Ever since its founding, Bavarian Motor Works, or BMW, have been known for their high-quality luxury automobiles, and until 1945, for their aircraft engines. The company, which today produces luxury cars and motorcycles, is a multinational with plants in Germany, the US, UK, China, India, Brazil, and South Africa. Less known is that its major shareholders, the Quandt family, were close friends and admirers of Hitler and the Nazis.
After a 2007 TV documentary aired unpleasant revelations about the company’s Nazi-era activities, the Quandt family empire launched an investigation which reached troubling conclusion about BMW’s Nazi past. In a nutshell, the Quandt family patriarch, Gunther Quandt, and his son Herbert, were up to their necks in collaborating with the Nazi regime.
To their credit, the current generation of Quandts, unlike most other companies with Nazi ties, eventually came clean and refrained from ducking the issue or sugarcoating things. They commissioned a respected German historian to research the company’s past, and set him loose on BMW’s and the Quandt family’s archives and files. The result was a 1200 page report, which concluded that “[t]he Quandts were linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis … The family patriarch was part of the regime“.
Among other things, the Quandts profited from the Nazis’ “Aryanization Program”, which dispossessed Jews of their property and turned it over to Germans approved by the new regime. Taking advantage of their friendship with Hitler and their excellent Nazi connections, BMW’s owners took over dozens of businesses that were seized from Jews and handed over to the Quandts.
So instrumental was BMW and the Quandts to the Third Reich’s military that Hitler Named Gunther Quandt a Wehrwirtschaftsführer, or “Leader of the Defense Economy”. During WWII, at least 50,000 slave workers from concentration camps toiled in BMW and Quandt family enterprises to manufacture weapons and fulfill armaments contracts. Many of the slave laborers died from the inhumane working conditions. Some from avoidable accidents, some from neglect, some were starved, and others were executed for workplace infractions.
Kodak Did Business With Nazi Germany During the War, and Profited From the Use of Slave Labor
Throughout most of the 20th century, Kodak was a corporate giant and the world’s leading photographic film company, before its failure to keep abreast of digital camera technology doomed it to relative oblivion. What few knew for decades after the end of World War II was that Kodak had collaborated with Nazi Germany, and traded with the Germans even after America had entered the war.
Kodak’s Nazi ties were revealed in the early 2000s, when evidence recovered from the National Archives detailed the extent of the company’s collaboration with the Third Reich. It was conducted via the company’s branches in neutral Switzerland, Spain, and Portugal, all of which were directly controlled by the company’s headquarters in Rochester, NY, and all of which did business with Germany.
Acting through its branches in neutral European countries, Kodak bought supplies from Germany, and paid for them with hard currency that the Nazis desperately needed during the war. That, however, was at the mild end of the company’s cooperation with the Third Reich. Kodak also had a close relationship with Hitler’s personal economic adviser, and through him, the company continued to exercise a measure of control over its German branch, even during the war.
During the war, the American embassy in London noted that Kodak was making “fairly substantial purchases from enemy territory“. The embassy also noted “[t]hat the idea that he has been helping the enemy seems never to have occurred” to Kodak’s Swiss branch manager when he made substantial purchases from Germany. An American official got in touch with the Swiss manager, and reported in late 1943: “I pointed out to him that our sole interest is to shut off every source of possible benefit to our enemies, regardless of what American commercial interests might suffer“.
As to Kodak’s German branch, it expanded operations during the war to produce detonators, triggers, and other military hardware, and used slave labor in its factories. After the war, Kodak resumed control over its German branch, and absorbed the profits it had made during the conflict. Things had also gone great for Kodak’s branch in occupied France. It made so much money during the war that it was able to invest its profits into purchasing real estate, coal mines, and rest houses for the staff. As with its German subsidiary, Kodak resumed control of its French branch after that country was liberated.
The German conglomerate Siemens AG is Europe’s biggest industrial manufacturing company, employing over 375,000 people, and generating more than € 83 billion in revenues in 2017. Its factories churn out a wide range of products in the fields of electronics, electrical engineering products, energy, medical goods, drives, fire safety, and industrial plant goods. In the Nazi era, it was Germany’s biggest industrial conglomerate and made use of slave laborers by the hundreds of thousands.
