H. Marx: Wissengenerierung & Arbeitskräftelenkung im Nationalsozialismus

Die Verwaltung des Ausnahmezustands. Wissensgenerierung und Arbeitskräftelenkung im Nationalsozialismus

Marx, Henry
Geschichte des Reichsarbeitsministeriums im Nationalsozialismus
Göttingen 2019: Wallstein Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
437 S.
€ 39,90
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Darren O'Byrne, University of Cambridge

Much has been written about the state administration in Nazi Germany over the past decade. Ever since Joschka Fischer commissioned a report in 2005 on the complicity of Foreign Office personnel in the Holocaust, many ministries and public authorities have followed suit, employing historians or historians’ commissions to show that 1949 was not a clean break with the past, and that many officials who helped rebuild the Federal Republic had participated in, even orchestrated, Nazi crimes.1 For all they tell us, however, books like Das Amt complement existing knowledge rather than offering something new. Whatever the myths permeating the Foreign Office, even the public at large, its complicity in the Holocaust has been known for decades2, while the GDR’s Braunbuch, the motives of its editors notwithstanding, highlighted the complicity of Bonn diplomats in it as early as the 1960s.3 The fact, moreover, that such studies’ principal aim is to investigate the “brown pasts” of Germany’s public authorities, has led to a design flaw in the research methodology. Indeed, with most of these projects being guided by such a leading question, concerns have been raised that their aim is not so much to understand what happened, but rather to “count Nazis”.4

Yet, as publicly funded, public-facing projects, much of this is understandable. In a country rightly lauded for “confronting” its past, it is difficult to imagine Das Amt, Die Akte Rosenberg, Hüter der Ordnung or a host of others being any different. Besides, innovative research does take place within the commissions, generally in the form of post-doctoral, PhD and even Masters projects, few of which attract the media attention of the commissions’ “official reports”, and which are thus freer to explore more obscure topics and, occasionally, novel research methodologies. One such project is Die Verwaltung des Ausnahmezustands. Wissensgenerierung und Arbeitskräftelenkung im Nationalsozialismus, by Henry Marx. Based on his PhD research as part of the Labour Ministry’s commission, Marx provides a comprehensive history of the Labour Administration under National Socialism. The topic has, to be sure, been the subject of historical inquiry, though usually in the context of broader themes like forced labour or the Holocaust, whilst the only monograph on the topic ignores the war years (pp. 32–35). Nor, until now, has the accumulation and creation of knowledge as a basis of the Labour Administration’s actions been examined. It is a core aim of the book, in fact, to highlight the centrality of knowledge, whether about workers’ skills or where they were most needed in the economy, in enabling the Labour Administration to both facilitate and sustain the German war effort. It is Marx’s methodology, however, that is most innovative, using models from organisational sociology and systems theory to understand both how the Labour Administration functioned and, more importantly, how individuals functioned with it. For by situating administrative practice in an organisational context – by showing, that is, how organisations shape individual action – Marx’s assertions on the motivations and personal responsibility of Labour Administration functionaries challenge those that define the person and people-based studies that have dominated research on the Third Reich for decades.

Structured chronologically and thematically, the book has seven chapters, the first dealing with the period from 1927 – when the Labour Administration was founded – to 1934, when the revolutionary excesses of the early Nazi period, more or less, settled down. Perhaps more than any other public authority, the Labour Administration was rocked by the various crises that unfolded during this period, be it the world economic crash or the so-called ‘revolution from below’, when racially politically “undesirable” officials were purged and, where possible, replaced with ‘Old Nazi Fighters’. But the decision to examine crisis and personnel in the opening chapter is important for the book’s overall development, too. For both guide the rest of Marx’s analysis, in that it was precisely the Labour Administration’s ability to translate states of emergency into regular administrative procedures that helped it sustain the German war effort; whereas his focus on personnel allows him to talk about the organisational, as opposed to the ideological, determinants of administrators’ behaviour.

Traditionally in charge of work placement and the administration of unemployment insurance, between 1934 and 1939 it became the Labour Administration’s job to identify workers for industries and branches of the economy that were important for rearmament. This was a particularly challenging task, given the overall labour shortage, and Marx shows in Chapter 2 how it rose to it by collecting mass amounts of data on the skills and occupations of German workers; whilst Chapter 3 examines how this information became the basis for coherent programmes for the entire economy during the war. Chapter 4, by contrast, highlights the limits of the Administration’s knowledge, particularly concerning how and where industries were deploying workers, and its efforts to overcome this through cooperation with other public authorities. Try as it might, however, industry remained a blind spot for the Labour Administration, severely hampering its ability to determine where, exactly, an increasingly stretched labour supply was best deployed.

Chapter 5 is arguably the book’s most important, addressing not only the Labour Administration’s role in the regime’s forced labour programme, but also the question of personal responsibility that underpins much research on Nazi atrocities. Contrary to previous research, in fact, Marx presents the Labour Administration as a beneficiary, rather than a victim, of Fritz Sauckel’s appointment as General Plenipotentiary for Labour in 1942, and thus as a central player in the forced labour programme. At the same time, he also proposes a model for assessing personal responsibility that looks less at administrators’ beliefs and more at how their actions deviated from the procedures the Labour Administration had put in place to achieve its goals. For it was mostly organisations that situated their members in the vicinity of mass crimes, and it was organisations which, to a large extent, determined the scope of their actions.

The book ends with a chapter on the Labour Administration’s role in the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia, and another on its efforts to continue directing workers to key areas of the economy as the regime collapsed. And, overall, there can be little doubt that it is a valuable addition to the literature on National Socialism, both the topic itself and how it challenges existing methodological paradigms. It is also based on a wide range of primary and secondary sources, and written in clear and concise style. At the same time, not everything Marx writes stands up to scrutiny. It is debatable, chiefly, that his analysis challenges the “polycracy” thesis. For this to be true, polycracy would have to be interpreted as meaning or resulting in administrative inefficiency, which he could have then countered with evidence of the Labour Administration’s efficiency. The truth, however, is that “polycracy” itself is subject of different interpretations, with some previously arguing that it contributed to efficiency in certain areas, not least the murder of the Jews. From a purely semantic perspective, moreover, one wonders whether the Labour Administration can be accurately described as a single organisation, when it actually comprised multiple organisations. Nor is much attention paid to what constitutes an organisation. But these are just minor criticisms, which in no way compromise the value and originality of the book.

1 For a complete list of these studies see Christian Mentel / Niels Weise (eds.), Die zentralen deutschen Behörden und der Nationalsozialismus. Stand und Perspektiven der Forschung. Munich 2016.
2 Paul Seabury, The Wilhelmstraße. A Study of German Diplomats under the Nazi Regime. Berkeley and Los Angeles 1954; Christopher Browning, The Final Solution and the German Foreign Office. A Study of Referat D III of Abteilung Deutschland 1940–1943, New York 1978.
3 Nationalrat der Nationalen Front des Demokratischen Republik Deutschland (ed.), Braunbuch. Kriegs- und Naziverbrecher in Der Bundesrepublik. Staat, Wirtschaft, Verwaltung, Armee, Justiz, Wissenschaft. Dritte Auflage, Berlin 1968.
4 Interview with Martin Sabrow, Nazis zählen reicht nicht, in: Die Zeit, 11.02.2016; Sören Eden, Henry Marx and Ulrike Schulz, Ganz normale Verwaltungen? Methodische Überlegungen zum Verhältnis von Individuum und Organisation am Beispiel des Reichsarbeitsministeriums 1919–1945, in: Vierteljahrshefte für Zeitgeschichte 66 (2018), pp. 487–520.

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