Intro:An Attempt to Achieve Autarky Volksempfaenger Volkswagen KdF Images Bibliography

Complete Literary Analysis


The life of the citizens of Germany during the Third Reich can be described as a life of “enticement and deprivation”1. This can be seen when one looks at how consumption was discouraged by the Nationalist Party, in order to use Germany’s limited resources to establish an autarkic existence and ultimately to establish the country’s independence from other nations. The main aim of the Hitler regime was to prioritize the production of weapons in anticipation of a war, and that is why the regime tried to surpress consumption in Germany .

It is crucial to first look at the economic climate that supported the rise to power of Hitler and his Party. The establishment of the Nationalist Socialist regime was only possible because Germany found itself in the middle of the Great Depression, with an unemployment rate of 34%.2 In order to reorganize the country, Hitler and his fellow politicians enforced policies that would create jobs, as well as expand war-related industries.

In order to regulate consumption, the Nazi regime used three strategies. According to Berghoff in Enticement and Deprivation: “ The constant juxtaposition of enticement and deprivation generated three kinds of consumption […] First, the regime allowed increased consumption and considerable progress towards Western consumerism in a number of sectors. Second there was suppressed consumption because rearmament required reductions in the imports of consumer […] Third the regime created virtual consumption by opening up new horizons and promising unprecedented advances into modernity…”3 To achieve the goals the Nationalist Party set for itself, there had to be some regulation in terms of consumption. In order to keep the people in Germany happy and satisfied, however they were taught that in order to support their country and its future goals, some sacrifices had to be made now. The ultimate goal of Germany in terms of consumption, as the public was told, was to create “ideologically sound patterns of consumption”.4 This translates into all aspects of consumption, but can mainly be traced back to the categories discussed below.

For the creation of fashion, this meant establishing German fashion that would “stand on its own” and therefore not be influenced by international trends. This was mainly due to the fact that the Nazi regime tried to establish an independence from other nations. In terms of textiles this meant that in order to have fabrics available for the German textile market, synthetics had to be invented to come up with alternatives to raw materials like cotton and wool. Therefore the Nazi regime was mainly responsible for the creation of such synthetic fabrics as rayon. These fabrics were praised as being superior to wool, but in the wear and tear of everyday life, it became quite apparent that the quality was far inferior to natural fabrics. 5

The proposed changes in diet in Germany further reflected the ambivalent message of the Hitler regime. While the plan was to solely rely on locally grown food sources, and to move back to naturally grown foods, the regime constantly introduced new technology.6 This move was characterized by the fact that food supply in Germany was very limited and only certain kinds of foods could be locally grown. So in order to discourage the need for foreign imports, the regime emphasized a reliance on domestic grown resources. The Nazi party promoted the consumption of apples, potatoes, cabbage, rye bread and quark, as opposed to tropical fruits, rice, meat, white bread and butter. The government emphasized that the goal was to have a diet that was low in fat and meat, because there were not enough resources available to feed pigs and cows for domestic meat and butter production. Quark was introduced as a substitute for butter, because it was highly nutritious and versatile in use. It is made from sour milk, which is a side product of butter production. Furthermore, its origin and production was compatible with the campaign promoted as “Kampf dem Verderb". 7 Translated into English, this means “Fight the Waste”. This maxim was concerned with the notion that it was every German citizen’s responsibility to not let food spoil under any circumstances and to learn how to preserve certain food resources.

In addition to Quark as an alternative to meat, the consumption of fish was also emphasized. According to Reagin in Marktordnung and Autarkic Housekeeping: “ Under the Four-Year Plan, however, fish was suggested as a substitute for the now often scarce pork cutlet or sausage…”. 8 By restricting the production of meat from pigs and cattle, the government was able to preserve resources, since cattle and pigs had to be fed with grains that could be used for bread and other products. Fish were not cultivated on farms during this period, but were widely available for consumption and therefore a much more efficient consumer good in the eyes of the government.

