a1 McMaster University
When we think about the Third Reich, the first images that come to mind are not those associated with buying and selling. Though an increasing number of studies have appeared on consumer habits and policies toward consumers, the literature on the Nazi period has been dominated by a focus on production, specifically war production. For every study of the consumer economy, there have been dozens on the Four-Year Plan, the use of foreign and slave labor, and heavy industry. In recent years a number of historians have begun to question this imbalance. Hartmut Berghoff and Wolfgang Koenig have argued that the regime encouraged “virtual consumption” through images of a future postwar era of peace and prosperity: the people's car, the people's refrigerator, and other products that would be available to all once victory had been achieved. Nancy Reagin and Irene Guenther have provided compelling material on the responses of female consumers to the decreasing availability of many household items, starting with the introduction of the autarkic Four-Year Plan. Nonetheless, this recent wave of interest in issues of consumption has tended to concentrate on the prewar years of the regime; after 1939, most historians merely emphasize the growing shortage of goods as the war dragged on. One exception is Goetz Aly, who has maintained that allegiance to the regime was secured through the dissemination of goods stolen from Jews and the occupied territories. But his arguments have not convinced everyone, and his focus on the distribution of goods merely as a means of generating political support says little about how it fit in with wider patterns of consumer expectations and long-term economic thinking.
Pamela E. Swett is an associate professor of History at McMaster University (1280 Main St. West, Hamilton Ontario L8S4L9 Canada; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org). She is the author of Neighbors and Enemies: The Culture of Radicalism in Berlin, 1929–1933 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2004) and coeditor with S. Jonathan Wiesen and Jonathan R. Zatlin of Selling Modernity: Advertising in Twentieth-Century Germany (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2007). She is currently writing a book entitled Selling under the Swastika: Advertising and Commercial Culture in Nazi Germany.
I would like to thank the following individuals for their encouragement and willingness to provide comments on earlier drafts of this article: Stephen Heathorn, Martin Horn, Corey Ross, and Jonathan R. Zatlin. My gratitude also goes to Hartmut Berghoff who invited me to present some of this material to an audience at the German Historical Institute in Washington, D.C. Finally, the two anonymous readers for Central European History also offered useful suggestions, some of which made their way into the final version.