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FROM OUR ARCHIVES What Should We Make of the Charge Linking the Bush Family Fortune to Nazism?

Editor's Note: Over the course of the past month several articles have been published on the Internet and in a handful of print publications that raised questions about the financial ties between the founder of the Bush dynasty and certain Nazi businessmen. We wondered what to make of the story and asked Herbert Parmet to investigate. This is his report.

John Buchanan is a free-lance journalist with a mission. He intends to alert the media, and all who will listen, about how Prescott Bush, the progenitor of two presidents, was in league with some of Hitler’s “willing helpers.” Minimized or totally dismissed by the public, the story was revived from its World War II roots by Webster Tarpley and Anton Chaitkin in their George Bush: The Unauthorized Biography (1992) and given a strong additional push in John Loftus’s sensationalist The War Against the Jews (1994).

Allegations involving the “father” of what has become the Bush dynasty relate to his association with Brown Harriman and Company, the Wall Street investment banking firm, which evolved from a 1931 merger of W. A. Harriman and Company and Brown Brothers, which was brought together by George Herbert Walker, president of the former, and his son-in-law, Prescott.

The younger Bush, by then, was one of the seven directors of Brown Brothers Harriman, a board that included W. Averell Harriman and his brother Roland.

Buchanan’s charges of a Bush-Nazi past are hard to ignore, largely because of his passion as a true-believer and an effective series of articles in a highly independent New England publication. His enthusiasm for getting “at the truth” of all this has been further emboldened by Loftus, who has suggested that Prescott Bush “should have been tried for treason, because they continued to support Hitler after the U.S. entered the war. Loftus, who describes himself as “a former prosecutor with the U.S. Justice Department’s Nazi-hunting unit,” has added the reassurance that he “could have made the case.”

Treasury and Justice department files, including what was then the Office of Alien Property, declassified as recently as September, do indeed show that the U. S. government acted to seize numerous assets held by Harriman affiliated companies. “After the war,” Buchanan has written, “a total of 18 additional Brown Brothers Harriman and UBC-related [Union Banking Corporation] client assets were seized” under the Trading With the Enemy Act, which Franklin D. Roosevelt signed right after Pearl Harbor.

George Herbert (Bert) Walker’s relationship with Averell Harriman went back to 1919, reported Buchanan, when both went to Paris to set up “the German branch of their banking and investment operations, which were largely based on critical war resources such as steel and coal.” Other corporate entities, all with ties to similar German interests, were then created by UBC, which had Prescott Bush on its board – most notably, the Hamburg-American Line, the Holland-American Trading Corporation, and the Seamless Steel Corporation. On October 12, 1920, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat headlined “Ex-St. Louisan Forms Giant Ship Merger,” explaining that Bert Walker was the “moving power” behind the “merger of two big financial houses in New York, which will place practically unlimited capital at the disposal of the new American-German shipping combine.” In the summer and fall of 1942, Congress, under the authority of the Trading With the Enemy Act, seized the first group of entities, the UBC, the Holland-American Trading Corporation, and the Hamburg-American Line. Buchanan’s diligence has discovered that the latter “reportedly smuggled Nazi spies into the U.S. before the war and encouraged U.S. ‘Patriots’ to travel to Germany and proselytize for Hitler in the early 1930s.”

Much of this is confirmed by the new documentation. The UBC was not a “bank” at all but “in reality a clearing house” for many assets and enterprises held by Fritz Thyssen, a German steel magnate who has written about his role in helping to finance the Third Reich. Located close to Bush’s 59 Wall Street office, it was “founded in 1924 by W. Averell Harriman on behalf of Thyssen and his Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart N. V. of Holland.” The UBC was seized by the United States under Vesting Order 248 on October 20, 1942, and, according to Buchanan, Bush and Harriman later received $1.5 million in compensation. Similar vesting orders leading to the divestiture of “enemy national” assets continued until well after the war. (A total of ten such vesting orders that indicate the firm’s investments are in the files in my possession.) Other holdings, associated with Bush, are more problematical, such as the relationship with the Silesian Holding Corporation and Consolidated Silesian Steel, which was bought from Thyssen in 1931.

In 1943, after press reports that the Polish mining interest was employing forced labor by using prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp, we are informed that “Prescott Bush distanced himself from UBC and had even engaged in the collection of funds for the victims of the war in his role as president of the National War Fund.” He had, in fact, taken over as head of the United Service Organizations soon after Pearl Harbor, raising “millions for the National War Fund,” according to Mickey Herskowitz, Prescott’s recent biographer.

The declassified papers confirm questionable transactions in violation of the Trading With the Enemies Act, but, as with all examinations of corporate malfeasance, more is needed to establish individual responsibility. Buchanan himself, when pressed for more details about Auschwitz, was uncharacteristically hesitant. Consolidated Silesian was the only direct link to the notorious death camp. A file in the Library of Congress confirms the business part of the relationship, but does not give any financial details. “More secretive,” says Buchanan, “is where the cloaking arrangement with Sullivan and Cromwell [most often associated with its best-known partner, John Foster Dulles] and Schroeder Rock, which is the Schroeder Bank and the Rockefeller family trust and investment arrangement – that links to the Rockefeller dealings (which John Loftus has written about) to the New York banks, some of which had to do with I. G. Farben through City National Bank of New York in back of those transactions.” Buchanan contends that there are also records involving the City National Bank, which he cites as “definitely the hot-blood area for all the Nazi money, especially I. G. Farben and Hermann Schmidt, the infamous managing director of I. G. Farben,” which was represented in court by Dulles’s Sullivan and Cromwell.

