US firms deny aiding Nazis

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The Independent Online
THREE YEARS after Jewish American campaigners provoked an international outcry over the disappearance of Jewish accounts and holdings in Swiss banks, a similar spotlight is being turned closer to home - on the wartime activities of American big business. According to yesterday's Washington Post, citing a book to be published soon, the giant US car-makers, General Motors and Ford, capitalised on links with Germany's Nazi regime.

According to the book's author, Bradford Snell, the role of US companies in the Nazi German war effort was, if anything, more heinous than that of Swiss banks. "Switzerland was just a repository of looted funds," he told The Post. "GM was an integral part of the German war effort. The Nazis could have invaded Poland and Russia without the Swiss. They could not have done so without GM."

The Post article said that a US Army investigator, reporting in 1945, found evidence that Ford management agreed to supply rubber and other strategic materials to Germany. Ford says that there was a barter deal along these lines, but that it predated the declaration of war and came to an end in 1939.

Despite the companies' prompt denials and the fact that at least some of the information contained in The Post expose was already in the public domain, the publicity afforded to the revelations indicated that Ford, GM and perhaps other US household names could find themselves in a position not unlike that of the Swiss banks - and could be liable to pay large amounts in compensation to their victims.

A GM spokesman said that the company "categorically denies that it aided the Nazis in World War Two" and accused The Post of repeating "stale allegations ... that were reviewed and refuted 25 years ago" in Congressional hearings.

A spokesman for Ford said that the company had maintained contact with Germany until the US declared war in 1941, but that "we basically had our factory taken away from us by the National Socialist/Nazi Party government".

According to The Post, new evidence of the business links between the car manufacturers and Nazi Germany was discovered by lawyers and researchers, preparing for what could become the next major lawsuit to derive from claims relating to the war.

A Russian woman who was captured and taken to Germany as forced labour announced in March that she was suing Ford, claiming that the company knowingly profited from slave labour. Her claim is now part a "class action" brought on behalf of the many others who worked as forced labour during the war and were subsequently able to emigrate to the United States.

If it goes forward, it could expand the question of compensation for wartime wrongs beyond Jewish victims of the Holocaust.

The allegations appeared as delegates from 44 nations and dozens of non-government organisations converged on Washington for a three-day conference on Holocaust-era assets. The conference is a follow-up to last year's London conference on Nazi gold.

One of the proposals to be presented by Britain on behalf of four other countries - Israel, Sweden, German and the US - is for the declaration of a Holocaust Day, an annual day of remembrance.