“We are broke but we have Austria. ” –Hermann Wilhelm Göring
In the damp dark streets of early morning Vienna, SS Gestapo Chief Heinrich Himmler’s agents raced to find one of the biggest ideological enemies of the Nazi state–a 58-year-old Ludwig von Mises. A political economist and critic of the socialist state, von Mises narrowly managed to flee to Switzerland just as hiswould-be captors were closing in.
Himmler and his Nazi thugs had another reason to find and kill von Mises. It was 1938 and he and other enemies of Hitler’s state–Jews, like von Mises as well as anti-socialists reformers–held private wealth the Nazi war machine desperately needed to keep running.
The Nazi Party rose to power in when their leader, Adolf Hitler was appointed Germany’s Chancellor 1933. Hitler has achieved this position by hammering at two powerful themes: restoring the German supremacy robbed by the 1919 Treaty of Versailles, and “the Jewish question.” Hitler dreamed of uniting “racially desirable” Germans in a new and powerful state. But this unison could not happen without first weeding out the rest of Germany (i.e. Jews as well as homosexuals, gypsies, and freemasons, among others).
The Jewish question referred to a European debate that had been raging for centuries regarding the appropriate civil, legal and political status of Jews as a minority within European countries. German economist and sociologist Werner Sombart had praised German Jews as positive contributors to German society for their entrepreneurialism and capitalism, but within the Nazi party this sentiment was considered radically left wing.
It was this climate–mere months after von Mises escaped Vienna–that eventually led to the infamous Kristallnacht–when entrepreneurs like Trudi Kanter were driven from their homes, lost their livelihoods, and in some tragic cases, were killed. Trudi, who’s brilliant autobiography Some Girls, Some Hats, and Hitler tells the story of going from freedom and entrepreneurship to living under the oppression of Nazi Germany, lost her business almost overnight. But, how did the Nazi’s target entrepreneurs for their theft? Why did they block entrepreneurship and free ideas? And, perhaps most importantly, how did their efforts to tax and seize Jewish wealth so quickly turn into a genocide?