Embellishing the holocaust

Bob Potter recalls the support of US capital and the UK monarchy for the Nazis, and discusses the marketing of Auschwitz

An excellent job was done by Eddie Ford in identifying 'the holocaust' as a concept largely created by our rulers in an attempt to misrepresent the role of their class in the politics of the Hitler period (Weekly Worker January 20). However, there are three areas touched upon by Ford that could do with further elaboration: l the role of American finance in making the 'holocaust' possible. l the role of the British monarchy in "welcoming Hitler as a blunt instrument to destroy the communist menace". l the quite literal vulgarisation, for marketing purposes, of the site of the largest Nazi camp, Auschwitz. US capital and the Nazis George W Bush has declared the major purpose of his second term as the "spreading of democracy worldwide"! He tells us this precisely at the time when the bourgeois pundits everywhere celebrate the liberation of Auschwitz - Soviet forces arrived at the camp on January 22 1945. Today's empire-builders hope the true origins of Hitlerism are forgotten. However, it is now widely known that George Bush's grandfather, Prescott, was deeply involved financially (along with the family solicitors, the firm of John Foster Dulles of Korean war fame) in the setting up of the Third Reich in January 1933. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour, American government investigators reported secretly to the president that "W Averell Harriman was in Europe sometime prior to 1924 and met with Fritz Thyssen, the German industrialist ... Harriman and Thyssen agreed to set up a bank for Thyssen in New York ... certain of Harriman's associates would serve as directors ... Thyssen agent HJ Kouwenhoven - came to the United States ... prior to 1924 for conferences with the Harriman Company in this connection ..." Prescott Bush became vice-president of WA Harriman and Co in 1926. That same year, a friend of Harriman and Bush set up a giant new organisation for their client, Fritz Thyssen. The new German Steel Trust, Germany's largest industrial corporation, was organised in 1926 by Wall Street banker Clarence Dillon, an old comrade of Prescott Bush's. In October 1942, 10 months after Pearl Harbour, Prescott Bush was managing partner of international bankers Brown Brothers Harriman, when the Roosevelt government ordered the seizure of Nazi German banking operations in the USA, operated by Prescott Bush. Under the Trading with the Enemy Act, the stock shares of Union Banking Corporation, of which Bush was a director, were impounded. Other Nazi front organisations seized by the US authorities included Holland-American Trading Corporation and Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation, both run by the Bush-Harriman bank. A month later, Nazi interests in the Silesian-American Corporation, long managed by Prescott Bush and his father-in-law, George Herbert Walker, were seized under the Trading with the Enemy Act. However, the government seized only the Nazi interests, leaving the US partners to carry on with their business. The Bush family had already played a central role in financing and arming Hitler and his thugs for his takeover of Germany and development of the war industries for the conquest of Europe. The enthusiastic involvement of American big business in these matters was part of the logic of capitalism in crisis. The great financial collapse of 1929-31 had shaken America, Germany and Britain: the various capitalisms were weakened - the 'captains of industry' desperately searched for an alternative to a threatening 'socialist-style revolution'. Large sections of the Anglo-American ruling class had seen the installation of a Hitler regime in Germany as a possible solution. The eventual development and application of Nazi genocide were spin-offs of the more deeply rooted bourgeois ideology - eugenic advocates were not confined to Germany. In 1906, for example, Winston Churchill warned of "the unnatural and increasingly rapid growth of the feeble-minded and insane classes" and argued the 100,000 "morally degenerate" Britons, "the source from which the stream of madness is fed, should be cut off and sealed before another year has passed"; six years later he drafted a bill that for the 'good' of the 'race', people of "weak intellect" should be either confined or sterilised. In the Illustrated Sunday Herald, Churchill wrote of "the schemes of the international Jews" and their "worldwide conspiracy for the overthrow of civilisation and for the reconstitution of society" (February 8 1920). The present US president's family fortune originated largely in consequence of the Hitler project - The 1942 US government investigative report said that Bush's Nazi-front bank was an interlocking concern with the Vereinigte Stahlwerke (United Steel Works), run by Fritz Thyssen. After the war, Congressional investigators probed Thyssen interests and found that the Vereinigte Stahlwerke had been responsible for the following approximate proportions of total German national output: 50.8% of pig iron; 41.4% of universal plate; 36.0% of heavy plate; 38.5% of galvanised sheet; 45.5% of pipes and tubes; 22.1% of wire; 35.0% of explosives. Royal support There remains a myth among many non-political individuals that the monarchy serves some sort of positive function and that some of the royals are better than others. The late Duke of Windsor, former Edward VIII, was a 'baddie', who was friendly with Hitler and made ill-advised visits to meet with him in Germany; while his brother, George VI, and his wife, Elizabeth, were 'goodies', spending the war years in bomb sites and cheering up the loyal workers who loved them and fanatically followed their wartime saviour, Winston Churchill. The truth was rather different. The Windsors were solidly Hanoverian - indeed all the royal bosses of Europe shared a kinship with the German aristocracy - the kaiser had been George VI's "Uncle Willi". In one of his political interventions, in February 1939, just four months after the violence of Kristallnacht, George VI was concerned that unauthorised Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria were surreptitiously entering Palestine. He asked his friend, the foreign secretary, Lord Halifax , to take steps to stop it. Two days later, the British ambassador in Berlin was instructed to urge the Reich government to put a stop to this emigration. The family strongly supported Neville Chamberlain's appeasement policy - and were almost certainly part of a scheme involving negotiation with Rudolf Hess for a separate peace with Germany. (All the relevant Hess documentation remains locked away for the foreseeable future; the mysterious death in the apparently related air