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Tuesday, October 17, 2017
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80th Annual Meeting of the VHB

May 23-25, 2017

Magdeburg, Germany

Business Academics and Business Studies after the National Socialist Seizure of Power

 

After the National Socialists seized power, many business academics regarded the Nazi regime with a certain degree of skepticism – not just because of its aggressive stance towards universities, but also its hostile rhetoric regarding the economy. In Mein Kampf, for instance, Hitler complained that, “In proportion as economic life grew to be the dominant mistress of the state, money became the god whom all had to serve and to whom each man had to bow down. More and more, the gods of heaven were put into the corner as obsolete and outmoded, and in their stead incense was burned to the idol Mammon.”

 

Despite this and many similarly hostile chimes from the National Socialist ranks as regards economics, business studies ultimately benefited from the National Socialist economic policy. The planned-economy elements of the National Socialist economic constitution required an accurate assessment of company cost structures – and business studies could offer a suitable instrument to do so.

 

Consequently, like many of their Volksgenosse (fellow Germans), many business experts swiftly adapted to the regime – and to a large extent even supported it actively. Heinrich Nicklisch’s notorious public appeal (see picture) to business economists in 1933 to “pledge all their resources to the Führer of the new Germany, set their research objectives according to the needs of the political design and above all help clarify the key relationships in this respect” is the most well-known – if not the gravest – example of university business studies lecturers’ support for the National Socialist state.

 

 

 

Many business studies lecturers were involved in supporting the National Socialist state in the course of their practical activities. In particular, this included assisting in law reform projects, price determination and checks, due diligence investigations and corporate consulting, and training the next generation of economists. These activities ensured, among other things, that business studies expanded at the universities – as evidenced by the conversion of eight professorships from other subjects to business studies professorships between 1938 and 1943.

 

What is striking – if not surprising – is the high proportion of Nazi Party (NSDAP) members among the professors who were tenured between 1933 and 1945 (21 out of 22). The only non-member of the NSDAP was Wilhelm Michael Kirsch, although Erich Schäfer did not join the party until after he was given tenure. Of the 29 tenured professors who already held their title before January 30, 1933, ten were members of the NSDAP. However, the NSDAP memberships are only of limited value as indicators: Although membership was not compulsory for civil servants, the informal pressure to join the NSDAP was enormous. Consequently, the range of the “National Socialist” attitudes among NSDAP members was very broad.

 

Closer consideration of the behavior of university business studies lecturers in the Third Reich reveals a clear generational contrast: Sections of the younger generation intent on climbing the ladder at the universities in particular were vociferous supporters of the Third Reich and dedicated National Socialists, including most notably Walter Thoms, Walter Weigmann and Hans Herbert Hohlfeld. In many cases, however, these groups pursued their ostentatious National Socialism more for opportunistic, career-strategic interests than out of true conviction; a dedicated (and extremely well-connected) National Socialist, Thoms was one of the few exceptions. Many established business studies lecturers were more skeptical about National Socialism. Moreover, for business academics, as for most Germans, the longer the Nazi regime lasted, the more its popularity would fade.

 

National Socialist party offices and business academics repeatedly tried to politicize and ideologize business studies during the Third Reich. However, as might be expected, these attempts did not prove all that successful; the frequently and vociferously proclaimed goal of leading National Socialist lecturers and science politicians of creating a National Socialist economic science could only be fulfilled to a limited extent. This was due on the one hand to the primarily practical character of business studies and, on the other hand, more specifically the fact that “National Socialist business studies” was regarded by most expert representatives and the relevant offices in the Reich Ministry of Education – albeit implicitly for the most part – as scientifically unserious. Nonetheless, the normative public-service business studies around Heinrich Nicklisch had a clear National Socialist character – which was also stressed plainly by its representatives: The stock word Betriebsgemeinschaft (business community) this direction liked to use had strong populist connotations. It is therefore no coincidence that Nicklisch’s pupils ranked among the most active National Socialist business academics. Just like before 1933, however, the influence of the normative direction of business studies during the Third Reich remained very limited.

 

Despite all the converse rhetoric that demanded the appointment of explicitly National Socialist university lecturers, most appointments during the Nazi period were ultimately made based on the academic qualifications of the candidates. Attempts by party offices and National Socialist business academics to appoint established but less qualified National Socialists for free professorships mostly foundered on account of the resistance from the faculties and the national ministry of culture, the Reich Ministry of Education (REM). However, the differences of opinion regarding the candidates often triggered open conflicts between the REM and party offices – and thus frequently an at least to some extent politically determined selection: The party and the National Socialist University Lecturers’ League might not have been able, according to Wilhelm Hasenack, to compel a particular “unwavering faculty” to make a particular appointment; the Nazi University Lecturers’ League, however, “practically had a right of veto for appointments […]”.

 

The Second World War also brought major changes for science: When war broke out, the universities were initially closed before reopening their doors fairly soon afterwards (most in early 1940). Officially, no new departments were established during the war, although there were exceptions. Many business academics were called up (some for practically the whole war). Many students of the subject – and some lecturers, too, including professors Fleege-Althoff and Walter Weigmann – were killed in action. The business academics who were allowed to remain at university constantly faced the threat of being reclassified from “deferred from military service” and sent off to fight, as was especially the case for politically suspect lecturers like the liberal Rudolf Johns. Towards the end of the war in particular, business academics were also among the victims of the bombing raids on German cities: During a raid on Berlin in which the business school was hit, for instance, Konrad Mellerowicz’s department was all but wiped out.