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More On Bertelsmann

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As discussed here, German media conglomerate Bertelsmann sold millions of anti-Semitic books during the Nazi era and used Jewish slave laborers according to its own commission.

The Independent has more on the matter:

    In June 1998, Bertelsmann triumphantly took over the US publisher Random House, and its chairman at the time, Thomas Middelhoff, declared proudly that the German company was “one of the few non-Jewish media companies closed down by the Nazi regime”. Bertelsmann was indeed shut by the Nazis in 1944, but the dark history of the company has remained hidden for more than 50 years. The closure of Bertelsmann, supposedly because the company published books that the authorities disapproved of, became a central part of the Bertelsmann legend as it transformed itself after the war into a global media titan.

    The shameful role of other German industries, such as steel and banking, has been documented over the past decade. But the Bertelsmann report, commissioned by the company, is the first major study of a media business during the Third Reich.

    British forces provided Bertelsmann with a licence to print books and a cover to create its false image after the Allies occupied Germany at the end of the war. In 1945, two officers, known to the researchers only by their surnames, Felix and Paget-Brown, granted Heinrich Mohn, the head of the company’s founding family, the authority to set up in business.

    Mr Mohn told the officers his company’s books had been censored by the Nazis and that the firm had been closed in 1944 because of its dissenting texts.

    Professor Norbert Frei of the Ruhr University in Bochum, one of the authors of the 800-page report, said: “Mohn lied. He did not mention his support of the SS. He did not mention that one of his daughters had joined the Nazi party, even though you had to declare such things. They just covered up their connection to the National Socialist regime.”

    By 1947, British officials had found out the truth but turned a blind eye to it on condition that Mohn’s son, Reinhard, applied for a renewal of the licence. Together father and son then set about turning Bertelsmann into a major media player. Heinrich Mohn died in the mid-1950s but Reinhard Mohn, now in his eighties, remains the power behind the scenes at Bertelsmann, which is still family-owned. On its 150th anni- versary in 1995, Bertelsmann published a celebratory company history which made no mention of any Nazi activities.

    Bertelsmann is today the world’s largest publisher of books, one of the leading publishers of magazines, Europe’s biggest television group, and owner of the BMG music business. In the UK, it is the majority owner of Channel 5.

    However, troubling questions about the company’s past forced Mr Middelhoff to set up an independent commission of academics three years ago to examine the record.

    In Munich on Monday, the commission set out its findings. The study helped explain the meteoric rise of an obscure family-owned provincial publisher, based in the small central German town of Gütersloh. 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 rally the troops and spread the word. Its support of the party was evident long before the war. In the early 30s, the firm published, for instance, The Christmas Book for Hitler Youth, which tried to bring together a muscular Christianity with Nazi ideology.

    In 1921, Heinrich Mohn had taken over the family business, which was a small-time publisher of religious texts and hymn books.

    The man, the company and that region of Germany were imbued with a conservative Protestantism that looked forward to a new, strong state that would reinstate traditional “folkish” German values. That outlook fitted perfectly with that of the Nazi party which took power in 1933.

    Until 1924, Mr Mohn was a member of the German National People’s Party, which was largely taken over by the National Socialists. He also joined a scheme that financially supported the SS.

    Although Mr Mohn was never a member of Adolf Hitler’s party he was sympathetic to it and saw both an ideological and business opportunity in its rise to power. Some of Bertelsmann’s books were censored but not because they were anti-Nazi.

About Eric Olsen