The Ukraine Project: Dutch East Indies Companies and the Nazi East

Saturday, January 5, 2019: 11:10 AM
Monroe Room (Palmer House Hilton)
Michael B. Miller, University of Miami
Historians of Modern Germany, the Holocaust, and imperialism argue about how far “classic” European colonial experience in overseas empires provided the model, prelude, or parallel to the Nazi empire in eastern Europe in the Second World War. Missing from arguments on either side of the debate, however, have been the colonizers themselves. The Ukraine Project -- a scheme supported by Göring’s Four Year Plan to enlist Dutch colonial companies for large-scale commodity production in occupied Ukraine – shows what happened when efforts were made to transfer traditional colonial experience into the Nazi east. On the one hand, from the perspective of the project’s proponents, there was continuity between the two imperialisms. All three central figures in the Ukraine Project – two Austrians and one German, two of these Nazis – had long experience working in the Dutch East Indies; all three carried over from that experience an abiding respect, bordering on veneration, for Dutch colonial prowess. They were convinced that Dutch pioneering accomplishments on Sumatra could repeat in Ukraine. A fourth figure, also a Nazi, connected the Ukraine Project to overseas imperial ambitions following the war. On the other hand, the colonial Dutch would have nothing to do with the scheme. The company at the center of the Ukraine Project – the Deli Maataschappij -- was not only a giant plantation company in the East Indies but the oldest, tone-setting, and ruling tropical firm on Sumatra. Unable and unwilling to connect its Sumatra experience and the Nazi east, it spurned efforts to take it into Ukraine. The results of the Ukraine Project were consequently nil, and ratify arguments that separate the two imperialisms. Thus while supporting, but also denying, arguments of both perspectives, the Ukraine Project makes us question the application of colonial definitions to the Nazi conquests.
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