Nazi Collaborator Alfred P. Sloan
Edited by Alex Constantine
By Richard Sanders, Editor, Press for Conversion!
Sloan was a member, Advisory Council of the American Liberty League.
Son of a coffee and tea importer, Alfred Sloan, became America’s first great corporate celebrity. His greatest contributions to his class included the destruction of mass transit, the crushing of labour strikes at du Pont’s General Motors (GM), arming Hitler before and during WWII and promoting President Wilson’s slogan that “What’s good for General Motors is good for the U.S.” (That’s GM president Charles Wilson, 1941-1953).
Armed with an MIT electrical engineering degree in 1895, Sloan was a machine shop president in 1899. His company merged with two others to form GM in 1918. Sloan was vice-president and then president (1923) and GM’s chairman (1937-1956). Under Sloan’s leadership, GM systematically bought up and destroyed America’s highly-efficient electric train, streetcar and tram infrastructure, and literally burnt the vehicles. Knowing the public preferred streetcars over fume-belching buses, GM bought up America’s largest bus operator (Omnibus) and largest bus manufacturer (Yellow Coach). Manhattan was their symbolic starting point. GM acquired controlling interest in its rail system and then dismantled it (1926-1936). Bus services were decreased and mass PR campaigns were launched selling the notion that what people really wanted was cars. Thus, Sloan “motorized” America for GM.
Sloan unceasingly propagated the myth that corporations are central to public happiness and prosperity. This helped cover up the fact that corporations will quickly sacrifice public interest in their selfish drive towards greater profits. David Farber, author of Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors (2002) said:
“There’s a lot I don’t like about Mr. Sloan. His steady opposition to making safer automobiles, his dismissal of workers’ rights, his inability to see Adolf Hitler as evil and dangerous…, and his general disregard for social justice and the common good make him a not very lovable figure. Those failings are usually not weaknesses in a corporate manager, even as they make Sloan less than a model of good citizenship. But good citizenship has little to do with maximizing corporate profits. Which makes it pretty obvious to me that putting corporate leaders in charge of our public good is ill-advised.”
Farber also notes that GM destroyed Sloan’s files to protect itself from lawsuits regarding antitrust issues, the neglect of automobile safety and its investments in Nazi Germany.
The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, established in 1934, had assets worth over $1.3 billion in 2002.
GM is the world’s largest company. With operations in 104 countries and sales of $125 billion a year, GMs revenues are the equivalent of the world’s 6th largest country.
Jill Rapaport and Scott Butek, General Motors and You: An Appreciation of James Klein and Martha Olson’s “Taken for a Ride”
Google cache: http://www.interactivist.net/transportation/ride.html
An interview with David Farber, author of Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors, 2002.
Source: Press for Conversion! magazine, Issue # 53, “Facing the Corporate Roots of American Fascism,” March 2004. Published by the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade.
www.newworldencyclopedia.org: “In the 1930s GM—long hostile to unionization—confronted its workforce, newly organized and ready for labor rights, in an extended contest for control. Sloan was averse to violence of the sort associated with Henry Ford. He preferred the subtle use of spying and had built up the best undercover apparatus the business community had ever seen up to that time. When the workers organized a massive sitdown strike in 1936, Sloan found that espionage had little value in the face of such open tactics.
“Under Sloan’s direction as CEO, General Motors is known to have made large profits off of the rearmament of the Third Reich. General Motors Overseas Corporation was led by director James Mooney, who held various business visits with Adolph Hitler, along with senior executives of GM’s German division Adam Opel A.G. Both GM and Opel A.G. were eager, willing and indispensable cogs in the Third Reich’s rearmament juggernaut, a rearmament that, as many feared during the 1930s would enable Hitler to conquer Europe and destroy millions of lives. For GM’s part, it has steadfastly denied for decades, even in the halls of th U.S. Congress, that it actively assisted the Nazi war effort.”
Edwin Black, “Hitler’s Carmaker: The Inside Story of How General Motors Helped Mobilize the Third Reich,” Global Research, May 5, 2007, Hitler’s Carmaker Retrieved November 6, 2007.
