Siemens Made a Killing From the Holocaust
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 SS Heinrich 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.