How did Nazi Germany finance itself during the war? They produced a large amount of war material during 1939-1945, but how was this production financed? What were Germany's revenue streams that enabled them to purchase and transport the raw materials of war and pay the workers? I doubt they were exporting goods during the war, so any revenue was likely internal to the country. Given the Depression was still going on in 1939, how did they pay for the war?

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    @Sam - I converted your answer to a comment. After looking into it, it does look relevant, and might even be true, but it doesn't contain nearly enough supporting material to count as a full answer here. If someone (perhaps you) wants to flesh it out to a full answer, feel free.
    – T.E.D.
    Apr 24, 2013 at 23:26
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    @T.E.D. Nicely done. Thank you for leading by example. Apr 25, 2013 at 14:05
  • A pretty broad question. There are books on this subject. May 7, 2014 at 14:22
  • @TylerDurden Excellent! Do you have a book title in mind that a non-economist like me could grasp? May 7, 2014 at 14:48
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    @DavidPointer "Wages of Destruction" by Adam Tooze May 7, 2014 at 16:56

9 Answers 9


I think the Great Depression was quite irrelevant for Germany in 1939 similarly to for other countries that took measures at state regulation.

As for the income, Germany was a well-developed industrial country with advanced technology. It was a pioneering country at chemistry, electrical engineering, machine-tool construction, railroads and transportation, metallurgy and mining. Its industry was known for exceptional quality.

Germany had extensive exports, which did not stop throughout the war mostly through the neutral countries.

With the German conquests German firms earned numerous advantages that maximized their income:

  • They replaced or adsorbed the local businesses in many occupied countries
  • They earned the ability to use cheap forced labour of the conquered peoples

Also prior to the war any strikes were outlawed in Germany so that the firms could operate without risking with workers' protests.

  • Very clear, concise answer. Thank you! The answers I managed to find on the web were focused on only one economic aspect or were full of rather advanced (to me) economic terms. Apr 24, 2012 at 17:05
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    Germany heavily relied on various forms of forced labour not only of conquered peoples but also of the domestic population. For example any worker knew that once he is fired, he would be sent to the front which meant possible death. Once you rely on forced labour, you do not need to care about money any more. Germany was really short only of foreign currency for buying materials abroad.
    – Anixx
    Apr 24, 2012 at 17:22
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    Also many categories of workers and farmers were paid with pseudo-money (occupation marks, ghetto money, camp money, "Ukrainian" and "Polish" money, Soviet banknotes) to minimize the need to use Reichsmark. These "currencies" could not be used outside of certain area and only could be used to buy basic things.
    – Anixx
    Apr 24, 2012 at 17:24
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    Also, Operation Bernhard used slave labor to produce British and US currency, then used for foreign purchases and pay for foreign agents...en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Bernhard
    – DJohnM
    May 4, 2014 at 0:53

The recent book Hitler's Beneficiaries: Plunder, Racial War, and the Nazi Welfare State by Götz Aly offers a new and very important look at this question. It is the subject of an ongoing academic debate but many of the factual findings seem to be indisputable, if I understand correctly (haven't read it but read very detailed reviews).

Very brief summary:
The Nazis borrowed prodigious sums to finance the re-armament of Germany, the Autobahns and the social benefits the Germans received. "Fortunately", at the very moment the chips were due to fall and they would have had to face insolvency, they started the war and turned it into a great expopriation scheme. That the Nazis looted all Europe and made it pay and work for the war machine is quite well-known;

Ali goes into great detail showing the mechanics of the process and showing that the German was effort was to a large degree a financial pyramid, where the conquered countries and the murdered Jews were looted to pay off the deficits the Nazis had kept accruing.

He posits that the common German people were quite aware of this, grosso modo, and claims that this partly explains the tenacity with which the Germans fought to the bitter end (a claim that may not immediately follow from his economic data, as other factors, e.g. ideology, are involved).

One detail for example: they herded hundreds of thousands of Russians to work as labourers, industrial workers and domestic help in Germany; they were ostensibly paid (very low) salaries - but these salaries were stashed into a fund which nobody ever saw.

Another example: the Germans paid for goods in the countries they conquered (at least in the East) with "occupation marks" - an artificial currency whose exchange rate they loaded heavily in their own favour.

