Did Nazi Germany’s Racial Policies Cost Them the War?

What if the Nazis had not spent time, manpower and resources in efforts to rid Germany of ‘non-Aryans’?

What if they had not suffered under the delusion of their racial superiority, which gave them overconfidence concerning their potential for conquering Russia on the Eastern Front, even while engaging with the Western Allies?

If not bogged down by racial politics, could Germany have won the war?

nazi invasion of russia

The Economic Consequences of Racism in Germany

The effort to wipe out the Jews hindered the German war effort by diverting critical resources at crucial times. Critical troop and military supply trains were delayed to allow the transportation of Jews to the death camps in Poland. Members of the Schutzstaffel (SS) hindered war production by killing key slave workers in critical industries.

—Stephen E. Atkins, Holocaust Denial as an International Movement

While the Wehrmacht certainly benefitted from slave labour and wealth and possessions stolen from Jews and other victims of the Holocaust, rounding up millions of people to ship to labour, prisoner and extermination camps — which also had to be constructed, manned and maintained — was a great expense.

It could also be argued that at least some of the labour required for these projects formed a grisly component of the Nazi’s public works programme originally initiated by Hjalmar Schacht. In this way it possibly stimulated some sectors of the German economy, though it cannot realistically be seen as ultimately profitable.

Furthermore, ruining successful Jewish businesses through the process of Aryanisation, along with driving out, impoverishing and killing over 500,000 Jewish consumers and producers — what to speak of the loss of intellectual capital — cannot be seen as a shrewd economic move.

Neither was racially influenced autarky, based on an ideal of German self-sufficiency, economically beneficial for a country that was still importing 33% of its raw materials by 1939.

Nazi laws

1 April 1933, Berlin: SA members take part in the labelling and boycott of Jewish businesses

Racism, like the Nazi policy on women, which severely limit half the German population’s options for work and education, was simply not economically sound nor the most efficient use of resources. According to Cornell University historian Enzo Traveso, the extermination of Jews had no socio-economic or political purposes outside of proving Aryan superiority.

The War With Russia Was Based on Racism

Despite inbuilt and ideologically fuelled economic barriers, Germany’s economy grew rapidly under Hjalmar Schacht’s policies as Minister of Economics. Moreover, during the war Germany was able to plunder raw materials from occupied countries, notably iron ore from France and Poland.

Early Victories Boosted Hitler’s Racial Pipe Dream

Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia, is seen by many as a foolhardy and overconfident move by Hitler, who thought the racially superior German Forces would trounce the Soviet Union in a few weeks. This kind of delusional racist thinking would result in unrealistic ambitions and the overextension of German forces on all fronts.

However, these delusions were supported by early Nazi successes on the Eastern Front against unprepared Soviet forces.

Lebensraum and Anti-Slavism

According to the tenants of Nazi racial ideology, Russia was populated by sub-humans and controlled by Jewish communists. It was Nazi policy to kill or enslave the majority of the Slavic people — mainly Polish, Ukrainian and Russian — in order to gain lebensraum, or ‘living space’ for the Aryan race and agricultural land to feed Germany.

Nazism held that Aryan superiority gave Germans the right to kill, deport and enslave inferior races in order to take their land and prohibit race mixing. The idea of lebensraum was undeniably racist, but racism wasn’t Hitler’s only motivation for the war with Russia. Hitler wanted more agriculturally productive land to facilitate autarky — full economic independence.

eastern front ww2

Russian soldiers

While Soviet losses were catastrophic, their forces greatly outnumbered Germany’s. As the war went on, the Soviet Union organised and outproduced the Germans in armaments, ultimately defeating them at Stalingrad in February 1943 and eventually capturing Berlin in May 1945.

If the Nazis didn’t believe they had the absolute right to displace ‘inferior’ Slavs, would they have concentrated so much of their efforts on invading the Soviet Union and avoided, or at least postponed their defeat?

Graham is an editor and contributor at Made From History. A London-based writer originally from Washington, DC, he holds a master's degree in Cultural History from Malmö University in Sweden. Graham also contributes environmental news articles to asiancorrespondent.com and latincorrespondent.com.

  • http://peterstanton.blogspot.com/ Peter Stanton

    I think this is a great counterfactual question to consider. However, I think it’s worth parsing out what should be two separate questions: Would Nazi Germany have been successful without pursuing the Holocaust? and Would Nazi Germany have been successful without pursuing Operation Barbarossa? The first question seems much less frequently discussed than the second. If Hitler hadn’t carried out the Holocaust, but still invaded the Soviet Union, I believe Germany might have been able to hold out longer, but still would have lost. The Nazi regime would certainly be less infamous than it is today, though.

    • GrahamLand

      Hi Peter. Thanks for your comment.

      You have good points. For sure we could examine tactical errors of the Nazis, but this article was just about briefly addressing their racial ideology and asking how it overall affected the war effort. On the other hand, without it, Germany very well might not have been motivated enough to go to war at all.

      Another question might be, how much did their extreme racism foment resistance or conversely, why didn’t it cause more rebellion?

    • DukeofMarlborough

      Depends on what you mean by success. Could they have defeated the West? Certainly. They were well in their way to do doing so. If they had not stopped bombing Britian’s airfields and somehow figured out how to launch an amphibious assault they would have eventually defeated the Brits.

      Strategically-speaking, the Germans never should have taken on the USSR and then the US. They were punching well above their weight. The single worst decision Hitlet made was invading the USSR. Absolutely calamitous decision.

      • bibol

        You are partially right I believe. The British were very good stirring up trouble against Germany. Yugoslavia had a agreement with Germany and a coup resulted which tied up German resources. The US was supporting England before WW2. If Germany did not declare war the pressure would of been the US to shift all resources to fight Japan. England would of starved and surrendered. Russia received food, trucks, airplanes and other equipment to ship supplies

        • Александр Пух

          not received. We paid gold for it.

          • bibol

            Who is we?