Nazi ideology

The German people had suffered terribly during both the First World War and the Depression and a huge part of the Nazis’ appeal was that they promised to make Germany’s economy strong again. Hitler aimed for full employment and by 1939 there was virtually no official unemployment in Germany. He also wanted to make Germany self-sufficient, a concept known as autarky, but the attempt to do so was ultimately unsuccessful.

Employment and living standards

Three factors of how Hitler increased employment: Public Works, Rearmament and National Service.

He began a huge programme of public works, which included building hospitals, schools, and public buildings such as the 1936 Olympic Stadium. The construction of 7,000 kms of autobahns created work for 80,000 men.

Rearmament was responsible for the bulk of economic growth between 1933 and 1938. Rearmament started almost as soon as Hitler came to power but was announced publicly in 1935.

In 1933, 3.5 billion marks was spent on producing tanks, aircraft and ships, and by 1939 the figure was 26 billion marks. This created millions of jobs for German workers. The use of oil, iron and steel all tripled, creating a variety of different jobs.

Hitler passed the Unemployment Relief Act in June 1933. This helped establish an important organisation, the National Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst (RAD)) which aimed to reduce unemployment and indoctrinate the workforce. Voluntary at first but compulsory from 1935, every man aged between 18-25 had to:

  • complete six months training at the RAD
  • wear military uniform
  • live in camps
  • receive pocket money only - no wages
  • do military/physical exercise every day such as planting forests and digging ditches on farms

Invisible employment

Although Germany claimed to have full employment by 1939, many groups of people were not included in the statistics.

  • The were 1.4 million men in the army at this time.
  • Jews who were sacked had to give their jobs to non-Jews.
  • Women were encouraged to give up their jobs to men.


The policy of autarky attempted to make Germany self-sufficient, so it would no longer be necessary for Germans to trade internationally. In 1936, Hermann Göring was appointed leader of the Four Year Plan (1936-40). His powers and the plan itself conflicted with Schacht's, the current economic minister, and Schacht resigned in 1937.

The Four Year Plan aimed to speed up rearmament and make Germany self-sufficient to ensure it was ready for war. The measures he introduced, such as tighter controls on imports and subsidies for farmers to produce more food, were not successful. By the outbreak of World War Two Germany was still importing 20 per cent of its food and 33 per cent of its raw materials.