Hjalmar Schacht

Hjalmar Schacht
Hjalmar Schacht
Reich Minister of Economics
In office
August 1934 – November 1937
President Adolf Hitler
Chancellor Adolf Hitler
Preceded by Kurt Schmitt
Succeeded by Hermann Göring
President of the Reichsbank
In office
November 1923 – March 1930
Preceded by Rudolf E. A. Havenstein
Succeeded by Hans Luther
In office
March 1933 – January 1939
Preceded by Hans Luther
Succeeded by Walther Funk
Personal details
Born 22 January 1877 (1877-01-22)
Tinglev, then Kingdom of Prussia, German Empire, now Denmark
Died 3 June 1970(1970-06-03) (aged 93)
Munich, Federal Republic of Germany
Political party None (honorary member of NSDAP)
Profession Banker, Economist

Dr. Hjalmar Horace Greeley Schacht (22 January 1877 – 3 June 1970) was a German economist, banker, liberal politician, and co-founder of the German Democratic Party. He served as the Currency Commissioner and President of the Reichsbank under the Weimar Republic. He was a fierce critic of his country's post-World War I reparation obligations.

He became a supporter of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party, and served in Hitler's government as President of the Reichsbank and Minister of Economics. As such, Schacht helped implement Hitler's policies of redevelopment, reindustrialization, and rearmament.

He was forced out of the government by disagreements with Hitler and other prominent Nazis in December 1937, and had no role during World War II. He became a fringe member of the German Resistance to Hitler and was imprisoned by the Nazis after the 20 July plot. After the war, he was tried at Nuremberg and acquitted.

In 1953, he founded his own bank, and advised developing countries on economic development.


Education and rise to President of the Reichsbank

Schacht was born in Tingleff, Schleswig-Holstein, Prussia, German Empire (now in Denmark) to William Leonhard Ludwig Maximillian Schacht and baroness Constanze Justine Sophie von Eggers, a native of Denmark. His parents, who had spent years in the United States, originally decided on the name Horace Greeley Schacht, in honor of the American journalist Horace Greeley. However, they yielded to the insistence of the Schacht family grandmother, who firmly believed the child's given name should be Danish. Schacht studied medicine, philology and political science before earning a doctorate in economics in 1899 — his thesis was on mercantilism.[1]

He joined the Dresdner Bank in 1903, where he became deputy director from 1908 to 1915. He was then a member of the committee of direction of the German National Bank for the next seven years, until 1922, and after its merger with the Darmstädter und Nationalbank (Danatbank), a member of the Danatbank's committee of direction. In 1905, while on a business trip to the United States with board members of the Dresdner Bank, Schacht met the famous American banker J. P. Morgan, as well as U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt.

Schacht was a freemason, having joined the lodge Urania zur Unsterblichkeit in 1908.[2]

During World War I, Schacht was assigned to the staff of General von Lumm, the Banking Commissioner for Occupied Belgium, to organize the financing of Germany's purchases in Belgium. He was summarily dismissed by General von Lumm when it was discovered that he had used his previous employer, the Dresdner Bank, to channel the note remittances for nearly 500 million francs of Belgian national bonds destined to pay for the requisitions.[3]

After Schacht's dismissal from the public service, he had a brief stint at the Dresdner Bank, and then various positions at other banks. In 1923, Schacht applied and was rejected for the position of head of the Reichsbank, largely as a result of his dismissal from von Lumm's service.[3]

Despite the small blemish on his record, in November 1923, Schacht became currency commissioner for the Weimar Republic and participated in the introduction of the Rentenmark, a new currency the value of which was based on a mortgage on all of the properties in Germany.[4] After his economic policies helped reduce German inflation and stabilize the German mark (Helferich Plan), Schacht was appointed president of the Reichsbank at the requests of President Friedrich Ebert and Chancellor Gustav Stresemann.

