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Black’s Nazi Nexus: Exploring the Significance and Justification of American Corporate Involvement in the Holocaust

Book Essay on: Edwin Black, Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to Hitler’s Holocaust
( : Dialog Press, 2009), 192pages.
UCSB: 0914153099

by Douglas Wagoner
March 23, 2010

for Prof. Marcuse's lecture course
The Holocaust in European History
UC Santa Barbara, Winter 2010

About the Author
& Abstract
Book available at amazon.com

About Douglas Wagoner

Currently I am a second year junior at UC Santa Barbara, with a major in history and a minor in LGBTQ studies. Thus far my academic interests have revolved around questions of gender, sexuality, race, and social justice and although I do not have an extensive background in Holocaust history I have taken courses in both world history and western civilization. I chose to write on the topic of US corporate involvement in the Holocaust because of my interest in US human rights violations, the intersection of big business and the US government, and US culpability in the Nazi Holocaust. It was my hope that writing this paper would give me concrete insight into how US corporate corruption manifests itself and the related justifications for corporate involvement in atrocities such as the Holocaust.

Abstract (back to top)

Edwin Black’s Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to the Nazi Holocaust offers a shocking and vastly underwritten history on America’s direct involvement in the Holocaust. Black seeks to move away from traditional Germany and Nazi-centric analyses of the Holocaust by focusing on how General Motors (GM), International Business Machines (IBM), Henry Ford, Carnegie and Rockefeller contributed to the Nazi war machine, antisemitic ideology, and eugenic theory. Beyond evincing the culpability of these corporations, Black attempts to uncover the nature of their involvement – some clearly being motivated by profit alone while others were undeniably motivated by antisemitism. Ultimately, by employing personal letters, contemporary journal articles, personal publications, and documentation of donations and business transactions, Black successfully highlights how these corporations contributed and were in fact indispensable to the evolution of the Nazi Holocaust.

Essay (back to top)

Without question, the Nazi Holocaust was Adolf Hitler’s brainchild – he popularized antisemitism, pushed the Nazi party into power, and mobilized the mass extermination of over 6 million people. However, Hitler could not have achieved such a massively effective campaign of genocide alone or even by relying on the domestic resources available to him in Germany. The degree of efficiency Hitler sought necessitated international support. In his book, Nazi Nexus: America’s Corporate Connections to Hitler’s Holocaust, Edwin Black seeks to achieve a more globalized perspective of the holocaust by evincing how American ideology, technology, and corporate greed not only helped perpetuate the holocaust but in fact were essential to Hitler’s success. Using Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, GM, and IBM as examples, Black employs letters, written statements, and documentation of donations and business transactions to demonstrate how these corporations facilitated Hitler’s Holocaust. Black argues that without Ford’s dissemination of antisemitic thought, Carnegie and Rockefeller’s funding of eugenics, GM’s motorization of the Reich, and IBM’s data collection technology, the holocaust as history remembers it would never have been realized. Furthermore, Black explores the character of each corporation’s contribution, some clearly being motivated by antisemitic leaders within the organization while others were willing to sacrifice humanity in the name of wealth. Black’s overall thorough research and well-analyzed evidence culminates in a persuasive, if appalling, argument that leaves one convinced that the above five corporations were significant contributors to Hitler’s Holocaust.

