In his lifetime, my grandfather, Frank Munk, published three books and numerous articles on the intersection of economics and political science. The Legacy of Nazism, published in 1943, was the second of those books. It was written just four years after the Munk family left Europe and arrived in the United States. In addition to the preface, I have published four chapters from this book in order to capture the gist of his ideas as they relate to my grandfather's experience of the times.
These books are all out of print today so, for reference, I have transcribed a few chapters from each book that have elements relevant to our family history. The other two books were:
The Legacy of Nazism
CHAPTER 7 – Banking and Germanization
SPREAD OF BANKING CONCERNS
Banking has become an important part of the Nazi control mechanism. The banking system, widely centralized even before the war, has now arrived at a stage where two or three banks, mere agents of the party-state for the most part, have acquired almost monopolistic control of Europe. One of these, the Dresdner Bank, has acquired the Bohemian Discount Bank in Prague, the Societa Bancara Romana in Bucharest, the Handels- und Kreditbank in Riga, and the Kontinentale Bank in Brussels. It has taken over the majority of shares of the Croatian Landerbank, the Kommerzialbank in Cracow, the Deutsche Handels- und Kreditbank in Bratislava. It secured from French interests shares in the Hungarian General Credit Bank, and it founded the Handelstrust West N. V. in Amsterdam. It also controls the Greek Banque d'Athenes, the Banque Bulgare de Commerce in Sofia and the Deutsche Orient-Bank in Turkey.
Another Nazi banking institution, the Deutsche Bank, holds power over the Bohemian Union Bank in Prague with branches in the Protectorate and in Slovakia, the Bankverein in Yugoslavia (which has now been divided into two financial corporations, one in Serbia and one in Croatia), the Albert de Barry Bank in Amsterdam, the Greek National Bank in Athens, the Oesterreichische Creditanstalt-Bankverein in Austria and Hungary, the Deutsch-Bulgarische Kreditbank in Bulgaria, Banca Commercial Romana in Bucharest, and a branch in Istanbul, Turkey.
The third German super-bank, which is even more closely allied to the party, is the Bank Deutscher Arbeit, an offshoot of the German Labor Front. The expansion of German banking generally took one of three forms: direct opening of branches of German banks, the acquisition of majority shareholdings in local banks, or the foundation of new banking institutions under German control.
How completely German banks control the banking systems of conquered countries is illustrated by Czechoslovakia. Only one of the major banking institutions, Zivnostenska Banka, escaped direct annexation by a German bank; it had to accept German control and to contribute heavily to German war financing by the purchase of almost a billion crowns' worth of Reich treasury bills. This sum represents about three times the bank's capital stock. The other large banks have practically all been absorbed by German institutions: the Bohemian Union Bank, mentioned above, by Deutsche Bank; the Bohemian Discount Bank by Dresdner Bank which also has acquired a share in the Prague Credit Bank with branches in Bratislava, Bucharest, Sofia, and Belgrade; the Agrarian Bank by Deutsche Rentenbank Kreditanstalt and Deutsche Zentralgenossenschaftskasse in Berlin. And the former Bank of Czechoslovak Legions (at present called Bohemian-Moravian Bank) now belongs to the sphere of a small institute of the erstwhile German minority, the Kreditanstalt der Deutschen in Liberec. Germanization of the banking system served a triple purpose: political control, economic exploitation, and German war finance. Up to the middle of 1942, all Czech banks together, including the National Bank of the Protectorate, were forced to purchase Reich treasury bills and other types of government securities to the extent of about twenty billion crowns. This is more than three times the total of money that was in circulation in the territory of Czechoslovakia prior to its amputation in 1938. All German banks are, of course, closely enmeshed within a tight net of control built around the dominating large German banks. Theirs is a particular role, combining the nature of private business with that of the organs of the totalitarian state.
It must clearly be understood that continental banking from its inception and more particularly after the rise of joint-stock banks in the early 1870s followed a path different from that of English and American banking. Deposit banking in the American sense never fully developed. The continental bank combines the functions of commercial bank, holding company, management company, investment trust, promoter, underwriter, stockbroker, and investment counselor. After 1918, banks became progressively investment institutions rather than lenders of short-term capital. A large proportion of their earning assets, technically listed as commercial loans, was actually frozen and committed the bank managements to permanent interest in and control of the majority of industrial undertakings. Loans became subordinate to long-term investment through ownership of stock, and served as basis for various forms of control: majority control, minority control, management control, etc. Industrial managements were as a rule appointed and directed by managers of the controlling bank; thus, industrial policy became in time subordinated to considerations of banking policy. Loans were primarily granted to enterprises upon whose policy the bank had a decisive influence. A system of interlocking directorates, converging upon the chief national and continental banks, covered the whole of Europe. There were few industrial or commercial corporations which did not have on their board of directors one or more representatives of the leading banks; and those representatives usually cast the decisive vote.