In 1926, Schacht provided funds for the formation of IG Farben. He collaborated with other prominent economists to form the 1929 Young Plan to modify the way that war reparations were paid after Germany's economy was destabilizing under the Dawes Plan. In December 1929, he caused the fall of the Finance Minister Rudolf Hilferding by imposing upon the government his conditions for obtaining a loan.[1] After modifications by Hermann Müller's government to the Young Plan during the Second Conference of The Hague (January 1930), he resigned as Reichsbank President on 7 March 1930. During 1930, Schacht campaigned against the war reparations requirement in the United States.[1]

Involvement with the Third Reich Government

Schacht at a meeting in the Reichsbank transfer commission in 1934

By 1926, Schacht had left the small German Democratic Party, which he had helped found, and was increasingly lending his support to the Nazi Party (NSDAP), to which he became closer between 1930 and 1932. Though never a member of the NSDAP, Schacht helped to raise funds for the party after meeting with Adolf Hitler. Close for a short time to Heinrich Brüning's government, Schacht shifted to the right by entering the Harzburg Front in October 1931.[1]

Schacht's disillusionment with the existing Weimar government did not indicate a particular shift in his overall philosophy, but rather arose primarily out of two issues: first, his objection to the inclusion of Socialist Party elements in the government, and the effect of their various construction and make-work projects on public expenditures and borrowings (and the consequent undermining of the government's anti-inflation efforts);[5] second, on his fundamentally unwavering desire to see Germany retake its place on the international stage, and his recognition that "as the powers became more involved in their own economic problems in 1931 and 1932 ... a strong government based on a broad national movement could use the existing conditions to regain Germany's sovereignty and equality as a world power."[6] Schacht was convinced that if the German government were ever to commence a wholesale reindustrialization and rearmament in spite of the restrictions imposed by Germany's treaty obligations, it would have to be during a period lacking clear international consensus among the Great Powers.

After the July 1932 elections, in which the NSDAP got more than a third of the seats, Schacht and Wilhelm Kepler organized a petition of industrial leaders requesting that President Hindenburg appoint Hitler as Chancellor. After Hitler took power in January 1933, Schacht was re-appointed Reichsbank President on 17 March.

In August 1934 Hitler appointed Schacht as his Minister of Economics. Schacht supported public works programs, most notably the construction of autobahnen (highways) to attempt to alleviate unemployment - policies which had been instituted in Germany by von Schleicher's government in late 1932, and had in turn influenced Roosevelt's policies. He also introduced the 'New Plan', Germany's attempt to achieve economic "autarky", in September 1934. Germany had accrued a massive foreign currency deficit during the Great Depression, which continued into the early years of the Third Reich. Schacht negotiated several trade agreements with countries in South America and southeastern Europe, under which Germany would continue to receive raw materials, but would pay in Reichsmarks. This ensured that the deficit would not get any worse, while allowing the German government to deal with the gap which had already developed. Schacht also found an innovative solution to the problem of the government deficit by using mefo bills. He was appointed General Plenipotentiary for the War Economy in May 1934[7] and was awarded honorary membership in the NSDAP and the Golden Swastika in January 1937.

Schacht disagreed with what he called "unlawful activities" against Germany's Jewish minority and in August 1935 made a speech denouncing Julius Streicher and Streicher's writing in Der Stürmer.

During the economic crisis of 1935-36, Schacht, together with the Price Commissioner Dr. Carl Friedrich Goerdeler, helped lead the "free-market" faction in the German government. They urged Hitler to reduce military spending, turn away from autarkic and protectionist policies, and reduce state control in the economy. Schacht and Goerdeler were opposed by a faction centering around Hermann Göring.[8]

Göring was appointed "Plenipotentiary for the Four Year Plan" in 1936, with broad powers that conflicted with Schacht's authority. Schacht objected to continued high military spending, which he believed would cause inflation, thus coming into conflict with Hitler and Göring.

