Sunday, May 04, 2008

Making of the Holocaust - Part I

Last week was the 60th Yom Hashoah - the Holocaust Remembrance Day...

...And since there have been a couple of puzzles about the Holocaust, at least to me, therefore this posting (also, because there is much to learn from the past to make sense about what is happening in the present!)...Issues that have puzzled me are:

  • 1. The Nazi Germany had started persecuting the Jews much before the commencement of the WW-II. The Nuremberg Race Laws, which deprived the Jews of their right to German citizenship and forbade them to marry with the "superior" Aryans - were passed in 1935. Between 1933 and 1937, 125 anti-Jewish laws were enacted!!! Jews were banned from civil service posts, hospitals, courts, government, educational and cultural life and sport. Jewish books were publicly burned, and Jewish shops and offices were marked with a "J", etc. etc...

  • 2. Similarly, the death/concentration camps of Hitler's Germany - Auschwitz, Dachou, Treblinka, Chelmno, Sobibor, Belzek and Majdanek - after all, did no come up suddenly overnight. Dachou, in fact, was established in 1933, and by 1939 there were 6 large concentration camps in Germany (and by the decree of the Chancellor Adolf Hitler, were formally exempted from judicial enquiry and oversight). Hitler's persecution of Jews under the "Protective Custody" law - which authorized the police to make arrests on suspicion of criminal activity and incarcerated without benefit of legal counsel or trial - started well in early 1930's (if you get a déjà vu feeling, please refer to an earlier previous post on Historical Coincidences)....

    So why/how did the rest of the world just sit impotently and watch these crimes taking place?

    Contrary to the contemporary understanding, actually the rest of the world - the "civilized world", the "international community", the "West", etc. of that era - not only turned a blind eye to these developments, but in a way cheered, or subscribed to and supported, the Nazi's way!!!... After all, it took more than 50 years, when The Vatican apologised to Jews in 1998on behalf of the entire Roman Catholic community, for failing to speak out against the Nazi holocaust.

    Consider, for instance, some of these under-reported facts/events of history:

  • The Evian Conference:
    By 1938, about 150,000 jews had fled from Germany. This was creating a major refugee problem in other countries. With the annexation of more European countries, this was likely to amplify into a "humanitarian crisis". Since many countries were affected, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a conference at Hotel Royal, Évian-les-Bains, France in July, 1938 to discuss the problem of "Jewish refugees".

    32 countries - including US, Great Britain, Canada, France, Belgium, Australia, Sweden, Switzerland, New Zealand, Norway, and many latin American countries - attended the conference.... and nothing came out of it.

    Apparently, before the Conference, the US and Great Britain had made a deal: the British would not bring up the fact that the US was not filling its immigration quotas, and the Americans will not mention that Palestine can be a possible destination for the refugees.

    The outcome of the Conference was summed up by the The Time magazine (18 July 1938, p16):

    "Evian is the home of the famous spring of still and unexciting table water. After a week of many warm words of idealism and few practical suggestions, the Intergovernmental Committee on Political Refugees took on some of the same characteristics... Two days of stalling went on before a President was elected. No delegate wanted the post, each fearing that his nation would then be responsible for the conference's all-too-probable failure... All nations present expressed sympathy for the refugees but few offered to allow them within their boundaries."

    Dr. Chaim Weizmann, who later became Israel's first President in 1948, later remembered the Conference:
    "The world seemed to be divided into two parts – those places where the Jews could not live and those where they could not enter."

    No country wanted to rub Germany on the wrong side - it was after all, a booming economy and military super-power - and so, no resolution condemning the persecution of Jews was passed in the conference: a fact, that was later widely used by the Nazi propaganda as an endorsement of their policy - which in away, it was!

