10 Companies You Didn’t Know Were Involved in the Holocaust
Not all companies that collaborated with the Nazis or used concentration camp slave labor are as open about the past as insurance giant Allianz, which details its Nazi-era past right on its website.
Though many companies have publicly apologized and paid restitution to survivors or descendants, many still obscure their part in this shameful era of history. Click through the slides to find out about the Nazi connections of some of these guilty companies.
Bayer AG, makers of Bayer aspirin, has a long history of corporate crime, according to non-profit corporate watchdog Corporate Watch. In 1925, Bayer capitalized on relationships nurtured with German chemical companies during WWI to form conglomerate I.G. Farben–the same company that helped develop the Nazi’s domestic fuel supply with Standard Oil. In “Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine,” Diarmuid Jeffreys alleges that the company built a plant near Auschwitz, running what amounted to a private death camp where life expectancy was only a few months. The book claims that an I.G. Farben subsidiary produced the Zyklon B gas used to murder concentration camp inmates.
Corporate Watch writes that 12 I.G. Farben employees were jailed (and some executed) for war crimes during the Nuremberg Trials, and the company’s assets were liquidated in 1952. In 1995, Bayer acknowledged its Holocaust history with a public apology. “I have sorrow and regret and apologize for the inhumanity in my country for what I.G. Farben did to your people,” Helge Wehmeier, the head of Bayer Corp., told Elie Wiesel, who The New York Daily News writes worked in an I.G. Farben factory as a teenager.
Germany’s reserves of petroleum were woefully insufficient to fuel the modern, mechanized war machine, with about 85 percent of the supply imported as of 1934. To solve this problem, Germany embarked on efforts to manufacture synthetic gasoline from domestic coal supplies. “Wall Street & the Rise of Hitler” documents how this process was developed and financed in laboratories run by Standard Oil in the United States in partnership with German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben. In “The Nazi Hydra in America: Suppressed History of a Century,” Glen Yeadon writes, “By 1941, it was well known that Standard Oil was supplying the Nazis with vital fuel.” The US War Department received a report on July 15, 1941 that Standard Oil, which the Rockefeller family had a one-quarter controlling interest in, was diverting fuel to the German government by shipping oil in a circuitous route from Aruba to the Canary Islands. “Wall Street” alleges that Standard Oil of New Jersey even contributed, through German subsidiary companies, directly to Heinrich Himmler’s personal fund.
The history of Volkswagen Group, and the VW Beetle’s connection to the Nazi regime, is well documented. On the company’s website, it details how “Volkswagen was originally founded in 1937 by the Nazi trade union, the German Labour Front” at the behest of Hitler himself, to produce an affordable “people’s car.” The BBC reports that the idea had been to offer a “small saloon that could carry a German family of five flat-out at 100kph along the country’s new autobahns.” In 1998, The New York Times revealed that when faced with a class-action lawsuit over the use of slave labor during World War II, Volkswagen inaugurated a $12 million fund to compensate surviving workers, overseen by Israeli President Shimon Peres.
Henry Ford also made no secret of his anti-Semitic attitudes. In “The American Axis: Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and the Rise of the Third Reich,” Max Wallace argues that Ford “fell” for Nazi propaganda. Before Pearl Harbor, he supplied Germany with military equipment, while refusing to make engines for Britain’s Royal Air Force. Antony C. Sutton’s 1976 book “Wall Street & the Rise of Hitler” alleges that Ford was one of the first foreign financiers of Hitler’s nationalist and anti-Semitic movements in Munich in the 1920s. While Ford argues that it lost control of its German plants during the war, documents cited in “The American Axis” show that the first forced laborers arrived at Ford factories before America’s entry into the war embargoed trade with the country. Henry Ford is mentioned by name in “Mein Kampf” and the industrialist was hailed by Hitler as “my inspiration,” The Telegraph reports. PBS adds that in 1938, Henry Ford received the “Grand Cross of the German Eagle” from the Nazi regime. Ford was one of a few foreigners to receive the award, and one of the only ones to actually keep it. In reviewing Wallace’s book, The Telegraph found the Nazi connection to span generations, with letters from Ford’s son Edsel proving that headquarters knew and approved of the manufacturing efforts being undertaken on behalf of the German military. In fact, Wallace claims that Edsel could have been prosecuted for trading with the enemy, had he not died in 1943.