Siemens, which had been founded in 1847, hit a rough patch after WWI, and things did not get any better during the Great Depression. It was saved by the Nazis. When Hitler & Co. took control of Germany in 1933, Siemens profited as the new regime started rearming, and the company experienced massive growth from armaments contracts. As the leader of Germany’s electrical industry, Siemens’ revenue increased continuously from 1934 onwards, reaching a peak during WWII.
As the Nazis’ demands for armaments increased, and as German workers were taken from the factories and drafted into the military, German manufacturers turned to slave workers to meet the ensuing labor shortfall. From 1940 onwards, Siemens relied increasingly on slave labor from countries occupied by Germany, prisoners of war, Jews, Gypsies, and concentration camp inmates. Indeed, Siemens was a leading participant in the Nazis’ “death through work” program and ran factories inside concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Mauthausen, Ravensbruck, Flossenburg, Sachsenhausen, and others.
Unsurprisingly, working conditions were terrible. For example, Siemens used female slave workers at Ravensbruck to make electrical components for V-1 and V-2 rockets. They were subjected to all types of exploitation, with the ever present threat of death if they balked. Siemens’ construction operations also made use of female slave workers, yoking them in teams like draft animals to pull giant rollers to pave the streets.
Siemens’ general director, Rudolf Bingel, was a personal friend of Reichsfuhrer SSHeinrich Himmler and made full use of his connections to ensure that Siemens did well under the Nazis. The company further profited from the Holocaust via the “Aryanization Program“, which expropriated Jewish businesses and properties, then resold them at fire-sale prices to approved companies such as Siemens.
Unsurprisingly, Siemens did its best to forget its role during the Nazi era, but reminders cropped up from time to time. In 2001, in a jaw-dropping display of obliviousness, Bosch Siemen Hausgeraete, the company’s consumer products arm, filed applications with the US Patents & Trademark Office for the name Zyklon. The same as in Zyklon B, the toxic chemical used in the Holocaust’s gas chambers. The company sought to use the Zyklon name in a range of household products, including gas ovens. After a public outcry, Siemens did an about turn, and withdrew the trademark applications.
IBM Put Its Technology at the Nazis’ Disposal, Facilitating the Holocaust
In 2001, a bombshell of a book by Edwin Black, IBM and the Holocaust, drew on over 20,000 documents unearthed from archives in numerous countries, to describe a twelve-year-old alliance between IBM and the Third Reich. While numerous American companies had done business in Germany, even after Hitler and his Nazi crowd took over, they cut their business once the war broke out. Not so IBM, which continued doing business with the Third Reich, putting its cutting edge technology to facilitate the administrative aspects of carrying out the Holocaust.
The Final Solution – exterminating Europe’s Jews – was, in addition to being monstrously horrific, also monstrously complex from an administrative perspective. It involved the management and cross-referencing of huge databases of financial records, criminal files, and what interested the Nazis the most, Jews. In the Nazi era, the only way to do that was via a complicated punch card system, similar to that used in libraries until relatively recently.
IBM was the leader in punch card and data management technology, and in 1933, soon after Hitler and the Nazis took power, the company’s president traveled to Germany. He oversaw the building of an IBM factory, and the establishment of a local subsidiary that was hired by the Nazis to conduct a detailed census. That census focused on identifying Jews, Gypsies, and other undesirables marked for future extermination. IBM supplied a punch card system that allowed the Nazis to easily sort through the gathered data.
After WWII began in 1939, IBM’s president personally approved a request to supply. Germany with specialized machines to help in the exploitation of the recently conquered Poland, and in the deportation of Polish Jews. The process was repeated for each country conquered by the Nazis, with IBM supplying the capabilities for easily identifying undesirables.
The US joined the war in 1941, but even that late, archival records reveal secret correspondence of IBM higher-ups to set up a Dutch subsidiary, in lieu of the German one, through which the company could continue to supply the Nazis. By then, it was clear just how the Nazis were using IBM’s technology, but the company continued to supply them with the capabilities to easily identify Jews and other undesirables.
