American Suppliers: The Role of Americans in the Perpetuation and Maintenance of the Postwar Black Market in Germany



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Americans are curiously absent from the literature as forces in the black market prevailing in Germany after World War II. Aside from Rundell's study of failed currency control policy during the Second World War and the subsequent occupations of Germany and Japan, historians have failed to accord the American presence on the black market its proper status. They receive mention in narrative fashion, authors noting that Americans could make money on the black market, or relating a story about what a soldier bought or sold there. Then, like bit players in a movie, Americans recede from view, and Germans and displaced persons resume their places in the lead.

This thesis has two objectives. Through support from the archival record, first, it demonstrates that Americans did in fact execute a specific function with respect to the maintenance and perpetuation of the black market - they were the market's suppliers. Second, by positing this role, this thesis attempts to correct a view of the black market as an essentially German experience, populated in the main by Germans and displaced persons. In so doing, I posit a schema of American illicit supply to Germans and displaced persons. This thesis argues that Americans operated as suppliers of illicit goods to the indigenous population. This supply occurred in three ways: Americans selling on the black market; misappropriation of materiel (usually food); and theft of goods from American installations. Furthermore, each type of supply was predicated upon the fulfillment of a certain condition. Americans sold on the black market when they were certain they could make a profit. Americans misappropriated US government property (usually food) as a consequence of a relationship with a German or displaced person; in practice, because those with access to American goods were young men, the relationships were only with women, and always included some gradation of intimacy. Germans and displaced persons committed larceny from American installations to procure goods for the black market, which insured handsome profits.