October 9, 2002
12:53 AM   Subscribe

The virtuous image of the Bertelsmann media empire has been destroyed by a devastating historical study into the company's Nazi links that exposes its post-war success as built on a lie. The report, published this week, not only details the company's role in the Nazi propaganda machinery, but provides evidence of the company's use of forced labour during the war.
posted by tpoh.org (12 comments total)
Please. For once and for all there are no links whatsoever between Nazis and any current events, movements, thought, or failings thereof.

Standard IBM did-it-too link...
posted by fold_and_mutilate at 1:26 AM on October 9, 2002

And this is different to the UK and the USA selling arms to various unstable or opressive governments how?

It always happens. It always will. Money is more important than morals in this world. Sad but unfortunately true...
posted by twine42 at 1:41 AM on October 9, 2002

A lot of disturbing things went on in Nazi Germany, and it is hardly surprising that a large company that operated at that time, especially in an industry like publishing, would have ties to the party and would have used the standard production means of the place, i.e. forced labor. It is even less surprising that such a company would try to cover up its past. I in no way wish to trivialize the atrocities of the Nazi's, but must the sons forever pay for the sins of their fathers? I mean, what are we gonna do, stop buying their books?
posted by epimorph at 1:42 AM on October 9, 2002

I think that if a company today lies about something as serious as forced labour, that's news. If there are people to compensate, they should be.
posted by Pretty_Generic at 1:47 AM on October 9, 2002

The article cites what are, at best, rather remote links with forced labor and the Nazis. Of course it is an atrocious period of history, and it's true some people in some large corporations were supporters of the regime. But from what I've read, many big German companies were more or less nationalized. I believe in some compensation when direct links and actions can be shown, but I remain a bit skeptical of those looking to make a fast buck from "new" information. These studies or "reports" as the article calls it, are often funded by Plaintiff's lawyers involved in class action suits.
posted by sixdifferentways at 1:58 AM on October 9, 2002

I think that if a company today lies about something as serious as forced labour, that's news. If there are people to compensate, they should be.

I think that this is more a case of father lying to son. It is important to note that it is not the company of today that is lying, but the company of yesterday that did. Also important to note is that Bertelsmann funded this investigation. The article in Independent News seems to be a bit biased. Not that the article in the times (link below) is not biased, but the two articles together seem to give a more complete picture of the events.

"It joined more than 6,000 German companies in agreeing to pay $4.5 billion to people who performed forced labor for the Nazis. Mr. Arnold noted that Bertelsmann had joined the settlement before there was any evidence that it benefited from slave labor."
posted by BlueWolf at 7:28 AM on October 9, 2002

Bertelsmann had a virtuous image? When did that happen?
posted by laz-e-boy at 9:07 AM on October 9, 2002

Since my prior opinion of Bertelsmann omitted the supposed "virtuous" part, I'm not sure what this does.

In the end you could hardly fire a pea-shooter in Germany without hitting someone who had "connections" to the Nazi regime; that's pretty much what "totalitarian" regimes are like. If you're connected, you operate; if you aren't, you don't. The Allies deliberately chose a strategy which prosecuted the Nazi leadership and those responsible for hands-on war crimes and genocide, while leaving the vast majority of the German business class free to rebuild the country; in practical terms, there was little choice.

Germany through the 1980s remained plagued by troublesome apologists and subdural anti-Semitism, but they've made great strides in the past decade to reconcile themselves with Jews. (This took a detour with the Palestinian intifada, but that's another thread.) The memorials and museums and increasingly vigorous, if still tiny, Jewish community strongly indicate that they have all the motivation they need to resolve any lingering issues. The slave labor investigations have been undertaken with tremendous cooperation from German firms who have opened their records and financed much of the work.

This may be contrasted with the notorious foot-dragging of the Swiss, several years ago, regarding banking issues. In the end they came clean but only after tremendous international pressure was brought to bear.
posted by dhartung at 9:19 AM on October 9, 2002

good enough for Goebbels, good enough for Napster
posted by delmoi at 1:49 PM on October 9, 2002

I hate stories like this. A LOT of companies have made horrible mistakes. Do we hate Germans still for what happened? No, of course not. What about the French and English for not acting in the mid-30's. We don't rag on them either. Why do we slag companies for what they did in the 1940's?
posted by Idea Factory at 3:04 PM on October 9, 2002

I must say I'm surprised at the reactions here. This isn't just another "oh my, X did business with the Nazis" story.
The researchers were stunned to discover that Bertelsmann was the biggest publisher of Nazi texts, bigger even than the National Socialist Party's own printing business. It pumped out 20 million books to spread the word. Its support was evident long before the war. In the early 1930s, the firm published, for instance, The Christmas Book for Hitler Youth, which tried to blend Christianity with Nazi ideology.
The same family kept running it after the war, and they whitewashed their history (like the Swiss) until outside pressure was brought to bear. If they had been punished, however modestly, after the war and been, at least to a token extent, "de-Nazified" like many other institutions, it would be different. As it is, I think you all need to reset your moral compasses.
posted by languagehat at 3:43 PM on October 9, 2002

languagehat are you suggesting Bertelsmann was not de-Nazified and thus still practiced Nazi'ism after the war? I did not get that from the article, they didnt move operations to Brazil and pump out Nazi literature. If your saying the family who ran it was never punished that would have to be looked at on an individual basis but most of them are dead now. The slave labour is somthing the victims would have to pursue based on other examples there is existing law and many victims allready get compensation from the German govt.. not sure where the immorality is your refering too.
posted by stbalbach at 6:48 PM on October 9, 2002

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