As we saw in the two preceding chapters, Nazi economic policy was not only centered on putting people back to work and preparing the country for war. It was also about engineering a proper racial and commercial sensibility. In the Nazi marketplace, the state and private companies communicated with Germans in their capacities as consumers, who held symbolic and actual power. Consumers had the ability to withhold support from the regime if the economy remained weak and to undermine a company by not buying its goods. Marketers and the Nazi Advertising Council therefore relied upon a number of tools to both appease and educate consumers. In the Third Reich companies found multiple opportunities for business, but the disparate aims of private industry and the regime created an uneasy tension. Schooling consumers in patience, frugality, and racial difference could be at odds with the desire to move products. Business leaders, who were encouraged to maintain a semblance of normality, were confused about how to implement a National Socialist agenda while protecting their own interests.
Who exactly were these business leaders? How did they understand the new ideological terrain on which they operated? This chapter takes a closer look at these individuals – managers, company owners, and economists – and their participation in German Rotary Clubs during the Third Reich in order to understand the milieu in which Nazi ideas about commerce and consumption circulated. In a sense, this chapter uses the example of one civic association to understand the broader social and intellectual context of the Nazis’ market vision. As we will see, business in the Third Reich was not only about maintaining profits and healthy markets. The ascent of National Socialism also gave economic leaders an opportunity to explore their self-understanding as elites and to ask how their unfolding relationship with the consuming masses might be transformed after the tumultuous Weimar years. Nazism challenged them to forge an understanding of modern consumer society that would serve both their business interests and the Volksgemeinschaft. In their weekly conversations and debates, these bourgeois gentlemen breathed life into the ideas about achievement, trust, and virtuous economic behavior that were the hallmarks of the Nazi marketplace.