Writing a book on the history of local budgets is a real challenge. On the one hand, you cannot expect too many readers to be interested in an apparently boring topic like the administration of public finances. On the other hand, you need a good deal of technical expertise in order to understand what it means to draw up a budget. Adam Tooze’s Wages of Destruction (2006) has taught us that money did matter on the central level of the Third Reich. However, is this also the case when it comes to local administrations? For many good reasons, public interest in the local history of Nazi Germany is unabated. This may be due to locals who are particularly interested in the history of the place where they feel at home. From a more academic point of view, research into the interaction of state, party and society on the local level promises to offer new insights into the multi-levelled political fabric of the Nazi dictatorship. Both Munich and Berlin were rather special compared to other German cities. They played a key role in the Nazi political system, as most central institutions of the Third Reich were located either in the ‘Reichshauptstadt’ or in the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’. Therefore, it is hardly possible to write about Nazi Germany without mentioning Munich or Berlin. Nevertheless, that does not mean by itself that we know a lot about how both cities were governed from 1933 to 1945, whether the local administration and the local party cooperated with one another and to what extent, how urban society changed, and whether it interacted with local institutions of the Nazi state. In many respects Munich and Berlin were rather similar to many other big cities in Germany. Only recently, the interest in Munich’s history during the Nazi years has experienced a strong boost due to the opening of the ‘NS-Dokumentationszentrum’. It appears to be a lucky coincidence that the research project München im Nationalsozialismus. Kommunalverwaltung und Stadtgesellschaft started a few years ago is now providing its first results. According to its aims, the project seeks to shed new light on the local administration’s contribution to the stability of the political system and the mobilization of its resources. Paul-Moritz Rabe’s PhD thesis, Die Stadt und das Geld: Haushalt und Herrschaft im nationalsozialistischen München is now the third volume to be published in this prolific environment. Alluding to the title of Karl Schlögel’s well-known book, Im Raume lesen wir die Zeit (‘In space we read time’), Rabe claims to get to the bottom of political change in Nazi local politics through the analysis of budget figures. Just looking at the numbers might turn out to be a pretty frustrating experience for most of us. In many cases mere budget figures tend to hide political realities rather than expose them to the researcher’s eye. Looking behind the numbers demands a profound knowledge of fiscal administration and its historic development. What makes Rabe’s book a great step forward is his thorough analysis of budget-making, combined with a fresh approach towards understanding local politics in Nazi Germany. After the end of the Third Reich, most public servants tried to escape the denazification process by portraying themselves as unwilling executioners of the Nazis’ orders. According to this apologetic narrative, there was no alternative to complying with the party’s demands, which they personally rejected. When Horst Matzerath published his book on National Socialism and local self-government in 1970, this was common ground. Rabe exposes much of the rhetoric employed in the post-war years as an unconvincing alibi. He also stresses that complaints of local administrations about the lack of funding by central authorities did not imply any disagreement with Nazi politics, but were a common feature before, during and after the Nazi years. Despite conflicting interests, the process of negotiation between Munich’s fiscal department, headed by treasurer Andreas Pfeiffer, Lord Mayor Karl Fiehler, Gauleiter Adolf Wagner, the NSDAP’s treasurer Franz Xaver Schwarz, central authorities in Berlin and, last but not least, Adolf Hitler himself, was dominated by a deep sense of loyalty and the willingness to cooperate almost at any price. On the local level Fiehler and Pfeiffer were a perfect match. Pfeiffer had held his office since 1927 and was a renowned financial expert when Hitler came to power in 1933. Without hesitation he carried on and became a leading figure of the new political order. Due to his expertise and his efficient handling of personal networks, he played a key role in the transformation of local politics according to the Nazis’ ideas. His counterpart Karl Fiehler was deeply rooted in the party hierarchy. Although Joseph Goebbels scorned him as not being up to the mark as Lord Mayor of the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’, Fiehler proved to be very successful in integrating old and new elites by his respectful and reliable style of local government. He was an expert in local politics and could make his influence felt both as head of the party’s central office for local government politics and as president of Germany’s Municipal Assembly. In order to explain the significance of Munich’s budgets, Paul-Moritz Rabe digs deep into the details of local sources of revenue as well as into main areas of local expenditure. Although the party’s propaganda had promised an improvement of local financial resources, there was only a small degree of change after 1933. The positive effects of the economic recovery in the mid-1930s were almost completely counterbalanced by the negative effects of financial reforms on the central level. While the Reich tended to get hold of local taxes, it barred the cities’ access to the capital market, which became quintessential for the funding of armaments and warfare. Although the ‘Hauptstadt der Bewegung’ enjoyed some special conditions, it had to cope with financial restrictions like other major cities. There were two approaches to generate additional income, namely the implementation of new taxes, as, for example, the tourism levy introduced by the city of Munich in 1937, and the enforced collection of existing taxes. As Rabe argues, this effort went hand in hand with the gradual expropriation of Munich’s Jews, executed by civil servants of the financial department. As Hitler paid particular attention to Munich, ‘working towards the Führer’ became an honorary duty for the city’s authorities even though it strained the local budget. When the sales of Hitler’s Mein Kampf dropped in 1934, Fiehler eagerly supported the publisher’s request to distribute the book by local registry offices as a wedding gift. While other cities like Frankfurt, Berlin and Breslau rejected the proposal, Munich went ahead and spent a vast amount of money, most of which ended up in Hitler’s pockets. At the same time generous sums of money were granted to party functionaries who played a major role in the city’s personal networks. Rabe very convincingly points out that municipal budget policy contributed strongly to the ongoing merger of party and state. Apologies which were promulgated after 1945 stressing the differences between party functionaries and civil servants had little in common with the reality of municipal politics in Nazi Germany. Rabe’s impressive volume should be a constant reminder to us not to underestimate the importance of figures in the process of political decision-making on the local and regional levels. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the German History Society. All rights reserved.
German History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 28, 2018
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