In every single European country, industry was practically controlled by the large joint-stock banks. There were exceptions, more conspicuous by their rarity than by their significance; hence, the whole sphere of industrial and commercial activity was divided into what were known as banking concerns. Any realistic study of Europe, prewar or postwar, must properly evaluate the role of these economic units which were more influential at times in the formulation of policies than were national governments. Undoubtedly, they were a stabilizing factor. No doubt, also, they enabled even smaller states with inadequate capital resources to combine their capital potential and to provide better coordination of managerial decisions. On the other side of the ledger, centralized banking control was the vehicle of all restrictive devices, from internal elimination of competition to high tariff barriers. Banking concerns were generally advocates of deflation: they favored the stabilization of national currency at a high level measured in terms of foreign currencies; they backed the reestablishment of the gold standard without giving it the chance to function by allowing prices and other economic figures to fluctuate freely, and in general they contributed to the rigidity and lack of buoyancy of the economic system. They sought stabilization at the cost of innovation and progress – and got neither.
In the end, even the precarious “stability” of the twenties broke down under the strain of the Great Depression, proving once more that capitalism can properly function only when it can develop its dynamic function. A “stabilized capitalism” is in grave danger of being synonymous with stagnant capitalism. In 1931, the crisis was brought to a head by the collapse of the Austrian and German banking system. As a result, and in the course of salvage operations, the respective governments came to the rescue not only by encouraging further amalgamation of banks, already strongly concentrated (the Dresdner Bank is a result of the amalgamation of its original predecessor with the collapsed Darmstadter und National Bank), but more especially by providing huge amounts of public funds and taking over much of the stock. “It is of utmost significance that in this way the German banking system was virtually nationalized by the Republican Government just on the eve of the National Socialist revolution. For the process implied indirectly complete control of German industry by the Government.“ On a lesser scale the same process was repeated in every continental country, not only the countries of the present masters but those now subjugated.
POSITION OF FINANCE CAPITALISM
The “end of finance capitalism” and its replacement by “monopolistic capitalism” of self-financing industrial empires, which “even penetrate into banks and insurance institutions and subjugate them to the needs of the industrial capitalists,” does not appear to be fully corroborated by evidence. Only in periods of inflation and similar periods of war finance do industries become largely independent of bank credit. Certainly prior to 1939 there was no evidence of a retreat of banks before industrial capitalism. On the contrary, everywhere banking combines were becoming wider and tighter. To describe Fascism as a fight of industrial capitalism against financial capitalism is not only oversimplification but, at least as far as the rest of Europe is concerned, definitely incorrect.
A true map of Europe in 1937 would show not only political boundaries, but the overlapping and conflicting frontiers of banking concerns as well. In some cases, they were co-extensive with political states. In other cases, they covered two or more countries. Some of them extended throughout the whole continent and even beyond the oceans. Because of the growing interdependence between banking and governments, the banking concern was the ideal device for the new totalitarian dictatorships. They found it ready-made for purposes of economic warfare, control, and exploitation.
In spite of their position as government protégés, the situation of the large banks was far from easy. In every country of the world, banking is in a period of readjustment. Private lending and investment opportunities have generally declined. New short-term loans by commercial banks have been giving way to increases in security holdings. In 1929, investments by member banks of the Federal Reserve System in the United States amounted only to 37% of their loans. By the close of 1940, they actually exceeded them by as much as 42%. Banks everywhere ceased to be primarily lending institutions. An even more portentous sign is the continuous increase in holdings of government securities. Even in the United States, the last of the major countries to be engulfed in the maelstrom of change, the percentage of their earning assets consisting of government obligations went up from 12.7% to 41.2% between 1929 and 1936 alone, long before the start of the defense program. Under wartime conditions particularly, industry is financing itself largely from undistributed profits, or by direct loans from government agencies. The banks' role is changing, and in most countries they are being reduced more and more to pumping stations of the treasuries.