Beginning with the Ford Corporation, Black demonstrates Henry Ford’s use of corporate wealth to disseminate antisemitic discourse, his clever use of his own reputation to legitimize antisemitic publications, and the significant influence Ford’s antisemitism had on Hitler. As Ford’s personal antisemitic thought concretized in the mid-1910s he began attempting to popularize the idea that Jews were to blame for the world’s major problems. In 1920 with the recently purchased Dearborn Independent under his name, Ford began printing a book titled The International Jew which was, in effect, a “compilation of the hodgepodge Protocols [of the Learned Elders of Zion]”. Ford printed the book in “many languages” and distributed it worldwide (Black, 7-8). Although Ford did not write the Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion, the fact that he was able to use his wealth to spread the antisemitic text globally undeniably highlights the connection between his personal antisemitism, his corporation, and his ability to perpetuate antisemitism as an ideology. Considering Ford’s international reputation and concomitant credibility, it is particularly significant that he printed The International Jew under his own name. For many people, “the fact that the anti-Semitic accusations bore the gold-plated name of ‘Henry Ford’ legitimized – even exalted – the anti-Jewish precepts” (Black, 8). Where some readers might have remained skeptical about the idea of an international Jewish conspiracy, re-packaging the Protocols under the reputable name of Ford intrinsically added merit to the otherwise outlandish claims and likely helped persuade hesitant antisemites. Certainly in the case of Hitler and many other Germans this proved true seeing as some “passages in Mein Kampf […] either emulated or invoked concepts he had read in Ford’s publications”, Hitler “admitted to a Detroit News reporter, ‘I regard Henry Ford as my inspiration’”, and that when the “Third Reich came to power, millions of Ford’s books were circulated in every school and party office in Germany” which “helped warp German minds in every corner of the Reich” (Black, 10). To suggest that Ford’s book was the sole source of Hitler’s antisemitism is perhaps an overstatement, but Hitler’s quote in the Detroit News is telling of the considerable influence the Ford had on Hitler. Moreover, if one accounts for the influence of Ford’s book amongst the German populace, especially amongst impressionable demographics like school children, then one can certainly argue that between influencing Hitler and German society Ford is, to some degree, responsible for the antisemitism in the holocaust.

Having established Ford’s connection to German antisemitism, Black then suggests that the Carnegie Institution and the Rockefeller foundation funded German institutions and eugenic research that enabled the horrifying Nazi experiments conducted during the Holocaust. As Hitler ascended to power it became clear that under the Nazis, eugenics legislation and research would be propagated with far less restriction that in the US. Accordingly, American eugenic institutions that were funded by Carnegie began to build connections with German eugenicists. For example, the Eugenical News, a publication funded by Carnegie, began to publish German articles written by staunch antisemites and future medical murderers (Black, 26-29). Publishing the works of known antisemites in a Carnegie funded journal represents a distinct ideological shift between tacitly racist or antisemitic research, and blatant support of ideas akin to Nazism. This overlap becomes further self-evident when one considers the Nuremberg Laws. “When in 1935 Hitler demanded specific genetic fractions for” quantifying how Jewish someone was, “Carnegie racial math became the basis for the […] Nuremberg Laws” (Black, 42). Although the Nuremberg Laws were not likely the intended use for the “racial math” Carnegie developed, the fact that Carnegie funding and research contributed to the systematic repression of Jews is not surprising; eugenics, after all, is a field that is inherently intended to weed out “weaker” races. Rockefeller, too, contributed to German eugenics through funding. For its part, Rockefeller consistently donated massive amounts of money to the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Psychiatry, the Institute for Brain Research, and the Institute for Anthropology, Human, Heredity, and Eugenics. These Rockefeller funded institutions not only used slave labor, but they performed gruesome experiments on live prisoners and exterminated large quantities of people in order to harvest their corpses for research (Black, 33, 90-91). One could make argument that the “philanthropic” efforts of Rockefeller and Carnegie were focused more on eugenics than on blatant antisemitism – ostensibly they were both hoping to further the cause of a better humanity ruled by a “master race”. Regardless, eugenics, antisemitism, and racism are so closely and obviously intertwined that the actions of Carnegie and Rockefeller remain inexcusable. Inexcusable because in the end, the “philanthropy” of these two institutions resulted directly and/or indirectly in the extermination of Jews, twins, homosexuals, and gypsies.