The company furnished the Germans with the means to keep track of millions of their targeted victims from their home and work addresses, through arrest, to transportation, to ultimate fate in the concentration or extermination camps. IBM’s role continued even within the death camps, for which it set up special codes such as Camp Code 001 for Auschwitz, and 002 was Buchenwald. Prisoner Code 8 was for Jews, and 11 was for Gypsies. Status Code 5 means execution by order, and Status Code 6 was for death by gas chamber. The archives include punch cards developed for the statistician who reported to SS leader Heinrich Himmler, and Adolf Eichmann, the SS officer in charge of the Holocaust’s logistics. IBM has criticized the research underlying IBM and the Holocaust, but it has not denied the explosive charges contained in the book.
Bayer Was a Member of a Conglomerate That Produced the Chemicals Used in the Holocaust
Bayer is a German pharmaceutical company historically best known as the makers of Aspirin, more recently for making wonder drugs such as Levitra, and to soccer fans, as the initial sponsors of Bundesliga club Bayer Leverkusen. It also owns household brands such as Claritin, Coppertone, and Dr. Scholl’s. For most of its history, Bayer was a run-of-the-mill business – except for when it was part of IG Farben, the chemical conglomerate that produced the poisonous chemicals used in the Holocaust.
Bayer was founded in 1863 as an independent company, but in 1925, it became part of IG Farben – a union of major chemical companies, modeling themselves after Standard Oil in a quest to form a monopoly. The new conglomerate would go on to participate in numerous atrocities during the Nazi era. It began even before the war broke out, when the Western Powers handed Czechoslovakia to Hitler in a failed attempt at appeasement. IG Farben worked closely with the Nazis and Germany’s military, instructing them which chemical factories should be seized and delivered to IG Farben. They did the same during the invasion of Poland.
When the Holocaust began, German authorities grew concerned that their initial means of killing Jews and other “undesirables”, such as mass shootings or gassing in vans, were slow, inefficient, and took too much of a psychological toll on the murderers. IG Farben owned a cyanide-based insecticide, Zyklon-B, and proposed its use in sealed rooms as a speedy means of disposing of large numbers of people. Tests proved them right, and thus were born the gas chambers of the extermination camps. IG Farben would go on to produce and supply the Nazis with all the Zyklon-B gas canisters they needed to kill millions of men, women, and children.
And because that was not fiendish enough, the chemical conglomerate also set up factories in those death camps, such as Auschwitz-Birkenau, where it made use of slave labor on a massive scale. IG Farben’s slave workers were forced to toil in horrific conditions and were frequently starved, beaten, mistreated, with the ever present threat of murder hanging over their heads.
After the war, 24 IG Farben directors were indicted for war crimes, and 13 of them were convicted and sentenced to prison terms of varying lengths. However, all of them were released early, and most were restored to their directorships or resumed their business careers. Some of them even went on to win civilian medals from the West German government. The conglomerate itself survived the war, until it was split into its original constituent companies. Bayer returned to being an independent company in 1952. It is not the only surviving member of IG Farben: the chemical giant BASF, which posted sales of more than € 70 billion in 2015, was also once a part of the Nazi conglomerate.
The Associated Press Engaged in Self-Censorship and Fired its German Jewish Staff to Placate the Nazis
The Associated Press (AP) was formed in May of 1846 by five New York City newspapers, to pool their resources and share the costs of covering the Mexican-American War. The cooperative venture proved a success, and the AP grew and expanded over the years, as other media outlets joined. Today, the AP is owned by its member newspapers and TV and radio stations, who contribute stories to the AP pool and use material written by AP’s staff journalists. It has generally been a paragon of good journalism, earning 52 Pulitzer Prizes since the award was established in 1917. However, a significant deviation from good journalism occurred during the Hitler years, when the AP collaborated with Nazi authorities to facilitate its reporting from Germany.
When Hitler & Co. came to power in 1933, they began exerting pressure on international news organizations operating in the Third Reich to conform to Nazi standards. One such standard was the Editor’s Law, enacted by the new regime to strictly limit what newspapers were allowed to publish. It also restricted the profession of journalism to Aryans, and mandated that Jews be removed from newsrooms.
Foreign journalists working in Germany thus found themselves being called upon to collect and send out news while being hosted by a government that wanted nothing to do with independent and objective journalism. Most international news organization refused to comply with such conditions, and withdrew from Germany rather than sacrifice their journalistic integrity and common decency.
