[Allen's study] focuses on activities of the SS-WVHA (Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, Economics and Administrative Department of the SS), which was formed out of a desire by Himmler to introduce modern, managerial practices to the financial administration and economic enterprises of the SS. Himmler's interests in the economy reflected his goal to bring the SS worldview into private industry and to create a new economic order founded on productivism and German racial supremacy. The earliest companies acquired included a publishing company, Nordland Verlag; a photographic studio, FF Bauer; the Allach Porcelain Manufacture, which made "kitschy statuettes"; and the Anton Loibl GmbH, which claimed to conduct "high-tech research and development but produced bicycle lights".

The choice of these early enterprises (as well as those acquired during the war years) hardly suggests that the SS was seeking to create an empire, but that Himmler was trying to provide a cultural service to promote a German national community. For example, the SS established the German Earth and Stone Works (Deutsche Erde- und Steinwerke, DESt), to contribute to Hitler's favorite architectural projects.

As the financial activities of the SS expanded in 1937-1938, Himmler made Oswald Pohl responsible for modernizing the economic administration. Pohl's efforts would lead to the formal establishment of the WVHA in 1942. Pohl was dedicated to Himmler's New Order, and he tried to recruit men who shared these views. Therefore, the ideological commitment of the SS managers was of foremost importance to their appointments. If they were also talented, modern managers, they were highly effective. But this was apparently rare, and with one exception all of the SS commercial enterprises were poorly managed.

Against the backdrop of how the WVHA emerged and functioned, Allen examines the careers of several men in the commercial and engineering sectors of the SS economic administration. He convincingly illustrates that the SS mid-level managers were driven by a "plexus of ideologies." They were neither cogs in a machine, nor trapped in a bureaucratic "iron cage," nor banal technocrats. Allen finds that the commercial pursuits of the SS were far less successful than the construction engineers. He explains the differences in outcome may be due to the engineers' ability to combine technical knowledge with ideological commitment. This becomes obvious when we compare Allen's study of DESt, TexLed (Textil- und Lederverwertung GmbH, Textile and Leather Utilitzation Ltd), and Hans Kammler's SS construction corps.

Allen demonstrates that the SS was interested in modernization and technology, but according to his analysis they did not pursue technology rationally (this makes them no less modern in Allen's definition). The SS managers of the commercial operations showed an affinity for "sweet machines," the newest technology. This is what motivated Arthur Ahrens, the first manager of DESt, to adopt the dry brick making process offered by Spengler Maschinenbau, a process that depended upon adequate clay supplies and skilled laborers that were unsuited for DESt. The company was so poorly managed that an investigation led to Ahrens' replacement by Erduin Schondorff, the first "outsider" whom Pohl recruited.

Appointing an outsider with technical expertise proves to Allen that Pohl and Himmler were committed to modernizing the economic administration of the SS enterprises. Schondorff was attracted to the SS because it encouraged technological innovations; he was less interested in other aspects of SS ideology. Schondorff introduced modern, managerial practices such as statistical surveillance of labor and imposed an impersonal hierarchy at the operations. However, DESt continued to blunder forward because Schondorff was never able to integrate effectively the use of modern machines with the exploitation of unskilled concentration camp laborers. The failure of DESt stands in sharp contrast to the success of TexLed.

TexLed's success can be explained by several factors, including the simple fact that textile manufacturing is a labor intensive job which proved perfectly suited to the use of concentration camp laborers. Yet sound management also contributed to TexLed's ability to meet supply demands and run at a profit. TexLed was managed by Fritz Lechler and Felix Krug, who fully identified with the SS plexus of ideologies, and they possessed modern, technological management skills. Like Ahrens, they purchased the most modern sewing machines that could increase output, but did not require skilled laborers. Therefore, their operations fully exploited concentration camp labor through modern managerial techniques, controlled labor costs, and profit-oriented operations.

[...] TexLed demonstrated to Allen that "ideological extremism" and business sense could be integrated coherently. TexLed and DESt are just two of the case studies of SS commercial operations examined by Allen. In all of his examples, it appears that TexLed's success was mere happen chance despite Pohl's efforts. He was rarely able to recruit competent modern managers, who were fully dedicated to SS ideology.

Hans Kammler, who led the SS construction corps, appears to be the exception. He embodied the ideal, modern SS bureaucrat, was dedicated to the SS cause, and held a degree in engineering. The SS construction corps earned great notoriety for building underground manufacturing sites, as well as the concentration camps. Indeed, Allen maintains:

"Only Hans Kammler and his SS Building Inspectors were capable of providing essential service to the war economy by forging a mutual sense of purpose with competent industrial managers and by providing the knowledge and skills to bend the complex world of production to the Third Reich's needs."

