BONN (Jul. 29)
The office of the State Prosecutor in Bremen has opened an investigation into the role of Kurt Becher, a local grain merchant and a former aide of SS chief Heinrich Himmler, in the mass shootings of Jews during World War II. Scores of organizations in Bremen have protested the failure of the authorities to take Becher to court despite widespread documentation of his activities with the SS.
Becher’s Nazi past was brought to public attention recently with the publication of the book “Reichsfuehrers Gehorsamster Becher” (Hitler’s Obedient Servant). The controversy intensified several days ago when Becher was named to the board of directors of Hapog-Lloyd, one of West Germany’s leading shipping companies which is also active in commercial aviation and the tourist industry.
Trade union officials representing thousands of Hapog-Lloyd employes have vowed to fight the appointment. A Hapog-Lloyd spokesman said, however, that a Hamburg judge has given Becher the necessary clearance to join the board immediately although his appointment must be approved by the company’s shareholders at the next board elections in 1983.
BACKGROUND OF THE FIRM
Hapog-Lloyd is the post-war incarnation of Germany’s two greatest shipping companies, the Hamburg-America Line and the Bremen-based Norddeutscher Lloyd. In 1934, the Nazi regime acquired the majority of shares in both companies and the former rivals were operated thereafter as separate units of a single firm.
Ironically, the Hamburg-America Line owed its pre-World War I status as the world’s largest shipping company to a Hamburg-born Jew, Albert Ballin, who served as its managing director from the 1880s until his death in 1918.
Today, Hapag-Lloyd operates a vast fleet of freighters and container ships, several cruise ships and aircraft which have been running charter flights to Israel for several years.