German Military Industrial Resources During WWII
September 22, 2015 12:03 PM   Subscribe

If Germany didn't expend resources on perpetrating the crimes of the Holocaust would there have been a significant impact on the outcome of WWII in Europe?

Were the resources used in the holocaust a significant portion of WWII-era German industry? Would using those resources directly in the war effort have changed the outcome of WWII in Europe?
posted by kittensofthenight to Society & Culture (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I did an undergrad paper on this in a history class, and in my extremely amateur historian view the answer is yes.

They tied up untold numbers of personnel and transport that could have been used at the front.

This video that was released to the German public after the war shows something of the SCALE of what they were doing (caution - very graphic imagery). This would have taken a LOT of able-bodied personnel to accomplish, and a lot of expense.

In a horribly twisted version of the (likely apocryphal) Churchill quote where he supposedly said, in response to cutting funding for the arts during the war "What are we fighting the war FOR?"

Sick beyond words, but Hitler probably felt something similar. Even when things were going very badly, and they were conscripting down to the bottom of the barrel, he would not have been able to stop what he was doing, either practically or because of the effects that releasing all these people would have had (or even stopping the round-up effort). His propaganda efforts had gone toward getting the Germans to hate the Jews and other ethnic groups, and to blame them for the economic condition of Germany. At least the committed Nazis would have felt that this was the point of the war for them; what they were fighting for.

Of course, Hitler also wasn't known for being well in touch with what was really going on militarily...
posted by randomkeystrike at 12:30 PM on September 22, 2015

I don't think there is a single factor that would have changed the outcome of the war. A very good and accessible look at the many competing forces, including logistics, design and supply-chain streamlining on both sides is found in Richard Overy's Why the Allies Won.

The book includes a horrific vignette that has stayed with me for years: An account by a group of American businessmen from the national Chamber of Commerce organization that had been given a tour of a Soviet airplane factory which had been relocated east beyond the Urals for safety from the approaching German armies. The businessmen watch as trains bring in fresh ore, which is smelted by 80-year-old grandmothers voluntarily working extra shifts because their entire families have been slaughtered and they have no where else to go. They follow the steel as it is assembled with really unsophisticated industrial techniques, often in the open air, into a surprisingly rugged, durable and effective fighter aircraft. The engine is attached, then the ordnance loaded, and workers push the completed plane out into a dirt courtyard where a group of 14 and 15 year-old boys and girls are throwing dice and playing tag. One of the 14 year olds jumps into the aircraft, and proceeds to fly the plane directly into combat with the German Luftwaffe, a mere 60 miles away. This scenario is repeated hourly.
posted by seasparrow at 12:36 PM on September 22, 2015

It's difficult to answer this question because fundamentally Hitler thought he was in a struggle against the Jewish people of the world (he identified President Roosevelt as the leader of the conspiracy), and started the war to basically clear out a large amount of 'Lebensraum' to the east, after killing off the people living there. This means that a WWII in which Hitler is not dedicated to the destruction of the Jewish people is a very very different thing.

This question also seems to assume that Germany didn't get anything out of the Holocaust. In fact, about 5% of all German workers during WWII were supplied as slave labor from concentration camps during WWII. (See Adam Tooze's The Wages of Destruction.)

Germany's economic situation was pretty much a disaster at all times, and it was being made worse by massive manpower shortages, so there was a lot of 'discussion' between people who were basically "You can't kill them all, we don't have enough workers" and the people who wanted to go ahead with the killing everybody. The 'compromise' was to try to work large swathes of the population to death using slave labor.

In the end, understand that Germany in 1941, the combined GDP of Britain, the USSR, and the US exceed Germany's by a factor of 4.36 to 1. In terms of economic production, Germany was massively disadvantaged, so in my opinion, there is little Germany could have done to avoid its defeat.
posted by Comrade_robot at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

OTOH a lot of slave labor was used to build V2 rockets and all the associated facilities. However they came so late in the war that there was little hope for victory at that point.

