Read Hitler's Hangman Online

Authors: Robert. Gerwarth

Tags: #Yale University Press

Hitler's Hangman (58 page)

BOOK: Hitler's Hangman

To fulfil his responsibilities, Heydrich commuted between Berlin and

Prague by train or plane, at least twice and often three times a week.57 He

used the frequent trips to Berlin not only to preside over important



RSHA meetings, but also to maintain close contact with Goebbels and

other powerful Nazis.58 Of these contacts, the most influential in relation

to Heydrich’s occupation policies was Dr Herbert Backe, the State

Secretary in the Reich Ministry of Economics and, from May 1942

onwards, Minister of Food. Backe, who had come to Germany as a refugee

in the wake of the Russian Revolution, was one of the few people with

whom Heydrich entertained a close personal friendship. As so often in

Heydrich’s life, this friendship was based less on strong mutual sympathy

than on shared ideological beliefs and the conviction that compromises on

ideology were a sign of cowardice. Their children often played together

while the adults frequently invited each other for dinner parties at their

homes in Berlin. The close family ties would even outlast the violent

deaths of Heydrich and Backe in 1942 and 1947 respectively. When

Heydrich’s son, Heider, studied engineering in Hanover in the early

1950s, he lived with Backe’s widow, Ursula.59

Backe profoundly shaped Heydrich’s thinking about the economic

dimension of German occupation policy. For both men, economic reorgani-

zation was inseparably intertwined with the question of race. The ‘lesser’ races

of Europe were to be subjugated to Germany’s needs. More than anyone else,

Backe was conscious of the disparity between Germany’s growing need for

food supplies to feed the home population, the army and a vast number of

POWs and forced labourers, and the increasingly scarce resources at its

disposal. He played a key role in devising the so-cal ed hunger plan in the

spring of 1941; that is, the plan to engineer an extraordinary mass famine in

Eastern Europe with the aim of kil ing off the entire urban population of the

western Soviet Union, thereby removing up to 30 mil ion ‘useless mouths’

from the food chain. Backe’s ideas for the East were entirely compatible with

those of the SS leadership, articulated in the General Plan East of the same

year, which envisaged massive ethnic cleansing and resettlements in the

occupied territories, coupled with an extensive slave-labour programme

through which Jews and Soviet POWs would be worked to death in the

construction of new infrastructure in the East.60

For the rest of Europe, Backe envisaged a German-dominated

, a multinational self-sufficient European economy

with Germany at its heart. The gold standard and the liberal free-market

economies of the post-Versailles order were to be replaced by barter trade

and production planning on a continental scale in an extension of the

German trade policy of the 1930s. The geo-political idea of a broad,

German-led economic sphere in Central Europe was not new, and had

been promoted by Friedrich Neumann and other liberal nationalists in the

early 1900s, as well as by Carl Schmitt, the leading right-wing constitu-

tional theorist of the 1930s. But men like Backe merged this older idea



with the modern theory of race, giving the call for German economic

superiority a new justification and purpose.61

To achieve his aims, Backe advocated the creation of a tariff-free zone

in the occupied and ‘affiliated’ territories, including the Balkans, where

German economic penetration had intensified throughout the 1930s.

Trade agreements were negotiated in 1939 and 1940 with Romania and

Hungary, which brought vital raw materials under the control of the Third

Reich. Economic plans for the Balkans were to be the first step in an even

more ambitious plan to set up the entire European continent as a single

market which would be able to compete with the United States and Japan

in the post-war global order.62

Such ideas impacted strongly on Heydrich’s thinking about the economic

imperatives of occupation policy in the Protectorate as wel as German-

control ed Europe more general y. The New Order, as Heydrich and other

leading Nazis envisaged it, demanded a stronger economic integration of

the Protectorate into the Greater German sphere of influence, involving a

division of labour with Germany. Czech industry was to be encouraged to

export to South-east Europe, while the German exports would focus on

the West. Economic imperialism was thus a crucial element of Nazi empire-

building. For this purpose, on 17 December 1941, Heydrich convened

the first international economic conference of the German Südost-

Europa-Gesel schaft, a Vienna-based society founded by the city’s Gauleiter,

Baldur von Schirach. It engaged in economic research on Eastern Europe

with the long-term objective of forcibly integrating the South-eastern

European economies into the German power bloc. Heydrich liked to think

of himself as a ‘mediator between the Reich and the south-eastern regions’