“The Nazis could have invaded Poland and Russia without Switzerland. They could not have done so without GM … “
“A senior executive of General Motors also received a medal from Hitler, apparently for services rendered, and services to come. GM’s involvement in Germany began in 1935 with the opening of a truck factory near Berlin. Within a few years trucks produced by that factory would be part of German Army convoys rumbling through Poland, France and the Soviet Union.
“After the German occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1939, GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan commented that the Nazis’ behavior ‘should not be considered the business of the management of General Motors.’ The GM plant in Germany was highly profitable. ‘We have no right to shut down that plant,’ Sloan declared.
“The outbreak of war in September 1939 resulted inevitably in the full conversion by GM and Ford of their Axis plants to the production of military aircraft and trucks,” according to a 1974 report printed by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. ‘On the ground, GM and Ford subsidiaries built nearly 90 percent of the armored ‘mule’ 3-ton half-trucks and more than 70 percent of the Reich’s medium and heavy-duty trucks. These vehicles, according to American intelligence reports, served as ‘the backbone of the German Army transportation system.’
“‘General Motors was far more important to the Nazi war machine than Switzerland,’ says researcher Bradford Snell. ‘Switzerland was just a repository of looted funds, while 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.’ … Shamelessly, after the war both GM and Ford demanded reparations from the U.S. government for damage to their German plants caused by Allied bombing. In 1967, GM was compensated with $33 million from the U.S. government for the American bombing of its Russelsheim plant. … ”
Ford and GM Scrutinized for Alleged Nazi Collaboration
By Michael Dobbs
November 30, 1998; Page A01
Like the Swiss banks, the American car companies have vigorously denied that they assisted the Nazi war machine or that they significantly profited from the use of forced labor at their German subsidiaries during World War II. But historians and lawyers researching class-action suits on behalf of former prisoners of war are busy amassing evidence of collaboration by the automakers with the Nazi regime.
The issues at stake for the American automobile corporations go far beyond the relatively modest sums involved in settling any lawsuit. During the war, the car companies established a reputation for themselves as “the arsenal of democracy” by transforming their production lines to make airplanes, tanks and trucks for the armies that defeated Adolf Hitler. They deny that their huge business interests in Nazi Germany led them, wittingly or unwittingly, to also become “the arsenal of fascism.”
The Ford Motor Co. has mobilized dozens of historians, lawyers and researchers to fight a civil case brought by lawyers in Washington and New York who specialize in extracting large cash settlements from banks and insurance companies accused of defrauding Holocaust victims. Also, a book scheduled for publication next year will accuse General Motors Corp. of playing a key role in Hitler’s invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union.
“General Motors was far more important to the Nazi war machine than Switzerland,” said Bradford Snell, who has spent two decades researching a history of the world’s largest automaker. “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.”
Both General Motors and Ford insist that they bear little or no responsibility for the operations of their German subsidiaries, which controlled 70 percent of the German car market at the outbreak of war in 1939 and rapidly retooled themselves to become suppliers of war materiel to the German army.
But documents discovered in German and American archives show a much more complicated picture. In certain instances, American managers of both GM and Ford went along with the conversion of their German plants to military production at a time when U.S. government documents show they were still resisting calls by the Roosevelt administration to step up military production in their plants at home.
After three years of national soul-searching, Switzerland’s largest banks agreed last August to make a $1.25 billion settlement to Holocaust survivors, a step they had initially resisted. Far from dying down, however, the controversy over business dealings with the Nazis has given new impetus to long-standing investigations into issues such as looted art, unpaid insurance benefits and the use of forced labor at German factories.
Although some of the allegations against GM and Ford surfaced during 1974 congressional hearings into monopolistic practices in the automobile industry, American corporations have largely succeeded in playing down their connections to Nazi Germany. As with Switzerland, however, their very success in projecting a wholesome, patriotic image of themselves is now being turned against them by their critics.