On preview see above.
posted by Gungho at 1:16 PM on September 22, 2015

Before you even begin to account for infrastructure, materiel, and manpower, you have to address the fact that the basic Nazi strategy was flawed. Pretty much from the moment the they crossed into the Soviet frontier without having defeated the UK, their fate was sealed, and if the whole apparatus of the death camps was instead devoted to combat on the eastern front, it would just have meant that many more dead or captured during the retreat. With respect to the resource situation, as others have said, without slave labor they would have been ruinously under-supplied. For example, when the coal gasification plants and other heavy industry in the Ruhr River valley was bombed by the Allies, hundreds of thousands of slave laborers were used to get them back online. Without the synthetic oil plants, they'd have had no fuel or lubricants for their tanks, planes, or other vehicles.
posted by feloniousmonk at 2:24 PM on September 22, 2015

There are all kinds of hypotheticals about the war in Europe (e.g. what would have happened if the Normandy Invasion had failed?) and they all have the same answer:

If Germany hadn't been defeated by early August 1945, no matter why, the first nuke would have been dropped on Berlin. And then the war in Europe would have ended with a German defeat, just as did happen in our timeline.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 5:41 PM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

> This question also seems to assume that Germany didn't get anything out of the Holocaust.

No it doesn't, and I don't know what makes you think that. It assumes Germany expended a lot of resources on the Holocaust, which is correct. The answer to the final question is no, for the reasons feloniousmonk and Chocolate Pickle give, among others, but the question is a sensible one: Germany certainly would have done better if it had not expended those resources (although of course that's irrelevant, because as others have pointed out the Holocaust was one of the goals of Hitler's war, not a strategy to achieve some other goal).
posted by languagehat at 5:57 PM on September 22, 2015

No it doesn't, and I don't know what makes you think that. It assumes Germany expended a lot of resources on the Holocaust, which is correct.

My reading is that the question assumes that had Germany not conducted the Holocaust, there would have been some sort of 'net gain of resources'.

While it's true that Germany expended resources on the Holocaust, Germany also gained a great deal; in addition to the previously mentioned slave labor, the German government seized property, currency, and goods worth several billion Reichsmarks. Further, Germany was suffering major food shortages, and dealt with it by starving people to death.

So, in my opinion, the question is not as straightforward as all of that.
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:01 PM on September 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Chocolate Pickle: "If Germany hadn't been defeated by early August 1945, no matter why, the first nuke would have been dropped on Berlin. And then the war in Europe would have ended with a German defeat, just as did happen in our timeline."

On the flip side would the German Jewish scientists have developed nuclear weaponry for the Germans instead of the US if they weren't encouraged to flee by the Nazis and fascist Italy.
posted by Mitheral at 10:37 PM on September 22, 2015

Mitheral, it's not just a matter of brainpower. Germany had enough qualified people to do it, but there were other things they were missing, and as a result they never came close.

But the price of preventing it was unreasonably high in some cases.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:02 PM on September 22, 2015

By late in the war, another problem with the idea of a German nuke is that Germany no longer had the ability to deliver one. The V2 had a payload of 1000 kg.

"Little Boy" (the uranium bomb that destroyed Hiroshima) weighed 4400 kg. "Fat Man" (the plutonium bomb that destroyed Nagasaki) weighed 4670 kg.

There were German heavy bombers capable of carrying a bomb that heavy, but by 1945 Germany no longer could guarantee that such a bomber could reach its target, let alone return safely.

On the other hand, the B-29 super-heavy bomber had astounding range. From Tinian to Tokyo was 2400 kilometers, which B-29's flew routinely in 1945. 2400 kilometers from Berlin reaches Morocco easily. So even if Germany had nukes and used them to knock the UK out of the war, the US could still have destroyed Germany. The only way Germany could have attacked the US would have been a submarine suicide mission.

The US bomb program was gearing up for sustained manufacturing, and was expected to deliver two nukes per month starting in November of 1945. If Germany was still in the war by then, all of those would have gone to Europe.

So even if Germany gets nukes, they still lose.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:52 PM on September 22, 2015

I agree with robot, the losses to the German military machine were probably offset or surpassed by the gains. One other factor to consider- it is (I think) significantly easier to train, equip, and supply concentration camp guards to a satisfactory standard than any type of remotely combat ready unit.
posted by Jacen at 3:44 PM on September 23, 2015

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