Partners in Crime: American Big Business and the Nazis

Nearly six decades ago, American GIs fighting against Hitler's armies in Europe were astonished to discover that the German military drove Ford trucks. If the GIs had looked up to the sky, they would have seen the Nazis flying planes built by Opel, a wholly-owned subsidiary of General Motors. In 1939, the German branches of GM and Ford supplied 70 percent of cars sold on the German market. German subsidiaries of both auto giants went on to manufacture military materiel for the armies of the German fascist state. Archival research has established that some managers in both firms, US citizens, failed to resist the conversion of GM and Ford plants in Germany and German-occupied France and Poland, to German military use.

One researcher, Bradford Snell, has compared the relative importance of Switzerland, which facilitated Nazi financial activity during the Second World War, with the importance of GM to the German fascists. Snell wrote, "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."

In 1998, researcher Miriam Kleinman commented on the relationship between Ford and the Nazis: "When you think of Ford, you think of baseball and apple pie. You don't think of Hitler having a portrait of Henry Ford on his office wall." In fact, the connection between Henry Ford and the German dictator predates the Nazi seizure of power in Germany in 1933. Among anti-Semites, Henry Ford had distinguished himself by publishing numerous slanders against the Jewish people in a newspaper he owned in Dearborn, Michigan, so that, in 1931, Hitler told the Detroit News, "I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration."

The admiration was apparently mutual. In July 1938, Henry Ford accepted a medal from the German fascist government, the highest award that could be given to a foreigner by the Nazis. A month later, James Mooney, a top GM executive, was also awarded a Nazi medal "for distinguished service to the Reich." British writer Charles Higham quotes Mooney as saying in 1940, "Hitler is in the right, and I'm not going to do anything to make him mad."

At the end of the war, a US Army investigator, Henry Schneider, called Ford's German subsidiary, "an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles," an arrangement that, according to Schneider, had the approval of Ford headquarters, and the US Fascist gratitude to Ford and GM was well-founded: beginning in 1939, the "Blitz" truck, produced at a plant built by GM in Berlin, was a part of the Blitzkrieg, German aggression against neighboring countries, Poland, the USSR, and France. Opel, GM's German subsidiary, and German Ford were the biggest and second biggest producers of trucks for the German fascist forces.

The mutually-advantageous relationship between the two US auto giants and the German fascist state may well have encompassed far more than trucks. US Army investigator Schneider contended that Ford in the US enabled the Germans to obtain large amounts of rubber, vital for ensuring the mobility of fascist armies against the peoples of Europe. Writer Snell charged that GM provided the Hitlerites with the technology needed to produce synthetic fuel. Snell claims he was told by Nazi armaments boss Albert Speer that without this technology, Hitler "would never have considered invading Poland." The outbreak of war in 1939 should not have surprised GM or Ford; both firms had competed for the German market since the 1920s. In the six years preceding the Second World War, the Nazis had made it their business to persecute or imprison the enemies of fascism within Germany, notably Communists, Social Democrats, and Jews.

In initiating the war, the Hitler-state simply targeted its external enemies, the European peoples. The German assault on Poland in 1939, which pitted German tanks against Polish cavalry, did not end the close cooperation between GM and Ford's German subsidiaries and the fascist state. GM head Alfred P. Sloan, in whose honor the Sloan School of Business at MIT is named, remarked in 1939, just weeks after the Nazi military seized Czechoslovakia, that GM production and sales in Germany were "highly profitable." James Mooney, who ran GM's overseas branches, held talks with Hitler two weeks after the Nazi invasion of Poland, and subsequently GM's German subsidiary continued to make war materiel for the German army.

Researcher Charles Higham holds that the Ford subsidiary in German-occupied France continued producing trucks for the Nazi army after 1941, and that Ford started another subsidiary in Algiers, to supply General Rommel with trucks and armored cars. In April 1943, US Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau concluded that production by the French Ford subsidiary "is solely for the benefit of Germany," which had "shown clearly [a] wish to protect the Ford interests."

For anyone with eyes to see, the future planned by the Nazis for the world's peoples was unmistakably clear: perpetual war, anti-Semitism, racism, dictatorship, a disdain for culture. That this did not deter Ford or Sloan, whose German subsidiaries continued to play an important, if not irreplaceable, role in enabling Nazi aggression against Europe, speaks volumes about the capitalist class.

That Sloan and Ford continued their subsidiaries' involvement with Germany for eight of the twelve years that Germany was under fascist rule (1933-1941), strongly suggests that the super-rich, the owners of mega-means of production, lack the ethical compass that most people possess. Yet they were not alone - Bush family patriarch Prescott Bush also had well-documented dealings with the Nazis. The enthusiasm for Hitler that large numbers of wealthy Americans displayed in the 1930s clearly shows that the wrong class is in charge.

A country's productive capacity should be used to take humanity forward, to defend and enhance culture and peace, the basis of culture. The culture of a given society should emphasize solidarity, based on our shared humanity, not racism or xenophobia, those two staples of fascist demagogy. That two of the most powerful corporations in America were willing to treat the Hitler-state as a business partner leads to the conclusion that corporate appeals to patriotism are nonsensical. What counted in the thirties, what counts now for business, is profit - obtained any way one can. In a future article we will outline the lucrative connections between the bin Laden and Bush families.

The links between big-business and the most reactionary, anti-working class elements around the world are numerous for a reason - they are inherent to the functioning of the capitalist system. That GM and Ford, and their entire class of profit-hungry leeches, still run things in this country and around the world, fairly shouts the need for a complete change here.