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Leading Auto Firm Commissions Study of Its Wartime Use of Slave Labor

– The Daimler-Benz AG., the Stuttgart-based automobile giant which manufactures the prestigious Mercedes, has commissioned an independent study of the company’s history which includes the utilization of slave labor during the Nazi era.

A company spokesman told reporters yesterday that the study may lead to the payment of reparations to surviving slave laborers, many of whom are Jews, or to their families. He said the company expects to have a full account of the matter sometime next fall and will decide then how to proceed. He stressed that the question of reparations will not be limited to the legal aspects.

The Cologne-based Society for Business History was engaged in 1983 to do research in connection with the company’s planned centenary celebrations. Their work includes an historical account titled “Daimler-Benz in the Years From 1933 to 1945.” According to Hans Pohl, an advisor to the Society, Daimler-Benz used POWs and concentration camp inmates to expedite military production after the start of World War II.

20,000 SLAVE LABORERS FORCED TO WORK FOR FIRM

According to his preliminary study, about 20,000 slave laborers from 20 Nazi-occupied countries were forced to work for Daimler-Benz at its various plants. Pohl said large numbers of them were Jews. The company, which has not paid reparations to date, said it has not been confronted with specific demands to do so.

Pohl said he has concluded on the basis of evidence on hand that Daimler-Benz did not identify itself with the Nazis beyond what was absolutely necessary to keep the company in operation. While most of the Board members were members of the Nazi Party, many of them joined after the Nazis took power in 1933.

An exception was Wilhelm Kissel, Board chairman when the war broke out. He joined the Nazi Party in 1934 but had been a member of the SS and of a Nazi professional organization before then. Kissel died in 1942 and was succeeded by Wilhelm Haspel, who was not a Nazi Party member.

Daimler-Benz was Germany’s third largest motor company in the 1930’s and, in order to survive, had to cooperate with the Nazis, Pohl reported. He said that as more and more male auto workers were recruited into the army, the company employed women and forced laborers, including concentration camp inmates and POWs. They were assigned by the State Labor Exchange as needed, he said.

One Board member, Jacob Werlin, was Hitler’s expert on matters relating to automobile production, Pohl said. But he reportedly used his contact with Hitler to advance the interests of Daimler-Benz.

Daimler-Benz is one of the few German industries to voluntarily investigate its wartime activities and relations with the Nazi regime and to consider reparations to slave laborers without being prodded. Earlier this month, the Flick industrial conglomerate paid the equivalent of $2 million to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany representing Jewish slave laborers used by one of its subsidiaries, Dynamit Nobel.

But this was done only after nearly 20 years of fruitless negotiations and after Flick’s new owners, the Deutsche Bank, approved the payment as a “humanitarian gesture,” not a legal obligation. Other German industries that have paid reparations to slave laborers include Krupp, Siemens and I. G. Farben.

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