“When you think of Ford, you think of baseball and apple pie,” said Miriam Kleinman, a researcher with the Washington law firm of Cohen, Millstein and Hausfeld, who spent weeks examining records at the National Archives in an attempt to build a slave labor case against the Dearborn-based company. “You don’t think of Hitler having a portrait of Henry Ford on his office wall in Munich.”
Both Ford and General Motors declined requests for access to their wartime archives. Ford spokesman John Spellich defended the company’s decision to maintain business ties with Nazi Germany on the grounds that the U.S. government continued to have diplomatic relations with Berlin up until the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. GM spokesman John F. Mueller said that General Motors lost day-to-day control over its German plants in September 1939 and “did not assist the Nazis in any way during World War II.”
For GIs, an Unpleasant Surprise
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. (Chrysler’s role in the German rearmament effort was much less significant.)
When the U.S. Army liberated the Ford plants in Cologne and Berlin, they found destitute foreign workers confined behind barbed wire and company documents extolling the “genius of the Fuehrer,” according to reports filed by soldiers at the scene. A U.S. Army report by investigator Henry Schneider dated Sept. 5, 1945, accused the German branch of Ford of serving as “an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles” with the “consent” of the parent company in Dearborn.
Ford spokesman Spellich described the Schneider report as “a mischaracterization” of the activities of the American parent company and noted that Dearborn managers had frequently been kept in the dark by their German subordinates over events in Cologne.
The relationship of Ford and GM to the Nazi regime goes back to the 1920s and 1930s, when the American car companies competed against each other for access to the lucrative German market. Hitler was an admirer of American mass production techniques and an avid reader of the antisemitic tracts penned by Henry Ford. “I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration,” Hitler told a Detroit News reporter two years before becoming the German chancellor in 1933, explaining why he kept a life-size portrait of the American automaker next to his desk.
Although Ford later renounced his antisemitic writings, he remained an admirer of Nazi Germany and sought to keep America out of the coming war. In July 1938, four months after the German annexation of Austria, he accepted the highest medal that Nazi Germany could bestow on a foreigner, the Grand Cross of the German Eagle. The following month, a senior executive for General Motors, James Mooney, received a similar medal for his “distinguished service to the Reich.”
The granting of such awards reflected the vital place that the U.S. automakers had in Germany’s increasingly militarized economy. In 1935, GM agreed to build a new plant near Berlin to produce the aptly named “Blitz” truck, which would later be used by the German army for its blitzkreig attacks on Poland, France and the Soviet Union. German Ford was the second-largest producer of trucks for the German army after GM/Opel, according to U.S. Army reports.
The importance of the American automakers went beyond making trucks for the German army. The Schneider report, now available to researchers at the National Archives, states that American Ford agreed to a complicated barter deal that gave the Reich increased access to large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber. Author Snell says that Nazi armaments chief Albert Speer told him in 1977 that Hitler “would never have considered invading Poland” without synthetic fuel technology provided by General Motors.
As war approached, it became increasingly difficult for U.S. corporations like GM and Ford to operate in Germany without cooperating closely with the Nazi rearmament effort. Under intense pressure from Berlin, both companies took pains to make their subsidiaries appear as “German” as possible. In April 1939, for example, German Ford made a personal present to Hitler of 35,000 Reichsmarks in honor of his 50th birthday, according to a captured Nazi document.
Documents show that the parent companies followed a conscious strategy of continuing to do business with the Nazi regime, rather than divest themselves of their German assets. Less than three weeks after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, GM Chairman Alfred P. Sloan defended this strategy as sound business practice, given the fact that the company’s German operations were “highly profitable.”
The internal politics of Nazi Germany “should not be considered the business of the management of General Motors,” Sloan explained in a letter to a concerned shareholder dated April 6, 1939. “We must conduct ourselves [in Germany] as a German organization. . . . We have no right to shut down the plant.”
U.S. Firms Became Crucial
After the outbreak of war in September 1939, General Motors and Ford became crucial to the German military, according to contemporaneous German documents and postwar investigations by the U.S. Army. James Mooney, the GM director in charge of overseas operations, had discussions with Hitler in Berlin two weeks after the German invasion of Poland.
