Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach became an ardent supporter of Adolf Hitler after he became Chancellor in January 1933. Krupp made generous donations to the Nazi Party but the company he headed also made vast sums of money out of the Nazi rearmament plan.
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach was born Gustav von Bohlen und Halbach in The Hague on August 7th 1870. He was born into a successful banking family and consequently Krupp had a comfortable childhood. After leaving school, he went to Heidelberg University where he studied law. After university, Krupp joined the German Diplomatic Corps and served in Washington DC, Peking and the Vatican. In 1906 he married the twenty years old Bertha Krupp. Wilhelm II allowed him to add the prestigious surname Krupp to his own as opposed to it being ‘lost’ when he married Bertha. Krupp spent the rest of his working life directing the very successful Krupp Works and only left the company in 1941. His son Alfred took over the helm in 1943. The company made a fortune out of World War One and World War Two. In World War One the company not only made munitions for the German Army – where it had a virtual monopoly – but it also used its shipyards at Kiel to make U-boats that were to become a major factor in the war.
Krupp was an ardent nationalist and greatly opposed the Treaty of Versailles. There were probably two reasons for this: the first was that Krupp considered the treaty humiliating and a disgrace to Germany. The second was more about business: the treaty greatly reduced Germany’s military might and therefore there was much less call for the government to purchase Krupp merchandise. The company had to lay off workers and readjust its business ventures. On the surface, Krupp’s turned towards producing agricultural equipment. However, it also covertly kept up on military development by setting up factories abroad that did not come under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles. Hence artillery was developed and factories based in Sweden while submarine development continued in the Netherlands. While the new military might of Nazi Germany seemed to suddenly appear, it had in fact been developed throughout the 1920’s but away from the eyes of France, USA and Great Britain. In fact, Krupp was doing nothing illegal even if the company’s plans did sidestep the Treaty of Versailles. Ironically some of this development was funded by the British as the British company Vickers used a Krupp’s patent in much of its weapons development and Krupp Works was paid a handsome dividend for this.
Krupp was an avowed monarchist. Wilhelm II had arranged for him to marry Bertha and there was a permanent suite of rooms kept for the Kaiser at the Krupp’s family estate. Initially Krupp was against the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler. He viewed the party as a destabilising element within a nation that needed stability. When it became clear that the Nazi Party was becoming the most popular party in the Reichstag, Krupp actively used his friendship with President von Hindenburg to advise the President not to appoint Hitler Chancellor. In this he failed as on January 30th 1933, Hindenburg invited Hitler to be the new Chancellor after von Papen had been dismissed – despite Krupp’s pleas as late as January 29th.
Within three weeks, Krupp offered Hitler his full support and others who knew him referred to Krupp as a “super Nazi”. He later claimed that this was because Hitler stated to industrialists on February 20th 1933 that he would reject disarmament as a way ahead. Krupp Works would clearly benefit from this. Krupp also supported the planned abolition of trade unions and Hitler’s promise that the elections planned for March 1933 would be the last. At the end of the February 20th meeting Krupp rose to his feet and thanked Hitler for “having given us such a clear picture.”
Firms such as Krupp Works did extremely well out of it rearmament. The workforce had been tamed as those who refused to work were classed as “workshy” and sent to concentration camps for “re-education”. Trade union leaders had also been sent to the camps. Krupp Works also had a ready market. Krupp did all he could to remain a positive asset to Hitler. Krupp was already the chairman of the Adolf Hitler-Spende – a fund raised by industrialists for Nazi benefits.
In 1939 Krupp suffered a stroke and became more and more disabled. He remained at the head of the company until 1941 and from 1941 to 1943 he was no more than a figurehead leader. His son Alfred took over the company in 1943.
In 1943, Hitler ordered that Krupp Works should become a family holding after forty years of being a public company. All the profits made by the company went to the family as opposed to former shareholders.
After the end of World War Two, Krupp was arrested and accused of knowingly using slave labour from concentration camps and prisoners-of-war in his industries and of complicity in Hitler’s aggression. He was due to stand trial before an American tribunal in 1948 but he was declared unfit as he was diagnosed as being senile. It was generally accepted that Krupp would not be able to understand the legal proceedings and as such would not or could not receive a fair trial. Provisions were made however to try Krupp if he showed any signs of recovery after his case was dismissed but this did not occur.
His son Alfred was put on trial for the same crimes. Alfred was found guilty and was sentenced to 12 years in prison along with the confiscation of all his property. He was released in 1951, his property was returned and he continued to work as the head of Krupp Works.
Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach died on January 16th, 1950.