The Nazi Party’s second four year plan started in 1936 and continued to 1939. The organisation of the second Four-Year Plan was put in the hands of Hermann Goering. There is little doubt that Goering found it difficult to organise the plan, which was geared towards driving Nazi Germany to an economy that was fully based around the preparation for war. Rearmament was a priority as was ‘Autarky’ – Germany’s ability to have self-sufficiency.
The Four-Year Plan had four priorities:
1. To increase agricultural production.
2. Retrain key sectors of the work force.
3. Government regulation of imports and exports.
4. To achieve self-sufficiency in the production of raw materials.
Certain members of the Nazi Party knew about the Four-Year Plan in August 1936 when there received a copy of Hitler’s ‘Secret Memorandum’. However, the plan was formally announced to the party faithful by Adolf Wagner at the September 1936 party rally at Nuremberg. Wagner read out a proclamation from Hitler:
“I today present the following as the new Four-Year Plan. In four years Germany must be wholly independent of foreign areas in those materials which can be produced in any way through German ability, through our chemical and machine industry, as well as through our mining industry. The re-building of this great German raw material industry will serve to give employment to the masses. The implementation of the plan will take place with National Socialist energy and vigour. But in addition, Germany cannot relinquish the solution of its colonial demands. The right of the German people to live is surely as great as that of other nations. The success of this plan is merely a question of our energy and determination. National Socialists have never recognised the word “Impossible”.
The plan caused problems on a number of fronts.
First, there were those in the Nazi hierarchy who strongly believed that Goering was not the right man to lead such a huge task. Disputes among senior Nazis was not unusual but in this instance Hitler had expressed his full confidence in one of his oldest followers and he was not prepared to change his mind as any such move could have been viewed as a sign of weakness. Therefore, Goering remained in charge of the plan.
A second problem was that the Four-Year Plan was not fully supported by business leaders. They believed that there should be some rearmament but not at the expense of the standard of living in Germany. They wanted this aspect of the economy improved first before wholesale rearmament took place. Hitler was also sympathetic to this but wanted it at the same time as wholesale rearmament. Many believed that the two would not successfully mix. During the war an unknown German general was heard to say that “We are winning the war with washing machines”.
However, regardless of the obvious issues surrounding the Four-Year Plan, Hitler unsurprisingly got his way. Business leaders found that they could not successfully convey their arguments to Goering who by 1936-1937 simply repeated what Hitler stated. This brought him into conflict with Hjalmar Schacht, the Minister of Economics and General Plenipotentiary and resulted in Schacht resigning from his position at Goering’s request. In January 1939, Schacht was also removed from his position as President of the Reichsbank.
The Four-Year Plan was extended into World War Two. To force through success Goering was quite prepared to use slave labour. He later tried to justify ordering the use of what he called “forced labour” at the Nuremberg Trials when he said that he believed that Germany was fighting for its very existence and therefore any measures that could help Germany to survive were, by their very nature, acceptable.