The Arms of Krupp

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The Arms of Krupp, 1587-1968
Author William Manchester
Subject Krupp dynasty
Genre non-fiction
Publisher Little, Brown
Publication date
OCLC 237115

The Arms of Krupp (1968) is William Manchester's history of the Krupp dynasty, which owned and ran a dominant armaments manufacturing company in Germany. The company was based in Essen. The book presents very readable descriptions of the behavior of the Krupp family and its firm from the Thirty Years' War to the Kaisers, the Weimar Republic, the Nazis, the American occupation, and finally the Bonn government. The book describes how under each regime (except possibly Weimar) the family and firm received favorable treatment, culminating in a special law Lex Krupp. Bizarre facets of families members are presented in detail. The innovative social welfare programs for factory workers are starkly contrasted with the treatment of forced laborers (ostarbeiters, etc.) Manchester's book tells presumably all-from the first Krupp (circa 1500) "a shrewd chandler with a keen eye for the main chance," through the family's incarnation by the sixth generation as "Essen's uncrowned kings," to the powerful weapons empire that armed Germany for three major wars, and finally the dissolution of die Firma. Manchester slants his story; in this case, the Krupps are all malevolent. The "killing power" of the kruppsche wares (cannon, howitzers, batteries, finally, nuclear power) was unrivaled as early as 1880, and in Manchester's view their product suited the family's temperament. He does differentiate between the various Alfreds, Alfrieds, and Berthas—but shows every member with some unfortunate trait. Their way of life is "secretive," their huge empire "international," their tendency is toward cartels, and their appearance is "vulpine." The foxy family's most "phenomenal" habit, however, was that "of matching the Teuton mood"—i.e. they were nationalistic, Francophile, or severely militaristic when Germany adopted these stances. But Manchester doesn't quite make it clear whether he is charging them with fierce patriotism or whoring.[1]

The book asks as to what extent German industry bears part of the moral responsibility for the crimes of the German state during the World War II. Krupp profited directly from requisitions of industrial capacities in occupied Europe. The Nazi war effort created a huge demand for workers in the armament industry; a mobilization of women into the labor force was ruled out due to ideological reasons. Instead the Nazis opted to meet the demand for workers by slave laborers. The Krupp AG owned private concentration camps and leased slaves from the SS at the cost of one Reichsmark per day; Slaves for the industry were transferred directly from extermination camps or from POWs, were drafted during Nacht und Nebel, or civilians recruited from occupied countries as ostarbeiters. Slaves were held under inhuman conditions and were not provided with any shelter during frequent air raids. The surviving former slaves were not adequately compensated after the war for their sufferings; after the war Alfried Krupp was convicted of crimes against humanity

Critical Response[edit]

Time Magazine gave the book a mixed review saying

"The result is an often flawed, some times naive but largely fascinating chronicle whose inflated pretensions as a work of real scholarship are punctured by swarms of errors. As a work of history, the book is marred, too, by an overwrought style and an unbecomingly snide use of irony. Manchester is not fond of the Germans, and he caricatures them either as superefficient and slavishly obedient or as a folk barely removed from dwarfs and dragons, blood feuds and bags of tainted gold."[2]


  1. ^ Review, Horne, Alistair. New York Times Book Review, Kirkus Reviews (Nov. 25th, 1968)
  2. ^ "Books: Blood and Irony". Time Magazine. December 20, 1968.  (subscription required)