*** World War II French economy

World War II: French Economy--German Exploitation

NAZI exploitation of France
Figure 1.-- The NAZIs during the Workd War II occupation had many ways of exploting the French economy. One of the most important methods was to establish a hugely distorted exchnge rate. This meant that German marks had hyuhe purchaing power in France. and the french got veru little payment for the goods shupped to the Reich. Here german troops are making purchases in occuoied france. Even with their low pay they could live comfortbly and buy luxury items to send home to family. Officers could live like kings, at least until D-Day.

With the fall of France, France's substantial economic capacity was in German hands. France had a substantial agricultural sector. France would become the most important support for the German war economy of all the captive countries. And Pétain adopted a policy of collaboration, essentially attempting to buy NAZI goodwill by cooperating with the German exploitation of the French economy. While France was the most important support for the German war ecinomy, German policies prevented full use of the French economic potential. The French economy was open for massive German exploitation through adverse exchange rates and imposed reparations. Thisd mean shipment directives from the Germns tht the French were expected to comply with. France had the largest economy if all the occupied countries and proved to be a major support for the Germans throughout much of the War. Hitler's strategic vision was to finance and supply the War through conquests in the East. As those conquests did not materialize as envisioned, it was the occupied West, especially France that supported the German war effort. While France was a major support for Germany, for a variety bof reasons, the Germans did not make extensive use of the significant French industries. The Germans converted France from a capitalist economy to a command ecinomy and the results werw disasterous. Central to arms production is steel and French stell ptroduction fell. Anothr major sector is energy, primarily coal. This was central to the German war economy. Production plumeted. Two important industries were aviation and motor vehicles. These French indusrtries were some of the most advanced in Europe. The Germans tied to use them, but production fell far below pre-War levels. They did use the Renault plants to produce trucks, which attrcted the attention of the RAD and Anerican bombers. Germany at the time was still using horses for logistical transport. French agriculture helped supply German food needs. Many French POWs also worked on German farms. Vichy had to ship large quantities of French agricultural produce to the Reich, causing serious food shortages in France. The Germns had an extensive opertion to ensure French compliance with German demands. One prominent example of what transpired was the wine industry. Wine did not have huge importance to the German War industry, but wine was something that the Germns wanted and something vital for the French life style. Wine expert Claude Terrail, owner of the Restaurant La Tour d’Argent, tells us, "To be a Frenchman means to fight for your country and its wine." Prominent NAZIs were big wine drinkers and French vintages, especially champagne was at the top of their acquisition list. Hitler not so much, but he liked the idea of draining as much wine and champagne from France as possible. He wanted to treat NAZI Party loyalists and his victorious soldiers as well as to damage the psyche of the occupied French people. To accomplish this, the NAZIs actually appointed Weinführers in various French regions. The most important was of course on the Champagne province. Here Otto Klaebisch, a French-born German, got the job. Talk about a cushy war-time job. Klaebisch set a directive of 0.4 billion bottles to be shipped to the Reich weekly, nearly impossible. Unlike the Vichy men, there was resistance--a very dangeous step to take. Count Robert-Jean de Vogüé, the head of Moët & Chandon, helped organize other Champagne makers and attempted to limit shipments. They firmed the Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne to help protect French interests. De Vogüé, who worked with the Resistance in Epernay, would be arrested by the Gestapo (November 1943). He was charged with obstructing NAZI trade demands and sentenced to death. [Kladstrups] This should be understood when assessing French colaboration. There were real risks to failure to comply. Surely accidebtlly, but surely fittingly the German High Command surrendered to the Allies in Reims, the capital of the Champagne region (May 7, 1945).


Kladstrup, Donald and Petie Kladstrup. Wine and War: The French, the Nazis and France's Greatest Treasure (Hodder & Stoughton: 2011).


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Created: 7:10 PM 8/21/2014
Last updated: 11:37 PM 8/23/2022