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The Arms of Krupp

ISBN: 0-316-52940-0
Review Date:

By now the loyal WW2DB.com visitor should have no problem guessing how I came across The Arms of Krupp. In Feb 2005, an acquaintance, David H. Lippman, introduced me to William Manchester's writing style, and since then Manchester has been among my favorite authors. It had been nearly five months since my last Manchester book, The Last Lion, and I was ready for the next. The Arms of Krupp was what I found. I expected a great read, and as usual I found the book exceed all my expectations.

The book was thick, but saying the book was 900-some pages thick, it really would not mean much. The proper way to describe the richness of the book, I should say that the book covered nearly 400 years of Krupp history. From Arndt Krupp of the 16th century to Arndt von Bohlen und Halbach of the 20th century, this extremely readable narrative detailed the rise and fall of the single most influential family in the history of Germany. Particularly since the reign of Alfred Krupp, the company Fried. Krupp had been Germany's chief steel producer and weapon smith. I used the word "reign" with purposefully, for Alfred was the first of the next four heads of the company to hold the title Kanonenkönig, "Cannon King", who ruled a state-within-a-state from the capital of Essen. Because of the focus of WW2DB.com, the sections that interested me the most was the reign of Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach and Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, who spanned the years between WW1 and WW2, producing arms for the German empires that they each served under.

The book provided a peek into the intimate relationship between the history of Fried. Krupp and the German nation. During WW1, Gustav Krupp's 94-ton 21-cm howitzer "Big Bertha" instilled fear to Parisians. During the prelude to WW2, one week before Adolf Hitler announced his intention to invade Poland to the Reich Chancellery, Alfried Krupp had already stopped the shipment of weapons to Poland as early as 17 May 1939. During the war, Fried. Krupp's industrial capability and worker towns were all ranked very high on the target list for Allied carpet bombing campaigns. The history of Krupp and the history of Germany were inextricably linked; New York Times noted that, in publishing a history of Fried. Krupp, Manchester had also written the history of modern Germany.

Of course, The Arms of Krupp would not be a Manchester book without its beautifully written narratives. On the topic of how WW1-era European leaders treated laborers and conscripts as if they were material, Manchester explored how the Second Industrial Revolution interacted with the European leadership.

"[The industrialists and politicians] sound like monsters. Actually they were creatures of a historic metamorphosis. In that remote day of derbies, ostrich plume bonnets, and hansom cabs, civilization was in the midst of a profound transition. Culturally it remained gyved to the horsy past, while signs increased that the machine age had arrived. Europe lay half in one period, half in another, and the agony was multiplied by the fact that of all societal institutions the military profession was the one most rooted in the folklore of the past. Its traditional leaders - the emperors, princes, potentates, and field marshals - were the most conservative men in society, the least capable of understanding the new mechanized war they had to lead. Junkers cherished their monocles, spotless white gloves, black-and-silver saber knots, and concrete Kommandantur with Prussian eagles molded above the entrances, while the yearning of the French for la gloire continued to be almost as great as their talent for self-hypnosis. Even as their soldiers were baaing like sheep to show that they regarded themselves as labms marked for slaughter, maréchaux spoke glowingly of the natural élan of the poilu. Of course, this was for the younger men, les jeunes turcs. At their age they had to take care of themselves. When Falkenhayn attacked Verdun the courier who brought the news was informed that "Papa" Joffre, the Constable of France, was asleep behind a double-locked door and couldn't be disturbed."

In the middle of the book, Manchester dedicated significant effort to the striking stories of the slaves employed by Fried. Krupp. As the firm plundered Europe behind the advancing German armies, forced laborers were imported. The treatment of these slaves were most horrendous, rivaling the stories we typically associate with Nazi concentration camps today. On 29 Apr 1944, Russian prisoner Sergei Schosow, starved by the lack of food provided by Fried. Krupp, reached for a blackened loaf of bread while clearing out a bombed-out bakery destroyed by Allied bombing; he was shot through the chest and killed for not working, and the guard who pulled the trigger, Wilhelm Jacke, was honored with a letter of commendation. Then there was the story of Tadeusz Goldsztajn, a Polish Jew who survived Auschwitz only to be drafted into labor service for Fried. Krupp, building the steel plant Berthawerk. Without adequate protection against the weather and lacking food and shelter, Goldsztajn and other men worked like animals. "We were not slaves", he told Manchester, "our status was much lower.... The equipment in the shop were well maintained.... We, on the other hand, were like a piece of sandpaper which, rubbed once or twice, becomes useless, and is thrown away to be burned with the waste." As I continued to read the portion of the book dedicated to the victims, the stories of Alfonse Come, Agnes Königsberg, and Elizabeth Roth struck me deeply. As the Nazi Party conducted their genocide, Alfried Krupp and his company held their own version of it. The difference between the Fried. Krupp executives and the Nazi leaders were that the latter were sentenced and executed, while the former were freed from their imprisonment only a handful of years after.

As Manchester closed American Caesar with a beautifully written backward-traveling summary of Douglas MacArthur's life, The Arms of Krupp was similarly treated with an unique closing. The book was closed with a written tour of the city of Essen at the time of writing. Using landmarks found around him, Manchester reminded the readers all the major personalities in the cast of characters spanning the 400 years that this book covered. It was similarly written in a backwards manner, first reminding the readers of the people and events of modern Germany, and slowly moved back in time until he had brought the reader to how Arndt Krupp had dealth with the Black Death plague in 1599 and beyond.

I dare say that no student of WW2 history should be without this book. Beyond Manchester's mastery of language, his presentation of Krupp history provides another view of how modern Germany had come to be. In addition to its historical value, as a student of the business discipline I also feel that The Arms of Krupp is also an excellent case study in both business ethics and how international politics interact with business. Like most, if not all, works of Manchester, The Arms of Krupp receives my highest regard, and I certainly recommend this for WW2DB.com visitors. I most certainly would re-read this book some time down the road, re-emerging myself once again in its details, its personalities, and its narratives.

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Visitor Submitted Comments

1. Joe TopHatter Maxwell says:
6 Feb 2007 04:04:54 PM

Excellent review of an excellent book. Manchesters style is superb and its an absolute tragedy that he passed away before finishing the 3rd book on Churchill.
2. Anonymous says:
24 Sep 2008 09:51:31 AM

I am seeking information on the Krupp children who lived on the family estate in Essen from 1952-1876. I am most interested in knowing how many daughters were living there, during the time mentioned, if any of those daughters died at birth, soon after birth, or in later years. Also was any daughter permanently ostracized from the family and for what reason.

Thank you,

3. Grindy Stone says:
6 Mar 2009 07:23:00 PM

I was lucky enough to find a copy in a thrift store. A fantastic biography, a meaty read. This is one of three books that are required reading for any WWII nut, the others being "The Last Lion" and "American Caesar."
4. kunle says:
24 May 2009 06:46:33 AM

Just reading this book. I can't drop it. In 2009 its still a required read. Heven't read any major critiques of it yet. Is there any movie made out of it yet?

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