“the Jews shall now in the course of the Final Solution be suitably brought to their work assignments in the East… a large part will undoubtedly [die, be killed] through a process of natural [sic] reduction... final remainder will have to be handled appropriately [murdered], as it would constitute a group of naturally [sic] -selected individuals… the seed of a new Jewish resistance.” Wansee Conference, 20 January, 1942
“the firms, after filling the necessary prerequisites, were allowed to come in to the camps and choose the prisoners they wanted."
Introduction: When the issue of the Forced and Slave Labor Negotiations was raised in by the US Treasury Department in 1999 Ford and GM and most American corporations that had supported Hitler’s war effort at first denied, then accepted the “possibility” that their German “subsidiaries” may have been guilty of working extermination camp inmates to death as slaves. Through the thinly-veiled lie of Germany having taken control of their subsidiaries leaving them powerless to influence and so not responsible Corporate America described itself righteously vindicated. Unfortunately their own records proved the lie; Ford opened its records to the public and it was clear that Detroit maintained control over FordWerke policy. GM refused to subject their records to public scrutiny so the thin veil of deniability, at least in their eyes, remains intact. In the end GM and Ford, et al, were forced to pay if, for no other reason, than to allow the media to focus on a different issue.
The difference between “slave” and “forced” labor is significant. Forced labor involved rounding up civilians, typically young girls, from conquered territories and working them under harsh conditions with little or no pay. Slave laborers.
“were concentration camp prisoners requisitioned by German [and American] companies from the SS. A high percentage of them died as a result of inhuman working conditions that were intended to result in death.”
After the war the SS officer in charge of, “giving companies access to prisoners for slave labor,” described the process:
“the firms, after filling the necessary prerequisites, were allowed to come in to the camps and choose the prisoners they wanted. Even after seeing the horrible conditions in these camps, seeing the death, starvation, torture... these firms chose to take some of these people and exploit them for profit.”
This then is setting in which Corporate America engaged in Crimes Against Humanity. Although Corporate America’s treason to the US, and public disclosure of the use of slave labor during the run-up to the Forced and Slave Labor Negotiations served to embarrass the companies involved, no governmental action beyond pursuing “compensation” for victims has ever been pursued by the United States. As regards “compensation,” as measured against the magnitude of the crime the amount agreed upon represents little more than a symbolic victory for the survivors.
From GM to Coca Cola, Corporate America built their factories adjacent to murder centers to conveniently access inmate slave labor.
Corporate America and slave labor: There exist today lists of some two-thousand “German” firms that engaged in slave labor. Lists of American corporations also guilty of exploiting slave labor are limited to the “200 with German subsidiaries” included in Stuart Eizenstat’s 1999 compensation list:
“Under a plan that has been floated by Stuart Eizenstat, the American deputy treasury secretary who is trying to mediate a pact, G.M. and up to 200 other American companies with German subsidiaries would create a separate fund [to compensate their victims of slave labor].”
There is no room, nor need, to discuss all 200 companies. I will briefly describe the activities of just the most prominent.
Two American companies that may or not have profited directly from exploiting slave labor are DuPont and IBM. Dehomag operated as a wholly owned subsidiary of International Business Machines in Germany since 1922.
Hollerith Machine as used at Auschwitz
Of all American corporations, IBM had its fingers in all phases of the Holocaust from Hitler’s ascension to power in 1933, through the end of the murder campaign in 1945; from identifying Jews for transport to tracking their progress from arrest to gas chamber.
IBM may or not have needed to exploit slave labor since its workforce was small and technical, but that company’s assistance to the SS in locating and placing appropriate slave talent where needed certainly made the industry of death function smoothly. How define collaboration? And of course it was IBM that made it possible for the Third Reich to identify “Jews” back to a single grandparent; then locate, schedule transport, etc, Jews to their fate. How many Jews would have died if their murderers would have had to rely on word of mouth alone to identify them?”
That infamous five-digit tattoo visible on the arms of survivors was introduced by IBM, useful as a key punch code to track each victim from arrest to disposal. It was particularly useful in identifying victims for slave labor:
“The Extermination by Labor campaign itself depended upon specially designed IBM systems that matched worker skills and locations with labor needs across Nazi-dominated Europe. Once the prisoner was too exhausted to work, he was murdered by gas or bullet. Exterminated prisoners were coded "six" in the IBM system…”
Each concentration and extermination camp had its own IBM data processing unit. The larger camps had what was called a Hollerith Büro, multiple machines to deal with the high volume and rapid turnover of victims. Unlike most American companies doing business in wartime Germany, IBM insisted on retaining total control over their operations, from leasing, not selling their machines and supplies, to hiring their own employees. IBM maintained total oversight of its subsidiary.