Typewritten notes by Mooney show that he was involved in the partial conversion of the principal GM automobile plant at Russelsheim to production of engines and other parts for the Junker “Wunderbomber,” a key weapon in the German air force, under a government-brokered contract between Opel and the Junker airplane company. Mooney’s notes show that he returned to Germany the following February for further discussions with Luftwaffe commander Hermann Goering and a personal inspection of the Russelsheim plant.
Mooney’s involvement in the conversion of the Russelsheim plant undermines claims by General Motors that the American branch of the company had nothing to do with the Nazi rearmament effort. In congressional testimony in 1974, GM maintained that American personnel resigned from all management positions in Opel following the outbreak of war in 1939 “rather than participate in the production of war materials.”
However, according to documents of the Reich Commissar for the Treatment of Enemy Property, the American parent company continued to have some say in the operations of Opel after September 1939. The documents show that the company issued a general power of attorney to an American manager, Pete Hoglund, in March 1940. Hoglund did not leave Germany until a year later. At that time, the power of attorney was transferred to a prominent Berlin lawyer named Heinrich Richter.
GM spokesman Mueller declined to answer questions from The Washington Post on the power of attorney granted to Hoglund and Richter or to provide access to the personnel files of Hoglund and other wartime managers. He also declined to comment on an assertion by Snell that Opel used French and Belgian prisoners at its Russelsheim plant in the summer of 1940, at a time when the American Hoglund was still looking after GM interests in Germany.
The Nazis had a clear interest in keeping Opel and German Ford under American ownership, despite growing hostility between Washington and Berlin. By the time of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, the American stake in German Ford had declined to 52 percent, but Nazi officials argued against a complete takeover. A memorandum to plant managers dated November 25, 1941, acknowledged that such a step would deprive German Ford of “the excellent sales organization” of the parent company and make it more difficult to bring “the remaining European Ford companies under German influence.”
Documents suggest that the principal motivation of both companies during this period was to protect their investments. An FBI report dated July 23, 1941 quoted Mooney as saying that he would refuse to take any action that might “make Hitler mad.” In fall 1940, Mooney told the journalist Henry Paynter that he would not return his Nazi medal because such an action might jeopardize GM’s $100 million investment in Germany. “Hitler has all the cards,” Paynter quoted Mooney as saying.
“Mooney probably thought that the war would be over very quickly, so why should we give our wonderful company away,” said German researcher Anita Kugler, who used Nazi archives to trace the company’s dealings with Nazi Germany.
Even though GM officials were aware of the conversion of its Russelsheim plant to aircraft engine production, they resisted such conversion efforts in the United States, telling shareholders that their automobile assembly lines in Detroit were “not adaptable to the manufacture of other products” such as planes, according to a company document discovered by Snell.
In June 1940, after the fall of France, Henry Ford personally vetoed a U.S. government-approved plan to produce under license Rolls-Royce engines for British fighter planes, according to published accounts by his associates.
Declaration of War Alters Ties
America’s declaration of war on Germany in December 1941 made it illegal for U.S. motor companies to have any contact with their subsidiaries on German-controlled territory.
At GM and Ford plants in Germany, reliance on forced labor increased. The story of Elsa Iwanowa, who brought a class-action suit against Ford last March, is typical. At the age of 16, she was abducted from her home in the southern Russian city of Rostov by German soldiers in October 1942 with hundreds of other young women to work at the Ford plant at Cologne.
“The conditions were terrible. They put us in barracks, on three-tier bunks,” she recalled in a telephone interview from Belgium, where she now lives. “It was very cold; they did not pay us at all and scarcely fed us. The only reason that we survived was that we were young and fit.”
In a court submission, American Ford acknowledges that Iwanowa and others were “forced to endure a sad and terrible experience” at its Cologne plant but maintains that redressing such “tragedies” should be “a government-to-government concern.” Spellich, the Ford spokesman, insists the company did not have management control over its German subsidiary during the period in question.
