General Motors and the Nazis: The Struggle for Control of Opel, Europe's Biggest Carmaker Hardcover – 1 Jul 2005
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" Based on excellent and deep research, this book provides a clear, contextualized, and convincing account of General Motors' efforts to run its German subsidiary Opel from 1933 to the American entry into the war in 1941." -- Gerald D. Feldman, University of California, Berkeley
Based on excellent and deep research, this book provides a clear, contextualized, and convincing account of General Motors's efforts to run its German subsidiary Opel from 1933 to the American entry into the war in 1941. Gerald D. Feldman, University of California, Berkeley
--Gerald D. Feldman"
"Based on excellent and deep research, this book provides a clear, contextualized, and convincing account of General Motors's efforts to run its German subsidiary Opel from 1933 to the American entry into the war in 1941."--Gerald D. Feldman, University of California, Berkeley
About the Author
Henry Ashby Turner, Jr., is Stille Professor of History Emeritus, Yale University. His previous books include German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler.
Top customer reviews
It is all in this fascinating book. Hardback only and quite pricy - but worth it to me!
In the 1920s, Opel at Rüsselsheim was Europe's largest car factory. General Motors, expecting massive expansion of car sales in Continental Europe, bought it for $33.3m in 1929-31 (Vauxhall was also purchased in 1925 for $2.5m).
There were big problems for an American company continuing production under National Socialism. It was impossible, or unrealistic, to remit dividends to the US; it was expected that a Nazi Betriebsführer ("Company Leader") would be in charge (Opel named a leading worker (not the company boss) as Betriebsführer - on the cover you see him (Rudolf Fleischer) on the right at the 1938 Berlin car show talking to Hitler while the managing director (man in specs) Wilhelm von Opel, son of founder Adam, looks on)
and the company was forever having to do deals with people like Jakob Sprenger, the Gauleiter of Frankfurt, the military, and Goering (who was responsible for the Four Year Plan.)
One senior GM employee even believed he could stop the war and was in discussions with the US President and Goering!
Opel at Rüsselsheim used to make parts for Junkers bombers...and there was a new Opel works at Brandenburg (later dismantled by the Russians) which made the Opel Blitz lorry favoured by the Wehrmacht...
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
I agree with the above statement. That this is no liberal screed, out to pillory GM, does not excuse how it has underplayed how GM deliberately spent its money to curry favor with the Nazis.
GM purchased 80% of Opel, Germany's largest carmaker, in March, 1929, before the Great Depression, and complete purchasing the 20% remainder in 1931. GM bought Opel's existing plants and properties, which were amongst the most modern in Europe. What GM bought in hopes of making great profits went directly into the doldrums with the Depression. GM bought Opel before the Nazis came to power, before they were anything but a bit player in German politics (3% in the 1928 elections), and when Germany was a legal and respected country, living up to its treaty obligations.
Hitler and the Nazis came to power through a series of foolish errors by their political opponents, who consistently underrated and underestimated them, in 1933.
The German economy took off upwards. Simultaneously it became harder to move money (profits) out of Germany, and became impossible before WWII.
General Motors, unfortunately, thought only about business. This would be fine, of course, if there was no evil in the world. The GM executives would be individually outraged, angered, and motivated to fix the problem, if their own houses had been broken into, and their own families had been harmed, but if their country is harmed by their actions, their inactions, and their deliberate ignorance, what level of respect, regard, and sympathy should we have for them?
GM did its best to make money. It thought there was a great, expanding market for trucks, so it built a brand new plant for medium duty trucks to the east of Berlin. This was a state of the art mass production facility, as GM should have built, to make money, if their was no evil.
GM had every opportunity to read Mein Kampf. Even though the Nazis printed a sanitized version of Mein Kampf in English, to fool the English speaking world, Winston Churchill and his Troublesome Young Men pointed this out to everyone who would listen. GM had every opportunity to listen to Hitler's and the other Nazis speeches and to read their position papers. But, as an apolitical deliberately ignorant company, why would they:?
If GM had not built that truck plant, someone else probably would have to fill the market need, but most likely it would have been a less efficient plant than GM would have, and did build. But why would GM build a new plant after Hitler and the Nazis took over Germany?
Of course, GM is not alone in sticking its collective head into the sand and playing ostrich during the 1930's. Almost every American was an isolationist ostrich in those days, and England and France slept, as we now know. Their leaders deliberately ignored, underplayed the threat, and ignored Winston Churchill and his supporters.
GM Opel executives met with Hitler, and thought that he was a great man. Wow.
After WWII in Europe started, a GM executive, unapproved, thought he had FDR's approval to meet with Hitler and to negotiate peace between Germany, France, and England. Delusional is the least critical statement that can be made.
GM's Opel plants were totally our of GMs control once WWII had started in September, 1939. There was nothing GM could do. If GM could have sold the plants, even in 1938, it could not have moved the money out of Germany. Once the Nazis were in control in wartime, that these plants made war material (JU-88 airplanes, Opel Blitz trucks, etc), with slave labor, at times, was nothing that was GM's fault or responsibility. If a gun was held to your head, and no one in the country would even try to help you, and you were told to start digging a hole with a shovel or you would be shot and killed, would you refuse? Well, that was the choice of the German's in Germany running Opel, for there was no, ZERO, Americans or American influence at Opel starting early in 1939, had.
