Slave labour at Auschwitz used by Ford

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE FORD motor company has been named as one of the firms using slave labour at the Auschwitz death camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Ford's wartime German operation, based in Cologne, is included on a list of over 400 companies trading with Auschwitz. Information on the list, which has just been made public, was held in Nazi archives held in Russia since the Red Army liberated Auschwitz in 1945.

Historians at the Auschwitz museum have spent several years in Russia cataloguingthousands of documents that detail how Auschwitz, like every other concentration and death camp, was an integral part of the German war economy. The list is the most detailed of its kind to appear so far.

Other German industrial conglomerates included on the list of Auschwitz profiteers include Siemens, Krupp and I G Farben, manufacturer of the Zyklon B gas used to kill millions of Jews, Russian prisoners of war, gypsies and other victims of the Nazis.

While Auschwitz was the site of the deaths of over a million inmates, the camp complex, of three separate sites, was also a thriving industrial and business complex that proved highly profitable for the barons of Germany's war industry as well as the Nazi leadership itself. Auschwitz, like many camps, had a sub-camp - Auschwitz-III, also known as Monowitz, where I G Farben manufactured synthetic oil and rubber. According to a list compiled by the London-based Holocaust Education Trust (HET) a total of 51 companies used slave labour at Auschwitz.

The inclusion of Ford's name on the list of companies will highlight the motor firm's embarrassment over its wartime record, and could add to the pressure in a case brought by Holocaust victims, including ex-slave labourers, against the Ford Motor Company at the US Federal District Court in Newark, New Jersey. The case concerns Ford's operations in Germany during the Second World War.

The founder of Ford motors, Henry Ford, was a notorious anti-Semite. In his work The International Jew, Ford claimed that Jews controlled the press, radio and the cinema. Mr Ford was a leading figure in the America First Committee, which sought to keep the USA out of the war in Europe.

Ford officials said yesterday that the American company did not control its European operations in Nazi-occupied Europe during the war.

Nevertheless, the increasing attention given to the historical role of business and industry in financing the Third Reich and the resultant Nazi genocide is likely to result in further embarrassment for many companies, both German and multinational, who profited from what has been dubbed the "Holocaust bonanza".

According to the HET list, 92 companies used slave labour at Buchenwald, 52 at Dachau and 57 at Mauthausen. The settlement last summer by the Swiss banks of $1.25bn (pounds 800m) for unreturned Holocaust-era assets has opened a torrent of claims by former slave labourers against wartime employers.

Documents that link German companies to the construction and operation of Auschwitz may help slave labourers from that era to receive compensation, a Polish Nazi victims' group said on Wednesday. Jacek Turczynski, head of the Foundation for Polish-German Reconciliation, said such documents show "German industrial companies had close ties with this exceptional case of crime that took place there".

Other documents recently received by the Auschwitz museum include construction plans, orders for raw materials and services, invoices and reports on the progress of work at the death camp that the Nazis built and developed from 1940-45.

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

On Wednesday, shareholders of I G Farben voted at a meeting in Frankfurt to set up a million-pound compensation fund for former slave labourers who worked under the Nazis. The first payments will go to former slave labourers over 80 who were at Auschwitz.

But surviving slave labourers demanded that the company, which still exists but does not trade, be liquidated and its assets, worth over pounds 6.6m, distributed to Holocaust survivors.