Ford has backed away from its initial claim that it did not profit in any way from forced labor at its Cologne plant. Spellich said that company historians are still researching this issue but have found documents showing that, after the war, American Ford received dividends from its German subsidiary worth approximately $60,000 for the years 1940-43. He declined a request to interview the historians, saying they were “too busy.”
The extent of contacts between American Ford and its German-controlled subsidiary after 1941 is likely to be contested at any trial. Simon Reich, an economic historian at the University of Pittsburgh and an expert on the German car industry, says he has yet to see convincing evidence that American Ford had any control over its Cologne plant after December 1941. He adds, however, that both “Opel and Ford did absolutely everything they could to ingratiate themselves to the Nazi state.”
While there was no direct contact between American Ford and its German subsidiary after December 1941, there appear to have been some indirect contacts. In June 1943, the Nazi custodian of the Cologne plant, Robert Schmidt, traveled to Portugal for talks with Ford managers there. In addition, the Treasury Department investigated Ford after Pearl Harbor for possible illegal contacts with its subsidiary in occupied France, which produced Germany army trucks. The investigation ended without charges being filed.
Even though American Ford now condemns what happened at its Cologne plant during the war, it continued to employ the managers in charge at the time. After the war, Schmidt was briefly arrested by Allied military authorities and barred from working for Ford. But he was reinstated as the company’s technical director in 1950 after he wrote to Henry Ford II claiming that he had always “detested” the Nazis and had never been a member of the party. A letter signed by a leading Cologne Nazi in February 1942 describes Schmidt as a trusted party member. Ford maintains that Schmidt’s name does not show up on Nazi membership lists.
Mel Weiss, an American attorney for Iwanowa, argues that American Ford received “indirect” profits from forced labor at its Cologne plant because of the overall increase in the value of German operations during the war. He notes that Ford was eager to demand compensation from the U.S. government after the war for “losses” due to bomb damage to its German plants and therefore should also be responsible for any benefits derived from forced labor.
Similar arguments apply to General Motors, which was paid $32 million by the U.S. government for damages sustained to its German plants. Washington attorney Michael Hausfeld, who is involved in the Ford lawsuit, confirms GM also is “on our list” as a possible target.
GM and the Nazis–Part Four: How Will History Remember General Motors’ Collaboration with the Nazis?
June 30th 2008
The epilogue of the tumultuous saga of General Motors during the New Deal and Nazi era is still being written. That saga is the subject of a four-part investigative series that concludes with this story. Thousands of pages of decades’-old documents were scrutinized and re-examined to produce this series, which sheds new light on GM’s relationship with the Third Reich—and on the company’s activities in America. They reveal that even as GM and its president, Alfred P. Sloan, were helping jump-start the resurgent German military, they were undermining the New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt and undermining America’s electric mass transit, and in doing so helped addict America to oil.
In 1974, a generation after World War II, GM’s controversial history was resurrected by the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on Antitrust and Monopoly. GM and Opel’s collusion with the Nazis dominated the opening portion of the subcommittee’s exhaustively documented study, which mainly focused on the company’s conspiracy to monopolize scores of local mass transit systems in the United States.
The report’s author, Judiciary Committee staff attorney Bradford Snell, used GM’s collaboration with the Third Reich as a moral backdrop to help explain the automakers’ plan in more than 40 cities to subvert popular clean-running electric public transit and convert it to petroleum-burning motor buses.
The Senate report, titled “American Ground Transport,” was released shortly after the Arab-imposed 1973 oil shock—and it accused GM of significantly contributing to the nation’s petroleum woes through its mass-transit machinations.
GM had been convicted in 1949 of leading a secret corporate combine that funded a front company called National City Lines that systematically replaced electric trolleys with oil-guzzling motor buses across America. After Snell’s report was presented, GM immediately went on the counterattack, denying Snell’s charges about both its domestic conduct and its collusion with the Nazis, and demanding that the Senate Judiciary Committee cease circulating its own report. That, of course, did not happen.
But following the release of the Snell report, the automaker then created its own 88-page rebuttal report titled, “The Truth About American Ground Transport,” whose entire first section, as it turns out, had nothing to do with American ground transport. It was headlined: “General Motors Did Not Assist the Nazis in World War II.”
GM has also consistently denied domestic wrongdoing.
Thus, GM’s involvement with Nazi transportation in Germany juxtaposed with its conspiracy to convert electric mass transit at home became inextricably linked by virtue of the Senate’s investigation, the company’s own rebuttal and the compelling historical parallel between the company’s conduct in the United States and its conduct in Germany.
GM further demanded that the Senate never permit its own report, American Ground Transport, to be distributed without GM’s rebuttal attached. The Senate agreed—a rare move indeed. Snell, however, labeled the GM rebuttal a document calculated to mislead historians and the public.
Yet another generation later, in the late 1990s, GM’s collaboration with the Nazis was again resurrected when Nazi-era slave laborers threatened to sue GM and Ford for reparations. At the time, a GM spokesman told a reporter at The Washington Post that the company “did not assist the Nazis in any way during WWII.” The effort to sue GM and Ford was unsuccessful, but both Ford and GM, concerned about the facts that might come to light, commissioned histories of their Nazi-related past.
In the case of Ford, the company issued its 2001 report, compiled by historian Simon Reich, plus the original underlying documentation, all of which was made available to the public without restriction. Ford immediately circulated CDs with the data to the media. Researchers and other interested parties may today view the actual documents and photocopy them. The Reich report concluded, among other things, that Ford-Werke, the company’s German subsidiary, used slave labor from the Buchenwald concentration camp in 1944 and 1945 and functioned as an integral part of the German war machine. Ford officials in Detroit have publicly commented on their Nazi past, remained available for comment, apologized and have generally helped all those seeking answers about its involvement with the Hitler regime.
As for GM, it commissioned eminent business historian Henry Ashby Turner Jr. in 1999 to conduct an internal investigation and report his findings. Turner, author of several favorably reviewed books, including “German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler,” was well-known, among other things, for his insistence that big business did not make a pivotal contribution to the rise of Hitlerism.
GM, however, declined to release Turner’s internal report or discuss the company’s Nazi-era or New Deal-era history or archival holdings when contacted by this reporter. In February 2006, corporate spokeswoman Geri Lama twice refused to give this reporter the location of the company archive. In November 2006, Lama was again asked for an on-the-record response. She said she was referring the question to “staffers,” but after more than a week, no reply had been received.
GM has maintained a special combative niche in the annals of American corporate history, achieving a reputation for suppressing books, obstructing access to archival records, and frustrating critics from Ralph Nader to Bradford Snell. GM attorneys even fought efforts by Alfred P. Sloan himself to publish his own memoirs, although the autobiography was finally published in 1964 after a long court fight.
In July 2005, Turner published the book “General Motors and the Nazis: The Struggle for Control of Opel, Europe’s Biggest Carmaker” (Yale University Press). The book features 158 chapter text pages of carefully detailed and footnoted information, plus notes, an index and a short appendix. Although the book has been reviewed, BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail book sales for the publishing industry, reported in late October that only 139 copies of the Turner book had been sold to the key outlets monitored by the service since the publication’s release.
In his book, Turner, relying on his work as GM’s historian, disputed many earlier findings about GM’s complicity with the Nazis, concluding that charges that GM had collaborated with the Nazis even after the United States and Germany were at war “have proved groundless.” Turner rejects “the assumption that the American corporation did business in the Third Reich by choice,” asserting, “Such was not the case.” Turner also states that GM had no option but to return wartime profits to its stockholders, since “the German firm prospered handsomely from Hitler’s promotion of the automobile and from the remarkable recovery of the German economy.”
However, Turner does state explicitly that “by the end of 1940 more than ten thousand employees at Opel’s Russelsheim plant were engaged in producing parts for the Junkers bombers heavily used in raining death and destruction on London and other British cities during the air attacks of the Battle of Britain.” Turner also condemns GM for taking the Opel wartime dividends, which included profits made off of slave labor. He writes, “But regardless of who [in the GM corporate structure] decided to claim that tainted money, its receipt rendered GM guilty, after the fact, of deriving profit from war production for the Third Reich made possible in part from the toil of unfree workers.”
