Thursday, February 22

Firms “˜come clean’ about involvement in Holocaust


The car that you drive or the computer that you use could have
been made by companies deeply involved in the Holocaust.

At least, that is what some Holocaust historians are seeking to
prove.

In a lecture titled “Corporate Complicity in the
Holocaust: Degussa from Aryanization to Auschwitz,” history
professor Peter Hayes from Northwestern University discussed the
involvement of Degussa AG, a German chemical firm, in the
Holocaust.

Hayes was hired by Degussa to pore over past company records and
compile the company’s war-time history.

It may seem risky that companies would openly acknowledge
involvement in the Holocaust, but according to modern Jewish
history professor Orna Kenan, firms have their reasons.

“Companies decided to hire historians in an attempt to
“˜come clean’ about their Nazi past, dispel rumors and
minimize possible economic repercussions,” she said.

Degussa started out by producing the detergent agent, sodium
perborate. Sales of the agent were not affected by the Great
Depression and the company thrived, Hayes said.

Using the money earned from the detergent, Degussa took over 25
pieces of Jewish-owned property in order to expand its business, he
added.

Degussa continued to become increasingly involved with the Nazi
party. The firm fired all of its Jewish members on its supervisory
board, then started supplying chemicals needed by the German
military, Hayes said.

Degussa made carbon black, which was used in rubber for airplane
tires and tetra-ethyl lead, used for airplane fuel.

“Degussa was hooked on government demand for
products,” Hayes said.

The German firm progressed further in its involvement with the
Third Reich by processing gold and silver taken from occupied
territories and from Jews before they were sent to concentration
camps.

“Degussa is an acronym for German gold and silver
separation institute,” Hayes said.

The gold was melted down and formed into bars, while the silver
was reprocessed into film.

The company soon became much more involved in the actual
mass-murders at the concentration camps.

“Zyklon B, the gas used to poison Jews, was produced by
Degesch,” said Hayes, explaining that Degussa owned 42.5
percent of Degesch.

Other historians are also investigating the actions of other
German firms during the Holocaust.

Major historians investigating the Holocaust include Hans
Mommsen, who is researching Volkswagen, and Harold James, who is
investigating Deutsche Bank, Kenan said.

The heads of companies involved in the Nazi-era were not
punished in war trials following the war.

Suits are usually directed against the companies to make them
acknowledge their war activities and pay compensations, Kenan
said.

Some American companies are said to have profited from
concentration camp exploitation, including Ford and IBM.

“Some Jewish groups and lawyers claim that Ford’s
German subsidiaries used slave labor to build trucks, from which
Ford greatly profited,” Kenan said.

Ford claims that company facilities in Germany were completely
taken over by the Nazis, and that the American company had no
control over them, Kenan added.

IBM, however, is reputed to have had more of an active
interaction with the Third Reich.

According to Edwin Black’s book “IBM and the
Holocaust,” IBM created and customized the Dehomag Hollerith
machines for the Third Reich, used to sort concentration camp
inmates.

IBM’s New York office openly did business with Germany
even after war was declared and, through neutral countries,
continued to do so after the United States prohibited business
transactions between the two countries, according to Black.

But IBM spokesperson Carol Malkovich told USA Today last year
that IBM lost control of its German facilities when the Nazis came
into power.

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