Deconstructing Auschwitz

Surely we are not expected to believe it was the first time that many of Germany's biggest financial institutions had uncovered proof that Deutsche Bank and others helped finance the construction of Auschwitz ("They've decided to tell the truth now," European Business, Feb. 22).

It has been well-documented that the late Hermann Abs, a director at Deutsche Bank from the 1930s until his death in the 1980s, was never far removed from the centers of Nazi power. Abs was interrogated but not placed on trial--he was instead invited by the Allies to help rebuild the German banking system.

Deutsche Bank and many of those financial institutions named in your report must have known for many years of the Auschwitz funding link but, as recent experience has shown, it takes a class action suit to expose the truth.

Clive Nathan

Lindau, Germany

Your story on German company confessions regarding the Holocaust did not describe the "proof" that Deutsche Bank researchers had uncovered concerning the bank's financing of the "death camp" at Auschwitz. According to newspaper reports, Manfred Pohl, the bank's historian, cited the financing by the Katowice branch of a contract for the construction of railroads, bridges, ditches, and other transport-related work at Auschwitz, as well as credits granted to I.G. Farben's Auschwitz factory.

Auschwitz consisted not only of several concentration camps but also of a large industrial complex, primarily devoted to the manufacture of synthetic rubber. The construction contract must have also related to the industrial activity, for why would a concentration camp need bridges? That German banks financed the German war effort should come as no surprise, nor should it be a reason for condemnation or for public expressions of guilt by German chief executive officers.

Harold Tittmann


Editor's note: In fact, Deutsche Bank historians discovered that the bank provided credit for construction at the SS barracks and installation of crematoria at Auschwitz. The bank also provided credit for the construction using slave labor under horrific conditions at the I.G. Farben synthetic rubber factory the reader mentions. Local bank officials almost certainly were aware of conditions at both projects.

Your article was very informative, not so much in the sense of providing information about German banks but how foreign media handles vergangenheitsbewaltigung (mastery of the past). The Holocaust is an emotional and sensitive topic, and the choice of words one uses is important to Germans as well as Jews. The phrase "war guilt" was one of the causes for World War II. Growing up in postwar Germany does not mean to be born with guilt. The lesson my generation learned was not to feel guilty but to be responsible.

The change is not just a decision to tell the truth but a generational change of political and business leaders. In 1990, Germany was reunified, and regained its full sovereignty. But the true change didn't come until the new German government. Gerhard Schroder and his ministers are too young to have any direct experience of the Hitler era. Moreover, Germany's capital is moving from Bonn, a boring small town, to wild Berlin. Germany's national interest is to handle the burden of history responsibly.

Horst von Wendorff


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