Unlike antisemitism or eugenics, which would have likely existed in the Reich at some level with or without the help of American corporations, the motorization of Nazi Germany spearheaded by General Motors was an invaluable asset to Nazi military power. Even before the war began, GM’s President Alfred Sloan had James D. Mooney, the director of GM’s German branch, begin negotiating a deal to motorize the Reich. “As Hitler embarked on a massive, threatening, re-armament program, GM was in position to make Germany’s military powerful, modern, and motorized” by bringing in thousands of much needed factory jobs, revenue through exports, and vehicles of war (Black, 99). In the wake of Germany’s post-WWI depression, the revenue and employment GM offered Germany was a crucial stepping-stone in the re-armament process. Sloan did Hitler an important service in helping to nurse the German economy back to health. Interestingly, Sloan’s personal qualms with the Roosevelt administration coupled with Nazi xenophobia positioned Opel, GM’s German division, to be unnaturally sympathetic to the Hitler regime. On the one hand “Sloan despised the emerging way of life being crafted by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, [he] hated Roosevelt’s New Deal, and admired the strength, irrepressible determination and sheer magnitude of Hitler’s vision” (Black, 102). On the other “Nazis condemned anything foreign owned or foreign-made […] Sloan and Mooney both made efforts to obscure Opel’s American ownership and control” (Black, 105). The result was that Sloan actively defied the US Government in variety of ways: by joining anti-Roosevelt organizations such as the American Liberty League (which was conveniently antisemitic), and by supporting the Reich via avenues that the US War Department disapproved such as providing vital ethyl technology, playing Hitler’s speeches in the factories, and refusing to hire Jews in accordance with Nazi law (Black, 108-109). It remains true that Sloan’s principle reason for involvement with the Nazi’s was profit, but his compliance with antisemitic laws marks GM’s shift from an already odious business of producing war vehicles for Nazis to actually playing the dance of Nazism in the name of profit. Overtime, Sloan’s distaste for the American government, the imperative to maintain a façade of German control over Opel, and his continued avarice only resulted in further Nazi-sympathizing. By the 1930s, as per Hitler’s command, Opel began producing vehicles exclusively for military use and the factories started producing ammunition for the Reich in addition to the trucks that were used to transport weapons and/or round up Jews (Black, 112, 114, 124). Beyond a shadow of a doubt, GM acted as a shameless Nazi collaborator before and during the holocaust, providing the Nazis with indispensable tools of war. Without re-employment, the creation of revenue, the production of fleets of vehicles and stores of munitions, Nazis would never have been able to round up and transport massive numbers of Jews. For this odious and deliberate facilitation of the Nazi war machine, the GM Corporation and Alfred Sloan are forever to blame.

Similar to GM, International Business Machines (IBM) offered a service to the Nazis that no other corporation could, and with huge profits at stake IBM single-handedly facilitated the data collection and subsequent tracking of millions of Jews, gypsies, and homosexuals. Using cutting edge Hollerith punch card technology, Hitler, in partnership with IBM, “was able to substantially automate and accelerate all six phases of the twelve-year Holocaust: identification, exclusion, confiscation, ghettoization, deportation, and even extermination” (Black 130). By employing IBM technology, Nazis could efficiently organize data in regards to who was Jewish, what profession they held, how many people were in a single concentration camp at one time, among a gamut of other information. Shortly after IBM implemented the census of 1933, Germany “became IBM’s largest overseas customer”, the whole affair being “approved by company president Thomas J. Watson” (Black, 130, 134). Being at the head of a data collection business, Watson was absolutely privy to the type of information his corporation was instructed to collect and the implications of what the Nazi’s were asking IBM to do. Nonetheless, like Alfred Sloan the prospect of profit quickly overcame any guilt Watson might have held. Supporting the assertion that Watson understood the gravity of his actions is the fact that he “insisted that, as much as possible, the company deal with the Reich via untraceable oral agreements” (Black, 136). However, it is interesting to note that it was legal to do business with Nazi Germany until the US declared war in December 1941 (Black, 155). Thus, IBM was evidently a major contributor to the logistical success of the Nazis and without their business Hitler never would have been able to orchestrate any of his six phases with the degree of efficiency that he did.

