Wolff, Otto

(1881-1940)
   industrialist; an iron merchant who was a trusted advisor to several Weimar politicians. Born in Cologne, he founded a wholesale firm in 1904 that dealt in scrap iron. Aided by a procurement officer, he profited in World War I from the government's high demand for steel; after the Armistice* he exploited the glut of surplus armaments to become a leading wholesaler in scrap metal. To gain an international market, he took control of a trading company in the Netherlands to camouflage his products with a Dutch label. He also adjusted to the inflation,* using quick earnings to expand into copper mining, steel production, shipping, and machine manufacturing. Two firms in which he had large holdings, Rheinstahl and Phoenix, were major steel manufacturers; when they were absorbed in 1926 into Fritz Thyssen's* giant steel concern, the United Steel Works, Wolff joined the cartel's supervisory board. He secured control over much of the conglomerate's exports.
   Despite his striking success, including inroads into the Soviet Union,* Wolff remained an outsider among Germany's heavy industrialists. Deemed an unpre-dictable speculator, he kept his own council (such as one-on-one dealings with France during the Ruhr occupation*) and was, consequently, distrusted by the likes of Gustav Krupp,* Paul Reusch,* and Thyssen. Moreover, his interests and politics were often out of step with those of potential business allies. Author of a solid biography of Gabriel Julien Ouvrard (a financial speculator during the French Revolution), he gave generously to Gustav Stresemann* and eventually gained access to the Foreign Minister. He was friendly with Kurt von Schlei-cher* and was an outspoken champion of Heinrich Brüning* (for whom he became an advisor); he promoted the cabinets of both Franz von Papen* and Schleicher.
   Wolff's relationship with the Nazis remains enigmatic. During 1932 the Nazis vilified him as a war profiteer, and Wolff, in turn, counseled Schleicher against forming a connection with Hitler.* Yet testimony exists that he contributed to the NSDAP before Hitler's Chancellorship. Since he vainly pressed Schleicher to declare martial law (placing President Hindenburg* in custody) upon learning of Hitler's impending appointment on 29 January 1933, the veracity of the testimony is dubious. During the Third Reich he withdrew from his public role, but did not suffer serious economic disadvantage.
   REFERENCES:Benz and Graml, Biographisches Lexikon; Feldman, Great Disorder and Iron and Steel; Turner, German Big Business.

A Historical dictionary of Germany's Weimar Republic, 1918-1933. .

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