In 1941-1942, Kammler introduced a hierarchy in the Construction Corps that encouraged creativity, accountability, and interchangeability. He recruited young engineers, largely from the air force, who possessed the "old Staffel spirit". Kammler was an interventionist manager, who showed great skill at exploiting and moving forced laborers from one construction site to another. This is particularly evident in the construction of underground factories. [...] Ideology gave Kammler's engineers common identity which improved their output [...].


Allen's study not only challenges scholars to rethink the motivations of SS bureaucrats, but also boldly challenges conventional interpretations about the problem of modernity and the issue of polycracy in the Third Reich. On the subject of modernity, Allen warns us not "to conflate 'modernity' with 'rationality' and 'pure' technocratic instrumentalism, or insist that modernization necessarily leads to a democratic polity, or the full-flowering of the Enlightenment". He is quite right, yet, his own definition of what is "modern" appears inconsistent. For example, when Allen assesses the administrative practices of Burböck, he describes his efforts as a "sham" and a conscious pretense at modern management" . Allen implies that because Burböck's aspirations did not lead to expected outcomes, his innovations were somehow less modern. Yet, it was Burböck's statistical surveillance which Maurer improved upon that leads Allen to describe the latter as a "capable, inspiring, and interventionist [i.e. modern] manager" (p. 183). One suspects that the difference between the two men has less to do with modernization theories than the fact that Maurer was more competent, a workaholic, and had the advantage of studying Burböck's "system," which had no precedence. Would Maurer have been so successful if he did not have Burböck's failed efforts as an example? If modern simply means "a new culture of technology and science," then were not Burböck and Maurer equally modern, applying the science of business management to their tasks, but that the former was just less competent than the latter? In short, the criteria of what makes an SS bureaucrat modern is problematic, apparently relative, and open to debate.

For those who study the Third Reich, Allen raises another important issue: is polycratic rule unique to National Socialism? This is an interesting question, although not entirely relevant and difficult to prove. The more pertinent question seems to be whether or not the concept of polycracy has lost its usefulness. Allen's discussion of this concept would have been more convincing had he offered a more in-depth explanation of the term. Instead, he reduces polycracy to mean nothing more than a simple "divvying up [of] tasks" common to all bureaucracies.

This is, however, far from the original meaning outlined by Peter Huettenberger, Martin Broszat, and others. Polycratic interpretations are based on the belief that the Nazis relied heavily on personal rule, an idea embodied in the leadership principle. Subsequently, studying power struggles (that is the patronage networks), rivalries and feuds is of paramount importance. Polycratic interpretations do not deny that cooperation was possible, indeed, it was imperative. Where Allen differs from the more standard works is a matter of emphasis. Allen acknowledges that polycratic infighting occurred, but he prefers to emphasize the points of cooperation, not conflict.


It is usually unfair to point out topics omitted from historical monographs, but these seem relevant to Allen's study. He is weak in exploring the nexus between the SS and the private business sector. He tells us that one of Himmler's goals was to become a role model for private enterprises corrupted by the disintegrating influences of capital. Yet, not once is Himmler's Circle of Friends (Freundeskreis Himmler) discussed, even though Oswald Pohl was a member. While scholars tend to dismiss this elite voluntary association as unimportant, given Allen's thesis that ideology, especially the goal of cultural reconstruction, drove the SS-WVHA, he should have provided his expert opinion on this subject and examined the relationship between the SS bureaucrats and private businessmen more fully.

Moreover, Allen suggests on several occasions that private enterprises took the initiative to acquire concentration camp labor from the SS. However, the only concrete examples he cites were Porsche, Farben, and Steyr-Daimler-Puch, while his footnote citations are fairly limited on the subject of private enterprises in the Third Reich.

Again, given Himmler's cultural agenda, Allen might have explored in more depth how private industry utilized concentration camp labor. If private industry sought out the SS-WVHA, does this prove that Himmler or the SS bureaucrats were succeeding in creating their New Order? Finally, with respect to the SS bureaucrats, Allen makes reference to a prosopographical study and an analysis of "collective biographies" of the WVHA; these obviously informed his narrative. Yet, it would have been useful to incorporate these findings more systematically even if only in an appendix. These omissions do not undermine the effectiveness of Allen's thesis, but might have strengthened it.

Allen's monograph is a significant contribution to the study of the SS. He has utilized numerous archival sources including contemporary evidence and trial records. He puts a more human face on SS bureaucrats in the WVHA, and he proves that they were driven by ideology; they were not mindless, amoral technocrats. Allen fully accomplishes his major goal while reminding scholars that modernization can be irrational and adopted by any type of political system. He also raises questions about the use of polycratic interpretations of the Third Reich that scholars will find interesting.