The policies for German food consumption were backed by promotional and propaganda efforts, including pamphlets and magazines. They were published by such organizations as the German housewives’ organizations, the Reichsverband Deutscher Hausfrauen. According to Reagin in Marktordnung and Autarkic Housekeeping, “ Housewives’ educational materials had stressed for years that Germany could not be self-sufficient in foodstuffs, etc. unless German housewives followed specific consumption patterns and practiced thrift…”. 9 These organizations were used to emphasize the restriction of consumption further, but also to give guidelines for cooking and housekeeping, based on the new resources available. Public cooking demonstrations and cooking courses were additional promotional tools, attempting to emphasize the consumption of certain food resources.

The importance of the constant reinforcement of “thriftiness” and the adoption of new food sources becomes apparent if one considers the role that housewives assumed in the Hitler regime. According to Reagin, “they were now supposed to serve as agents of the state within the household, disciplining their families’ eating habits and consumption patterns to meet the shifting needs of the Plan. Women were asked to sacrifice not in order to meet their own families’ needs and strategies, but in order to meet the state’s goals…”. 10

The publicly emphasized reason for this restriction of consumption was an ideology of “pure German consumption”. This excuse was offered, for example, for a shortage in the supply of lemons, “ Only through the German soil are the finest vibrations transmitted to the blood…therefore, fare thee well, lemon, we need thee not. German rhubarb will replace thee altogether…". 11 Of course Germany could only grow certain agricultural products, such as potatoes and grains for rye bread, because of its climate, and the government could no longer afford to import foreign products. Therefore the regime tried to enforce the consumption of locally produced products in order to achieve a more efficient economical equation. The balance of trade was seriously affected and Germany had to suppress its increasing imports. From 1934 on, foreign trade was regulated, but Germany never reached the desired goal of autarchy and was struck by an economic crisis in 1935 and 1936. There was a shortage of both resources and consumer goods, which ultimately resulted in the Four Year Plan of 1936. Its desired outcomes included the establishment of independence and the gaining of territory in order to broaden the amount of resources available.

These plans had to be developed, not only to face the crisis in the country, but also to prevent political unrest and ensure government support. Nevertheless, there was much concern and unhappiness about the strict regulations regarding food consumption. As a reaction to such dissatisfaction food imports went up in the late 1930’s. 12 Although these measures were taken to keep the citizens morale as high as possible, the regime openly despised the consumption of goods that were not locally available. As Berghoff puts it: “Goebbels was disgusted when shoppers- after years of rising coffee imports- complained about minor shortages of coffee. He called them ‘coffee addicts’ and ‘old biddies’…” 13 This quote demonstrates the way the Nazi regime attempted to control consumption in order to be able to redirect the German’s financial resources into the rearming of Germany. Since the government was not able to suppress consumption sufficiently, they increased the tax burden on the citizens and thus achieved a government income increase from 6 to 17.7 billion Reichsmarks in the time period of 1933 to 1938. 14

Another great example of a form of consumption that reflected the ideology of the National Socialist Party was the introduction of a low-cost radio set, called the “Volksempfaenger”(The People's Radio Set). It was designed to bring light entertainment to the masses, as it was affordable for practically everyone in Germany . This was supposed to bolster the level of satisfaction amongst the owners of the radio set, since they were able afford a real radio that formerly could only be owned by the wealthy. Furthermore, the presence of the radio set in almost every German household ensured that political propaganda messages were sent throughout the entire “Reich”. Although most of the programs made available were popular music, propaganda messages were an important part of the daily program. The broadcasting of jazz or swing music was not tolerated. Music programs were “cleaned” on a regular basis and clubs were raided by the SA, if they played music that “insulted the German race” 15 This was done to ensure that the audience was not exposed to any programming or music that would undermine the “Reich’s ideology”.