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    Your answer would be improved by adding a descriptions of the core findings of said book. Dec 4, 2012 at 13:50
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    Could you please give us a paraphrase of the "detailed reviews" at the very least? Part of our guidelines is to provide a complete answer rather than sending people off to another location to look for it. Otherwise we will have to closew this answer. Thanks! Dec 4, 2012 at 14:42
  • Added a brief summary. Dec 4, 2012 at 19:38
  • BBC History Magazine in the Q&A section contains an article that supports and elaborates on Mr. Goldberg's answer.
    – MCW
    Aug 27, 2013 at 18:14
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    This fact is always good to know. In older European generations, including French people who fought against Germany, it is not uncommon to hear some variation on well, Hitler was rabid loon, but he did get them out of the Great Depression. From many people, I see this more as a belief in statist/dirigism solutions to economic issues than as any form of Nazi sympathy or anti-Semitic tendencies (though I am sure neo-Nazis love to play up the "economic miracle" as well). May 22, 2019 at 4:28

According to a recent study commissioned by the German Finance Ministry, looting of German Jewish wealth amounted to 120 billion reich marks and financed about 1/3 of the expenditure of the German armed forces during WWII.


  • horrifyingly wicked and true
    – Bak1139
    Nov 26, 2014 at 11:49

Germany conquered and occupied a number of countries, and stripped them of their gold reserves (except in those instances where the countries were able to ship the gold abroad).

They sometimes paid in either marks, or more often, local currency, since they effectively controlled those countries' banking systems.

And in a pinch, they could requisition the supplies and labor that needed, basically at the point of a gun.

And Germany was one of the first countries to "exit" the Depression. That was a major result of the rearmament program, which had a "pump priming" effect on the economy.


Nazis got there money by kicking out the privately owned central bank. (Just like the privately owned Federal Reserve Bank of USA, aka Central Bank). After that Hitler printed their own money which was interest free. within a few years Germany was the richest nation in the world while the rest of the nation were in a depression from the privately owned central banks greed.

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    Could you cite a source for the US Federal reserve being privately owned?
    – MCW
    Feb 29, 2016 at 1:06
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    Furthermore "printing money" is always "interest free" - printing money causes inflation, not interest. The more I read this answer, the more doubt I have.
    – MCW
    Feb 29, 2016 at 20:38
  • @MarkC.Wallace - A broken clock shows the right time twice a day. The thirteen Federal Reserve Banks are privately owned entities, specifically, they're owned by the regional institutions they lend to. They have no controlling interest to go along with their ownership, and can take no profit from it, either. The Fed is reeeeeeaaall complicated. Similarly, the Reichsbank was privately owned, and then commandeered by Hitler personally in '39, and used Oeffa and MEFFO dummy currency expansion to strengthen the Reichsmark fraudulently. So, no upvote, but it's not way out there, either. Mar 1, 2016 at 13:03
  • @RISwampYankee A broken 12 hour clock, you mean...
    – Pryftan
    Jul 16, 2018 at 23:09
  • @ RI Swamp Yankee said, "Reichsbank ... used Oeffa and MEFFO dummy currency expansion to strengthen the Reichsmark fraudulently." Yet Lincoln used Greenbacks the same way and it is enshrined in the US Constitution that is how it ought to be, "Congress shall have the power to ... coin Money"
    – user73457
    Mar 8, 2019 at 6:11

Some US Bank and large US Companies funded the Germans in World War 2. One of these banks,The Union Bank run by Prescott Bush owned by George Herbert Walker was seized by the U.S in 1942 for trading with the Germans. Under The trading with the enemy act. Mr Julius Silverstein and Mr. Gingold sued the Bush family and the United States in 2001 for profiting from the Auschwits concentration camps. One of the reason the United States didn't get involved in World War 2 was because of US companys profits. One company was Ford Motor Company.

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    Citations would improve the quality of this answer
    – Fred
    Nov 7, 2015 at 3:28
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    Lots of assertions, very little evidence.
    – MCW
    Nov 7, 2015 at 13:39
  • Nitpick: Auschwitz was an extermination centre. Yes there's a difference between a concentration camp and an extermination centre. And I seriously doubt that that's the reason the US didn't get involved at first; certainly I've never encountered that reason. The fact the public had no interest in another war is however significant. This should be obvious given that it wasn't until a certain bombing by Japan - and the fact Japan did try and declare war prior but due to an encryption problem couldn't helped rile up support - and an infamous speech that the public was open to it (yes summarised).
    – Pryftan
    Jul 18, 2018 at 0:28
  • ...and if that is a reason I'd love to see references claiming so.
    – Pryftan
    Jul 18, 2018 at 0:30

I think the true answer is: money is a fiction, useful for bookkeeping, but ultimately meaningless. What truly matters is control of resources, infrastructure and labor. Using money is the "civilized" method of gaining that control, but if you're prepared to resort to uncivilized methods (forced labor, seizing privat property, outright conquest), you can pretty much ignore it.