    A detailed description of the Evian Conference is available here, which starts by a quotation by Annette Shaw:

    "I wrote about the Evian Conference because I felt people should know the part the allies played in appeasing Hitler and giving him the green light to believe he could do whatever he wanted to the Jewish people as nobody wanted them and this resulted in genocide. By their refusal to take Jewish refugees the countries who attended the Evian Conference condemned them to torture, inhumane treatment and a horrible death."

  • The Tragedy of SS St Louis:
    Made into a motion picture The Voyage of the Damned in 1976, this perhaps was one of the most tragic trans-atlantic journey anyone would have taken.

    This was just before the WW-II. In May 1939, SS St Louis, sailed from Hamburg to Havana/Cuba carrying about 930+ Jewish refugees, who were seeking asylem. It was only on reaching the port, they found that under Cuban government of Federico Laredo Brú, they had to pay a disembarkation fee of $500/refugee. For people who had fled a country which had confiscated their property, this was hardly an option. A couple of suicides later, the ship turned to Florida for seeking a refuge... Again to be denied a landing. As Wikipedia reports:

    "On 4 June 1939, the St. Louis was also refused permission to unload on orders of President Roosevelt as the ship waited in the Caribbean Sea between Florida and Cuba. Initially, Roosevelt showed limited willingness to take in some of those on board despite the Immigration Act of 1924, but vehement opposition came from Roosevelt's Secretary of State, Cordell Hull, and from Southern Democrats — some of whom went so far as to threaten to withhold their support of Roosevelt in the 1940 Presidential election if this occurred... The St. Louis then tried to enter Canada but was denied as well."

    And so, St Louis sailed back to Europe. On the way back to Europe:

    "...first stopping in England, where 288 of the passengers disembarked and were thus spared from the Holocaust. The remaining 619 passengers disembarked at Antwerp. 224 were accepted into France, 214 into Belgium and 181 into Holland, safe from Hitler's persecution until the German invasions of these countries."

    Well, it wasn't a happy ending really. To quote:

    "... Having crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice, the passengers' original hopes of freedom in Cuba and the U.S. turned into a forlorn effort to escape sure death upon their return to Germany. Feeling alone and rejected by the world, the passengers returned to Europe in June 1939. With World War II just months away, many of these passengers were sent East with the occupation of the countries to which they had been sent."

  • Business as Usual:
    Apparently, the "hidden hand" of the free market was well in actions. Under Hitler, Germany had seen a turnaround, and was actually a "business-friendly" destination. Contrary to an impression, that the Nazis controlled all aspects of Germany's business economy, Hitler actually believed in "self-regulation" by business, and encouraged a nexus between business and the Reich. In 1934, after coming to power, the government of Nazi Germany created an advisory body called the National Economic Chamber (the NEC), whose purpose was to formulate the socio-economic policies for the Reich. This was a private association, with membership of the large businesses, trusts and cartels - and strictly excluded the labour and consumer representatives. This network also gave vast influence to large indutries in the Reich's policies.

    Correspondingly, Germany under Hitler became a capitalists' paradise. Trade unions were abolished, work-week was 60-hours, wages were low, and right to quit did not exist. Germany's expansionist ambitions, and public investments, galvanised business activities. It also had some positive effects, e.g., between 1933 and 1939, its unemployment numbers had gone down from 6mn to barely 0.3mn.. (Needless to say, there was also some creative accounting involved in this turnaround of the economy - as is true, even today. For example, women were not included in the unemployment figures - neither were the Jews, who had lost their citizenship...)

    In any case, Germany was a happy hunting ground for making profits, and there were many takers, e.g.:

    - Ford Motor Company: Henry Ford was one of the most admired figures in the Reich (for reasons which will be mentioned later in Part-II of this post). In 1938, he was awarded - and accepted - the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the Nazi regime's highest honor (The same year when the Time magazine judged Adolf Hitler as the Man of the Year!). Ford had established its presence in Germany in 1925, and had opened its plant in Cologne in 1931 as a wholly-owned subsidiary. Ford of Germany had close ties with the Reich, and with the advent of WW-II, it specially prospered since its sales increased by more than a half time during 1938-43. The boost came following the German invasion of Poland, when Ford Germany became the largest supplier of vehicles to German army. By 1941, Ford Germany had stopped manufacturing passenger vehicles, and shifted to manufacture trucks for the army; of the 350,000 trucks used by German Army, about one third were Ford.

