Germany’s economy was heavily industrial, but millions of small and medium-sized farms still operated on a family basis or with relatively few workers. In accordance with Darré’s “blood and soil” doctrine, Nazi ideology glorified traditional peasant life as purer and more “natural” than its urban counterpart. The regime’s desire to help farmers followed from this. On September 29, 1933, a a law was enacted to protect peasant farms through entailment. It was called the Hereditary Farm Law, and it restricted farm inheritance to lineal descendants of the owner and rendered properties indivisible. This effort was not particularly effective in halting the declining number of small farmers, however. After the war began, Himmler and other peasant enthusiasts initiated efforts to plant outposts of German peasant-warriors in the conquered territories of the East.
German economic planning was guided by Hitler’s conception of economic self-sufficiency. Yet the move toward “autarky” involved sacrifices that interfered with other political and economic goals – even war preparations. Other challenges stemmed from the unwieldy administrative apparatus responsible for thrashing out economic disagreements and entertaining solutions. A mixture of government, party, and private economic authorities influenced economic decisions, complicating the pursuit of consistent or rational policies. Economic and labor policies exposed the jagged edges, irrationality, and inefficiency of the Nazi system.
Although the Nazi regime left most private corporations in the hands of management and stockholders, it did not hesitate to intervene in corporate decisions to bring about what was needed in the perceived general interest. Private corporations that refused to cooperate were disciplined, either through the withdrawal of state contracts or the establishment of competing, state-run enterprises such as the Reichswerke Hermann Göring [Reichswerke Hermann Göring], a plant that made steel from low-grade domestic coal and iron ore.
In August 1936, Hitler’s dissatisfaction with the government’s handling of economic policy and his belief that Germany’s corporate executives were unable – or unwilling – to subordinate their own interests to essential national goals prompted him to write an economic manifesto. It established general guidelines for achieving economic self-sufficiency and preparing for war but hardly managed to resolve specific conflicts or fulfill particular objectives. Nonetheless, the manifesto stood at the heart of Hitler’s decision to appoint Göring head of the Office of the Four-Year Plan, a move that made the latter a virtual economic tsar. On March 17, 1937, Göring tried to coerce the Working Group of the Economic Team of the Iron-Making Industry into forcing its member firms to increase iron production in the interest of the war economy. At the meeting, Göring revealed in passing that the annexation of Austria – which occurred almost a year later to the day – was already anticipated. This sort of contact with top-level Nazi officials gave corporate executives unusual insight into future developments.