Aware that questions would arise about his relationship with GM, Turner’s book states in its preface: “This book was not commissioned by General Motors. It was written after the documentation project was completed and without any financial support from GM. Its contents were seen by no one at GM prior to publication. It is therefore an independent undertaking by the author, who bears sole responsibility for its contents.”
Turner did not respond to voice mail and e-mail messages seeking information about his sponsored GM history project, his subsequent book, or other relevant topics.
The GM Opel documents assembled for the company’s probe and Turner’s commissioned examination were digitized on CD-ROMs and donated to Yale’s Sterling Memorial Library, where the collection is categorized as being “open to the public.” In point of fact, the obscure collection can only be viewed on a computer terminal; print-outs or digital copies are not permitted without the written consent of GM attorneys.
Sterling reference librarians, who are willing to make the collection available, complained to this reporter as recently as October 2007 that they do not know how to access the digitized GM materials because of a complicated and arcane database never before encountered by them. One Sterling reference librarian answered a question about the document by declaring, “I have spoken to two reference librarians. No one knows anything about it [the GM Opel Collection], no one is in charge of it. No one knows how to access it.”
Yale archivist Richard Szary, who supervised the accession of the collection, said that for the approximate half-decade that the documents have been on file, he knows of only “one or two” researchers other than this reporter who have had access to the papers. Szary, who was previously said to be the only Yale staffer who understood how to access the materials, facilitated this reporter’s on-site access. He has since left Yale. By late November, however, in response to an inquiry by this reporter, a senior Sterling librarian said her staff would “figure out how to make it available” by reviewing technical details.
Simon Reich, who compiled Ford’s Hitler-era documents, bristled at the whole idea. “Ford decided to take a very public, open and transparent route,” he stated. “Any serious researcher can go into the [Henry Ford] archive, see the documents in paper form, and have them copied. Compare and contrast this with the fact that GM conducted a very private study and the original hard-copy documentation upon which the study was made has never been made available, and today cannot be copied without the GM legal department’s permission.”
Between the unpublished GM internal investigation, the restricted files at Yale, and the little-known insights offered in Turner’s book, the details of the company’s involvement with the Hitler regime have remained below the radar.
Nonetheless, GM’s impact in both the United States and the Third Reich was monumental.
On Jan. 15, 1953, company president Charlie Wilson was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, a job that would ultimately see him usher in the era of the interstate highway system. At Wilson’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Robert Hendrickson (R-N.J.) pointedly challenged the GM chief, asking whether he had a conflict of interest, considering his 40,000 shares of company stock and years of loyalty to the controversial Detroit firm. Bluntly asked if he could make a decision in the country’s interest that was contrary to GM’s interest, Wilson shot back with his famous comment, “I cannot conceive of one because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist.
Our company is too big.”
Indeed, what GM accomplished in both America and Nazi Germany could not have been bigger.
Edwin Black is the award-winning, New York Times and international bestselling author of IBM and the Holocaust, and six other books, as well as the forthcoming book, Nazi Nexus (Nov 2008 Dialog Press). He can be reached at www.edwinblack.com. This article is adapted from an award-winning series syndicated by the JTA based on Black’s book Internal Combustion (St. Martin’s Press) as well as additional research.
Edwin Black’s research for the four-part investigative series, “GM and the Nazis” involved the review of documents at Georgetown University; Georgia State University; Henry Ford Museum; Kettering University; National Archives repositories in Chicago and Washington, D.C.; New York Public Library Special Manuscript Collections; Yale University Sterling Memorial Library and other repositories in the United States and Germany. In addition, he had access to confidential FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, period media reports from both Germany and America, secondary literature and other materials researched to produce his book Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. His secondary sources also included the books: General Motors and the Nazis by Henry A. Turner; Sloan Rules by David Farber and Working for the Enemy by Reinhold Billstein, Karola Fings, Anita Kugler and Nicholas Levis.