    In 1942, after the US entered the war, German Ford was restructured and named Ford Werke, with a German board (though it was never nationalised by the Reich). Ford Motors of US continued to own 52% of its equity (which it maintained during the WW-II), and was also paid the dividends after the war was over in 1945.

    - General Motors: Like Ford, General Motors was the other beneficiary of the booming German economy, and its 100% owned subsidiary Opel plant was a key component in Germany's war efforts. As one report mentions: "General Motors was far more important to the Nazi war machine than Switzerland. Switzerland was just a repository of looted funds. GM was an integral part of the German war effort. The Nazis could have invaded Poland and Russia without Switzerland. They could not have done so without GM."

    GM's Opel's Brandenburg factory was Opel Blitz, which was considered the best of the German army's 3-ton trucks. Once the WW-II started in 1939, Opel converted its largest factory to warplane engine production. "When American GIs invaded Europe in June 1944, they did so in jeeps, trucks and tanks manufactured by the Big Three motor companies in one of the largest crash militarization programs ever undertaken. It came as an unpleasant surprise to discover that the enemy was also driving trucks manufactured by Ford and Opel - a 100 percent GM-owned subsidiary - and flying Opel-built warplanes."

    GM of USA, of course, later denied any connections with Opel's work during the WW-II, on the grounds that during the war it had no connection or control over the German plant's activities (this has been a standard refrain of all companies that they had no control over their German subsidiaries under the Nazi, though all of them controlled through some other European subsidiary, to which the German subsidiary reported). However, GM did apply for, and received, $32 million by the U.S. government for damages sustained to its German plants during the war!!

    - IBM: Collecting, seggragating, classifyin, trasporting and submitting to different treatments, required huge data management capabilities. As Edwin Black's book IBM and The Holocaust mentions:

    "To Nazis, Jews were not just those who practiced Judaism, but those of Jewish blood, regardless of their assimilation, intermarriage, religious activity, or even conversion to Christianity. Only after Jews were identified could they be targeted for asset confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and ultimately extermination. To search generations of communal, church, and governmental records all across Germany--and later throughout Europe--was a cross-indexing task so monumental, it called for a computer. But in 1933, no computer existed... However, another invention did exist: the IBM punch card and card sorting system - a precursor to the computer. IBM, primarily through its German subsidiary... using its own staff and equipment, designed, executed, and supplied the indispensable technologic assistance Hitler's Third Reich needed to accomplish..."

    IBM's technology was also handy in managing the efficiently transport Jews out of European ghettos along railroad lines and into death camps, "with timing so precise the victims were able to walk right out of the boxcar and into a waiting gas chamber." Nazi Germany became the largest IBM customer outside US. Later, IBM has maitained that it has no records of that time for its German subsidiary, the book does site documents, and how the German operations were conducted with full knowledge, support and instructions. You can read excerpts here and here

    - Standard Oil (later Exxon): This quote summarises the role of this Rockfeller company:

    "...without the explicit help of Standard Oil, the Nazi air force would never have gotten off the ground in the first place. The planes that made up the Luftwaffe needed tetraethyl lead gasoline in order to fly. At the time, only Standard Oil, Du Pont, and General Motors had the ability to produce this vital substance. In 1938, (Standard Oil helped ) I.G. Farben to acquire 500 tons of tetraethyl lead from Ethyl, a British Standard subsidiary... After the war began in Europe, the English became angry about U.S. shipments of strategic materials to Nazi Germany. Standard Oil immediately changed the registration of their entire fleet to Panamanian to avoid British search or seizure."