The real problem is in late 1937, GM, to curry favor with the Nazis, specifically the number 2 Nazi, ReichsMarschall Hermann Goering, GM proposed and started building a new specific, non-automotive, factory to supply the Luftwaffe (Nazi Air Force) with proprietary technology new products.
Let us repeat that. GM wanted to snuggle up to and buy the number 2 Nazis' favor. They wanted ReichsMarschall Hermann Goering to support GM and whatever GM wanted to do. GM was willing to build a brand new factory to do this. GM was going to make parts for the Nazi Military Machine, the Nazi Air Force, the Luftwaffe. GM was going to make products that used GM proprietary product. This means GM had patents on airplane products that it owned. GM was the only one that could legally make these products. They knew that their proprietary product was desirable to and useful for the Luftwaffe. To be useful to the Luftwaffe, it had to be something that improved the performance of their warplanes. To be useful to the Luftwaffe, it had to make their warplanes more effective killing machines.
GM owned Allison Aero Engine Company in the USA. Allison was a major supplier to the US military. Hopefully GM was selling that useful proprietary product to US airplane companies and the US military. Why would GM sell a useful American product to the Nazis that could, would, and did end up hurting, and killing, allied servicemen and civilians?
The worst part, as Turner understates, is that GM did pay some attention to politics in Germany, and did note the results of the Munich talks (Appeasement and "Peace in our time!" courtesy of Neville Chamberlain) in late September, 1938. They also noted KrystalKnacht, the shattering of all of every Jewish residence and businesses windows, as well as the burning of those homes and businesses and persecution of the Jews in early November, 1938.
GM's Board of Directors, in the USA, then decided that there would be no money spent in Germany starting immediately, and no new investments in Germany. Hooray!
However, GM, in early 1939, despite its Board's agreement to not do so, decided to invest $5 Million to complete the proprietary technology manufacturing plant for the Luftwaffe!
Turner does not tell us who snuggled up to Goering and the Nazis. He does not tell us what GM thought they would get out of a positive relationship with Goering. He does not say what the plant was going to make. He does not tell us whether the plant was completed or not. He does not tell us whether GM was coerced by the Nazis to finish the plant. He does not tell us who decided to spend the $5 Million in 1939. Maybe Turner does not know, and maybe there are no records to fill in the blanks. Maybe!
But, we should presume that the factory was substantially completed, and that the Nazis made use of it. For example, variable pitch propellers maximize piston engine performance. US fighters had them in 1938. German Messerschmitt Bf109 fighters had only fixed pitch wood or metal propellers until well into 1939. Was this the proprietary technology factory that GM built for the Nazis?
Regardless, how many thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands of allied servicemen were killed and wounded directly attributable to GMs action with this factory meant to bribe Herman Goering? Will GM ever grow up and admit its culpability, too little, too late?
In 1803, President Thomas Jefferson had this to say about businessmen:
"He distrusted the merchants..., thought them inherently less patriotic than many of their countrymen."1
"The mere spot they stand on does not constitute so strong an attachment as that from which they draw their gains"2
"Merchants are the least virtuous, and possess the least of the amor patriae."3
Thomas Jefferson was absolutely right when it comes to businessmen, who are far too busy counting their coins to have any patriotic thoughts or concerns enter into their calculations. GM is the poster child for Americans and American Corporations that supported the Nazis before WWII.
GM, as stated previously, could have read Mein Kampf, could have paid attention to Hitler's speeches and the Nazi's statements and writings. GM could have paid attention to Winston Churchill. But knowledge of evil, patriotism, are the farthest thoughts from GM's Board Members and Executives heads.
Here we are today, with the evil of Islam in the world, with Saudi Arabia spending $4 Billion a year since 1973, over $132 Billion to date, to put up Mosques, maddrasses, and Islamic centers, throughout Western Europe and the USA, as well as the rest of the world, to have their Wahhabism take over Islam globally, and to take over Western Civilization and the USA from the inside out, and GM, despite all the knowledge I have provided them, still wants to support these IslamoNazis (my term) as we repeat the 1930's and stick our collective heads back into the sand.
The demographics are explicitly stated in America Alone, which GM has. The demographics stating that Michigan will be the first state in the USA with an absolute Islamist majority, with Sharia Law replacing our Constitution, are also part of the documentation GM has. Being an Ostrich, repeating the 1930's, sipping a good Chablis along the banks of the Detroit river as evil takes over the world, again, seems to be part and parcel of what GM wants for the USA.
GM has learned nothing in the last 67 years.
GM was happy and willing, volunteering, to support the German Nazis before WWII, in the 1930's, and today, they are happily, willingly, and volunteering to continue to support the IslamoNazis today.
GM tried to make up the difference during WWII as part of the "Arsenal of Democracy". GM cannot make up the difference today, as WWIII, and/or our own 2nd civil war stare us in the face in a couple of decades or so.
I believe my title for this book review should have been the title of Turner's book. Read it, enjoy it, and pay attention to all of the understatement in it.
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