Jason Weixelbaum: A Review of the Shocking Revelations of U.S. Corporate Collaboration with Nazi Germany

Roundup: Talking About History

[Jason Weixelbaum follows issues of corporate complicity related to World War II.]

Americans are unceasingly reminded of the shared memories of the self-titled “Greatest Generation” that beat back the Nazis and saved the world from fascism. Is there another side to this heroic narrative? Although historians generally commend the United States as an instrumental force behind the undoing of Hitler’s Nazi regime, many prominent American companies and citizens knowingly aided the inception and military efforts of Nazi Germany.

The text, Charles Higham’s Trading with the Enemy: An Expose of the Nazi-American Money Plot 1933-1949, provides this subject with a significant degree of depth. The work is groundbreaking in the information it presents. Trading with the Enemy has spurred new public dialog and research among historians. Although this book involves similar types of activity to other books in the field, it has a markedly different approach and methodology. These differences present a challenge to researchers and the public in gaining insight into the big picture of this sordid past.

Trading with the Enemy casts a long shadow on the study of World War II era US corporate activity in Nazi Germany. Published in 1983, the information presented in the text has a continuing impact on the study of its subject matter. Like Edwin Black’s IBM and the Holocaust, Higham’s text also lays out an extensive array of details for the reader to digest.

Higham’s thesis is also just as blunt: Many US financial and industrial figures knowingly aided Nazi war efforts. Higham supplies a selective bibliography to support his claims and provides copies of a few key primary sources at the end of the book. Trading with the Enemy is organized by business, exploring the activities of individuals and their related enterprises in each section chronologically.

Higham closes the text by detailing how many of the accused Nazi collaborators covered up their activities at the war’s end. As an author who focuses mainly on the lives of famous personalities, such as Katharine Hepburn and Howard Hughes, it is unusual for such a detailed treatment of this topic to emerge from this catalogue. Higham states that he became interested in the subject of American collaboration with Nazis while researching Errol Flynn, who he also accuses of Nazi connections. Regardless of how it was formulated, the information presented in Trading with the Enemy has been the subject of historical discussion, and at least one lawsuit employed to bring more details to light.

As stated earlier, Higham details each business individually in his text. Trading with the Enemy begins with the Bank of International Settlements in Basel, Switzerland. Higham weaves a narrative of how the bank became controlled by confidants of Hitler and that its original purpose of disbursing reparations from Germany following World War I was subverted into a mechanism for funneling money into Nazi coffers, with the help of willing American counterparts. He continues this theme by exploring the financial connections between New York’s Chase bank and Nazis in Paris. Higham’s argument here is that Chase set up branches in Vichy France with the specific purpose of doing business with the Third Reich. It is important to note that as in the first section, Trading with the Enemy gives credit to American officials who became aware of such dealings and tried to stop them through their various offices, such as Treasury Secretary Henry Morganthau. However, each section invariably ends with the perpetrators escaping justice....
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