By 1944 the SS became the head of a huge economic empire. Not only did it run a gigantic "labor-lending service" with concentration camp prisoners and forced laborers, all the while enriching itself with the seized assets of persecuted Jews; but the SS empire also had enormous financial and industrial assets at its disposal. This included extensive intersecting stock holdings with private financial and economic interests. Leading bankers and economic managers constituted a veritable "advisory council" for the SS economic empire, in the guise of advisory boards, "circles of friends," and through membership in the Allgemeine SS. This latter practice meant that bankers, economic managers, academics, aristocrats, and other members of Germany's "elite," could hold high-ranking positions in the SS, while still continuing their business activities.

The SS was therefore much more than a police-state institution par excellence.
[...] at the same time, it was a huge corporation. And as such, as far as the Synarchist financial circles in the United States and Great Britain were concerned, it was an altogether acceptable partner which one could "do business" with.

Hjalmar Schacht
had close ties with Baron Kurt von Schroeder, head of the Cologne banking firm J.H. Stein. In December 1932, and again in January 1933, Schacht and von Schroeder played what was probably the decisive role in toppling the von Schleicher government and paving the way for Hitler's coup. Already in 1932, both men were members of the Keppler-Kreis, a group of economic leaders and bankers which had been formed by IG Farben manager Wilhelm Keppler, and which had dedicated its full financial and political resources to backing Hitler.

Von Schroeder's Stein bank in Cologne was the German subsidiary of the Schroeder banking group in New York (L. Henry Schroeder Banking Corp.) and in London (J. Henry Schroder & Co.). John Foster Dulles's law firm Sullivan & Cromwell represented the New York Schroeder bank, and his brother Allen was on the bank's advisory board. Moreover, during the1930 s, Sullivan & Cromwell had two German subsidiaries which the Dulles brothers visited regularly. And during those years, John Foster Dulles did not stint in his public praise of Germany's regained "dynamism" under Nazi rule.

After 1933, the Keppler-Kreis transformed itself into the "Freundeskreis Reichsführer-SS" ("Friends of the Reichsführer-ss"), led by Keppler's nephew Fritz Kranefuss, Himmler's personal adjutant. Reichsbank president (until 1939) and Economy Minister (until 1937) Schacht was no longer himself a member, but his close friends definitely were: the already-mentioned Schroeder; Emil Helfferich and Karl Lindemann from Deutsch-Amerikanische Petroleum AG (DAPAG); and Karl Blessing from the Reichsbank, who later went on to become chairman of postwar Germany's central bank, the Bundesbank, from 1958 to 1969.

The connection to Standard Oil, which was part of the Rockefeller family empire, was also an important banking connection, since the Rockefellers also owned the New York-based Chase National Bank, headed by Joseph Larkin. Larkin played a particularly important role in Nazi-occupied western Europe, because of the fact that Chase National's Paris branch was allowed to operate unhindered from 1940 all the way through 1944. This bank's special concern was the preservation of Anglo-American financial and physical assets in occupied western Europe. And it should come as no surprise that Otto Abetz, the heavily synarchist-leaning Nazi ambassador to occupied France, maintained a personal bank account at Chase National Bank's Paris branch.

Schacht had an additional tie with the Anglo-American financial world through the Basel, Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS). Along with the Reichsbank, its members included the Bank of England (which, through 1944, was headed by Schacht's personal mentor, Montagu Norman), and the First National Bank in New York. After 1939, Schacht had yet another connection with the BIS, through his confidant Emil Puhl, a top official at the Reichsbank.

So, now it is perhaps a bit more comprehensible how Heinrich Himmler, through Schacht and the "Freundeskreis Reichsführer-SS," enjoyed excellent connections with Anglo-American circles throughout the war years. [Himmler also had Anglo-American ties via neutral Sweden, and via his influential "personal physician" Dr. Felix Kersten.]

Yet another connection with the SS leadership ran through the internationally operating U.S. telephone corporation ITT, headed by Sosthenes Behn. Von Schroeder was ITT's representative in Germany, where it owned the firms Lorenz AG and Mix & Geneste AG. There are indications that Walter Schellenberg's meteoric rise within the SS leadership, had been originally launched and backed by von Schroeder, since Schellenberg owned a sizeable chunk of ITT's stock. In early 1942, Schellenberg, von Schroeder, and Karl Lindemann organized a meeting in Madrid between their plenipotentiary Gerhardt Westrick, and ITT chief Behn. Another member of the top echelons of ITT's German subsidiaries, was Emil H. Meyer, likewise a member of the Freundeskreis Reichsführer-SS.

Michael Thad Allen. The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps. Chapel Hill and London: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. xii ISBN 0-8078-2677-4.

Reviewed by: L. M. Stallbaumer-Beishline , Department of History, Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.

Source: greyfalcon.us