of Europe, and made sure that he was perceived as such in the Reich.63

In the presence of the Reich Economics Minister, Walther Funk,

Heydrich highlighted the urgent necessity of designing the future

economic order of a ‘united Europe’: ‘In assessing the tasks of the

Bohemian-Moravian economy as part of the economy of the Reich, one

arrives at the conclusion that this space meets the best possible require-

ments both for the cultivation of relations with the south-eastern regions

and the development of the New East.’ The Protectorate was to serve as

an ‘important bridge between the Reich and the south-east’ – an idea that

had been promoted by Sudeten German leaders since the mid-1930s. ‘For

the first time in the history of Europe,’ Heydrich continued, ‘the vast

resources of the East, which have previously served only as a tool of

destruction, will now be utilized positively and for the good of the New

Europe.’ No concrete policies were agreed on at the conference and, like

most other plans for the future of Europe, the implementation of major

initiatives was postponed until after the war’s end.64



If, publicly, Heydrich talked about European reconstruction, German

pragmatism and the economic wellbeing of the entire European conti-

nent, his immediate concerns lay elsewhere, namely in how best to exploit

occupied Europe’s economic potential for winning the war. Throughout

his time in Prague, he remained mindful of wartime needs and the special

role of Bohemia’s armaments industry for the German war effort, although

at times leading Nazis in Berlin worried that he would prioritize ideology

over pragmatic considerations. Göring, for example, felt obliged to remind

Heydrich that he considered the weapons produced by Škoda to be ‘the

very best and at times superior to our own’. Regardless of all ‘necessary

actions against the management of the Škoda factories’, he urged Heydrich

not to forget their vital importance for the German war effort.65

Heydrich did take economic necessities into consideration. The vital

importance of increasing production dictated his relations with the Czech

working classes. Shortly after his arrival in Prague, he told Nazi officials

in the Protectorate that he was determined to ‘give the Czech worker the

chow he needs’ in order to undertake work for the German war effort.

After all, he insisted, ‘there is no point in me bludgeoning the Czech and

using all efforts and police power to make him go to work if he does

not . . . have the physical strength required to do his work’. Heydrich

announced on 2 October that the Führer had approved his proposal for

‘an increase in the fat rations for Czech workers by around 400 grams’ – an

‘impressive amount’. He insisted, however, that the increase in food

rations had to be coupled with an unambivalent message to the Czech

population: ‘you stay quiet – or otherwise it may well happen that your

rations are reduced again. These are things one has to deal with in a

psychologically appropriate way.’66

In keeping with this directive, the Protectorate press credited Heydrich

with the increase in fat rations for workers introduced on 27 October

1941, but emphasized that the Reich Protector’s gesture of ‘good faith’ had

yet to be matched by any signs of Czech loyalty.67 Three days before, on

24 October, Heydrich received a trade-union delegation at Prague Castle

and expressed his ‘sincere’ interest in the Czech workers’ needs by prom-

ising to improve living standards. This was matched by a carefully orches-

trated shop-floor campaign in more than 500 Czech factories during

which pre-selected labour representatives were encouraged to voice their

economic grievances. In the following weeks, fat and tobacco rations were

increased for certain categories of labourers and 200,000 pairs of shoes

were distributed free through works councils. As Heydrich admitted to

his staff, the aim was ‘the depoliticization of the Czech population’, a

policy which aimed to encourage the individual to focus ‘on his job and

his material needs’.68



The compliance with workers’ demands – from improved working

conditions to increased rations of food and tobacco – was portrayed by

the Nazi propaganda machine as a form of serious and well-intended

rapprochement, a gesture of Heydrich’s good faith and his determination

to fight black-marketeers and war profiteers on behalf of the ordinary

Czech worker. On the day of Heydrich’s meeting with carefully chosen

labour representatives, for example, food confiscated from black-

marketeers was distributed in the canteens of armaments factories.69 The

results that Heydrich reported back to Berlin after these measures had

been carried through seemed impressive: gross industrial production

during his rule over the Protectorate rose by 23 per cent. Moreover, his

‘grain action’ of late autumn 1941 – a large-scale police operation against

the black market – resulted in the late reporting of 560,000 previously

concealed pigs and 250,000 tonnes of grain.70

Other measures adopted by Heydrich to pacify the Protectorate were

deliberately aimed at politically dividing the Czech population by

corrupting some of them into compliance.71 Free entrance to football

matches was offered on May Day 1942. Furthermore, Heydrich redesigned

the formerly Czech-run National Union of Employees to mirror the

German Labour Front. Its ‘Strength through Joy’ campaign, using equip-

ment and property confiscated from the Sokol, organized sports events,

movies, plays, concerts and musicals in order to boost their work ethic.72

Further propaganda measures introduced by Heydrich were intended to

convince the Czech population that they were living through a time of

decisive struggle, in which they had to decide between a Bolshevik Europe

and a National Socialist Europe. To facilitate that decision, Heydrich

brought to Prague from Vienna the exhibition ‘Soviet Paradise’, which

opened on 28 February 1942.73 Displaying photographs taken during the

early months of Operation Barbarossa, the exhibition portrayed the

appal ing living conditions in the Soviet Union and the apparent misery

that Bolshevism had brought to the peoples of Eastern Europe. The

message was unambiguous, as an article in the col aborationist newspaper

Der Neue Tag
noted: ‘The Czech labour representatives have been given the

opportunity to see the sad state of affairs in the Bolshevik “Workers’

Paradise” with their own eyes. They can now see for themselves just how

fortunate Bohemia and Moravia are to have been protected from the

horrors of Bolshevism by the intervention of the German Wehrmacht.’74

During the four-week showing of the exhibition, it was visited by approxi-

mately half a mil ion people including Emil Hácha, the Minister of

Education, Emanuel Moravec, and indeed Heydrich’s future assassins, Josef

GabČík and Jan Kubiš, who had been parachuted into the Protectorate in

December and now spent their days wandering around the Czech capital.75



Another of the key challenges for Heydrich was to step up the recruit-

ment of Czech slave labourers, desperately needed to alleviate the increas-

ingly serious bottlenecks created by the conscription of almost every

able-bodied German man into the armed forces, without depriving the

Protectorate economy of its potential to continue its vital contributions to

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