accident of the Duke of Kent, a regular pre-war visitor to Munich and a strong supporter of the Nazis, is likewise 'classified' information.) The Windsors had a strong dislike of Churchill - his anti-Nazi belligerence was distasteful; not until 1942 were they forced to take a new stance - finally, at the end of the European war, being forced to invite him onto the balcony of Buckingham Palace. However, without doubt, the strongest support for the 'new Germany' came from the recently deceased 'queen mother', Elizabeth. Indeed, if there was any royal who would have been really at home at the recent 'colonial and native' party graced by Prince Harry, it was she. In 1936, George VI's close friend, Lord Halifax, visited Nazi Germany as war secretary and leader of the House of Lords. He relates in his memoirs, published in 1957, that before he left he spoke with the new queen, who gave him a copy of Mein Kampf, recommending he study it carefully as an outstandingly impressive piece of work. The future queen mum was not to be disappointed with her protégé. Halifax's friend, Henry (Chips) Channon, reported: "He told me he liked all the Nazi leaders, even Göbbels, and he was much impressed, interested and amused by the visit. He thinks the regime absolutely fantastic." In his diary, Halifax records his impressions when hew met Hitler in November 1937: "Although there was much in the Nazi system that profoundly offended British opinion, I was not blind to what he [Hitler] had done for Germany, and to the achievement from his point of view of keeping communism out of his country." He had made it clear he was referring to the banning of the Communist Party in Germany and placing its leaders in concentration camps. Auschwitz I first visited Auschwitz in the early 1950s - less than a decade after it had been liberated. Already it had been decided to keep the site as a memorial to the millions who had died there (more correctly, the millions who had died at Birkenau, the death camp constructed three kilometres to the north of the original camp). Eddie Ford writes: "The holocaust as a unique event was invented. Since then, the remit of 'The Holocaust' has expanded and it has been vigorously adopted by the western bourgeois establishment as its own - a whole ideological industry has been generously financed and patronised from on high to expropriate the memory." He may not have been thinking of the actualities of the camp itself, as it has been changed in the years since 1945. The camp was set up in June 1940, purely as a 'labour camp'. Thirty German criminals were brought to serve as guards (or 'Capos') to supervise the Polish captives who would work at the plants - IG Farben being one of the larger German firms; the SS hoped to make Auschwitz a lynch-pin of the armament industry (Speer was later to persuade Hitler otherwise). The first prisoners arrived in the same month, and in total, throughout its existence, almost 400,000 prisoners were registered. More than 50% of them survived until 1945. The time I first visited, Auschwitz was Auschwitz and Birkenau was Birkenau. Holocaust denyer David Irving was to attempt to use this play on words when he appeared in court a few years ago - arguing, technically correctly, that the former was not a "death camp". Other camps set up in Poland were "death camps" - Chelmno (150,000 died), Sobibor (200,000), Belzec (550,000) and Treblinka (750,000). At these places, victims arrived, were unloaded and killed, mostly within a matter of hours. They were not registered and with very few exceptions there were no survivors. Perhaps this explains why Auschwitz, with its thousands of survivors, is remembered, whilst the other camps are not. In September 1942, it was decided to expand Auschwitz and make it a 'killing site'. This led to the installation of a total of four large crematoria at Birkenau, complete with huge adjacent gas chambers. It also necessitated a railway line from Auschwitz station to the entrance at Birkenau - prior to this exhausted victims were marched there. By the beginning of 1944, with other camps closed, the first transports arrived from Hungary on the newly laid rail lines - 381,000 Jews in two months. Auschwitz today bears little resemblance to the camp as it was at the height of its activity. Tourists arrive in buses from the Holiday Inn in Krakow, and drive into a car park. They have no knowledge they are already in the camp as it was. Alongside are splendid buildings occupied by Polish soldiers - they are off limits to tourists, but were once administrative centres. Also alongside the car park is a restaurant, a coffee bar, a souvenir shop, a post office, a bookshop - even a cinema. Again the visitor has no idea he is standing in the structure which once housed the main reception centre for prisoners - where there were once 19 gas chambers and rooms for the delousing of prisoners' clothes. There are no signs informing visitors of this and staff do not tell them. Outside they arrive at the well known Arbeit macht frei sign above a gateway. Visitors imagine they are now at the entrance; in fact they are standing almost dead centre on the site. It was the entrance to the accommodation blocks, not to the camp. Those who came to Birkenau, for extermination - probably four million in all - never got to within a mile of this sign. Other changes have been made to fit the needs of the tourists. Auschwitz itself had its own, small, crematorium. This has been rebuilt by the Polish hosts, and embellished with four holes in the roof to show where the Zyclon B gas was poured in. In fact, the Auschwitz crematorium was used only for its own overworked employees. The roof holes are there for 'demonstration' purposes - this was indeed the method used in the four larger crematoria at Birkenau. This little crematorium had been reconstructed when I visited in the 1950s - the gas apertures have been added more recently. Other additions to the site are the exhibits of human hair, shaving brushes, wooden legs, etc, which have been brought from Birkenau, where the mass killings took place. Understandably, those setting up the camp for today's visitors feel they need make it appear as awful as it really was. The horrible gloom of Birkenau remains, largely because little has been done with it - tourists often just look from a distance. But Auschwitz, in typically Nazi propaganda fashion, had a Heimat style of construction. Placing the entrance deep in the original camp makes the original camp match the nearby 'death camp' in appearance. I appreciate I am on a touchy topic. That the spiritual descendents of those who were responsible for these crimes are always busily not only exonerating themselves, but trying to pretend they belong elsewhere is well understood by educated revolutionaries.