In 1937 Schacht met with Chinese Finance Minister Dr. H. H. Kung. Schacht told him that "German-Chinese friendship stemmed in good part from the hard struggle of both for independence." Kung said, "China considers Germany its best friend... I hope and wish that Germany will participate in supporting the further development of China, the opening up of its sources of raw materials, the upbuilding of its industries and means of transportation."[9]

In November 1937 he resigned as Minister of Economics and General Plenipotentiary at Göring's request. He remained President of the Reichsbank until Hitler dismissed him in January 1939. After this Schacht held the empty title of Minister without Portfolio, and received the same salary, until he was fully dismissed in January 1943.

Resistance activities

Schacht was in contact with the German Resistance as early as 1934, though at that time he still believed the Nazi regime would follow his policies. By 1938, he was disillusioned, and was an active participant in the plans for a coup d'état against Hitler if he started a war against Czechoslovakia.[10] Goerdeler, his colleague in 1935-36, was the civilian leader of the Resistance. Schacht talked frequently with Hans Gisevius, another Resistance figure; when Resistance organizer Theodor Strünck's house (a frequent meeting place) was bombed out, Schacht allowed Strünck and his wife to live in a villa he owned. However, after 1941, Schacht took no active part in the Resistance.

Still, at Schacht’s denazification trial (subsequent to his acquittal at Nuremberg) it was declared by a judge that “None of the civilians in the resistance did more or could have done more than Schacht actually did.”[11]

After the attempt on Hitler's life on 20 July 1944, Schacht was arrested on 23 July.[1] He was sent to Ravensbrück, then to Flossenbürg,[1] and finally to Dachau. In late April 1945 he and about 140 other prominent inmates of Dachau were transferred to Tyrol by the SS, which left them there. They were liberated by the Fifth U.S. Army on 5 May 1945 in Niederdorf, Dolomites.[12]

After the war

Schacht had supported Hitler's gaining power, and had been an important official of the Nazi regime. Thus he was arrested by the Allies in 1945. He was put on trial at Nuremberg for "crimes against peace" (planning and waging wars of aggression), but not war crimes or crimes against humanity.

Schacht pled not guilty to these charges. He cited in his defense that he had lost all official power before the war even began, that he had been in contact with Resistance leaders like Hans Gisevius throughout the war, and that he had been arrested and imprisoned in a concentration camp himself.[13]

His defenders argued that he was just a patriot, trying to make the German economy strong. Furthermore, Schacht was not a member of the NSDAP and shared very little of their ideology. The British judges favored acquittal, while the Soviet judges wanted to convict.[14] The British got their way and Schacht was acquitted.

Hjalmar Schacht (right) with Stafford Sands, while visiting the Bahamas in 1962

In 1953, Schacht started a bank, Deutsche Außenhandelsbank Schacht & Co., which he led until 1963. He also gave advice on economics and finance to heads of state of developing countries, in particular the Non-Aligned countries.

Indirectly resulting from his founding of the bank, Schacht was the plaintiff in a foundational case in German law on the "general right of personality". A magazine published an article criticizing Schacht, containing several incorrect statements. Schacht first requested that the magazine publish a correction, and when the magazine refused, sued the publisher for violation of his personality rights. The district court found the publisher both civilly and criminally liable; on appeal, the appellate court reversed the criminal conviction, but found that the publisher had violated Schecht's general right of personality.[15]

Schacht died in Munich, Germany, on 3 June 1970.


Schacht wrote 26 books during his lifetime, of which at least four have been translated into English:

  • The End of Reparations (1931)
  • Account Settled (1949) after his acquittal at the Nuremberg Trials
  • Confessions of the Old Wizard (1953)
  • The Magic Of Money (1967)