In this paper, I argued that through effective employment and analysis of letters, written statements, and business documentation, Edwin Black effectively argues that Ford, Carnegie, Rockefeller, General Motors, and IBM were all major contributors to Hitler’s Holocaust through their ideology, funding, and technology; respectively. Beyond all other lessons to be drawn from Nazi Nexus I believe it is simply the fact that corruption and evil exist all around us, and we are touched by it in the cars we drive, philanthropies we think we believe in, and technology we use. We, as citizens of this world have to be willing to check ourselves but also check those who try and hide behind power, because it is those large corporate leaders like those described in Nazi Nexus who have the ability to manipulate governments, bend laws, and have the audacity to forsake humanity in the name of profit.

I certify that this essay is my own work, written for this course and not submitted for credit for any other course. All ideas and quotations that I have taken from other sources are properly credited and attributed to those sources.

Douglas E. Wagoner


Annotated Bibliography and Links (back to top)(links last checked 3/23/10)

Book Reviews

  • Alexander Zivielli, “Nazi Nexus by Edwin Black.” Jerusalem Post, March 27, 2009. Pg 1-2

    This article clearly demonstrates the strong opinions of the reviewer, who harshly criticizes IBM for its undeniable support to the Nazis’ ability to organize demographic information about German Jews. In the name of economic gain IBM facilitated a Nazi-led census which helped identify who was of Jewish origin and afforded the Nazi campaign an unprecedented level of efficiency. However, in the end the article is really more of a brief retelling of Black’s research on IBM than an evaluation of Black’s work.

  • Richard Pachter, “Nazi Nexus Reviewed”. Spero News, March 11, 2009

    According to Pachter, Nazi Nexus is a synthesis culmination of two of Black’s earlier books, IBM and the Holocaust and War Against the. Black draws heavily from those earlier works, but he ties together their seemingly disparate ideas in the pursuit of a more profound conclusion about the nature of US’ involvement in the holocaust. Not only did corporations like IBM and GM contribute to the Nazis’ success, but also implicated were historically philanthropic institutions such as the Rockefeller and Carnegie foundations – sometimes fueled by profit and sometimes fueled by antisemitism.

Books and Articles

  • David Farber, Sloan Rules: Alfred P. Sloan and the Triumph of General Motors. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2002. 243 pp.

    In this biographical work, Farber thoroughly outlines the life of Alfred Sloan, focusing on his involvement in General Motors as chairman and president. Farber’s arguments culminate in chapter titled “Sloan Rules” where he explores the connections between Sloan’s obstinately apolitical approach to business, his rationalizations for conducting business with Nazi Germany, and the political struggle between Roosevelt’s New Deal and Sloan’s own efforts to stop the US government from meddling in corporate affairs. Ultimately Farber paints an intriguing picture of Sloan, whose life provides an ideal case study for how corporate conservatism as an ideology shapes American political life and even global events such as the holocaust.

  • Kevin Maney, The Maverick and His Machine: Thomas Watson, Sr. And the Making of IBM. New Jersey: John Wiley and Sons Inc., 2003. 446 pp.

    Interestingly, Maney refutes the arguments of Black who, in Nazi Nexus, claims that IBM knew precisely the purpose that Hitler planned to use IBM machines. On the contrary, Maney argues that “more than likely, Watson didn’t know in 1937 how the Nazis were using Dehomag or IBM machines” (214). Armed with never before read IBM archives, internal memos and letters, and interviews of Watson’s family, Maney’s claims are extremely well supported. Furthermore, Maney argues that once Watson did find out the barbaric nature of Hitler’s schemes he failed to criticize Nazism early enough or with enough conviction – instead choosing to view IBM’s German subsidy, Dehomag, as a business rather than a moral problem. Watson’s personal opinions were evidently against Nazism, considering the fact that he sent a letter to Hitler criticizing him and Watson enclosed the Nazi medal that had been given to him. On the whole, Maney provides a vivid biography of Watson’s life, a man who was able to single-handedly build up one of the most powerful and innovative information technology companies in the world.

  • Albert Lee, Henry Ford and the Jews. New York: Scarborough House, 1980. 162 pp.