The AP opted to stick around, and to placate the Nazi authorities, it fired all of its local Jewish staff. It also engaged in self-censorship and started adjusting its news reporting in order to keep the Nazis sweet. Among those adjustments was the downplaying of the daily discrimination endured by Jews in the Third Reich, and by the end of 1933, the AP was refusing to publish images depicting such discrimination. It worked. By 1935, most international news organizations of the day, such as Wide World Photos and Keystone, had been kicked out of Germany by the Nazi authorities, but the AP was one of the few still allowed to operate in the country.
After America joined the war in December of 1941, AP’s Berlin office was closed, and its American staffers were arrested and interned, before getting swapped in a prisoner exchange. However, in order to continue to obtain photographs from Nazi-occupied Europe, the AP made arrangements with news agencies in neutral countries to receive photos for the Third Reich, in exchange for furnishing the Germans with AP photos. The AP images provided to Germany appeared in Nazi propaganda, some were altered, and nearly all their captions were changed to conform to the official Nazi viewpoint.
In Addition to its Founder Being a Notorious Anti-Semite, Ford Collaborated With the Third Reich
Henry Ford (1863 – 1947), founder of Ford Motor Company, was a complex man – although not the good kind of complex – when it came to race, and particularly to Jews. On the one hand, for his era, he was relatively progressive in some racial aspects: Ford was one of the few major corporations that actively hired black workers and did not discriminate against Jewish workers or suppliers. On the other hand, Henry Ford had strongly held anti-Semitic views – so anti-Semitic that Hitler praised him in Mein Kampf, and he was decorated by Nazi Germany. So it is unsurprising that his company collaborated with the Third Reich.
Henry Ford probably had no problem with Jews as individuals or at least no problem with some Jews as individuals. However, he had some serious problems when it came to Jews in the aggregate, and was an out-and-out anti-Semite who believed that Jews were conspiring to take over the world. To that end, he purchased and published a weekly newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, that had a decidedly anti-Jewish bent. Ford required all of his car dealers to stock his newspaper, and through that and other measures, got its circulation up to 900,000 by 1925, second only to The New York Times.
With that kind of outlook and anti-Semitic track record, it is unsurprising that Adolf Hitler was a great admirer of Henry Ford. The Nazi leader lauded the American industrialist in Mein Kampf, referred to him as “my inspiration”, and kept a photo of him on his desk. In 1938, on Ford’s 75th birthday, he was awarded The Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal that Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner.
Henry Ford had no problem whatsoever doing business with Nazi Germany. When the war began in 1939, Ford professed himself neutral, but his and his company’s actions belie that claim. Before America joined the war, Ford had no problem supplying Germany with war materials but declined to supply the British RAF with aircraft engines.
In the early 2000s, evidence was unearthed from newly declassified government governments, which showed that the Nazi links with Ford Motor Company went well beyond its founder. Among other things, declassified intelligence documents indicate that Henry Ford’s secretary, Ernest Liebold, might have been a Nazi agent who helped fuel his boss’ paranoia about Jews. Indeed, the documents indicate that Ford’s own son and the company then-president, Edsel, could have been prosecuted for trading with the Nazi enemy had he not died in 1943.
Letters between Edsel Ford and the head of Ford’s French subsidiary in 1942 – after America had joined the war – indicate that Ford knew and approved of the subsidiary’s manufacturing efforts on behalf of the German military. The declassified documents reveal that the US Department of Justice concluded that there was a basis for a criminal case against Edsel Ford.
In addition, Ford’s plants in Germany used slave workers in order to meet the demands of the German war effort. Not only after America joined the war and the plants were seized, but also during the interval between the war’s outbreak in September of 1939, and America’s entry into the conflict in December of 1941. During that period, Ford still controlled its German subsidiary, and knew what was going on in its factories. When the US Army liberated Ford’s plants in Nazi Germany, they found emaciated slave laborers behind barbed wires. A US Army investigator’s report, dated September 5th, 1945, accused Ford’s German subsidiary of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles“, with the parent company’s knowledge and consent.
Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources & Further Reading