German Entrepreneurs and Jewish Policy in the Third Reich
Did “German big business” bring Hitler to power in order to realize their own imperialist–expansionist aims? Probably not. In general, they were “silent partners” who pocketed hefty profits without any say in the political decision making. Some were members of the NSDAP (Nazi Party). However, it is impossible to determine the attitude of the entrepreneurial spectrum to the regime’s Jewish policy. In 1933 there were 100,000 Jewish firms in Germany, which accounted for a quarter of total retail sales and employed twenty-five percent of the associated labor force. In addition, there were about 7,000 Jewish private practices of physicians and lawyers, and a small, conspicuous group of leading entrepreneurs. Already in 1933 the regime introduced measures to oust Jews from the economy. By 1938 the number of Jewish retailers had been “Aryanized” from 50,000 down to 9,000. However, large Jewish entrepreneurs such as private bank owners remained relatively free during the early years and were able to salvage a part of their assets. Large German entrepreneurs waited until Jews had to sell at cut-throat prices. The Rothschild family owned most of the shares in Skoda Wetzler Chemicals in Austria and was forced to sell to IG-Farben after the Anschluss. Similar “purchases” were made in Czechoslovakia. IG-Farben and other major players continued to profit from SS cruelty in Auschwitz and other camps. Many “enterprising” German entrepreneurs followed in the wake of the Nazi conquest of Eastern Europe and set up small factories or workshops near the ghettos or camps where low-cost, easily replaced slave labor was readily available. Average laborer survival time was two to three months. Many of Germany’s industrial giants — e.g., Krupp, Flick, Daimler-Benz, BMW, Siemens, etc. — were knowingly and actively involved. Some of those sentenced to jail in postwar trials were soon freed and enthusiastically welcomed back to their former management positions.