    Lee traces the development of Ford’s antisemitism, and in doing so uncovers history evidence suggestive of Ford’s significant contribution to Hitler’s own antisemitism. Lee attempts to construct a comprehensive biography of Ford’s life in order to explain how his personal failures, the influence from those around him (ie. Thomas Edison), and historical events such as the assassination of Tsar Alexander II fostered his fanatic confidence in antisemitism and Jewish conspiracy theory. Lee’s use of contemporary newspaper articles, articles from Ford’s own newspaper The Dearborn Independent, and research from the Ford archives all lend his argument credibility.

  • Gabriel Schoenfeld, “The Punch-Card Conspirary”. New York Times, March 18, 2001.

    In this New York Times review of Black’s work, IBM and the Holocaust, Schoenfeld criticizes Black for his exaggerated claims and “shaky evidence”. Apparently, Black’s background as an author of “technothrillers” is evident this book through writing that is so “overblown” that it “would cause even a techno-thriller to stall and crash to the earth”. Consequently, Schoenfeld argues that Black’s unscholarly voice and thin evidence result in intriguing but overly ambitious claims.

  • Anton Chaitkin, “Population Control, Nazis, and the UN!” Tetrahedron Publishing Group, 2002.

    This article constructs a brief history of how the Rockefeller Foundation financed major pockets of the eugenics movement in the US and Europe. Using money accrued through work in oil industry, John Rockefeller and his foundation funded institutions significantly aided eugenics in becoming a global pseudo-scientific phenomenon. Rockefeller money eventually helped the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology, Eugenics, and Human Heredity get started in Germany and sustained the institute’s research even during the war when it fell under Nazi control. Throughout the article Chaitkin generally fails to cite his sources, and his final and most shocking claim that the Rockfeller Foundation helped create the International Planned Parenthood Federation which, in turn, “set the world up for a global holocaust, under the UN flag,” glaringly lacks proper citations.

Relevant Websites

  • General Motors, "Emotion: 1930-1955". 2001

    GM’s history page provides a nostalgic overview of GM’s growth in America, focusing on GM’s achievements and advancements within the automobile industry. Interestingly, in the 1930-1955 section titled “Emotion”, the text skips over the Holocaust simply beginning with “the return of peace following WWII”. In a short video about this era, GM is portrayed as having become America’s flagship corporation and the “largest supplier to the Allies during WWII”. If GM did do business with the Reich it is not apparent from their self-reported corporate history.

  • International Business Machines, "IBM FAQ." 2010

    IBM has an extensive website, and even includes an “archive” that delineates IBM’s history. Unfortunately the vast majority of this 150+ page archive concerns the history of IBM technology rather than personal information about Thomas Watson or the Holocaust. One timeline shows that IBM opened offices in Germany in the 1930s, but it is hardly striking considering that it is in a long list of many international offices opened throughout the 20th century. Like GM, if there is evidence that connects Thomas Watson, IBM, and the holocaust, it is not present on the IBM website.

  • Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory, "Charles Davenport's Motivation for Eugenics."

    This website hosts short videos that introduce the topic of eugenics, several of the major contributors to eugenics research such as Charles Davenport, and how the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory was involved in eugenics research. According to Black, the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory was funded by the Carnegie Institute and its research helped inspire the eugenics movement in Nazi-Germany. However, either because the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory runs this website or because Black’s assertions were false, there is no indication of any connection between this research institute and Nazism. Furthermore, the information is framed in such a way that reduces the involvement of the Cold Springs Harbor Laboratory in US eugenics and dances around the reality that Charles Davenport’s research was racially-motivated.

(back to top)

Any student tempted to use this paper for an assignment in another course or school should be aware of the serious consequences for plagiarism. Here is what I write in my syllabi:

Plagiarism—presenting someone else's work as your own, or deliberately failing to credit or attribute the work of others on whom you draw (including materials found on the web)—is a serious academic offense, punishable by dismissal from the university. It hurts the one who commits it most of all, by cheating them out of an education. I report offenses to the Office of the Dean of Students for disciplinary action.

prepared for web by Douglas Wagoner on 3/23/10; last updated: 3/23/10
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