In Germany, their position was further threatened by the ascendancy of savings banks and other popular institutions, some of which were set up directly by the Nazi party. During 1941, deposits of the five leading commercial banks of Germany increased from 10.1 billion marks to 12.5 billion marks. During the same period, deposits with savings banks rose from 33.5 billion marks to 45.0 billion marks.
As they saw their importance reduced, German banks discovered a new and extremely profitable field of activity in “Aryanization” of Jewish enterprises. This was usually in cooperation with the Gestapo, which supplied the requisite degree of persuasion. The bank director and the agent of the Gestapo entered into a partnership first in Germany. After they had skimmed off the profits of “Aryanization” in Germany, they found new fields to conquer with the annexation of Austria. Then, with every new invasion, German banks extended their field of operation. Jewish enterprises are still a center of attention. Others follow in due course as the erstwhile Jewish owners are eliminated. “Aryanization” has become Germanization on a grandiose scale. German banks have acquired an almost inexhaustible source of profits which more than made good the deterioration of their position at home. Expansion of German banking is thus brought about both by planned and systematic government effort and by the business policies of the bank managers. They are very willing instruments indeed. In those countries where banking has not yet been taken over by Germany, indigenous banks are gradually giving ground to German financial institutions. Most of their normal business has been lost. This applies with particular force to banks which specialized in investment and promotion of new enterprise, such as the French banques d'affaires. The balance sheet of the leading banque d'affaires, the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas duly indicates this trend – German interests have acquired participation in a number of leading French firms, and now look after their financing. Only too many French firms, moreover, are engaged in manufacturing arms for Germany, and these too are looked after by German interests. If Nazi domination lasts over a number of years, then the entire financial system of Europe will be controlled by the leading banks of Germany. It is not easy to see how the old banking structure could be revived after the war even if there should be a widespread desire to return to it.
The elimination of normal financial processes is more than a matter of interest to banks and students of banking. It is part and parcel of the Nazis' device of “controlled inflation.” As it was clearly put in a recent article: “Long practice in learning how to avoid the payment of reparations has taught Germany some clever tricks in how to collect them… The Bank of France grinds out loans, the Vichy government turns the money over to Germany, Germany buys up French property and securities, the former French owners use the funds to buy government bonds and the government turns the money over to Germany again. Thus the French are made to finance their own destruction.”
DESTRUCTION OF THE JEWISH ENTREPRENEUR
It is still too early to evaluate the economic importance of the destruction, throughout Europe, of the Jewish entrepreneur, the largest mass expropriation of a single group within the population in modern history. The total seizures of Jewish property in the Reich alone have been estimated at between one and two billion dollars. Private property seized in Czechoslovakia was estimated at about six hundred million dollars by the end of 1940. It has greatly increased since then. German expropriations assumed unprecedented proportions in the Polish areas incorporated directly into the Reich (western Poland including the so-called corridor, Upper Silesia, seat of heavy industries, and the Lodz district). By order of Field Marshal Goring as head of the Four-Year Plan, all property in that area is subject to confiscation if:
The last paragraph is so flexible that any Polish property can be confiscated. As a result 230,000 firms, both industrial and commercial, and 187,000 urban properties (urban real estate) were expropriated. In the Lodz district alone, 35,000 industrial and commercial enterprises, among them 3,500 textile mills, were taken over. In the so-called Warthegau, formerly western Poland, all but 2,000 out of 10,000 firms formerly in Polish hands were confiscated, according to Gauleiter Greiser, and “even these were left till the end of the war only.”
It may well be that this policy of ruthless confiscation will have far-reaching effects on the institution of property. The abandonment of the principle of sanctity of contract and inviolability of property without due process of law, the confiscating of wealth by threat of armed bands, extortion, concentration camps, kidnapping, and all kinds of violence may prove to be a heavy blow to the traditional concepts of property and ownership. While in some European countries the Jews played only a minor role in economic life, in other countries, particularly in eastern Europe, they were practically the only genuinely entrepreneurial element in the true sense. The non-Jewish population was predominantly agricultural. Those not following agricultural pursuits were either salaried workers, public officials or handicraftsmen. Elimination of the Jews has created a vacuum filled temporarily by Germans whose position is entirely dependent on the present form of political and economic domination. Without political control, the German element will instantaneously cease to function in a managerial capacity in all these countries.
