with several concentration camps; and characterizes Cracow as a "bridge" to new opportunities for the banks farther east (p. 206). In their risk analysis, did bank managers interpret the persecution of the Jews as corruption or simply the new norm? Feldman favors the latter view. In 1944 the CA and Länderbank—drawing upon the experience of 1917−1918—began preparing...