Koch brothers' father did business with the Nazis, book claims — just like Prescott Bush, Henry Ford & some U.S. corporations

A who's who of powerful American corporations and business leaders worked with the Third Reich

Published January 12, 2016 10:15PM (EST)

Charles and David Koch   (MSNBC/AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack/Photo montage by Salon)
Charles and David Koch (MSNBC/AP/Phelan M. Ebenhack/Photo montage by Salon)

Fred Koch, the father of powerful right-wing American billionaires Charles and David Koch, did business with the Nazi regime, according to a new book by an award-winning investigative journalist.

Koch senior joins a long list of U.S. business elites and corporations accused of working directly with the Nazis.

According to "Dark Money," by New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer, Fred Koch helped build the third-largest oil refinery in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. His project was personally approved by Adolf Hitler, and the oil refinery fueled German planes, helping the Nazis carry out a campaign of genocide and destruction across Europe.

Koch's business partnership with the Third Reich was facilitated by William Rhodes Davis, the book says, an American entrepreneur and oil magnate who made a fortune working closely with the Nazis.

The book also reveals that Fred Koch was such an admirer of Nazism, he "hired a fervent Nazi as a governess for his eldest boys," the Washington Post reports. The newspaper describes Charles Koch as having been "toilet trained by a Nazi."

"Dark Money" details the close relationship between U.S. corporations and right-wing political activity. The New York Times reports that the book "presents the Kochs and other families as the hidden and self-interested hands behind the rise and growth of the modern conservative movement." These ultra-rich families fund rightist think tanks, form reactionary political organizations, sponsor large scholarships and lobby aggressively for anti-tax policies.

A spokesperson for Koch Industries told The New York Times that officials for the company declined to participate in the book and have not read it.

The news of the Koch family's alleged ties to Nazism comes at a time when the extreme-right is on the rise in the U.S. and Europe, and when leading Republican candidate Donald Trump is called a "fascist" by the media and Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley.

Charles and David Koch have created a veritable economic and political empire, using their voluminous wealth to bankroll hard-line right-wing political activity. In many ways, the billionaire brothers control the Republican Party. An explosive investigation by Politico showed how the Kochs "have quietly assembled, piece by piece, a privatized political and policy advocacy operation like no other in American history that today includes hundreds of donors and employs 1,200 full-time, year-round staffers in 107 offices nationwide."

"That's about three-and-a-half times as many employees as the Republican National Committee and its congressional campaign arms had on their main payrolls last month," Politico reported. "And the staggering sum the network plans to spend in the 2016 election run-up — $889 million — is more than double what the RNC spent in the previous presidential cycle."

Yet this isn't the only alleged link between the Koch empire and Nazism. Journalist Mark Ames detailed in an investigation for Pando how, in the 1970s, the right-wing libertarian publication Reason repeatedly gave a platform to Holocaust deniers and Nazi sympathizers. The Koch Brothers have given millions of dollars to the Reason Foundation, and David Koch sits on its board of trustees. Moreover, an article by Charles Koch appeared next to one by Holocaust denier James J. Martin in a 1976 issue of Reason, Ames reported.

In previous reports, Ames also documents how Charles Koch funded a libertarian school called the Rampart College, where the Holocaust-denying Martin taught pseudo-history, euphemistically referred to as "historical revisionism." The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum notes on its website that the Koch-funded libertarian school's publication Rampart Journal published articles "claiming that the Allies overstated the extent of Nazi atrocities in order to justify a war of aggression against the Axis powers."

Despite its putative anti-government ideology, Reason and many in the libertarian movement have ahistorically characterized the mass-murdering Nazis as supposed victims in World War II because of their brutal defeat at the hands of the Soviet Union. For much of the war, historian Richard Vinen notes "the eastern front was the scene of almost all the serious fighting," and, between 1941 and 1943, Soviet "troops were the only ones to fight German forces on European soil." Vinen estimates that it was in fact the Red Army, not the U.S. or the U.K., that was responsible for approximately 75 percent of the Nazi soldiers killed, wounded or captured in World War II. Right-wing historical revisionists like Martin portray the crushing of Nazism as a crime of Communism.

Bush, Ford, U.S. corporations and the Nazis

What many media outlets have ignored in their reporting on the alleged Koch ties to Nazism, however, is the larger historical context. It was not just the Koch brothers' father who worked with the Nazis; many American business leaders and corporations have been proven, or accused, of doing business with the Third Reich.

Leading British newspaper The Guardian exposed in 2004 how Prescott Bush, grandfather of President George W. Bush and father of President George H. W. Bush, "helped Hitler's rise to power."

Former Senator Prescott Bush was a director and shareholder of corporations that made fortunes working "with the financial architects of Nazism."

The assets of Bush's company were seized by the U.S. government in 1942, under the Trading with the Enemy Act. More than six decades later, two former slave labors at the Auschwitz concentration camp sued the Bush family.

Documents in the U.S. National Archives revealed that, "even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, [Bush] worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power," The Guardian wrote, adding that it "has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty."

Prescott Bush, Fred Koch and others joined a panoply of U.S. business elites who worked with the Nazi regime.

Henry Ford — the quintessential American capitalist, the founder of the Ford Motor Company and the architect of modern mass production — was an ardent supporter of Nazism. Ford's anti-Semitic literature and newspaper in fact inspired the Nazis, and the American industrialist was awarded the Grand Cross of the German Eagle, the highest honor the Third Reich gave to foreigners, in 1938.

Historian Michael Bazyler has documented the torrent of lawsuits that U.S. corporations have faced for working with the Nazis.

The Ford Motor Company was sued for having exploited slave labor in Nazi Germany.

J.P. Morgan was sued in 1998 for seizing the assets of Jewish customers in Nazi-occupied France. It reached a settlement with the plaintiffs in 2000, paying $2.75 million. Britain's Barclays bank also settled after a similar lawsuit.

In 1998, Chase Manhattan Bank acknowledged that, during the Holocaust, it had seized approximately 100 accounts held by Jews in its Paris branch.

Research by scholars has also revealed alleged ties to a slew of other firms.

Historians say General Motors played a key role in facilitating the Nazi war machine. Standard Oil and Shell were leading sellers of oil to the Nazis. IBM was accused of helping fuel the Holocaust. Other corporations with ties to Nazi Germany include Kodak, Hugo Boss and more.

The list of companies that worked with the Nazis reads like a Who's Who of powerful American corporations.

By Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a politics reporter and staff writer at AlterNet. You can find him on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton.

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Big Corporations Charles Koch David Koch Fred Koch Koch Brothers Nazi Prescott Bush World War 2