Abstract: Sewing for Hitler? The Clothing Business during the Third Reich

Roman Koster


The history of the consumer industries during the ''Third Reich'' was for a long time a neglected topic in business history. However, there seems to be a growing insight into that the sole focus on big business merely conveys an incomplete image of the German economy during the Third Reich. The presentation gives a short overview on the development of the clothing industry, which was an economically important branch but of little importance for the German war effort. During World War II, the industry suffered from a growing lack of raw materials and workers. On the basis of three case studies, the presentation deals with the questions of how the economic policy of the Nazi regime affected the clothing industry, which possibilities existed for entrepreneurs to escape the latter's decline, and how the freedom of action of entrepreneurs was affected by the Nazis' economic policy. The argument is that the latter forced companies into a thorough specialization; firms relied on orders from the state, the party, or the military, to survive. While this greatly restricted the entrepreneurial freedom of action, it led, on the other hand, to a massive rationalization that contributed to the industry's initial postwar success.