It’s scary just how efficient the Nazis were at directing an entire country, including its population and industry, towards their evil goals. Everyone knows about the big three corporations that worked with the Nazis. Hugo Boss designed the intimidating uniforms of the SS (as well as the drabber brown shirts of the SA and the the Hitler Youth); Volkswagen designed the Beetle at Hitler’s behest and churned them out using slave labor; and IBM designed the punch cards that were used to systematize the extermination of people by race and class.
However, these weren’t the only companies that acted in collusion with the Nazis — other global businesses still recognizable today also sold their souls to the devil in different ways — and you might be surprised at some of the names that are to follow.
10. Chase Bank
On reflection, the collusion of Chase Bank (now J.P. Morgan Chase), with the Nazis isn’t so surprising. One of its major shareholders, J.D. Rockefeller, had directly funded Nazi eugenics experiments before the war. Between 1936 and 1941, Chase and other US banks helped the Germans raise over $20 million in dollar exchange, netting over $1.2 million in commission — of which Chase pocketed a cool $500,000. That was a lot of money at the time. The fact that the German marks used to fund the operation came from Jews who had fled Nazi Germany didn’t seem to bother Chase — in fact they upped their business after Kristallnacht (the night Jews throughout Nazi Germany and Austria were systematically attacked by mobs in 1938). Chase also froze the accounts of French Jews in occupied France before the Nazis had even gotten around to asking them to.
Henry Ford himself was a notorious anti-Semite, publishing a collection of articles under the charming title, The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. Ford even sponsored his own newspaper which he used as a propaganda piece, blaming the Jews for World War I, and in 1938 he received the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest medal Nazi Germany awarded to foreign citizens.
Ford’s German operation produced one third of the militarized trucks used by the German army during the war, with much of the labor done by prisoners. What’s even more shocking is that Ford may have used forced labor as early as 1940 — when the American arm of the company still had complete control.
8. Random House
You may not have heard of Bertelsmann A.G. but you will have heard of the books published by its many subsidiaries, including Random House, Bantam Books and Doubleday. During Nazi rule, Bertelsmann published propaganda and Nazi literature such as “Sterilization and Euthanasia: A Contribution to Applied Christian Ethics.” They even published works by Will Vesper, who had given a rousing speech at the book-burning in 1933. Random House courted Nazi controversy again in 1997 when they added, “a person who is fanatically dedicated to or seeks to control a specified activity, practice, etc.” to the Webster’s dictionary definition of Nazi, prompting the Anti-Defamation League to say that it “trivializes and denies the murderous intent and actions of the Nazi regime.”
When you think Kodak, you think of happy family photographs and memories caught on film, but what you should really be considering is the slave labor that the German branch of the firm used during World War II. Kodak’s subsidiaries in neutral European countries did brisk business with the Nazis, providing them with both a market for their goods and valuable foreign currency. The Portuguese branch even sent its profits to the branch in the Hague, which was under Nazi occupation at the time. What’s more, this company wasn’t just making cameras; they expanded into the manufacture of triggers, detonators and other military goods for the Germans.
Fanta is a tasty orange-flavored drink that was originally designed specifically for the Nazis. That’s right, ingredients for the cola that gives the brand its name were difficult to import, so the manager of Coca-Cola’s German operation, Max Keith, came up with a new drink that could be made with available ingredients.
In 1941, Fanta debuted on the German market. Max Keith was not himself a Nazi, but his efforts to keep the Coca-Cola operation alive through the war meant that Coca-Cola pocketed some handsome profits and could return to distributing Coke to American GIs stationed in Europe as soon as the war was over.
Allianz is the twelfth largest financial services company in the world. Founded in Germany in 1890, it’s no surprise that they were the largest insurer in Germany when the Nazis came to power. As such, they quickly became heavily involved with the Nazi regime. Their CEO, Kurt Schmitt, was also Hitler’s economics minister, and the company insured the facilities and personnel at Auschwitz. Their Director General was in charge of the policy that paid the Nazi state instead of the rightful beneficiaries when Jewish property was damaged following Kristallnacht. What’s more, the company worked closely with the Nazi government to track down the life insurance policies of German Jews sent to the death camps and, during the war, insured the possessions stripped from those same Jewish people on behalf of the Nazis.
Bayer, though notorious for its origins as a sub-division of the manufacturer that made the Zyklon B gas used in the Nazi gas chambers, isn’t the only pharmaceutical company with skeletons in its closet. The Swiss chemical companies Ciba and Sandoz merged to form Novartis, most famous for its drug, Ritalin. In 1933, Ciba’s Berlin branch fired all of the Jewish members of its board of directors and replaced them with more “acceptable” Aryan personnel; meanwhile, Sandoz was busy doing the same with its chairman. The companies manufactured dyes, drugs and chemicals for the Nazis during the war. Novartis has owned up to its culpability and tried to make amends in the manner of other complicit firms by contributing $15 million towards a Swiss fund for compensation to the victims of the Nazis.
In 2000, Nestlé paid over $14.5 million into a fund to try to deal with claims of slave labor suffered at their hands from Holocaust survivors and Jewish organizations. The firm has admitted that it acquired a company in 1947 that had used forced labor during the war and has also stated that “[It] is either certain or it may be assumed that some corporations of the Nestlé Group that were active in countries controlled by the National Socialist (Nazi) regime employed forced laborers.” Nestlé helped with the financing of a Nazi party in Switzerland in 1939 and ended up winning a lucrative contract, supplying the entire chocolate needs of the German army during World War II.
BMW has admitted using up to 30,000 forced laborers during the war. These POWs, slave laborers and inmates of concentration camps produced engines for the Luftwaffe and so were forced to aid the regime in defending itself against those who were trying to save them. BMW focused solely on aircraft and motorcycle manufacture during the war, with no pretense of being anything other than a supplier of war machinery to the Nazis.
1. General Electric (GE)
In 1946 General Electric was fined by the US government owing to its nefarious wartime activities. In partnership with Krupp, a German manufacturing firm, General Electric deliberately and artificially raised the price of tungsten carbide, a material that was vital for machining metals necessary for the war effort. Though only fined $36,000 in total, General Electric made around $1.5 million out of this scam in 1936 alone, hampering the war effort and increasing the cost of defeating the Nazis. GE also bought shares in Siemens before war broke out, making them complicit in the use of slave labor to build the very same gas chambers where many of the stricken laborers met their end.