Germany’s largest and most powerful bank aided in the expropriation of Jewish possessions during World War II and offered little resistance to Nazi pressures to remove Jews from the bank’s board, according to a soon-to-be-released history commissioned by the bank.
Deutsche Bank contracted five well-known historians to research and write “Die Deutsche Bank 1870-1995,” which will be published this month to coincide with the bank’s 125th anniversary.
Deutsche Bank is one of a growing number of German companies that have begun to deal with their Nazi past.
Last year, automobile manufacturer Daimler Benz funded the publication of a book about prison laborers at the company’s factories during the war. Another book is now being written about Volkswagen’s use of forced labor under the Third Reich.
Research on the Deutsche Bank history was greatly aided by the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Some 12,000 documents on the bank had been stored in the former East German city of Potsdam, making them inaccessible during the Cold War years.
Harold James, a British professor who teaches at Princeton University, wrote the chapter covering the Hitler period, from 1933 to 1945.
An 80-page excerpt of the chapter written by James was made available to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
It details the fate of Deutsche Bank’s Jewish executives and the Bank’s involvement in the expropriation of Jewish property.
James wrote that the Deutsche Bank played a mixed role in the expropriation of Jewish property under the Nazis, but that the bank has a “deep moral guilt” as a result of its ties to the Third Reich.
The chapter includes a section about Oscar Wassermann, a Jewish member of Deutsche’s board of directors in the 1920s and early 1930s who was incorrectly blamed for a bank crisis in 1931. Two non-Jewish board members were actually responsible for the problem, James wrote.
Wassermann was attacked by government officials as a Jew and a Zionist. In May 1933, bowing to the new Nazi government, Wassermann, 64, and Theodor Frank, 62, another Jewish board member, were forced off the board.
The bank tried to cover up the expulsions by saying the two left due to their age.
The Princeton professor also recounted how several lower-ranking employees of the bank seized the Nazi ideology as a way for them to advance their careers.
But he also recorded cases of resistance. A branch director in Frankenthal refused to turn over a list of Jewish accounts to the Nazi authorities. Deutsche’s personnel director also refused to allow the director of the Bochum branch, a strong Nazi supporter, to include passages of “Mein Kampf” in the bank’s list of work conditions.
The chapter also includes a letter written by Georg Solmssen, the son of a practicing Jew who sat on the bank’s supervisory board.
Solmssen, in a letter dated April 9,1933, expressed prescient views of what was to come during the Nazi regime:
“The expulsion of Jews from public service, which is now completed via the law, pushes the question as to what further consequences will follow for the private economy, given that the educated part of the populace accepts these actions as a matter of course.
“I’m afraid that we are at the beginning of a goal-oriented, well-though-out plan directed at destroying economically and morally and completely indiscriminately all those living members of the Jewish race in Germany.”