- Creating the Nazi Marketplace: Commerce and Consumption in the Third Reich by S. Jonathan Wiesen
Much has been written on the complicity of industry and big business in the crimes of National Socialism. The consumer in the Third Reich likewise has received ample attention. However, the two are seldom put in relation in an exhaustive manner. With his cultural-economic history of marketing between 1933 and 1945, S. Jonathan Wiesen closes this gap, offering a fresh look at the economic elites’ struggle for relevance in the Nazi marketplace.
Joining the quest for an explanation of what motivated Germans to tolerate or even support the Nazi regime, Creating the Nazi Marketplace explores the economic priorities of the dictatorship, the relationship of the economy to political violence, and German everyday life under Nazism. After nuanced appraisal of the Nazi ideals and diktats together with the business norms of the time, Wiesen argues that “a racist utopia and a commercial utopia went hand in hand,” though the author acknowledges a certain degree of autonomy for business elites in following their own economic interests (19).
Against the backdrop of the recovering economy after the Great Depression, Wiesen traces efforts of “marketing professionals” to find their role in the Nazi marketplace. The early emphasis on the significantly racialized Nazi vision of the economy changes in subsequent chapters to focus on continuities with prior bourgeois economic concepts across the oft-evoked 1933 divide, finding them in National Socialist concerns for small businesses, “virtuous” consumption, and the perpetuation of the economy’s particular “German” features. To these ends, Wiesen argues, marketing experts worked with the dictatorship as a Leistungsgemeinschaft(achievement community) in educating consumers for the common good. Accordingly, Wiesen’s definition of the economy during the Third Reich as “based on sacrifice, individual achievement, a mixture of state control and free enterprise, racial unity, and an organic relationship between civic-minded producers and gratified consumers” differs from the preceding economic order only in regard to its racial conception (152). [End Page 802]
Wiesen’s in-depth discussion of producerist ethics and prescriptive consumption for the public good falls short only in one regard. Whereas points of agreement between economic elites and the regime are well illustrated with discussions of advertising campaigns from well-known German brands, such as Kaffee HAG, Henkel, and Bayer, referencing the ideas of territorial expansion and healthy lifestyle to strengthen the German Volk, one point of assumed disagreement remains underexplored. The book stays mostly silent about what business elites thought about the racism of their marketplace and the violence that the Nazis employed to rid it of unwanted elements. To get at what people really thought under a dictatorship might be a problem of source availability, yet Wiesen succeeds in unearthing this kind of information on the consumer side. Nevertheless, the reader is left to wonder whether marketing professionals chose to ignore this important facet of the Nazi marketplace or whether they privately agreed with it.
In the later chapters of the book, Wiesen brings a time of transition into focus that economic scholarship has largely ignored. While the Four-Year Plan of 1936 usually marks a watershed in Third Reich economic history, Creating the Nazi Marketplace points to the late 1930s and the early days of the war as marking a dramatic shift in Germany’s consumer culture as the economic and racial diktats of Hitler’s dictatorship became ever more demanding. The Rotary Club in Germany dissolved under pressure in October 1937, only a few months before the annexation of Austria and escalation of the regime’s racial policies in 1938. The following year, with the beginning of World War II, rationing, price regulation, and war production completely submerged brand products and consumer production, effectively ejecting German entrepreneurs and consumption analysts from the marketplace. Wiesen describes these developments as growing “tensions within the Nazi marketplace” that rendered the gap between private and state economic interests insurmountable (209). Moreover, their cooperation collapsed at a time when the racial element of...