In 1939, Vanguard Press in New York City published “The Vampire
Economy: Doing Business Under Fascism” by Guenter Reimann, a 35-year-old
German writer at the time. Through contacts with German business owners,
Reimann documented how the “monster machine” of the Nazis crushed the
autonomy of the private sector through onerous regulations, harsh
inspections and the threat of confiscatory fines for petty offenses.

“Industrialists were visited by state auditors who had strict orders
examine the balance sheets and all bookkeeping entries of the company or

individual businessman for the preceding two, three or more years until
some error or false entry was found,” explains Reimann. “The slightest
formal mistake was punished with tremendous penalties. A fine of
millions of marks was imposed for a single bookkeeping error.”

Reimann quotes from a businessman’s letter: “You have no idea how far
state control goes and how much power the Nazi representatives have over
our work. The worst of it is that they are so ignorant. These Nazi
radicals think of nothing except ‘distributing the wealth.’ Some
businessmen have even started studying Marxist theories, so that they
will have a better understanding of the present economic system. While
state representatives are busily engaged in investigating and
interfering, our agents and salesmen are handicapped because they never
know whether or not a sale at a higher price will mean denunciation as a
‘profiteer’ or ‘saboteur,’ followed by a prison sentence. You cannot
imagine how taxation has increased. Yet everyone is afraid to complain.
Everywhere there is a growing undercurrent of bitterness. Everyone has
his doubts about the system, unless he is very young, very stupid or is
bound to it by the privileges he enjoys. There are terrible times
coming. If only I had succeeded in smuggling out $10,000 or even $5,000,
I would leave Germany with my family. Business friends of mine are
convinced that it will be the turn of the ‘white Jews’ (which means us,
Aryan businessmen) after the Jews have been expropriated. The difference
between this and the Russian system is much less than you think, despite
the fact that we are still independent businessmen.”

“Independent” only in a decorous sense. Under fascism, explains the
businessman, the capitalist “must be servile to the representatives of
state” and “must not insist on rights, and must not behave as if his
private property rights were still sacred.” It’s the businessman,
characteristically independent, who is “most likely to get into trouble
with the Gestapo for having grumbled incautiously.”

“Of all businessmen, the small shopkeeper is the one most under
control and
most at the mercy of the party,” recounts Reimann. “The party man, whose

good will he must have, does not live in faraway Berlin; he lives right
door or right around the corner. This local Hitler gets a report every
day on
what is discussed in Herr Schultz’s bakery and Herr Schmidt’s butcher
shop. He would regard these men as ‘enemies of the state’ if they
complained too
much. That would mean, at the very least, the cutting of their quota of
scarce and hence highly desirable goods, and it might mean the loss of
their business licenses. Small shopkeepers and artisans are not to

“Officials, trained only to obey orders, have neither the desire, the

equipment nor the vision to modify rules to suit individual situations,”

Reimann explains. “The state bureaucrats, therefore, apply these laws
rigidly and mechanically, without regard for the vital interests of
essential parts of the national economy. Their only incentive to modify
the letter of the law is in bribes from businessmen, who for their part
use bribery as their only means of obtaining relief from a rigidity
which they find crippling.”

Says another businessman: “Each business move has become very
complicated and is full of legal traps which the average businessman
cannot determine because there are so many new decrees. All of us in
business are constantly in fear of being penalized for the violation of
some decree or law.” Business owners, explains another entrepreneur,
cannot exist with a “collaborator,” i.e., a “lawyer” with good contacts
in the Nazi bureaucracy, one who “knows exactly how far you can
circumvent the law.” Nazi officials, explains Reimann, “obtain money for
themselves by merely taking it from capitalists who have funds available
with which to purchase influence and protection,” paying for their
protection “as did the helpless peasants of feudal days.”

“It has gotten to the point where I cannot talk even in my own
laments a factory owner. “Accidentally, one of the workers overheard me
grumbling about some new bureaucratic regulation and he immediately
denounced me to the party and the Labor Front office.” Reports another
factory owner: “The greater part of the week I don’t see my factory at
all. All this time I spend in visiting dozens of government commissions
and offices in order to get raw materials I need. Then there are various
tax problems to settle and I must have continual conferences and
negotiations with the Price Commission. It sometimes seems as if I do
nothing but that, and everywhere I go there are more leaders, party
secretaries and commissars to see.”

In this totalitarian paradigm, a businessman, declares a Nazi decree,

“practices his functions primarily as a representative of the State,
secondarily for his own sake.” Complain, warns a Nazi director, and “we
shall take away the freedom still left you.”

In 1933, six years before Reimann’s book, Victor Klemperer, a Jewish
academic in Dresden, made the following entry in his diary on February
21: “It is a disgrace that gets worse with every day that passes. And
there’s not a sound from anyone. Everyone’s keeping his head down.”

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