Nazism across Borders. The Social Policies of the Third Reich and their Global Appeal

Kott, Sandrine; Patel, Kiran Klaus
Studies of the German Historical Institute London
Anzahl Seiten
XIII, 436 S.
£ 85.00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Noel Whiteside, Institute for Employment Research, University of Warwick

This edited collection reviews reactions to social reforms introduced by Nazi Germany on policy developments in other countries, both in Europe and beyond. In so doing, it narrates how Nazi policies were translated, adopted, modified or rejected by different regimes and by other right-wing political parties. The apparent success of the Third Reich in tackling the high unemployment during the Slump years of the 1930s attracted widespread international interest, as Germany’s social security and labour market reforms pioneered a new approach to this unprecedented crisis in industrial capitalism. Chapters are written by scholars who employ a variety of approaches to address the reception of Nazi policy initiatives in the specific countries concerned.

Histories of the German Third Reich are plentiful enough to make up a small library. No-one could claim this is an untrodden field. Yet, as the editors note in their Introduction, far less is known about the reception of Nazi social policies in other countries. The historiography of welfare development has largely been contained within national borders. It is only comparatively recently that academic study in this field has taken a transnational turn, to acknowledge how ideas and initiatives developed elsewhere shaped new policies in specific nation states and to trace the networks through which these spread. Both editors of this present volume have proved pioneers in this field and many contributors have also explored this area, by charting the development of a transnational Nordic welfare model, for example, or the changing ideas about planning in the post-war world.[1]

Yet the role of foreign example in stimulating domestic social reform is widely accepted. Historical study has long acknowledged the influence of Bismarck’s social reforms of the late nineteenth century, for example, in shaping new initiatives across Europe in the following decades. The same role is also claimed for the 1942 Beveridge Report that, although not widely imitated, provoked new initiatives in social policy in the aftermath of the second world war. Thus interest in Germany as a locus for social innovation long predated the rise of Hitler and the advent of the conflict of 1939–46. However, as authors acknowledge here, the development of national welfare schemes inspired by Nazi influence form a lacuna in many historical accounts of welfare state development, which have tended to focus on either the pre-1914 decades or on post-1945 initiatives. This volume thus lifts a curtain on historical omissions, obliterated as part of a shameful past that post-war survivors preferred to forget.

The strength of this volume lies in its geographical range, introducing the reader to the reception of Nazi labour market policies in occupied countries (Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France for example), by Germany’s allies (Italy, Japan and Spain) and by countries outside Europe (USA and Brazil). This not only introduces readers to less well-known aspects of Nazi influence, but also reveals the nuanced approaches used by the occupiers in countries subjected to German rule. As far as the German-speaking peoples of Austria, Bohemia and Moravia were concerned, the object was to integrate new populations into German labour market and social protection programs as quickly and thoroughly as possible. This proved no easy task as administrative structures, social coverage and benefit rates differed widely and the duplication of different systems caused confusion and resentment. Elsewhere, in very general terms, the Nazi administration was loath to provoke hostility by imposing alien systems on recalcitrant populations – as in France, for example. However, problems arose when recruiting manpower from occupied territories for the German war effort. Foreign workers employed by German firms, if Danish or Norwegian, might enjoy higher wages and better social protection than their colleagues in their respective domestic economies, raising demands for parity from their co-patriots. Not that all such imported workers were so privileged. Croatian workers were far more harshly treated, particularly towards the end of the war. Nor were Nazi social policies necessarily adopted wholesale by right-wing parties in countries allied or subjected to the Axis. On the contrary, a strong Catholic presence in Spain, Italy and Belgium meant that Nazi initiatives were not viewed sympathetically. In Japan, no attempt was ever made to introduce German systems, the Nazi government being eager to claim that cultural difference rendered any such initiative irrelevant and potentially damaging to the Axis alliance.

While the contents of these chapters reveal meticulous research, a great deal is sometimes left unsaid and, for this reason, the book’s attractions for undergraduate study will be limited. The papers published here originated at a conference on the history of the Reich’s Ministry of Labour. This (unsurprisingly) is given a central role in many of the contributions. The term ‘social policy’ in the title is here understood in terms of labour market policy and the social protection schemes (largely, but not exclusively social insurance) associated with it. Other aspects of Nazi social policy, notably family policies, are left unaddressed. The role women played in the labour market and their associated access to social protection is not examined. The eugenicist approach to citizenship rights derived from the application of the biological sciences to ethnicity is also taken as read, although the different attitude of Nazi authorities to the Nordic states when contrasted to the treatment of Croatians, is evident in this account. The extermination of Jewish peoples is sporadically mentioned in passing. The treatment of political opponents, of homosexual, or mentally challenged or other so-called ‘deviant’ populations, is given no attention at all. Yet, selective breeding and associated sterilisation and incarceration (or extermination) policies explain the hostility of Catholics (among others) to Nazi social initiatives that caused deep fractures in right wing political circles. The commitment to the cause, even within Axis countries, was damaged as a result. All chapters address, to a greater or lesser extent, the significance of representative democratic structures in legitimising post-war social welfare. Support for free worker trade unions ultimately undermined the appeal of Nazi forms of labour market management. However, to analyse the reception of Nazi social policy beyond borders, one has to understand associated social initiatives within which such policies were set – in brief who was to be included and who excluded and why. It is disappointing that this aspect is left unexplored.

[1] For example: Sandrine Kott / Joëlle Droux (eds.), Globalizing Social Rights. The ILO and Beyond, London 2013; Kiran Klaus Patel / Wolfram Kaiser, Multiple Connections in European Cooperation. Policy Ideas, Practices and Transfers 1967–1992, London 2018.