Abstract: Big Steel and World War II: German-American Perspectives

Tim Schanetzky


Research on the steel industry in Nazi Germany saw an unprecedented boom in the 2000s, covering key players like Krupp, Paul Reusch, and Friedrich Flick. However, the scope of corporate freedom of action still remains controversial today. On the one hand, numerous constraints existed in the Nazi dictatorship, so that especially during the war and particularly in occupied Europe any room to maneuver significantly and continuously decreased. On the other hand, a variety of recent studies have demonstrated that the Nazi regime did not launch a widespread attack on property rights or freedom of contract and imposed less coercion and force upon business than often assumed. My paper makes two points: First, using the example of the German and American steel industries, it explores significant similarities in government regulation and the growth model of big business. Second, it demonstrates that such a comparison needs to determine the fundamental difference between a democracy and a dictatorship at war and advocates a view that incorporates an economic logic of action and its historical context.