The successive stages of Aryanization and subsequent Germanization can best be illustrated by events in the Czech Protectorate, the testing ground of similar measures for other countries. Immediately after the occupation by German troops the transfer of certain types of business property was made conditional upon written sanction by the office of the Reich Protector, that is upon German authority. Heretofore transfer, sale, liquidation, or extension of businesses was subject to approval by the regularly constituted Czechoslovak authorities. It was now taken out of their hands.
In the first stages of German overlordship, the native population was encouraged to believe that Jewish property would be acquired, on advantageous terms, by local businessmen. Aryanization was represented to them as a step towards economic control by indigenous entrepreneurs. Undoubtedly, many saw in it the opportunity of getting rich quickly, and were not unwilling to reap windfall profits. Aryanization was used by the Germans on a wide scale as a lure, to soften up resistance on the part of economic groups with promises of luscious morsels of Jewish property to be had for the asking.
Since the Czech population as a whole and even the puppet government of the “Protectorate” refused to swallow the bait, Reich Protector von Neurath issued a decree on June 21, 1939. Little did it matter that it violated Hitler's own covenant of March 16, 1939, and that it was issued over the heads and against the protest of the Protectorate's government. Its economic clauses first defined Jewish enterprises in the following terms:
There were many more details, but the main stipulation provided that the Reich Protector should have the sole right to install Treuhander (compulsory administrators) in Jewish firms thus defined. The general rule mentioned above was thus made expressly and strictly applicable to Jewish property, and the office of the Reich Protector was vested with superior economic power.
To top the all-inclusiveness of this legislation. the Reich Government decreed on November 11, 1942, that the property of all persons who had left or should thereafter leave the Protectorate would be forfeited to the Reich. They would automatically lose their Protectorate citizenship at the same time. Similar laws, modeled after Reich ordinances, enacted previously, are now in force in other occupied countries. Significantly enough, property thus acquired is appropriated by the Reich and not by its semiautonomous domains and protectorates.
Thereupon the stage was ready for Germanization. Instead of sanctioning contracts already entered into with Czech firms, the Reich Protector's office appointed German administrators, who in turn began negotiations with German interests for the acquisition of the properties entrusted to them. In order to speed up the process of Germanization, the Reich Protector issued another decree on January 26, 1940, by virtue of which he could order any Jewish enterprise in industry, commerce, or trade to be liquidated or handed over to Germans. Even properties previously sold to Aryan Czechs were seized, the contracts annulled, and given to Germans. The number of anti-Jewish laws since passed is legion and would require a special study. Suffice it to state that within two years of the day the Reichswehr entered defenseless Czechoslovakia every business formerly owned by Jews was wholly or in part in German hands. Movable and immovable property was also seized. Finally, all Jews were herded together and dumped into Poland, to be exterminated and destroyed.
In one occupied country after another, the same procedure was repeated with sickening regularity until it became routine. Special German-owned companies had to be organized to handle stocks of goods, raw materials, and equipment seized from former owners. These Warenverwertungsgesellschaften (corporations for the realization of commodities) have been doing a land-office business all over Europe. The graft, inefficiency, and outright looting by administrators, “trustees,” and new owners was so appalling that even the Nazi government was forced at least to pretend something was being done about it. A special tax on profits derived from Aryanization was introduced, and in “cases of especially aggravating circumstances” a retroactive levy was to be raised by the Reich Minister of Finance. In some territories, Jewish property was expropriated directly by German occupation authorities. In others, special local institutions were created to take over land, business and residential property, savings deposits, furniture, and works of art owned by Jews. In Slovakia, for instance, a special fund was put into operation to carry out the most inhuman expropriation law known in modern history. As more populations are deprived of their homes and immense blocks of property made into holdings of the German state or of favored individuals, finding the former lawful owners after the war will be well-nigh impossible. It is not easy to foresee how it will be feasible to repair damage not only to persons but to institutions as well.
Apart from “lawful” Aryanization there was, as everyone knows, widespread application of pure force, pressure and extortion in the same direction – probably the most unsavory mass robbery of all times. But there is something more to it. Coterminously with the stages already described, or at a somewhat later date, random Aryanization was welded into one vast scheme of organized Germanization. It was at this stage that German large-scale enterprises acquired most of their holdings in conquered Europe. Aryanization became the greatest hoax in history: the means whereby German banks and industries of the Hermann Goring ilk gained domination over the economy of an unhappy continent.