The movie industry in the Third Reich was built on the same philosophy of combining light entertainment with Nazi propaganda. The films that were produced in Germany mainly portrayed images of the idealized Aryan race and did not gain much popularity among German audiences. Hollywood productions were very popular and the politicians had to allow the screening of American movies to avoid unrest. According to Berghoff, “ The Propaganda Ministry grudgingly realized that Hollywood ’s productions were more popular than their own and that a ban would cause considerable unrest”.16

A very important aspect of the Third Reich was the invention of consumer products that would only be virtually consumed. These consumer products were introduced and heavily advertised, but never actually available for consumption. They were introduced to the German citizens to project the illusion that people could consume and invest their money and that these products would be made available one day. One example from this category was the Volkswagen, a cheap car that would not cost more than 1000 Reichsmark’s, which would allow every German citizen to allow a car. Although the factory was built in 1938, there were no cars available commercially before 1945 and the Nazi regime promoted the automobile heavily. Furthermore, a financing plan was set up to allow Germans (by depositing 5 Reichsmark a month), to save up and supposedly receive a Volkswagen within four years. Not only was this option introduced to finance the rearming of Germany , in preparation for the war, but it was also used to limit the German’s purchasing power. As Berghoff describes it, “the regime succeeded in deceiving its citizens or- to put it in more technical terms-in using virtual consumption in one sector to prevent increased consumption in others…”. 17 A further indication that the creation and advertising of the Volkswagen was mainly virtual, becomes apparent when one looks at the insatiable demand for the vehicle after the war was over.

Other virtual consumer goods included the Volksfernseher (The People’s TV Set) and the Volkskuehlschrank (The People’s Refrigerator). As opposed to the Volkswagen, those two products never came into existence, since the beginning of war put all further plans for the development of consumer products on hold.

Further more the Kraft durch Freude (Strength through Joy) initiative also relates to consumption in Nazi Germany was largely virtual. It was launched in November 1933 and built as a program designed to give German citizens a wellrounded social life after a day of hard work. According to Shelley Baranowski, “Strength through Joy meant to expand the opportunities for relaxation and cultural enrichment available to workers during both working hours and leisure time…”18 It not only made the working environment and social activities more enjoyable, but a big part of the program was concerned with offering vacations to each and every German. The Nazis were not only aiming to create a classless German nation, but also to keep the nation content and faithful to their leader, Hitler. KdF cruises, which remained virtual for almost every German except for the wealthiest ones, were advertised on posters throughout the nation. Though there were only two ships ever built, the powerful image of traveling in style displayed in the posters was enough to convince people that there might be the possibility of travel in their future. 19

In general, all these consumer items, (whether they were actually introduced or not) served a single purpose: to create the appearance of a technologically evolved nation that would someday deliver a classless future for its citizens. Instead of trying to convince the German people with political ideology, the regime was trying to use the citizen’s material desires and the promise of a better future to keep people loyal and devoted to their cause. According to Berghoff, “ Thus it [ the German government] used promises of boundless consumption in the future to make people finance an unrealistic war effort…”. 20 Consumption thus played an important role in the rise, establishment and fall of the Third Reich.







Hartmut Berghoff, “Enticement and Deprivation: The Regulation of Consumption in Pre-War Nazi Germany,” Martin Daunton and Matthew Hilton (ed.) T he Politics of Consumption: Material Culture and Citizenship in Europe and America, ( New York: Berg, 2001), 173

Berghoff „Enticement and Deprivation,“ 172.

Berghoff „Enticement and Deprivation,“ 173.

Berghoff, „Enticement and Deprivation,“ 175.

Berghoff, „Enticement and Deprivation,“ 180.

Berghoff„ Enticement and Deprivation,“ 180.

Nancy Reagin, “Marktordnung und Autarkic Housekeeping: Housewives and Private Consumption under the Four-Year Plan, 1936-1939.” German History . 19.2d.ed. (2001).171.

Reagin, “Marktordnung und Autarkic Housekeeping,” 172.

Reagin, “Marktordnung und Autarkic Housekeeping,” 170.

Reagin, “Marktordnung und Autarkic Housekeeping,” 174.

Reagin, “Marktordnung und Autarkic Housekeeping,” 181.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,” 181-182.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,” 182.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,” 182.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,” 175.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation.” 175.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,”178.

Shelley Baranowski, Strenght through Joy: Tourism and National Integration in the Third Reich ( Michigan: University of Michigan Press, 2001), 216.

Baranowski, “Strenght through Joy: Tourism and National Integration in the Third Reich,” 213.

Baranowski, “Strenght through Joy: Tourism and National Integration in the Third Reich,” 215.

Berghoff, „ Enticement and Deprivation,” 184.