Germany's largest bank aided Nazi 'Aryan' policy

March 19, 1995|By New York Times News Service

FRANKFURT, Germany -- Documents kept secret for 50 years have shown that Germany's largest bank actively aided the Nazi regime beginning in 1933 in expropriating Jewish businesses and helped Hitler secure economic control over the neighboring lands he had conquered.

The documents, which came to light when East German files were opened, were used for an authorized history of the bank, Deutsche Bank AG.

The newly released book concludes that in the years leading up to the war, the bank was involved in 330 cases of what was called "aryanization."

Major Jewish businesses either were forced to sell out to non-Jewish investors at reduced prices, or the bank bought the assets itself.

In some cases, officials tried to help prominent Jewish businessmen sell their holdings at reasonable prices.

But the research found only mild resistance to Hitler's policies by bank officials and was able to identify few heroes among the bank's leaders.

"The fundamental issue is that while Deutsche Bank is helping a number of Jewish individuals, it is also contributing to the success of the Nazis by aiding in the transfer of businesses from legitimate owners to 'Aryan' owners," said Harold James, a British historian at Princeton University and an author of the book, in a telephone interview. "The bank is, in the process, sustaining the policy goals of the National Socialists and at the same time adding to its own profits."

In addition to Mr. James, four other historians contributed to the 1,100-page book commissioned by Deutsche Bank, which was founded in 1870, about its entire history. The German edition was published this month. An English-language edition will be released later this year.

Few other German companies have opened their wartime archives to independent researchers to examine the often painful realities of how German industrialists and bankers apparently overlooked the moral issues of the day for competitive and pragmatic reasons.

When the government ordered the bank to assemble a list of Jewish customers, some branches resisted, but others complied.

With the rise of the Nazi Party, bankers found themselves under pressure to use their resources to rebuild the Germany military. Beginning in 1933, the bank was also under pressure not only to purge its own ranks of Jews, but to aid in purging the German economy of Jewish influence.

One of the few clear objections raised was by Georg Solmssen, a board member, who wrote in 1933, "I fear that we are only at the beginning of a conscious and planned development which is aimed at the indiscriminate economic and moral destruction of all members of the Jewish race living in Germany."

NB Mr. Solmssen himself was forced out of the bank the next year.

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