TOTALITARIAN ECONOMY AND PROPERTY
Totalitarian policy has affected the institution of property in more ways than one. On one hand it robbed property of many of its historical prerogatives and at the same time introduced other types of command over goods and services as a result of dissociating ownership from decision about uses, consumption, and appropriation. On the other hand, it created extreme uncertainty of property tenure. Expropriation was carried out on such a staggering scale that it must of necessity have rocked the very foundations of property rights and habits. By simple decree, billions of dollars' worth of property rights were transferred. On July 12, 1939, for instance, the Reich Minister of Interior decreed that all real and movable property in the Czech Protectorate which at six A.M. on March 15, 1939, the hour of occupation, had belonged to Czechoslovakia and served, in full or in part, the purposes of the Czechoslovak Army, Air Force, or Meteorological Service, became immediately Reich property. On October 4 of the same year, the German government vested in the Reich Protector and his designees the right to confiscate, in favor of the Reich, the property of persons or associations guilty of acts inimical to Germany, as well as all movable property belonging to them. “Public notices which have been appearing during the past two years indicate that the Reich Protector has liberally exploited his authority.”
It is impossible to say to what extent the Jews will again be able to participate as one of the more active elements in the European economy. A great number will have succumbed to privations and persecutions under the terror regime. Others will have found new homes overseas, and many will not wish to return to countries which tossed them like leaves to the wind. The question is whether there will be any large group able and willing to take over the risks and responsibilities of business leadership. Even if such a group can be found, the solution to the problem of financing new enterprise will demand the cooperation of national governments and newly created international bodies.
The confiscation of Jewish property is only an extreme measure followed by innumerable other actions slightly less radical in form, less sweeping in scope, and delayed in time, but none the less significant. All property in conquered countries has been conscripted for the benefit of the German war effort. This policy, throughout Europe, assumed the form of direct or indirect Germanization. “The outer form of nationalization is not necessary if all the real aims of nationalization can be attained just as well or even better by piecemeal requisition. If every single activity of a property owner concerning his property is so completely regulated that he has only to obey orders, then the effect is actually or nearly the same as that of direct nationalization. The whole concept of capital and property may become ambiguous, equivocal and finally utterly meaningless through totalitarianism.” This may happen anywhere. The unique condition of the greater part of Europe consists of the fact that nationalization was carried out, or is being carried out, by a nation and in the name of an ideology completely alien to the overwhelming majority of the subjugated peoples. The sequel to Nazification may be either a return to genuine private ownership or a genuine nationalization. Neither possibility can be achieved without drastic and almost revolutionary action.
It is highly improbable that we shall see a rebirth of much of the small-scale enterprise after the war. On the contrary, it may well be that the de-Germanization of industry will have to be done primarily through the instrumentality of the state. However desirable it might be to establish a wide diffusion of ownership and control for the sake of democratic institutions, it would be unrealistic to assume that this will be the prevailing tendency. Indeed, private enterprise will be possible only with state encouragement. Control of private and public enterprise will have to be implemented in order to make postwar up building a fact rather than a dream.
What appears to be a senseless and sadistically cruel persecution of a helpless minority can be understood only if viewed as a substitute for social revolution. Jewish enterprise is expropriated in the half-conscious hope that it will somehow release social tensions and solve social problems. Anti-Semitism inside and war outside may seem to be an escape from poverty and insecurity; but, instead of solving any social problem, they only aggravate existing ones. It has truly been said that: “the real function of Jews and ‘Non-Aryans’ in Nazi theology is the personification of the forces of bourgeois capitalism” while “the real enemy is not the Jew but the bourgeois order which is fought under the name of the Jew.” Originally the National Socialists certainly had no intention of destroying the bourgeois order. Their aspiration was to use it for military conquest and domination. Expropriation of the Jews was regarded as a means of conserving this order. The revolution of the middle class was not aimed at destroying private property, which constituted its economic basis. But, wittingly or unwittingly, it generated powerful forces which cannot be tamed after they have served their purpose. Expropriation of Czech, Polish, Belgian, and French property followed that of the Jews. The institution of private property in Europe thereby received a fatal blow. It may live, and it probably will, but its life will be that of an invalid: it will never again regain its original strength. A social and economic order based on property has been thrown into ever more violent gyrations, destructive in the end of the institutions for which the Jew had to serve as a scapegoat. The whole bourgeois class in Europe will in the end succumb to the measures intended to annihilate the Jew. It may have been destroyed already – without knowing it.
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