Behind the Headlines: Documents Reveal Ford Was Part of the Auschwitz Industrial Complex
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Behind the Headlines: Documents Reveal Ford Was Part of the Auschwitz Industrial Complex

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While Auschwitz is synonymous with the Nazi destruction of European Jewry, little attention has been given to the thriving industrial and commercial complex that was built adjacent to the camp.

That changed last week, when the Auschwitz archive provided further evidence last week that the German operation of Ford Motor Co. was among 400 German enterprises that used slave labor.

The evidence was discovered in a Nazi-era document recently unearthed from the archive by historians with the Auschwitz Museum in Poland.

That document, say the researchers, represents just a fraction of the entire archive, which was removed from Poland by the postwar Soviet authorities and which lay dormant in the Soviet Union until recently.

It shows that the Ford operation in Cologne was among 400 German industrial enterprises — including such giants as Siemens, Krupp and IG Farben — that exploited the vast pool of slave labor the Nazis made available.

The list of companies that exploited Auschwitz slave labor is the first of its kind to be compiled from original Nazi sources.

Ford officials insist that the American company did not control the company’s operations in Nazi-occupied Europe.

As millions of Jews were swallowed up by the Auschwitz death machine, the industrial complex — with its replenishable supply of slave labor — proved to be a significant profit center for Germany’s industrial barons — and for the Nazi leadership itself.

The industrial wing of Auschwitz — known as “Monowitz” — was in fact selected as the preferred site of operations for 51 companies that chose to exploit the opportunity of slave labor, according to the London-based Holocaust Educational Trust.

It is here that one of the most notorious, IG Farben, manufactured synthetic oil, rubber — and Zyklon-B gas, which was used extensively in the Nazi death camps.

At the height of its activity in 1944, IG Farben ran a slave labor plant at Auschwitz that exploited the efforts of 83,000 people.

IG Farben shareholders, meeting in Frankfurt last week, voted to establish a $1.5-million fund to compensate the company’s former slave laborers.

The offer, regarded as too little too late, was greeted with derision by Holocaust survivor groups, which were quick to describe it as “ridiculously low.”

Survivors are now demanding that the company be disbanded and that its assets – – estimated to be worth more than $11 million — be distributed among the victims of its wartime activities.

After the war, the victorious Allies broke up the company into several components, but IG Farben remained, dealing mainly in property.

Auschwitz was not the sole base of operations for companies that employed slave labor.

In addition to industrial sites throughout Germany where slave labor was used, a list compiled by the Holocaust Educational Trust shows that a total of 92 companies used slave labor at Buchenwald, 52 at Dachau and 57 at Mauthausen.

The recent settlement by the Swiss banks of $1.25 billion for unreturned Holocaust-era assets has opened a torrent of claims by former slave laborers against wartime enterprises.

According to one survivors’ group, documents that link German companies to the construction and operation of Auschwitz are likely to help slave laborers receive compensation.

Jacek Turczynski, head of the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation, said last week that such documents show “German industrial companies had close ties with the exceptional crime that took place there.”

An unpublished report by Nathan Associates, an economic consulting firm in Arlington, Va., has estimated that of a total of some 12 million people who were enslaved during the Nazi era, about 2.3 million are still alive.

The study, which was expected to be used at resumed reparations talks in Bonn this week, shows that more than one-half of the slave laborers were women and that most were young adults who had been born between 1918 and 1925.

The negotiations, co-sponsored by Germany and the United States, will attempt to create the framework for a new compensation fund, which 16 German companies decided to establish last February in the face of billion-dollar lawsuits filed against them in U.S. courts.

In return for creating the fund, which has been set at $1.7 billion, the firms have demanded a guarantee against further Holocaust-related claims.

Meanwhile, other recently discovered documents from the Auschwitz archive provide fresh details of plans for construction, orders for raw materials and services, as well as invoices and reports on the progress of work at the death camp the Nazis built and developed between 1940 and 1945.

The documents also include lists of the workers, including camp inmates, used by some of the companies.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund