I have been asked on several occasions how could Germany afford to start such a big war as WWII. Of course, they mean multiple aspects such money and other actors (countries) allowing it. Also, Germany was not alone. However, this would take books to answer, so I will stick to financial dimension only.

Indeed, waging a war is expensive (e.g. US war in Iraq is estimated in hundreds of billions / ~ 1 trillion $, but out of a high GDP - ~ 19 trillion).

According to a this answer Germany spent about $341 billion for war related activities and its GDP is estimated to be about $400 billion.

As a side note, cost of US war in Iraq has the same order of magnitude as WWII for Germany, if inflation is considered.

So, the ratio between war cost and GDP was much higher than for US. How could Germany afford spending so much money (relative to its GDP) on war?

Question: How could Germany afford waging WWII?


GDP is a per annum figure. You are conflating wealth and income, and ignoring that Germany was a wealthy country in both resources (although not in all war-critical resources such as oil and iron) and human capital.

Additionally, Germany was able to extort vast quantities of both material and labour from its conquered territories until late in 1944. Recall that most of the concentration camps were slave-labour camps, designed to work inmates to death in support of the war effort, and not the abhorrent death camps designed for wholesale killing. However, even some of the latter (eg Auschwitz-Birkenau) extracted slave labour from able-bodied inmates before slaughtering them.

Ironically, one of the ways in which Germany minimized cost was it's minimal use of motorized and mechanized troops. Through the entire war most units relied exclusively on horse-drawn transport, with only the Panzer divisions and a roughly equal number of Panzer Grenadier divisions, being excepted.

  • "most units relied exclusively on horse-drawn transport" - this is very interesting. I have expected this to happen in WWI, but not in WWII. – Alexei Nov 10 '18 at 12:04
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    @Alexei: Yes - it's not well known or understood by the lay public how little of Germany's vaunted mobile army was actually such. – Pieter Geerkens Nov 10 '18 at 12:12
  • "most units" in frontline activity. Behind that it was rail. –– You left out the basic principle guiding all wars: going into debt, then plundering. –– In the end all KZ were death camps, labour was used for extermination (as you write yourself), then there were a few specialised extermination camps, where they cut out the middle man of labour. Treblinka extermination camp: "Unlike other Nazi concentration camps, in which prisoners were used as forced labour, death camps (Vernichtungslager) like Treblinka, Bełżec, and Sobibór had only one function: to kill those sent there. " – LаngLаngС Nov 10 '18 at 12:13
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    Yea, semantics. I'd say most of them had slave labour as side effect, since the goal was "extermination (through labour)". Way more people killed there than working (and knowing how ineffecient slaves are for most of that. Imagine a reliable V2 actually hitting targets) – LаngLаngС Nov 10 '18 at 12:30
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    "Rail transport was never intrinsic to any units" - perhaps not, but the vast majority of all logistics for the war took place by rail. War logistics is about moving supplies and raw materials, not about transporting your fighting forces. – tbrookside Nov 10 '18 at 13:03

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