Firstly, thanks for the warm welcomes and lively feedback. Journalists usually get just a few letters a year about their work so it was great to receive over 60 comments soon after my first posting, even if most were critical and disagreed with me. My comment that the Hitler-era is now being “suitably blurred in soft focus” attracted particular ire.
I was accused of being a blatant self-publicist for my books (guilty), a “bell-end” (not guilty) and even a “neo-Burchillist” (jury still out on this one). I will be posting on other topics but I would like to add a couple more observations on the culpability/continuity argument over the Third Reich and present-day Germany.
Mao opined that “political power flows from the barrel of the gun”, but I would argue that it stems as much from a bureaucrat’s pen and the movement of capital. Many, if not most, Nazi officials, bankers and industrialists made a swift, unpunished, transition from the Third Reich to the Federal Republic of Germany.
Vast numbers of functionaries, policemen, army officers, judges and spies were simply re-badged as “democratic” public servants during the late 1940s and 1950s so as to build up the new Germany as a bulwark in the Cold War. Many were implicated in, or carried out, war crimes, for which they were never brought to justice.
Of course this happened with the full support of the Allies, especially the United States. Werner von Braun, the Nazi rocket scientist, was brought to the US to work on the Apollo space programme. Richard Gehlen, head of Nazi military intelligence on the eastern front, was recruited by the CIA and supported in setting up his own spy network, composed of ex-Nazis, which was later absorbed into the West German intelligence services.
US intelligence documents released just a few days ago show how the CIA knew that Adolf Eichmann was living in Argentina but kept quiet so as not to embarass the high-ranking former Nazi officials in the new German administration such as Hans Globke, who was involved in drafting the Nuremberg anti-Jewish laws, but still managed to be appointed as an aide to Chancellor Konrad Adenauer.
Globke and Gehlen are both gone now, but the German industrial giants that profited so handsomely from slave labour and the concentration camps, and whose products supplied the Third Reich, such as Volkswagen, BMW and Siemens still prosper. Consider the case of IG Farben, the chemicals conglomerate. IG Farben ran its own concentration camp at Monowitz, part of the Auschwitz-Birkenau complex, known as Auschwitz III. When the slave labourers were “verbraucht” (used up) in the Nazi terminology, they were moved to Birkenau, and gassed by Zyklon B, the patent of which was owned by IG Farben.
After 1945 24 IG Farben executives were indicted for war crimes and IG Farben was broken up into its founding companies of BASF, Bayer, Hoechst and other subsidiaries. Twelve of the 24 were found not guilty, and twelve sentenced to prison terms ranging from one-and-a half to eight years.
In 2000 German industry signed a meagre compensation agreement with Stuart Eizenstat, chief US negotiator, for £3 billion to cover all compensation claims for Nazi slave and forced labour. This is about the same sum that DaimlerChrysler (including Mercedes Benz) announced as its operating profit for 1999.
Has German industry really comes to terms with its past? Decide for yourself and visit the BASF website: www.corporate. basf.com and search for “history”. [sorry, for some reason my mac won’t let me add links to postings – any tech tips welcome]. Here is the entry for the 1930s and 1940s:
“On January 30, 1933 Adolf Hitler was appointed Chancellor of the Reich, beginning a chain of events which saw I.G. Farben, too, entangled in the toils of the Nazi regime. The outbreak of World War II in September 1939 forced the company to switch to a war economy. During the war years, a high proportion of the male workforce was called up for military service. These workers were replaced by conscripted women, prisoners of war and forced labor brought in by the Nazi regime, mainly from the occupied territories of Eastern Europe.”
I think that counts as “suitably blurred in soft focus”.
Yesterday, a French court ruled that the government and state railway firm SNCF must pay compensation to a family whose war-time relatives were deported to Nazi death camps. More than 75,000 French Jews met the same fate.