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Spring 2010 Research Proposal

February 5, 2010

World War II continues to be perceived as one of the most pivotal geopolitical events of the twentieth century. In a myriad of ways, this global upheaval has shaped the current state of the world we live in. Thus, historians have placed special emphasis on studying all aspects of this event. In order to provide a more nuanced view, a new realm of historiography has recently emerged to address the role of transnational corporations in both supplying and providing funding to the various belligerents involved. This field of study is often contentious and has spawned controversy, and in some cases, lawsuits as more information has surfaced.[1] In the case of Nazi Germany, a significant amount of historical analysis has been placed on the business activity of corporations, particularly German subsidiaries with parent companies within the United States. This information offers the opportunity not only for a reevaluation of the relationship between Germany and the U.S. during this period, but also provides a case study of how transnational business institutions can play a central role in military confrontations. My goal for this research project is to pinpoint specific individuals and events that were indispensable to the facilitation of such business activity. Because access to financial and political resources are essential to negotiating large scale cross-border business transactions, this inquiry will center on the role of officials with ties to both financial organizations and governments.

Due to an expanding body of archival documentation, research on this topic has been growing steadily since the war’s end, particularly in the last three decades. The historiography of corporate complicity and collaboration with the Nazis could be grouped into four interrelated categories delineating military, political, ideological, and economic support, with some overlap considering the extensive scope of some of the organizations involved.[2] The essential argument underpinning this research is that U.S. businesses that cooperated with the Third Reich did so purposefully, and despite their excuses of the loss of control of various European subsidiaries to Nazi officials, manufacturing, financial transactions, and business services were invariably managed by Americans or those loyal to the American parent companies. Secondary sources on this topic have been produced by a variety of historians and journalists such as Edwin Black, Jacques Pauwels, and Rheinhold Billstein, among others.[3] In reaction to this indictment, a fifth “category” of historiography has also recently appeared, commissioned by some of the organizations accused of collaboration in order to defend their past business practices.[4]

By its nature, the business activities of the corporations detailed above are transnational. They involve the transfer of money, raw materials, manufactured products, patents, and people across national borders. Therefore, the mechanisms that each organization employed must be analyzed in depth to determine exactly how these processes occurred and to what effect. Each type of organization utilized different methods to facilitate their various businesses. Financial corporations, for instance, were able to use large international organizations, such as the Bank of International Settlements, to shift large sums of capital between various central banks and businesses that could then be made available to military industries. A detailed view of how these transfers were negotiated is essential to understanding how these apparatus work on a global scale and completes a far more interrelated picture than a traditional, national history.

I have identified three individuals as key actors within this field, whose papers may provide further insight into how these transnational connections worked. The first individual is Thomas McKittrick, who was president of the Bank of International Settlements from 1941-46. Having extensive interactions with government officials and central bankers in the U.S., Europe, and Japan during the war, his business activities have significant potential to reveal details about such transnational relationships. A collection of his business papers are located at Harvard University’s Baker library. Another key individual is Allen Dulles, who also had extensive connections in both the business world and within governments. As the intelligence bureau chief for the Allied Office of Strategic Services in Switzerland, as well as chairman of the Shroder bank utilized by the Nazi Schutzstaffel secret police, Dulles was also in a unique position to play a vital part in these transnational interactions.[5] According to various secondary sources, Dulles and McKittrick were associates as well, which may be worth investigating. Allen Dulles’ papers are located in a collection at Princeton University, which is also accessible. Finally, a third perspective can be utilized to balance Dulles and McKittrick. Henry Morgenthau, who was Treasury Secretary under Franklin Roosevelt, managed several investigations of these transnational interactions. Morgenthau’s papers are located at the Franklin Roosevelt Memorial Library in Hyde Park, New York, which is also close enough to visit. I have already collected some primary source material from Morgenthau’s Treasury investigations at another archive, and have some specific ideas of where further investigation could yield new information.

My plan for the anatomy of this paper will have a central focus on the transnational mechanisms that allowed for the exchange of capital and materials originating in the U.S. to be utilized by the Nazi regime to make war on its neighbors. At each archive, I plan to collect data on these interactions and then assemble them with this focus in mind, rather than produce case studies on each individual. As with earlier papers I have produced on this topic, I will separate any details I discover between the period of time when such business interactions were legal – before Germany and United States were officially at war, and the period time after formal hostilities commenced. This way I can separate the amoral from potentially treasonous activities. However, given my specific time frame for examining the activities of McKittrick and Dulles, many business interactions I will be investigating occurred after said declaration of war.

The schedule I have arranged to date has me in the McKittrick archives for the next two to three weeks in order lay groundwork for further inquiry in the other two collections. I plan to travel to New Jersey and New York toward the end of February or possibly during spring break when my schedule will be bit less restrictive. I plan to have most of the primary source material I need to produce this paper mid-March, returning to the McKittrick archive during the intervening weeks if necessary. My ultimate goal, if this historical research goes well, is to lay the foundation for new Freedom of Information Act document requests to fill in any gaps (including some that I have already identified) to provide a more complete picture of the tumultuous events that occurred during this crucial period.


[1] For an overview of many cases surrounding corporate complicity with the Nazi Germany, see Michael J. Bazyler and Roger Alford, ed., Holocaust Restitution: Perspectives on the Litigation and Its Legacy (New York: New York University, 2006).

[2] Sociologist and historian Michael Mann has used these categories to describe power dynamics within societies. This model was first propagated in the opening volume of his series of texts, A History of Power from the Beginning to A.D. 1760, vol. 1 of The Sources of Social Power (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986). More recently, he extended this model to a specific study of Nazis and other groups in his book, Fascists (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004). One of the focuses of Mann’s categories of power are the networks that “contain” them. In essence, Mann’s model expresses the idea that all power can only be carried as far as the reach of the networks that they exist within. Therefore, the study of banks appears to be a starting point for a discussion on transnational economic power in relation to the Nazi state, which can then facilitate further business activity, such as the building of weapons, transport, communication, etc. In a conversation I had with Mann on October 13, 2009, he noted that this model is an appropriate construction for this topic.

[3] For a broad overviews of this topic see Edwin Black, Nazi Nexus (Washington D.C.: Dialog Press 2009), and Jacques R Pauwels, “Profits uber Alles! American Corporations and Hitler,” Labour/Le Trevail Vol. 51 (2003): 4-6. Accessed Nov. 14 2009. See also Charles Higham’s Trading with the Enemy (New York: Delacorte Press, 1983, 2007) and Reinhold Billstein, et. al. Working for the Enemy (New York: Berghahn, 2000).

[4] See Barry Meier, “Chroniclers of Collaboration; Historians Are in Demand to Study Corporate Ties to Nazis,” The New York Times, Feb 18, 1999, C1. In the late 1990s many corporations ramped up their legal and historical defenses against accusations, creating a market for researchers willing to work with these institutions.

[5] For a detailed discussion on Dulles’ financial connection to the Nazis see my paper Following the Money, located at jasonweixelbaum.wordpress.com.

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