November 30, 2006
Hitler’s carmaker: How General Motors helped jump-start the Third Reich’s military machine
(Page 2 - Previous Page)However, Turner does state explicitly that "by the end of 1940 more than ten-thousand employees at Opel's Russelsheim plant were engaged in producing parts for the Junkers bombers heavily used in raining death and destruction on London and other British cities during the air attacks of the Battle of Britain." Turner also condemns GM for taking the Opel wartime dividends, which included profits made off of slave labor. He writes, "But regardless of who [in the GM corporate structure] decided to claim that tainted money, its receipt rendered GM guilty, after the fact, of deriving profit from war production for the Third Reich made possible in part from the toil of unfree workers."
Aware that questions would arise about his relationship with GM, Turner's book states in its preface: "This book was not commissioned by General Motors. It was written after the documentation project was completed and without any financial support from GM. Its contents were seen by no one at GM prior to publication. It is therefore an independent undertaking by the author, who bears sole responsibility for its contents."
Turner did not respond to voice mail and e-mail messages seeking information about his sponsored GM history project, his subsequent book or other relevant topics.
The GM Opel documents assembled for the company's probe and Turner's commissioned examination were digitized on CD-ROMs and donated to Yale's Sterling Memorial Library, where the collection is categorized as being "open to the public." In point of fact, the obscure collection can only be viewed on a computer terminal; print-outs or digital copies are not permitted without the written consent of GM attorneys.
Sterling reference librarians, who are willing to make the collection available, complained to this reporter as recently as October that they do not know how to access the digitized GM materials because of a complicated and arcane database never before encountered by them. One Sterling reference librarian answered a question about the document by declaring, "I have spoken to two reference librarians. No one knows anything about it [the GM Opel Collection], no one is in charge of it. No one knows how to access it."
Yale archivist Richard Szary, who supervised the accession of the collection, said that for the approximate half-decade that the documents have been on file, he knows of only "one or two" researchers other than this reporter who have had access to the papers. Szary, who was previously said to be the only Yale staffer who understood how to access the materials, facilitated this reporter's on-site access. He has since left Yale. By late November, however, in response to an inquiry by this reporter, a senior Sterling librarian said her staff would "figure out how to make it available" by reviewing technical details.
Simon Reich, who compiled Ford's Hitler-era documents, bristled at the whole idea.
"Ford decided to take a very public, open and transparent route," he stated. "Any serious researcher can go into the [Henry Ford] archive, see the documents in paper form, and have them copied. Compare and contrast this with the fact that GM conducted a very private study and the original hard-copy documentation upon which the study was made has never been made available, and today cannot be copied without the GM legal department's permission."
Between the unpublished GM internal investigation, the restricted files at Yale and the little-known insights offered in Turner's book, the details of the company's involvement with the Hitler regime have remained below the radar.
Nonetheless, GM's impact in both the United States and the Third Reich was monumental.
On Jan. 15, 1953, company president Charlie Wilson was nominated to be Secretary of Defense, a job that would ultimately see him usher in the era of the interstate highway system. At Wilson's confirmation hearings, Sen. Robert Hendrickson (R-N.J.) pointedly challenged the GM chief, asking whether he had a conflict of interest, considering his 40,000 shares of company stock and years of loyalty to the controversial Detroit firm.
Bluntly asked if he could make a decision in the country's interest that was contrary to GM's interest, Wilson shot back with his famous comment, "I cannot conceive of one because for years I thought what was good for our country was good for General Motors, and vice versa. The difference did not exist. Our company is too big."
Indeed, what GM accomplished in both America and Nazi Germany could not have been bigger. ''''
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Edwin Black is the author of the award-winning "IBM and the Holocaust" and the recently published "Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives. "
Sources for GM Series
Edwin Black's research for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency's investigative series, "Hitler's Carmaker," involved the review of documents at Georgetown University, Georgia State University, Henry Ford Museum, Kettering University, National Archives repositories in Chicago and Washington, D.C., New York Public Library Special Manuscript Collections, Yale University Sterling Memorial Library and other repositories in the United States and Germany.
In addition, he had access to confidential FBI files obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, period media reports from both Germany and the United States, secondary literature and other materials researched to produce his just-released book, "Internal Combustion: How Corporations and Governments Addicted the World to Oil and Derailed the Alternatives."
His sources also included the books: "General Motors and the Nazis," by Henry A. Turner; "Sloan Rules," by David Farber, and "Working for the Enemy,'' by Reinhold Billstein, Karola Fings, Anita Kugler and Nicholas Levis.
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