Henry Ford is considered to be a an American hero, and not without reason. Ford revolutionized the American auto industry. He is widely credited with implementing assembly line production and making the Model T an automobile accessible to every American.
But few know there is a darker side to Henry Ford, a side that is rarely taught to youngsters when his praises are being sung by school teachers. Ford was a rabid anti-semite.
In 1918 Ford purchased his hometown newspaper, The Dearborn Independent, and used it to publish a series of articles that claimed there was a Jewish conspiracy to take over America. The articles ran in 91 consecutive issues. He later combined the articles into a four-volume set called “The International Jew,” which he distributed to subscribers. Ford also used the paper to republish the The Protocols of the Elders of Zion—a thoroughly discredited Russian document that spoke of a Jewish cabal that controlled the world and planned for its demise, either through financial catastrophe or war.
By 1938, Adolf Hitler had come to power in Germany and he found in Ford a kindred spirit. Hitler had long viewed Volkswagen—the people’s car—and Ford’s Model T as historical equivalents. That Hitler and Ford had similar views on International Jews should go without saying. It was in 1938 that Ford accepted an award from the Nazi regime called the Grand Cross of the German Eagle.
While there has never been a conspiracy to cover up Ford’s beliefs and his connections to the Nazis, they are certainly not included when someone speaks of his positive contributions to American society and industrialization.
That is a shortcoming, perhaps, of American history.
By the time the second world war was over, though, Hitler’s atrocities committed against the Jews had been exposed and people were speaking about them. Today the consensus view is that World War II was most certainly a war worth fighting.
In a quirk of history, though, it is too easily forgotten just how powerful Germany became under Hitler. No serious person would argue today that the Nazi regime was a good thing, but in so thoroughly discrediting it—a happy by-product of so thoroughly defeating it—we also tend to trick ourselves into believing that everything it touched died right along with Hitler in that German bunker in 1945.
But Ford Motor Company still exists. So too do many multinational corporations that at one time found it both necessary and lucrative to do business with Hitler and the Nazis.
Here is a list of five of the largest.
2012 Revenue: $46.85 Billion
In 1938, Coca-Cola was operating 43 bottling plants in Nazi Germany. That was also the year that the Atlanta, Georgia-based company’s man in charge of German production died. The German government put his second-in-command, a man named Max Keith, in charge of production at Coca-Cola-owned facilities in all Nazi occupied countries.
By 1939 it was impossible for the Atlanta headquarters to communicate with Keith. Company officials remained in the dark as to the fate of their production facilities throughout the war.
As the war ground on, it became impossible for Keith to acquire the syrup necessary to make the popular beverage. He and a handful of other executives created a new product known as Fanta. The drink, in the beginning, was sweetened with saccharin, but by 1941 Keith was also allowing 3.5 percent beet sugar to be used.
By producing, bottling and selling Fanta in Nazi occupied countries during the war, Keith managed to safeguard Coca-Cola’s assets in Europe. When the war ended, Coca-Cola resumed control of its facilities almost immediately. The executives helped themselves to the profits from Fanta sales, seemingly unconcerned by the possibility that those profits were in any way tainted.
Coca-Cola still owns Fanta today, selling it in 188 countries.
2013 Revenue: $99.75 Billion
Just as had happened to Coca-Cola in the 1930s, IBM began to lose control of its German-based operations as widespread war in Europe became inevitable.
In a way, it is hard to fault Coca-Cola for taking back control of its assets once the war was over. And for years IBM would have its customers believe that its role in Nazi Germany was very similar to Coca-Cola’s—that is to say completely detached during the war but able to regain control once it was over.
But a book published in 2001, titled IBM and the Holocaust, claimed that the company’s involvement with the Nazis was a bit more sinister.
The book’s author, Edwin Black, details collaboration between Nazis and subsidiaries of the company to create systems to identify, catalog and select Jews for extermination in Poland. The primary tool for this was a tabulation machine known as the Hollerith machine.
IBM continued to claim that executives at the time were not responsible because they were not in control of German operations.
In 2002, Black published a paperback version of the book that included evidence he claimed linked U.S. operations of IBM directly to the actions of German and Polish subsidiaries.
2012 Revenue: $99.9 Billion
Chase is a subsidiary of JP Morgan Chase, a multinational banking corporation. In the 1930s, Chase was owned primarily by John D. Rockefeller and had close ties to Standard Oil. It was the largest bank in the United States and in the world. It was known then as Chase National Bank.
It also had numerous shady dealings with Nazi Germany.
In 2004 FBI files were released that documented a scheme by Germany to sell Reichsmarks to U.S. citizens of German ancestry at a discounted rate. The special Marks were called Rückwanderer (returnee) Marks. They were intended to entice Germans back to Germany. The country financed the selling of its currency at a loss by supplementing the sales with money that was confiscated from Jews who fled Nazi Germany. Between the years 1936 and 1941, Germany collected over $20 million on the deals. Chase National Bank, which handled the transactions for Germany, collected $500,000 in commissions.
In 1998 Chase was also forced to admit that it had confiscated the assets of over 100 Jewish families by seizing their accounts in the bank’s Paris branches after the Nazis occupied France.
The bank also drew scrutiny from the Roosevelt administration in 1941 when the FBI discovered that the bank defied an order to freeze German assets and allowed German money to flow from its accounts to a South American bank which eventually fed the money back to the Nazis.
2013 Revenue: $109.16 Billion
Siemens is an enormous German engineering firm. A lot has been said about the company and its relationship with the Nazi regime during the 30s and 40s, and a lot of it is conjecture and urban myth-type exaggeration.
One thing is for sure though: as a German company, Siemens can not make the claim, as other companies can, that its executives lost control of the company during the war. And for that reason it is almost impossible to excuse Siemens for using Jewish slave labor supplied by the German government.
That’s right. Siemens profited greatly by building, among other things, parts for the German V-2 rockets and electrical components for the rockets were manufactured by Jewish laborers at the Ravensbrück concentration camp.
That’s bad enough, but to add insult to injury Siemens attempted to trademark the word “Zyklon” in 2002 to use it on a number of consumer products, including gas ovens. Shockingly, the company saw nothing wrong with this given its ties to Nazis during the war. Zyklon is a German word meaning “cyclone” but it was also the name of the name — Zyklon B — of the chemical used in Nazi gas chambers. Siemens withdrew the trademark application amid protests.
2012 Revenue: $141.30 Billion
Volkswagen—the people’s car—was largely the brainchild of Hitler himself. He dreamt of a car that would be affordable to every German. By the mid 1930s he had come up with a plan that would make the car available for $396 - about the cost of a small motorcycle.
But as war broke out, those plans—which many believe Germany could never have pulled off on a large scale—were put on hold.
Volkswagen factories were converted for war production, a profitable enterprise for the German company. The prospect was made all the more profitable because Germany, just as it had done with Siemens, provided free slave labor to the company. Volkswagen took the free labor willingly.
The company admitted in 1998 to using at least 15,000 slaves from concentration camps during the war years, and worked to set up a fund for restitution.