    This small clip from the documentary The Corporation shows some insightful visuals depicting this collusion between business and fascism during WW-II

    ... And of course there were many others in the game. Excerpts from an article, New World Order's Fascist Pedigree:

    "The holocaust was very good business. Throughout the 1930's Wall Street investment banks participated in "aryanization" which meant getting Jewish owned breweries, banks, factories, department stores etc. for 30% of their true value.... It is not an exaggeration to say that the Nazi war effort was financed by the Bank of England (which, for example, transferred the Czech gold reserves to the Nazis), Wall Street (Prescott Bush, W's grandfather was one of the leading Nazi financiers) and Jewish plunder... The list of US corporations that had the equivalent of $8 billion invested in Nazi Germany include Standard Oil, General Motors, IBM, Ford, the Chase and National City Banks, ITT, and many others. As a result, the men of "The Greatest Generation" didn't know that ITT built the airplanes that dropped bombs on them. They didn't know that Ford and General Motors built the Nazi's trucks and tanks. They didn't know that ball bearings crucial to the Nazi war effort were manufactured in Philadelphia, yet were in short supply in the USA."

    One of the major attraction for the MNCs was the low labour costs of the slave labour. Besides the above mentioned, there were a number of businesses which were lured by this "low-cost labour advantage" (reminds one of the presen-day CCA and the likes).

    For instance, one BBC report on Nestle's complicity:

    " well as food giant Nestle, were aware that forced labour was being used in their German subsidiaries.... "As a rule they were not worried or uneasy about the situation, and as long as production was maintained they had no thoughts of intervening in the management or personnel policy of their subsidiaries," says the report."

    Similary, in 1998, UBS of Switzerland, one of the world's biggest banks, admitted:

    "...that it exploited Nazi slave labourers during World War II.... The bank has confirmed it owned a cement factory where SS officers forced at least 400 prisoners from the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp to work."


    ... The list can go on and on...

    But the puzzle remains:

    Why did the world (with all its civilized governance, ethics, and plain common sense), not only allowed - what in the 20/20 hindsight looks so criminal and inhuman - to happen, but actually participated in it with full consciousness?... Why did sane, normal people - the kind who love their families, tend their gardens and walk their dogs - participate in what perhaps was one of the greatest collective crime of the civilization?

    Well... That will be the Making of a Holocaust - Part II... Please wait.

    After all, it is all happening today as well!!


    anish said...

    great post! waiting for part 2. thank you for writing.

    Divyakant said...

    That was an eye opener!
    Till now i was a proud owner of an Opel Corsa but not so proud anymore!

    sarkywoman said...

    I knew about the compliance of the West in the WWII. The allies did not war against Germany until Germany started attacking them. If not, they may have let the holocaust continue and who knows how many more Jews may have died.

    Am looking forward to Part 2. . .

    crazyBugga said...

    While the fact that the West aided NAZI Germany does fill oneself up with disgust, I would say that the decisions of a handful of profit-minded (albeit unethical) businessmen cannot be taken as the mindset of the entire civilized West.

    Given the amount of money involved, it would have been really hard for all the corporations you have listed, to ignore the opportunity. Except IBM, all other corporations that have been mentioned were just fueling the War, and not the persecution of Jews.

    But nevertheless, I have learnt something new from this post. My history books have taught me that England let Germany go unchecked in it's aggression against Russia, so as to curb Communism. Now I know there was money involved as well.

    But shooing away refugees - despicable.

    Pranav said...

    Mindblowing post...

    I am shaking...

    by the way, where is part-II ? I am not able to find it..

    Anonymous said...

    wow amazing... what would though hitler if saw people now use generic viagra for have sex? by the way did he have sex even once ? :S
    Thanks for sharing.

    Anonymous said...

    I heard a lot of terrible stories about this disaster, according ray meds secret document, the tortures suffered by Jews in that time, was a real hell, no human in the world deserve something like that.