The Fourth and Richest Reich

(Literary Masterpieces, Volume 15)

The German word Reich is one of those stoutly Teutonic, untranslatable words which Americans delight in adopting into their own language. Usually, it is translated as “empire,” so the Heilige Römische Reich, which lasted from the early Middle Ages to 1806, is the “Holy Roman Empire.” The German Empire of Bismarck and World War I was the “Second Reich,” and Hitler proclaimed loudly that his “Third Reich” would last a thousand years. More broadly, the word means “realm” or simply “state,” as in the Deutsche Reichbahn, the German State Railways of the Weimar Republic and of today’s East Germany. In the political rhetoric of today’s West Germany, the Federal Republic, the term is carefully avoided, associated as it is in many minds with militarism and aggression. Reich, when used as an adjective, also means “abundant” or simply “rich.” Thus, when Edwin Hartrich selected his title, The Fourth and Richest Reich he was intentionally being at once redundant and provocative. Recognizing the ambivalent mixture of curiosity, concern, envy, and even fear with which his American readers regard modern Germany, he seeks to explain how post-1945 West Germany not only recovered from devastation and defeat through the so-called “economic miracle,” but also how it went on to carve out a worldwide economic Lebensraum, based upon manufacturing and trade, rather than upon military conquest.

Hartrich is a skilled wordsmith, with much personal experience in Germany. He first visited the country during the chaotic closing years of the Weimar Republic. Later, he witnessed the armies of the Third Reich in their early triumphs, he personally fought against them as an American soldier during the war, and he returned to postwar Germany as a working journalist, writing for the New York Herald Tribune, and the Wall Street Journal. Eventually, he became a public relations consultant for the newly rich and the renewed rich of German industry during the boom years of the 1950’s and the 1960’s, representing, among others, the great enterprises of the house of Krupp.

His approach is journalistic rather than academic. What his book lacks in fundamental research in the German language sources, it makes up in personal recollections and amusing anecdotes. For example, he describes how one of his clients, Willy Schlieker, recruited skilled workers for his expanding Hamburg shipyards. On the day before Christmas, Schlieker distributed big, fat, live geese to his workers, each decorated with a red and green bow and a large tag reading “Season’s Greetings from Schlieker’s Shipyards.” As the workers rode home on the ferry boats, streetcars, and subways, or stopped for a Christmas grog at local pubs, each became a walking advertisement for his employer. New job applicants quickly filled Schlieker’s needs.

Hartrich makes no attempt to disguise his personal opinions about contemporary West Germany by scholarly balance; if this were the only book one were to read on today’s Germany, one would be left with a somewhat distorted perspective. He says little about the European Common Market or about the multitude of foreign “guest workers” in Germany. If this book were read, however, in combination with other works, such as Hans Gatzke’s Germany and the United States (1980), one would emerge both entertained and properly enlightened by Hartrich’s efforts.

His major point is that the “social market economy” introduced by the right-of-center government of Konrad Adenauer and Ludwig Erhard in the late 1940’s and maintained by the left-of-center governments of Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt since the late 1960’s, has been extremely successful. The broad outlines of the Wirtschaftswunder (economic miracle) are well known. In 1946-1947, the Germans were down and out, barely existing in the ruins of Adolf Hitler’s Reich. By the mid-1950’s, however, West Germans were enjoying as high a standard of living as they had ever seen under either Hitler’s Reich or the Weimar Republic, and a higher standard of living than that of many of the European countries which had defeated them in World War...

(The entire section is 1731 words.)