The #BlackLivesMatter movement has brought a new backlash against figures associated with the slave trade. The toppling of Edward Colston’s statue by protesters in the city of Bristol, has incited debate about other historical figures with monuments across the world, including founder of the scout movement Baden-Powell who was, amongst other things, a prominent Nazi sympathiser. However, should we be more concerned about the huge multinational corporations whose forerunners actively profited from the Holocaust and whose names still dominate their industries? I think the answer is yes. Here are nine major corporations, all still in existence in various forms, who profited from the Nazis.
After Hitler came to power in 1933, the company’s head travelled to Germany to do business with the Nazi government. Throughout the war, the company’s subsidiaries provided technical equipment used to collate and organise all the personal data needed to implement the final solution. It even set up specific codes used in Nazi records e.g. 001 Camp Code for Auschwitz and numbers to identify prisoners—8 for Jews for example and ‘Status Codes’—6 meant death by Gas Chamber.
AEG donated money to the Nazi party in 1933 and used slave labour including prisoners from concentration and labour camps in Poland. They also used female slave labour in their factory in Riga and provided electrical equipment for Auschwitz.
Deutsche Bank (finance)
Deutsche Bank banked for the notorious Gestapo and was involved in the confiscation of Jewish business and property. It also loaned funds for the building of Auschwitz.
Volkswagen was founded as the ‘Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagens mbH’ by German Labour Front in 1937, a Nazi Organisation. It was set up to produce what we call the Volkswagen Beetle. During the war, it actually ended up producing almost exclusively military vehicles, tanks and V1 bombs.
Hugo Boss (fashion)
Hugo Boss became a Nazi Party member in 1931 and was a Förderndes Mitglied (Sponsoring member) of the SS. He and his company supplied uniforms for many of the party’s most infamous organisations, including the SA, SS and Hitler Youth. They also used slave labour in manufacturing. He had a photograph of himself with Hitler in his apartment in 1945. Hugo Boss himself was banned from running a business due to his involvement with the Nazi regime after the war, so his son-in-law took over the company and it still thrives today.
Krupp (Now ThyssenKrupp AG) (industrial production)
Krupp had its own concentration camps to house slave labourers. These workers were transported from extermination camps, POW camps or allied countries to produce tanks, guns, artillery, munitions and other military equipment for the German armed forces. Alfried Krupp was convicted of crimes against humanity after WWII.
Porsche worked with Volkswagen on research, development and consultancy and built tanks using slave labour. Workers worse the letter ‘P’ on their clothing to mark them out as Porsche workers.
Siemens (electricals, telecommunications, manufacturing, healthcare…)
Siemens (then Siemens-Schuckert) supplied electrical equipment to Nazi concentration and death camps. They also manufactured parts for V1 and V2 rockets. They used slave labour, including women, from extermination camps to manufacture their product and even had a plant at Auschwitz. One of the company’s directors, Rudolf Bingel was a close friend of Himmler’s.
IG Farben (Now BASF, Bayer and Hoechst)
This is arguably the most horrifying case. The company not only used over 100,000 slave labourers, including 30,000 from Auschwitz, but an IG Farben-employee, Helmuth Vetter, conducted countless experiments on prisoners at Auschwitz and Mauthausen concentration camps. Most abhorrent of all, they produced Zyklon-B, the gas used to murder millions in the death camps during the final solution. This gas was even used to murder people at the same camps where the labour to produce it came from. 24 Directors of IG Farben were charged with with War Crimes and 13 found guilty, but all were released early from prison and most resumed business. The company was dissolved into BASF, Bayer and Hoechst in 1951. BASF SE is now the largest producer of chemicals in the world.
BMW and Nestle also used slave labour, whilst Barclays Bank’s French branches and a number of banks now part of J.P. Morgan Chase were involved in the confiscation of Jewish assets in France.
Many of these companies have now had to pay reparations to Holocaust survivors into the 21st century.