And Tomorrow, the World?


The deteriorating course of the war put a stop to the planning activities of Professor Meyer in the spring of 1943, although Himmler continued to fantasise about settlements in the East long after the Red Army had crossed the frontiers of East Prussia. Ultimately, as we know, the moral and material might of the Allies prevented the realisation of the nightmarish scenarios of the SS. The expulsion and flight of millions of ethnic Germans from eastern Europe and the division of Germany for forty-five years ensued. But it is important to remember that German victory on the Eastern Front would have had wider consequences than those affecting the population of the Soviet empire.

Historians have long debated whether Hitler’s final goal was simply the conquest of ‘living space’ in Eastern Europe or whether this was ‘merely’ the prerequisite for world domination (implying an ultimate conflict with Britain and America). Some historians, notably Hugh Trevor-Roper and Eberhard Jackel, insist that Hitler was a ‘continentalist’, with his final objective consisting of the acquisition of Lebensraum in the East and the resolution of the ‘Jewish Question’. Others, notably Günther Moltmann, Milan Hauner and Meier Michaelis, have insisted that Hitler’s ambitions were ‘globalist’. In fact, the two positions are not mutually exclusive, but rather reflect different emphases. The continentalists point to the frequency with which Hitler dilated upon the East, relegating his more expansive remarks to the world of fantasy; the globalists piece together his more random utterances about colonies or a war with America and take them seriously. Some historians, for example Andreas Hillgruber, have systematised Hitler’s statements into a ‘programme’ for aggression:

After the creation of a European continental empire buttressed by the conquest of Russia, a second stage of imperial expansion was to follow with the acquisition of complementary territory in Central Africa and a system of bases to support a strong surface fleet in the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Germany, in alliance with Japan and if possible also Britain, would in the first place isolate the USA and confine it to the Western hemisphere. Then, in the next generation, there would be a ‘battle of the continents’ in which the ‘Germanic empire of the German nation’ would fight America for world supremacy.

Subsequent research, while not endorsing the notion of a ‘programme’, does appear to confirm that Hitler’s aims were global. It has drawn attention to Hermann Rauschning’s liberal, rather than literal, accounts of Hitler’s conversation in 1933-4, accounts originally designed, of course, to deter fellow conservatives from their liaison dangereuse with Nazism. In this period shortly after the ‘seizure of power’, Hitler announced his intention of ‘creating a new Germany’ in Brazil and taking over the Dutch colonial empire, Central Africa and ‘the whole of New Guinea’. The allegedly dominant Anglo-Saxon influence in North America would be subverted ‘as a preliminary step towards incorporating the United States into the German World Empire’. These objectives were accompanied by quasi-messianic declarations of intent about ‘recasting the world’, or the ‘liberation’ of mankind from the restraints of intellect, freedom and morality.

Hitler and his associates returned to these themes during the first flush of victory. In 1940 Ribbentrop and officials in the Foreign Ministry were thinking of augmenting the ‘Greater European economic sphere’ with a ‘.supplementary colonial area’ carved from British and French West Africa, French Equatorial Africa, the Belgian Congo, Uganda, Kenya, Zanzibar and Northern Rhodesia, with Madagascar acquired for the purpose of ‘resettling’ the Jews. The Racial Political Office of the NSDAP began detailed planning for the creation of colonial regimes in Africa and for the regulation of relations between whites and blacks. Back in Europe, neutrality, benevolent or otherwise, was no guarantee against attack. Operation Tannenbaum was designed to conquer Switzerland, which was to be divided between its neighbours; Operation Polar Fox would secure the iron ore reserves of Sweden; while Operations Isabella and Felix would secure respectively Portugal and Gibraltar, in the latter case with or without the consent of Franco.

In the aftermath of a victory on the Eastern Front, Hitler would have been in a position to dictate terms to Britain. If the government had once again rejected his offers of peaceful coexistence, then the resources of the occupied East would have been deployed in a sustained air war against Britain, a war which, if won, could have resulted in the eventual activation of Operation Sealion. The war would then probably have extended into the late 1940s. Only a Russian recovery behind the Urals and an American intervention with atomic weapons would have averted the consolidation of Nazi rule throughout the continent of Europe and the conquered regions of the Soviet Union – and neither of these would have been guaranteed if Britain had been defeated. Indeed, they would have been positively unlikely if Hitler had made more effective use of his alliance with Japan, which formally joined the German-Italian axis in September 1940, against the Soviet Union or against the British Empire. Hitler could, for example, have agreed to concentrate on driving the British out of Egypt and the Middle East, leaving Japan to direct its military efforts against the British in Singapore and India. Alternatively, he could have coordinated the German and Japanese attacks on the Soviet Union. Either way, there would have been a pincer effect which would have been very hard to defeat. And, of course, the Americans would have still been on the sidelines, because Pearl Harbor would not have been attacked.

Instead, of course, the Japanese were allowed to conclude a neutrality agreement with Stalin just two and a half months before Barbarossa was launched, and were actually encouraged by Hitler to attack the United States in November 1941. The next month, on 6 December the Russian counter-offensive was launched; and, two days later, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, bringing the Americans into the war. To compound the mistake, Hitler declared war on the US on 11 December. This decision has often been seen as a short-sighted and fatal mistake. Yet Hitler seems to have envisaged confrontation with the United States from a relatively early stage. For some time, he persisted in the delusion that Britain would accept German leadership in a ‘revitalised’ Europe, turning with Germany upon the USA: ‘I shall no longer be there to see it, but I rejoice on behalf of the German people at the idea that one day we will see England and Germany marching together against America.‘ But, in the event that neither the prospect of an alliance with Britain nor an economic blockade would bring the USA to its knees, he seems to have been willing to contemplate transatlantic aggression. He toyed with the idea of air-strikes against America from bases in the Azores and Canary Islands, commissioning the development of Messerschmitt four-engine bombers, capable of delivering eight-ton payloads at a range of 11,000-15,000 kilometres. Similar ambitions were also apparent in his special ‘Z plan’ naval directive of 27 January 1939, for a fleet which by 1944-6 would be capable of challenging any power on the high seas from its vast base at Trondheim. The 800 ships were to include 100,000-ton battleships with a length of over 300 metres and guns of 53 cm calibre.

In sum, there is some evidence that Hitler’s objectives were almost without limit. Nor was his planning hampered by questions of cost, human or otherwise, for war in his eyes had a positive, regenerative value for the ‘health’ of the race and nation. As he said, ‘We may have a hundred years of struggle before us; if so, all the better – it will prevent us from going to sleep.’

How long would a Nazi empire have endured if Hitler had been successful in at least one part of his programme, the defeat of the Soviet Union? A hundred years, as he himself envisaged? Certainly, that was the assumption on which he based his grandiose projects for the reconstruction of postwar German cities. Hitler, the failed architecture student and small-town bohemian, was obsessed with architectural planning. During the last weeks of the war, with Soviet soldiers scuttling through the debris of Berlin, he spent much of his time reshuffling architectural models in the glare of spotlights positioned to simulate sunlight. The main purpose of Hitler’s architecture was to overawe through excesses of scale and to give his regime the aura of power and permanence by reducing human beings to the scale of Lilliputians. Hitler made his views on the function of architecture quite clear when he remarked in 1941, ‘Those who enter the Reich Chancellery should feel that they stand before the lords of the world.’ He gave this a characteristically barbaric twist with regard to the surviving population of conquered Russia: ‘… once a year, a troop of Kirghiz will be led through the Reich capital in order that they may fill their minds with the power and the grandeur of its stone monuments.’

This need to overawe was accompanied with an obsession with scale which bordered on the infantile. Musing with Himmler in 1941, Hitler remarked:

Nothing will be too good for the beautification of Berlin…. One will arrive there along wide avenues containing the Triumphal Arch, the Pantheon of the Army, the Square of the People – things to take your breath away! It’s only thus that we shall succeed in eclipsing our only rival in the world, Rome. Let it be built on such a scale that St Peter’s and its Square will seem like toys in comparison!

Similar competitive gigantomania was evident in his plans for the redevelopment of Hamburg. These included plans for a massive suspension bridge across the Elbe, with pylons soaring to 180 metres. He explained the project to his army commanders as follows:

You will perhaps ask: Why don’t you build a tunnel? I don’t consider a tunnel useful. But even if I did, I would still have the largest bridge in the world erected in Hamburg, so that any German coming from abroad or who has the opportunity to compare Germany with other countries must say to himself: ‘What is so extraordinary about America and its bridges? We can do the same.’ That is why I am having skyscrapers built which will be just as ‘impressive’ as the American ones.

The skyscrapers included a new NSDAP Regional Headquarters, designed to relegate the Empire State Building in the league table of tallest buildings. (Some idea of the scale is conveyed by the fact that due to the poor sub-soil, the structure had to be reduced by 250 metres.) Modernity, megalomania and vulgarity were to be conjoined in a gigantic neon swastika on top of the building, which would guide vessels at night into the Elbe.

The largest buildings were inevitably reserved for Berlin, which in 1950, once building work was complete, would have been rechristened ‘Germania’. The city was to be rebuilt around a vast axial grid, whose avenues would be over a hundred metres wide. Emerging from railway terminals larger than Grand Central Station, the visitor would be confronted by wide vistas and enormous marble-clad buildings. A triumphal arch, double the height and breadth of Napoleon’s Arc de Triomphe, would be inscribed with the names of the fallen, while defunct enemy weaponry would be displayed on plinths erected for the purpose. Passing the new ‘Führer Palace’, equipped with a dining hall for thousands and a private theatre, the visitor would arrive at the great Hall, billed as the largest assembly hall in the world. With a capacity of a quarter of a million, the light in the cupola could alone encircle the dome of the Pantheon, the condensation thus raising the problem of interior rainfalls. Above, some 290 metres from the ground, a lantern supported an eagle perched at first upon a swastika, and then in the revised version, upon the globe. These buildings, and the parade grounds that went with them, were to be the stage for the choreography of millions, marching, singing, acclaiming seas of people, beneath the glacial shafts of a hundred searchlights. And they were intended to last. As Hitler once remarked: ‘Granite will ensure that our monuments will last for ever. In ten thousand years they’ll be still standing, just as they are, unless meanwhile the sea has again covered our plains.’ The materials were to come from a new generation of concentration camps, established by the SS in the vicinity of stone quarries.

Beyond Germany, architectural planning became a matter of Wilhelm Kreis’s monuments to the dead which were to punctuate the landscape from Africa to the plains of Russia. More importantly, the regime planned major changes to Europe’s infrastructure. Canals would bring the grain and petroleum of Russia along the Danube, and three-lane motorways would enable German tourists to speed along in their Volkswagens from Calais to Warsaw or Klagenfurt to Trondheim. In early 1942, Hitler and his chief engineer, Fritz Todt, began plans for a four-metre-gauge railway, which would convey double-decker trains at 190 kilometres an hour to the Caspian Sea and the Urals. Some time after the defeats at Stalingrad and Kursk, Hitler was still designing saloon and dining cars to take ethnic German settlers to and fro in Russia.

Of course, historians who stress the chaotic and ultimately self-destructive character of the Third Reich would have us believe that all such plans were mere fantasy: the Third Reich was preprogrammed to collapse in 1945. What remains unclear, however, is how far their assumptions of an inevitable Nazi defeat are based on a realistic assessment of what could have happened – and how far on mere wishful and teleological thinking. Certainly, many aspects of Nazi planning appear so bizarre to us that it is hard to imagine their ever having been realised. But not all. While Himmler planned his ethnic revolution and Hitler built his architectural models, other agencies were mapping out futures for ordinary Germans which were far from unrealistic in their conception. Robert Ley’s mammoth German Labour Front apparatus (DAF) was the socially ‘progressive’ arm of a regime better known for repression and terror. Through its subordinate ‘Beauty of Labour’ and ‘Strength through Joy’ organisations it endeavoured to bring improved conditions, cheap holidays, sport and a greater sense of worth to the ‘German worker’, and hence to boost his or her productivity while breaking down traditional class solidarities. Even the exiled SPD leadership was forced to acknowledge the efficacy of these policies, lamenting the ‘petit bourgeois inclinations’ evinced by sections of its erstwhile constituency. During the first years of the war, the DAF’s Scientific Labour Institute made detailed plans for the provision of comprehensive health, insurance and pension coverage, thus simultaneously generating and responding to expectations of a postwar reward for present deprivation. Interpreting a specific mandate to improve public housing – a field hitherto neglected in favour of monumental building – as a general commission for welfare reform, Ley and his staff made proposals which bear some superficial similarities to the Beveridge Report. For example, there was to be a new national pensions scheme whereby the over sixty-fives would receive 60 per cent of their average earnings over the last decade of employment. These plans were augmented with a child benefit scheme and measures to reform health provision.

Only a closer examination of these schemes reveals that the benefits were contingent upon past ‘performance’, and that whole categories of people were to be excluded from any provision whatsoever on the grounds of race or ‘asocial’ behaviour. The projected health-care reforms, including the provision of public clinics, factory physicians and affordable spas and sanatoria, also concealed a collectivist and mechanical view of human beings as epitomised in the chilling slogan ‘Your health does not belong to you,’ or in the objective of ‘periodically overhauling’ the German population in the same way as ‘one services an engine’. This would have been a welfare state only for those Germans who were not imprisoned, sterilised or murdered as ‘ballast existences’, ‘asocials’ or racial ‘aliens’. Perhaps it is this aspect of the counterfactual of a German victory which is most chilling of all – precisely because in its superficial ‘modernity’ it is so easy to imagine it coming true.


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