The Quandt family, the dynasty behind luxury car brand BMW, finally admitted their Nazi ties in 2011, after the release of a three-year study by historian Joachim Scholtyseck. Daily Mail summarized how Guenther Quandt was an active member of the Nazi party, employed some 50,000 forced laborers, and acquired Jewish companies through the “Aryanization” program. One of Guenther’s arms factories contained an execution area, while The Telegraph found that hundreds of workers died from working in inhumane conditions. Scholtyseck writes in his 1,200-page study, “The family patriarch was part of the Nazi regime.” In November 2011, the Quandt family pledged nearly $7 million to memorialize forced laborers in Nazi Germany. However, Scholtyseck’s study did not directly implicate BMW, and the Quandts bought majority shares in the car company 15 years after the end of World War II.
In September 2013, Russell Brand was kicked out of a GQ party for mentioning Hugo Boss’ Nazi connection. The gossip kicked off a media firestorm delving into the fashion brand’s Nazi past. While the Jewish Journal holds that the label did not, as Brand accused, design the dreaded SS regalia, it was one of many companies to manufacture uniforms for the National Socialist Party in the 1920s, nurturing a relationship with the party and ultimately winning the contracts to make clothing for the SS, Hitler Youth, Brownshirts, and Nazi army. Daily Mail reports that the company’s founder and namesake even joined the Nazi party on April 1, 1931, and when Boss had a hard time finding employees during wartime, he used more than 140 forced laborers from occupied countries. The design firm commissioned a book detailing its Nazi past in 2011, according to Haaretz, and issued a formal apology on its website to “express its profound regret to those who suffered harm or hardship at the factory run by Hugo Ferdinand Boss under National Socialist rule.”
Hugo Boss wasn’t the only fashion brand to find economic opportunity in the Nazi market. French journalist Stephanie Bonvicini investigated the rags-to-riches story of Louis Vuitton for the company’s 150th anniversary in 2004, The Guardian reports. Her book, “Louis Vuitton, A French Saga,” exposed how the Vuitton family partnered with the pro-Nazi Vichy government, led by Marshal Philippe Pétain. Though Bonvicini was told that company documents from 1930-1945 had been destroyed in a fire, she claims the company set up a factory dedicated to producing artifacts glorifying Pétain, including more than 2,500 busts. “Part of the collaboration was due to the family’s obsession with the survival of the company, and part down to the fact that there was a certain sympathy with the regime’s rightwing views,” Bonvicini told The Guardian. Responding to the release of “Louis Vuitton, A French Saga,” a spokesman for LVMH said, “This is ancient history. The book covers a period when it was family-run and long before it became part of LVMH. We are diverse, tolerant and all the things a modern company should be.”
Investigative journalist Edwin Black’s 2001 book “IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America’s Most Powerful Corporation” fully explores the connection between the multinational corporation and the German government during WWII. Black provides evidence that IBM invented the punchcards and counting machine used to conduct the Nazis’ 1933 population census, aimed at identifying individuals belonging to undesired ethnic groups. Furthermore, Black argues that IBM and its subsidiaries actively co-planned the Holocaust, with oversight from company President Thomas J. Watson.
At the time of the book’s release, IBM disputed Black’s research methodology and conclusions, and denied having any detailed knowledge of the operations of German subsidiary Dehomag, claiming most documents were lost or destroyed during WWII. CNN reports that a 2001 lawsuit concerning the supply of IBM punchcards to Nazi Germany was dropped out of fear that it would slow the company’s $3 million payment into a Holocaust fund. IBM clarified at the time that the payment did not constitute an admission of guilt.
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