The Axis breaks, 1943

1. Descent into barbarism

Nazi Germany's control of its Eurasian empire was incoherent at best, and rapidly descended into barbarism. The racial ideology that the Nazi ascent to power had formalised assumed ever more brutal forms as applied to rule over subject peoples. Franz Neumann understood at the outset that 'anti-Semitism provides a justification for eastern expansion':

'The theory of German racial superiority and Jewish racial inferiority permits the complete enslavement of the eastern Jews …It actually establishes a hierarchy of races - giving no rights to Jews, a few to Poles, a few more to the Ukrainians and full rights to the Germans.' (Neumann, 1966: 126)

Ruling through military commanders (Gauleiters) the Nazis had no interest in extending rights to the subjected. Instead they ruled by dividing populations against each other. Some, like the Ukrainians, Croats and Hungarians were granted a specious authority over the more despised, particularly Jews. 'The anti-Semitic bacilli exist naturally everywhere in Europe', thought Goebbels, 'we must merely make them virulent' (Goebbels, 1948: 287). Throughout Europe, the occupying army had learned the trick of teaching the defeated obedience by demanding the imposition of anti-Jewish laws. This policy reached its height in Poland, where three million Jews were driven first into the cities, and then into camps. But as long as the Reich was expanding, the ghettoisation and brutalisation of the Jews fell short of a singular policy of extermination. As late as March 1942 Goebbels' still paid lip-service to the policy of deportation: 'to begin with, they will have to be concentrated in the East; possibly an island, such as Madagascar, can be assigned to them after the war.' At the same time, he is 'of the opinion that the greater the number of Jews liquidated, the more consolidated will the situation in Europe be after the war' (Goebbels, 1948: 75, 74).

2. Limits of military rule

Throughout, the occupations and annexations subordinated other territories to Germany's economic needs. The strains began to show first in the Balkans, especially Greece and Serbia, where German demands took no account of existing shortages, or the consumption needs of the population. The German army appropriated its own consumption needs from local farmers, in exchange for worthless paper marks. German businessmen were seconded to the Economics Staff of the Wehrmacht High Command from firms such as Krupps and I.G. Farben, seizing the entire output of Greek mines of pyrites, iron ore, chrome, nickel, magnesite, manganese, bauxite and gold (Mazower, 2001: 24). In Russia and the Balkans, peasants reacted to expropriation by giving up producing for the market, 'the surplus vanished and city dwellers in these regions faced starvation' (Mazower, 1998: 156). In Greece, 100 000 starved over the winter of 1941-42.

The toll of the war effort on the German workforce made the Reich dependent on captive labour from its subject nations. French and Dutch workers, but even more Poles and Russians were set to work. By 1944 there were a staggering eight million civilian workers in the Reich, making up a third of all armaments workers, and a quarter of machine-building and chemical workers (Mazower, 1998: 159). Practicality forced the importation of slave labour, but still the Nazi mind recoiled in horror from the growth of an alien workforce in its midst: 'there is of course the danger that as long as there are any Jews left in Berlin that the Semitic intellectuals may combine with the foreign workers' (Goebbels, 1948: 220).

3. Il Duce's Collapse

By 1943 the Italian ruling class could see that the war was lost - Rommel's Afrika Korps had been defeated and von Paulus had surrendered the 6th army at Stalingrad. But Italy's working classes, too, could sense the weakened state of Mussolini's regime. On 5 March 1943, workers at the Rasetti Factory in Turin struck for higher wages, starting a general strike of 100 000 workers throughout the northern cities - and won (Ginsborg, 1990: 10). On 25 July the fascist Grand Council deposed Mussolini, and the King formed a government under Marshall Badoglio, former Viceroy of Abyssinia. Workers in Milan and Genoa demonstrated for an end to the war. Badoglio and the King tried to negotiate an armistice with the allies, but failed to deceive Hitler, who successfully invaded northern Italy to forestall the allied advance. Escaping, Mussolini was briefly the figurehead of the Republic of Salo. Industrialist Giovanni Agnelli sent his vice president to meet America's Allen Dulles and tell him that the geographical position and low labour costs made an 'interesting opportunity' for the United States (Ginsborg, 1990: 23). As preparation for the invasion of mainland Italy, the US Office of Naval Intelligence made contacts with Charles 'Lucky' Luciano in prison. Luciano, who was himself released in 1946 to return to Italy, put them in touch with Don Calogero, who helped the allied landing in Sicily, and Vito Genovese, who was put in charge of supplies around Naples, until his criminal activities forced the American Government in Italy (AMGOT) to send him back to Brooklyn to face trial on an outstanding murder charge (McCoy, 1991: 31-40; Ginsborg, 1990: 36). The former Popular Party leader Alcide de Gasperi, who, despite having been briefly imprisoned by Mussolini in 1927, had applauded the Fascist struggle against Communism throughout the thirties, re-positioned himself as leader of a new Christian Democrat party that was formed in September 1942 at the home of the steel magnate Enrico Falck (Ginsborg, 1990: 48).