“The new revelation of IBM technology in the Auschwitz area constitutes the final link in the chain of documentation surrounding Big Blue''s vast enterprise in Nazi-occupied Poland, supervised at first directly from its New York headquarters, and later through its Geneva office.”
DuPont: Although I have not yet uncovered direct evidence of chemical giant DuPont as exploiter of slave labor, it shared a “sister-company” relationship with I.G. Farben, infamous manufacturer of Zyklon-B and builder of the Auschwitz II industrial complex adjacent to the gas chambers.
GM: General Motors was America’s largest company before, during and after the war. This afforded it considerable political leverage. Within Germany this was reflected in Hitler’s preferring GM over Ford despite his admiration for Henry Ford. Within the US it provided protection from prosecution for its part in the war and the Holocaust. Although likely the largest consumer of slave labor among Corporate America, GM has consistently denied guilt, and consistently denied access to corporate records of the period.
Ford was sued by a Polish woman in 1998 for compensation as a forced laborer in its Fordwerke plant in Cologne, Germany. The woman, Elsa Iwanow, described living conditions as,
"wooden huts, without running water, heat or storage. Locked in the huts at night, the workers, mostly adolescent children, slept in three-tiered wooden bunks without bedding. Food consisted of two paltry meals a day. Workers who became ill were sent to Buchenwald concentration camp. Failure to meet production quotas led to beatings from Ford security officers or other plant workers."
And this represents living conditions for workers not subject to the work-until-death program. As for numbers, half of all workers at Fordwerke Cologne were “forced laborers.” In appreciation for his contributions to the spread of antisemitism, and to the cause of Nazism in Germany,
"On Henry Ford''s 75th birthday in 1938, Hitler awarded Ford the ''Great Cross of the German Order of the Eagle'' for Henry Ford''s publication of the notorious anti-Semitic pamphlet, ''The International Jew, a Worldwide Problem'' [Berlin, 1921]."
Kodak, in service to Hitler’s war effort, expanded operations from photography to manufacturing war materiel for the Third Reich:
“Kodak’s revenues and employees in Germany increased during the early years of the war as the company expanded to manufacture triggers, detonators and other military hardware… At Kodak''s Stuttgart plant, there were at least eighty slave laborers, and at the Berlin-Kopenick factory there were more than 250 slave laborers…”
Of course many times more German companies exploited slave labor; there were many more German companies in Germany. Among them such household names as Daimler-Chrysler and BMW; Allianz, one of the world''s largest insurance companies, chose to turn over Jewish death benefits to the Nazis; BASF, Bayer, Deutsche Bank, Dresdner Bank, Siemens, and Thyssen-Krupp. Organized religion also could not resist the temptation of “free” labor:
The Evangelical Church in Germany exploited slave laborers in church parishes, and diaconal institutions such as church-run hospitals, acknowledged guilt and agreed to pay compensation. Not so the Catholic Church which refused to pay compensation claiming,
“there is no evidence that slave laborers were used in Roman Catholic institutions [but] forced laborers from Poland and Ukraine were sent to work at a Catholic monastery and a theological seminary, and that prisoners from a concentration camp were forced to work in a church institution.”
Corporate America, then and now: Some may feel it unfair to paint Corporate America today with the brush of yesterday’s criminal and treasonous actions. Some ethicists point out that today’s corporate leadership had nothing to do with the coup, the Holocaust and slave labor (slave labor is still exploited by several major American corporations around the world: indigenous peoples in South American, for example). But the purpose of this discussion is not simply to describe the criminality as such, but to see it in context, to appreciate that past behavior suggests, provides precedent for, future behavior.
I often refer to the 1935 Nuremberg Laws as removing German Jewry from the protection of the German state; as defining “Jew” by degree according to a convert in the family tree. 1935 set a precedent, that should another charismatic leader arise in, for example, the United States, that the Nuremberg Laws might well serve as legal precedent, serve as an established and workable definition for “Jewish identity.” No need to reinvent the wheel.
Corporate America laid bare its extremist political instincts in the 1930’s and ‘40’s, and beyond. Its proto-fascism was early demonstrated in its support for Hitler long before he became Germany’s fuehrer. Corporate America idealized Nazism as a model for a “well-ordered society” to the point of attempting to overthrow the America Government and replace it with a fascist regime. Corporate America funded the eugenic ideology of a racially pure America, an Aryan superman long before Hitler made the idea unpopular. Corporate America openly supported Hitler’s war-time goal of a crusade against “Judeo-Bolshevism.” And what did that imply for the survival of American Jewry had they succeeded?
And what implications does precedent suggest should social stress in America return to levels of the 1930’s Great Depression, to that of Germany between the wars?
Recent writings in this Series: