German media conglomerate Bertelsmann sold millions of anti-Semitic books during the Nazi era and used Jewish slave laborers according to its own commission:
- Bertelsmann tapped the rising Nazi tide to switch from publishing religious and school books to entertainment for the German army, selling 19 million books to soldiers in World War II, according to the Independent Historical Commission (IHC).
The IHC also found the company “legend” that it was a victim of the Nazis was a lie. The Nazis did indeed close the firm down in 1944, but probably because their own publishing house wanted to kill off competition, not because of subversive texts.
“In 1945, the legend that C. Bertelsmann was closed down because of resistance to the Nazis smoothed the way for the occupation authorities promptly granting the firm a new license to publish,” the report said.
Accepting the report, the company immediately issued a statement expressing regret for its wartime activities and for subsequent “inaccuracies” in its corporate history.
When Bertelsmann became America’s biggest book publisher by acquiring Random House in 1998, it portrayed its role in the Nazi era as being prosecuted for its theological works.
However, media reports about its past prompted Bertelsmann to set up an independent commission of four historians early in 1999 whose final findings were released on Monday.
“Bertelsmann published a variety of papers and books that clearly had anti-Jewish bias,” IHC Chairman Saul Friedlaender told a news conference.
The IHC found Bertelsmann produced books to indoctrinate soldiers and targeted the youth market with its “Exciting Stories” series and the likes of “The Christmas Book of the Hitler Youth” as its sales shot up by a factor of 20.
“The ‘Exciting Stories’ series and other material belonging to the firm’s theological and popular literature programs contained anti-Semitic stereotypes and polemics,” the IHC said.
The Commission also found that Bertelsmann used Jewish slave labor in printing processes in Riga, Latvia, and possibly in Lithuania, although not at its German headquarters.
At the same time, Heinrich Mohn, Bertelmann’s chief during the Nazi era, paid financial contributions to the SS, Hitler’s units of special forces and concentration camp guards.
Bertelsmann Chairman Gunther Thielen said the company accepted the commission’s findings.
“I would like to express our sincere regret for the inaccuracies the Commission has uncovered in our previous corporate history of the World War II era as well as for the wartime activities that have been brought to light,” Thielen said in a statement.
It’s ugly and grim but at least the company is accepting responsibility for its past, which is a crucial first step. Revelations like this reemphasize what a poor job Japan has done accepting responsibility for its past: its culpability is only increased by its refusal to acknowledge responsibility for WWll-era atrocities, and the whitewashing of its conduct in official history books.