David de Jong, Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties, Boston: Mariner Books, 2022, 400 pages.

“They ravage, they seize by false pretences, and all of this they hail as the construction of empire. And when in their wake nothing remains but a desert, they call that peace.” 

Tacitus’ Agricola

“We must first gain complete power if we want to crush the other side completely,”

Adolf Hitler

“When I recognised the Jew as the leader of the Social Democracy, the scales dropped from my eyes. A long soul struggle had reached its conclusion.”

(Mein Kampf).

“Fascism has opened up the depths of society for politics. Today, not only in peasant homes but also in city skyscrapers, there lives alongside of the twentieth century the tenth or the thirteenth. A hundred million people use electricity and still believe in the magic power of signs and exorcisms. The Pope of Rome broadcasts over the radio about the miraculous transformation of water into wine. Movie stars go to mediums. Aviators who pilot miraculous mechanisms created by man’s genius wear amulets on their sweaters. What inexhaustible reserves they possess of darkness, ignorance, and savagery! Despair has raised them to their feet; Fascism has given them a banner. Everything that should have been eliminated from the national organism in the form of cultural excrement in the course of the normal development of society has now come gushing out from the throat; capitalist society is puking up the undigested barbarism. Such is the physiology of National Socialism.”

From What Is National Socialism? by Leon Trotsky.

The publication of this book could not be more prescient as the possibility that once more German tanks could roll into Russian soil for a second time. A book that examines the bankrolling of the first fascist onslaught against the former Soviet Union, is very timely.

In Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties, published in late May of this year by Dutch financial journalist David de Jong shows that the current German ruling class owes its power and wealth to the Fascists and their billionaire supporters during the rise of the Nazi era.

Adolf Hitler at a reception of the laureates of the national awards for science and art in 1938 Germany. To his left stands Ferdinand Porsche, one of the co-founders of the Porsche sports car company. (Ullstein Bild / Getty Images)

De Jong’s book differs from previous books on Nazi billionaires in that it examines five oligarch families unfamiliar to the general reader. Also, given that the book’s author is still relatively young, he may be forgiven for targeting his book at today’s generation who do not know about these Nazi billionaires. Many of whose Nazi past has only recently become public.

The book is a forensic study, densely researched, it took De Jong took four years to research. He carried out archival research throughout Germany, the EU, and the US using various primary sources – diaries, memories, newspapers – and academic studies on the families. The result is a  fast-paced and extremely readable book. De Jong’s book stands on the shoulders of other works such as the 1985 work, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler, by professor Henry Ashby Turner Jr., whose book has been the standard text on Hitler’s early relationships with the German bourgeoisie.

De Jong is no Marxist, but it is hard not to draw the main thrust of his book that these  Nazi Billionaires financed Hitler’s dictatorship to prevent a revolutionary uprising of workers in Germany. These billionaires are as much responsible for the mass destruction and mass murder as the Nazi dictatorship. As Ela Maartens and Verena Nees point out, “Most survived the denazification process unscathed—or, as Ferdinand Porsche wrote to a friend, “I was entbräunt [denazified] free of charge.” Only a few, like Krupp and Flick, were convicted, albeit released a short time later. Friedrich Flick was convicted at Nuremberg of using forced and slave labour, bankrolling the SS and looting a steel factory. But he was released in 1960 and eventually became the controlling shareholder of Daimler-Benz, then Germany’s biggest car manufacturer. Deutsche Bank bought the Flick conglomerate in 1985, turning his descendants into billionaires. Even the old leadership personnel were reinstated despite their Nazi past. The Quandts family also survived denazification unscathed. Günther Quandt was classified as a “Mitläufer” (a passive follower) after one and a half years of captivity in American camps. Like the other Nazi-era corporate patriarchs listed by de Jong, except for Friedrich Flick, he was never brought to trial.”[1]

De Jong shows that even before the Nazis came to power, they cultivated a very intimate relationship with the growing number of billionaires who saw the Fascists as a bulwark against the revolutionary movement of the German working class. As early as 1931, they met with Nazi leaders at the Kaiserhof Hotel in Berlin. August von Finck, son of Wilhelm von Finck, a Bavarian banker, promised over five million Reichsmarks to arm the SA “as a stay against a putsch, which might devolve into civil war.”

While many thoughts go through the readers’ minds reading this book, one overriding thought is how the hell Germany’s richest business dynasties, which made fortunes by supporting Adolf Hitler’s Nazi dictatorship eight decades later, are still not being held accountable, let alone punished. German companies, such as  BMW and Porsche, and others that own US brands, such as Krispy Kreme and Pret A-Manger, have blood on their hands.

De Jong states, “What struck me was this is a country that’s so cognisant of its history in many ways, but seemingly the most economically powerful actors do not engage with that. That was why I wrote the book, and it’s an argument in favour of historical transparency. You have BMW and Porsche, particularly the families that control them, conduct this whitewashing or leaving out of history where they celebrate the business successes of their founders or saviours but leave out the fact that these men committed war crimes.”I never got an answer whether it’s because they are afraid it would hurt the bottom line or share prices of the companies to be fully transparent about the history or whether it’s just because they derive their entire identity from the successes that their fathers and grandfathers had and, by being transparent about them, it’s kind of disavowing their own identity. It’s probably a combination of both.”

From the standpoint of historiography, De jong’s book is a rebuff to the current wave of historical revisionism that has taken a very malignant form. Led by the right-wing political commentator and convicted criminal  Dinesh D’Souza, who stupidly wrote that Nazis were called  “National Socialists,” that the fascist movement was a left-wing movement and that Adolf Hitler was a product of “statism” gone wrong. Not only does De Jong’s book counteract this infantile historiography, his book, while not downplaying politics and ideology, concentrates on the importance of economics in the rise of German Fascism. For a long time, most historiography on the rise of German Fascism has focused on politics and ideology to the detriment of research into the significance of economic issues in the rise to political prominence and power on the part of the National Socialists.

Asa Adam Tooze writes, “The originality of National Socialism was that rather than meekly accepting a place for Germany within a global economic order dominated by the affluent English-speaking countries, Hitler sought to mobilise the pent-up frustrations of his population to mount an epic challenge to this order. Repeating what Europeans had done across the globe over the previous three centuries, Germany would carve out its imperial hinterland; by one last great land grab in the East, it would create the self-sufficient basis both for domestic affluence and the platform necessary to prevail in the coming superpower competition with the United States… The aggression of Hitler’s regime can thus be rationalised as an intelligible response to the tensions stirred up by the uneven development of global capitalism. These tensions are, of course, still with us today.”[2]

To Conclude De Jong has performed a vital public service with this book. He states “I think people should be more aware of these histories and history in general, particularly when it comes to consumption and the continuing whitewashing of history by these consumer brands and families that control them.”. I heartily recommend this book, and it continues to get a wide readership.

Further reading

1.    Why Are They Back? Historical Falsification, Political Conspiracy, and the Return of Fascism in Germany Paperback – March 31, 2019, by Christoph Vandreier

2.    The Struggle Against Fascism in Germany-Leon Trotsky  1st edition-3.    Paperback (December 31 1971)

[1] Nazi Billionaires by David de Jong: How Hitler’s financiers are still in business- https://www.wsws.org/en/articles/2022/11/02/nazi-n02.html

[2] Adam Tooze, The Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy, Allen Lane: 2006, 832 pages, now available in German translation

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