See http://bits.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/01/27/bitcoin-and-the-fictions-of-money/ and http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/423/the-invention-of-money

  • That is a very interesting statement. Would you post a reference or two supporting your position? May 5, 2014 at 16:56
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    @DavidPointer: it's pretty obvious once you take a step back from the assumption that money is inherently a store of value (that really only holds for makeshift currencies that consist of repurposed consumer goods, like cigarettes). I couldn't find academic sources that put it in this perspective, but I'll add two interesting articles that illustrate the idea. May 7, 2014 at 11:27
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    I don't see this as an answer to the question; your sources support your opinion ("I think") in the first sentence, but they don't answer teh OP's question.
    – MCW
    May 7, 2014 at 11:49
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    You have not included quite a few steps necessary to support your position that money being a fiction allows Nazi Germany to finance themselves. I'm not saying you are right or wrong, but you need am much more fleshed out answer. Perhaps you could expand on the theoretical aspect of money (unit of account, store of value, medium of exchange), and how government control of the money supply would be important if you have to self-finance things as a government. Additionally, expand upon the monopoly on violence that a government wields.
    – ihtkwot
    May 8, 2014 at 19:34
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    Actually that's not a bad answer - in the years before WW2 a purely ficitious company (the "Metallurgische Forschungsgesellschaft", MeFo) was founded to issue bills of exchange that where backed by the German "Reich" and the central bank () and where used to pay for re-industrialisation and re-armament. This was purely a legal fiction (there weren't really any assets to back up the value for the bills). Not an answer, though, as the scheme had ended by 1939 AFAIK. Search for "MeFo-Bills" ("MeFo-Wechsel") , as I can't really explain this very well.
    – user3769
    Feb 5, 2015 at 13:19

Not sure if it's already mentioned here, but not many people know that Nazi Germany was on the verge of bankruptcy in the years 1936-1938. Uncontrolled investments in weaponry, social plans plus the build up of an extensive police- and army apparatus where too much for the state, which just was coming out of the deepest recession in German history until then. After 1938 this changed of course, as occupying other countries, hence robbing their gold reserves and access to massive private (mainly Jewish) capital, meant a big boost for for them. And let's also not forget that Germany was financially supported by very rich Americans of German and Irish (Henry Ford!) descend. Although this proved to be a drop on a boiling plate. German economy only SEEMED strong, but in fact was still very weak in the 30's. That's why I don't agree with the answer chosen as the correct one as it's not a correct answer.


Nazi Germany was a command economy run via expropriation. Nothing was "paid for" in the rational sense of a physical currency but instead was basically looted from occupied countries. That included labor.

The Nazi economy had a very serious inflation problem going into 1939 and in fact 1938 as well. (Just read up on your Albert Speer...both his testimony before the Nuremberg Tribunal and his biography.) Everything was rationed in Nazi Germany once the Polish Campaign began. Anything could be requisitioned by the State at will...which normally meant your kid.

All POW's were to be put to work either producing armaments, building the Atlantic Wall, manning anti-aircraft towers or sent to France to defend against an Anglo-American invasion.

I believe the theory behind the "death camps" was Jews to the East "to fight the communists" and "undermenschen" to the West to the support The Reich.

Obviously this did not prove popular with the Undermenschen so they either fought for their "SSR", fought with the Nazi's to defeat Stalin's Russia or fought "for the Revolution" against the entrenched "establishment." Either way your odds of survival were pretty slim. There were Jews who fought ferociously for Nazi Germany as many had had their property expropriated by Stalin's Russia. The "future Nazi mayor of Moscow" was to be a Jew actually.

The whole process was very inefficient and basically unworkable. There was an emphasis on engineering but little in the way of mass production or interchangeable parts. The losses on the Eastern Front simply couldn't be made up by any sources of labor or forced production. As German positions in the East were over run the Nazi economy simply ceased functioning.

When the collapse finally came in 1945 the only thing of value were US dollars.

The Russians loved watches actually...can't really explain that one.

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    This is a lot of opinions and very little supporting evidence. The assertion that nothing was paid for in currency is quite beyond belief. Sources & citations would improve this answer.
    – MCW
    May 31, 2016 at 17:18
  • The Holocaust isn't supporting evidence? "In work freedom"? How about the existence of the Atlantic Wall? Or who actually manned the flak towers over Berlin? Or how Army Group Center started out at i00, May 31, 2016 at 20:40
  • Started out at 800,000 then swelled to well over a million men before commencing Operation Typhoon? The OKW suddenly "discovered" 3 extra Army Corps? May 31, 2016 at 20:41
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    None of those are citations. None demonstrate research. None permit anyone else to follow up and check your research.
    – MCW
    May 31, 2016 at 22:49
  • Research? Just read the testimonies under oath at Nuremberg. You will literally "hear it from the Horse's mouth." Even the lies and total fabrications are hilarious. None of it was ever denied...either by the Nazi's or the Russians. Unless of course you're denying the existence of the entire War...which you are more than welcome to do. Todt Enterprises, the Hermann Goring Works...these weren't "made up businesses." Goring had to be replaced by Albert Speer because the corruption and inefficiency was so bad. Just read Speer's autobiographry. This is History 101. May 31, 2016 at 23:05

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