Walther Funk (18 August 1890 – 31 May 1960) was a German economist and prominent National Socialist official who served as Reich Minister for Economic Affairs from 1938 to 1945; from Spring 1938 till May 1945 he was President of the Reichsbank. He was subsequently tried and convicted as a war criminal at the Allied show trials of the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg.
Walther Funk was born into a merchant family in Danzkehmen, near Trakehnen, Kreis Stalluponen, in East Prussia. He was the son of Wiesenbaumeister Walther Funk the elder and his wife Sophie (née Urbschat). He studied law, economics, and philosophy, at the Humboldt University of Berlin and the University of Leipzig. In The Great War he served in the infantry, but was discharged as ‘medically unfit for service’ in 1916. In 1919 Funk married Luise Schmidt-Sieben. Following the end of the first war, he worked as a journalist, and in 1922 he became the editor of the financial newspaper the Berliner Börsenzeitung until summer 1931.
Walther Funk was said by Schacht to be “extraordinarily musical”, a “first-rate connoisseur of music and his preferences were decidedly for the artistic and literary.”.
Funk was a nationalist and anti-Marxist and after leaving the newspaper joined the National Socialist Party, becoming friends with Gregor Strasser, who arranged his first meeting with Adolf Hitler. Partially because of his knowledge of economic policies, he was elected a Reichstag deputy in July 1932, and within the party, he was made chairman of the Committee on Economic Policy in December 1932. However, after the party came to power, he stepped down and was instead made Chief Press Officer of the Third Reich Government on 30 January 1933.
Third Reich career
On 11 March 1933, Funk was appointed as State Secretary (Staatssekretär) at the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda (Reichsministerium für Volksaufklärung und Propaganda) where he became an important figure. In early 1938, he took office as Minister Plenipotentiary for Economics (Wirtschaftsbeauftragter). He also became Reich Minister of Economics (Reichswirtschaftsminister) in February 1938, replacing Hjalmar Schacht, who had resigned on 26 November 1937 in a power struggle with Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, who wanted to tie the ministry more closely to his Four Year Plan Office. Funk was a born bureaucrat and became very active in the economic direction of the Reich. He was described by Speer as “amiable and persuasive.” One of his representatives attended a conference on 14th October 1938, at which Goering announced a gigantic increase in armaments ad requested that the Ministry of Economics increase exports to obtain the necessary exchange.
In the year April 1938-March 1939 Funk was a Director of the Swiss-based multi-national Bank of International Settlements, and in the Spring of 1938, Hitler appointed Funk as President of the Reichsbank. Funk was criticised by Schacht in the summer of 1939 for his speech to the central Committee of the Reichsbank which was described as “sheer inflationary policy.”
On 30 May 1939, following the increased diplomatic tensions and Britain’s guarantee to Poland two months previously, the Under-Secretary of the Ministry of Economics attended a meeting at which detailed plans were proposed for financing during wartime, and in the summer one of Funk’s subordinates sent a memorandum to the OKW on the use of prisoners of war to make up labour deficiencies which would arise in the case of mobilisation. He was made a member of the Ministerial Council for the Defence of the Reich in August 1939.
Funk is said to have participated in the economic planning which preceded the attack on the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941. His deputy held daily conferences with Rosenberg on the economic problems which would arise following the occupation of Soviet territory. Funk himself ordered the printing of rouble notes for the occupation currency. Following the invasion he made a speech in which he described plans for the economic exploitation of the “vast territories of the Soviet Union” and the raw materials which would then be available to Europe. In December 1942 he was drawn into the opposition conspiracy by Goebbels and Speer against Martin Bormann. Funk was instrumental in supporting Speer in taking over control of all war production in July 1943, which, Speer said, “the Ministry of Economics had proved too weak to enforce.” Funk and Speer then went to Hitler’s HQ to receive his final authorisation. Funk was appointed to the Central Planning Board in September 1943.
Despite poor health brought about by his diabetes, Funk was tried by the victorious plutocratic Allies, and the Soviets, with other German leaders at the Nuremberg show trials. Schacht relates “those with whom I talked most were Funk, who sat next to me in the dock, and von Papen, intimate acquaintances of mine of long-standing.” He said that Funk “was a decent enough fellow and not stupid…I am convinced that there were many matters of which he had no knowledge whatsoever.” Accused of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes and crimes against humanity, Funk argued that, despite his titles, he had very little actual power in the regime and Göring described him as "an insignificant subordinate" (having previously encouraged Funk by telling him that he would take their responsibility upon himself.) In court Funk argued that he had served the State correctly in all his responsibilities, although Schacht said “in the witness-box his defence was weak and lachrymose.” However Oswald Pohl, head of the SS-WVHA (SS Economic Administrative Main Office) and probably trying to avoid a harsh sentence himself, implicated Funk in the receipt of the SS’s gold deposits from the camps, which the Reichsbank paid for to enable the smelting of them. The United States Chief Prosecutor Jackson, in a disgusting abuse of European courtroom procedure, labelled Funk as "The Banker of Gold Teeth", supposedly extracted from concentration camp internees and then sold by the SS to the Reichsbank for melting down to yield bullion. Many other gold items were also allegedly stolen from inmates, such as jewellery, gold glasses frames, and gold finger rings. Funk, however, was never in the SS and his accusers failed to grasp that the SS was an entirely separate ministry with its own records, 99% of which Funk had no access to. Instead the Allies linked Funk into knowledge of these, despite his denials. Funk’s wartime biography Walther Funk, A Life for Economy was also twisted with selected out-of-context citations and used against him during the trial. Funk’s last word was that the “frightful crimes [he had heard in court] filled him with profound shame.” He was convicted on counts 2, 3 and 4 of the indictment and given a sentence of life imprisonment.
Funk was then held at Spandau Prison along with other convicted defendants. His health, however, continued to deteriorate and he was released on 16 May 1957. He made a last-minute call on Rudolf Hess, Albert Speer and Baldur von Schirach before leaving the prison. He died three years later in Düsseldorf from diabetes complications.
Funk had a remarkable career, all things considered. He was, for instance, part of Hitler’s intimate circle right up to the end, a loyal unquestioning functionary. He worked closely with numerous of the leading National Socialists such as Speer, Göring, and Goebbels throughout his career. Speer described him as “affable, intelligent and crafty”. His views on Jews are unknown.
- NOT GUILTY AT NUREMBERG: The German Defense Case - detailed descriptions and criticisms of the alleged evidence against each of the accused at the IMT
- Schacht, Hjalmar, ‘’My First Seventy-Six Years’’, English edition, London, 1955, pps:341 & 456.
- Schacht, 1955, p.377.
- Speer, 1970, p.275.
- Bank of International Settlements, "Ninth Annual Report: 1 April 1938 – 31 March 1939" p. 135-7
- Schacht, 1955, p.377.
- Schacht, 1955, p.400.
- Speer, 1970, p.254-8.
- Schacht, 1955, p.455.
- Schacht, 1955, p.456.
- Speer, 1970, p.514.
- Schacht, 1955, p.456.
- Speer, 1970, p.519.
- Bird, Eugene (1974). The Loneliest Man in the World. London: Secker & Warburg, 121. ISBN 0436042908.
- Speer, Albert, ‘’Inside the Third Reich’’, English edition, London, 1970: very many references to Funk in the index.