  • Gustave Gilbert, an American Army psychologist, examined the Nazi leaders who were tried at Nuremberg. He administered a German version of the Wechsler-Bellevue IQ test. Schacht scored 143, the highest among the leaders tested, after adjustment upwards to take account of his age.[16]
  • When he stabilized the mark in 1923, Schacht's office was a former charwoman's cupboard. When his secretary, Fraulein Steffeck, was later asked about his work there she described it:
What did he do? He sat on his chair and smoked in his little dark room which still smelled of old floor cloths. Did he read letters? No, he read no letters. Did he write letters? No, he wrote no letters. He telephoned a great deal — he telephoned in every direction and to every German or foreign place that had anything to do with money and foreign exchange as well as with the Reichsbank and the Finance Minister. And he smoked. We did not eat much during that time. We usually went home late, often by the last suburban train, travelling third class. Apart from that he did nothing.[17]

Portrayal in popular culture

Hjalmar Schacht has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;[18]

  • Felix Basch in the 1943 United States propaganda film Mission to Moscow
  • Wladyslaw Hancza in the 1971 Polish film Epilogue at Nurnberg
  • James Bradford in the 2000 Canadian/U.S. TV production Nuremberg
  • Stoyan Aleksiev in the 2006 British television docudrama Nuremberg: Nazis on Trial


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hjalmar SCHACHT, biography by Frédéric Clavert, author of a thesis on Schacht, Hjalmar Schacht, financier et diplomate 1930-1950, Univ. of Strasbourg, France, 2006 (French)/(English)/(German)
  2. ^ Hjalmar Schacht, Confessions of the "Old Wizard," (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1956), 105.
  3. ^ a b Peterson,Edward Norman. Hjalmar Schacht: For and Against Hitler. Christopher Publishing House (Boston: 1954) pg. 24-31
  4. ^ Peterson, Edward Norman. Hjalmar Schacht: For and Against Hitler. Christopher Publishing House (Boston: 1954) pg. 49-62
  5. ^ Simpson, Amos E. Hjalmar Schacht in Perspective. Mouton Group (Paris: 1969) pg. 30-32
  6. ^ Simpson, Amos E. Hjalmar Schacht in Perspective. Mouton Group (Paris: 1969) pg. 179
  7. ^ Persico, Joseph E. Nuremberg: Infamy on Trial. Penguin Group (New York: 1984) pg. 333(English)
  8. ^ Kershaw, Ian. Hitler Nemesis. New York: Norton (2000). pages 18-20
  9. ^ Claude A. Buss (2007). War and Diplomacy in Eastern Asia (reprint ed.). READ BOOKS. p. 405. ISBN 1406775142. http://books.google.com/books?id=UJu9ZbmwzY0C&pg=PA405&dq=h+h+kung+hitler&hl=en&ei=nHTYTdisN6jM0AGE_rj8Aw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7&ved=0CEUQ6AEwBg#v=onepage&q=h%20h%20kung%20hitler&f=false. Retrieved 2011-05-21. 
  10. ^ Gisevius, Hans Bernd (1998). To the Bitter End: An Insider's Account of the Plot to Kill Hitler, 1933-1944. New York: Da Capo Press. pp. 304–306. ISBN 0-306-80869-2. 
  11. ^ Peterson, Edward Norman. Hjalmar Schacht: For and Against Hitler. Christopher Publishing House (Boston: 1954) pg. 340(English)
  12. ^ georg-elser-arbeitskreis.de (German)
  13. ^ Hjalmar Schacht case for the defence at Nuremberg trials
  14. ^ Taylor, Telford. The Anatomy of the Nuremberg Trials: A Personal Memoir. Alfred A. Knopf (New York: 1992) pg. 564-65
  15. ^ BGH 25 May 1954, BGHZ 13, 334; as summarized in "Fundamentals of European Civil Law", Martin Vranken, 1997.
  16. ^ Gilbert, Gustave. Nuremberg Diaries. Da Capo Press (New York: 1947).
  17. ^ When Money Dies: The Nightmare of the Weimar Collapse Chapter 13: Schacht
  18. ^ "Hjalmar Schacht (Character)". IMDb.com. http://www.imdb.com/character/ch0053835/. Retrieved 20 May 2008. 

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