Ford And GM Said To Have Collaborated With Nazis

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Historians and lawyers researching class-action suits for former prisoners of war have found evidence that major U.S. automakers collaborated with Germany's Nazi regime, the Washington Post reported on Monday. Washington attorney Michael Hausfeld, who is involved in a class action suit against Ford Motor Co. by former Russian prisoner and forced laborer Elsa Iwanovat, told the Post similar legal action could be taken against GM. ``There are many indications that there were surreptitious contacts taking place'' between the automakers and their German affiliates even during the war, Steinberg said. Researchers were trying to determine if the automakers directly or indirectly profited from the use of forced labor. The U.S. automakers have vigorously denied that they assisted the Nazi war machine or that they significantly profited from the use of forced labor. A U.S. Army report by investigator Henry Schneider dated Sept. 5, 1945 accused Ford's German branch of serving as ``an arsenal of Nazism, at least for military vehicles'' with the parent company's ``consent'', the Post said.
Schneider said Ford's U.S. parent had agreed to a complicated barter deal that gave Germany increased access to large quantities of strategic raw materials, notably rubber. Similar allegations have been leveled at General Motors Corp and a book scheduled for publication next year will accuse the company of playing a key role in Adolf Hitler's invasions of Poland and the Soviet Union, the Post said. ``General Motors was far more important to the Nazi war machine than Switzerland,'' author Bradford Snell told the Post. He said Nazi armaments chief Albert Speer had told him in 1977 that Hitler ``would never have considered invading Poland'' without synthetic fuel technology provided by General Motors. Switzerland's largest banks agreed last August to make a $1.25 billion settlement to Holocaust survivors, breathing new life into long-standing investigations into issues such as looted art, unpaid insurance benefits and the use of forced labor at German factories during World War Two.
Both General Motors and Ford insist that they bear little or no responsibility for the operations of their German subsidiaries, which controlled 70 percent of the German car market at the outbreak of war in 1939 and rapidly retooled themselves to supply war materials to the German army. But documents in German and American archives indicate that there were contacts and that U.S. firms did profit from their German units' use of forced labor, the Post reported. Ford spokesman John Spellich defended the company's decision to maintain business ties with Nazi Germany because the U.S. government did not cut diplomatic relations with Berlin until Washington declared war on Germany in December 1941, the Post said. That made it illegal for U.S. firms to have any contacts with their subsidiaries in Germany. Spellich said the Schneider report mischaracterized the activities of the U.S. parent and noted that managers at Ford's headquarters were frequently kept in the dark by their German subordinates over events at its German plant in Cologne. But he acknowledged that company historians had found documents showing that after the war American Ford received dividends from its German subsidiary worth approximately $60,000 for the years 1940-43, the Post said.
GM spokesman John Mueller told the Post that General Motors lost day-to-day control over its German plants in September 1939 and ``did not assist the Nazis in any way during World War Two.'' Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, told Reuters he was not surprised by the Post report in light of the class action suit against Ford. Ford has mobilized dozens of historians, lawyers and researchers to fight the civil lawsuit, the Post said. Company officials were not immediately available for comment.