- 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.