Their relationship with German enterprises, moreover, began during the years of Germany’s Weimar Republic, well before Hitler's rise. An international investment banking firm, they also did business with the Soviets during the 1920s (which was not in violation of any statute), and, all in all, with forty-five different countries. Their correspondent relationships spanned the world and numbered some five thousand, according to Walter Isaacson and Evan Thomas's The Wise Men, transactions that hardly were confined to Nazis or the Soviet Union.

Still, “following the money trail” is a tricky matter. Loftus points out that the Weimar government, pressed to pay their reparations bill, had to borrow gold from Sullivan and Cromwell’s American clients, and that some 70 percent of the gold that “flowed into Germany during the 1930's” came from U. S. Investors, and heavily from clients of the Dulles firm. An internal government memo on August 18, 1941, also noted that the UBC had made ”extensive” purchases of gold amounting to over eight million dollars, most of which was then shipped to Europe, presumably Germany. That transaction, speculated J. W. Pehle, an assistant to the secretary of the treasury, may have been the basis for rumors that Fritz Thyssen “has large gold deposits hoarded in the United States.” His own examination of the UBC books and ledgers, however, showed that “all of the purchases have been satisfactorily accounted for.”

In view of all the financial transactions involving Germany during this period, the role of that major Jewish banking family, the Warburgs (which also did business with the Harriman group), demonstrates some of the realities of the flow of capital. The Warburgs, backed by such American groups as B’nai B’rith and the American Jewish Committee, demanded in 1934, according to Tarpley and Chaitkin, that “American Jews not ‘agitate’ against the Hitler government” or participate in any pro-Nazi boycott. Such denial about Nazi objectives was not unusual at the time. Aryan laws, at that point in German history, were still less tangible than the marketplace.

Understandably, the American media has indeed been skittish about the Bush-Nazi story. The association of the Tarpley-Chaitkin book with the organization headed by the Lyndon LaRouche organization (published by the Executive Intelligence Review of Washington, a LaRouchian press) has not been helpful, to say the least. Nor has the sensationalist tone and dubious message of Loftus’s The War Against the Jews. One prominent critic of the administration in Washington, journalist Joe Conason, while acknowledging that the “involvement of Prescott Sr. and other members of the American business aristocracy with Nazi-era industry was shameful,” protests that “neither his offenses, nor the Republican Party’s politics of personal destruction, can justify using such [smear] tactics. Imputing Nazi sympathies to the President or his family ought to beneath his adversaries.” After a story on the allegations appeared in the Polish edition of Newsweek, it was “spiked” by the news magazine’s American version. Major U.S. outlets, Buchanan contends, have also bypassed a chance to investigate the story “when information regarding discovery of the documents was presented to them.” Although carried by the Associated Press, few members picked it up. One that did, Newsday on New York’s Long Island, ran it under the headline “Bush Ancestor’s Bank Seized by Gov’t.”

A notable exception to the skepticism about Buchanan has been the New Hampshire Gazette. Published as a fortnightly in Portsmouth with a circulation of some seven thousand and owned and edited by journalist Steven Fowle, a descendant of the Daniel Fowle who first brought it out in 1756 (making it, “the nation’s oldest newspaper”), it has, to date, run two Buchanan stories plus his interview with John Loftus. Fowle, called by a writer for the St. Petersburg Times, an example of “Yankee Spunk,” explained that he thought it vital to gauge to what extent the Bush family fortune was derived from the Nazis. “If it’s true, it ought to be said,” he emphasized, “and it’s not my fault that it’s ugly.”

Asked to account for the skittishness of most of the media, he responded by doubting that the president’s staff would care much about revelations in his paper and added that most of the other media outlets “don’t have the courage to stick their necks out if it involves challenging power. The only trouble with that is that challenging power is their job.”

Conason, of course, is right. But, at least to some extent, it did happen, even if the details are far from clear. As with all such examples of infatuation with power, or the control of power, or the interests of sheer survival, the story should be told. As John F. Kennedy once said, “let the chips fall where they may.”

The most judicious and succinct appraisal of all this was offered by Christopher Simpson ten years ago in n a book called The Splendid Blond Beast: Money, Law and Genocide in the Twentieth Century:

By 1944 and 1945, leaders of major German companies such as automaker Daimler Benz, electrical manufacturers AEG and Siemans, and most of Germany’s large mining, steelmaking, chemical, and construction companies found themselves deeply compromised by their exploitation of concentration camp labor, theft, and in some cases complicity in mass murder. They committed those crimes not so much out of ideological conviction, but more often as a means of preserving their influence within Germany’s economy and society. For much of the German economic elite, their cooperation in atrocities was offered to Hitler’s government in exchange for its aid in maintaining their status.

All this, especially considering the number of American businesses that were engaged in the German market, says more about finance and capitalism than about ideology. It is a story of power, totalitarianism on one hand, and sheer greed and economic survival on the other – and with no relationship to “morality.” We need to do more than merely sift through the essence of Buchanan's assertions, as troubling as they may be, to appreciate the value of his labors, and wonder at the contribution to public knowledge of Steven Fowle’s maverick newspaper.

What all this means for the reputation of Prescott Bush's descendants should be as relevant as Joseph P. Kennedy’s for his descendants, just as it was for the connection of the Dulleses with Sullivan and Cromwell. Similar associations did not keep John Foster Dulles from becoming secretary of state or his brother Allen from heading the C.I.A. Nor did it stop Averell Harriman from becoming governor of New York.