The sources of today’s German economic power are the infrastructure and technologies from the times of the Wehrwirtschaft, i.e. the war economy, based on the looting of property and the exploitation of people from countries conquered by Germany during World War II. According to the historians of the Institute of National Remembrance, about 90 percent of German companies benefited from the slave labor of prisoners of war, camp prisoners and various types of forced laborers. Some of these companies have grown into large global corporations that are able – similarly to the German state – to pay reparations due to Poland, but there is no political will to do so.
The slave and forced labor of prisoners of concentration and extermination camps – prisoners of war – was used by 90 percent of the German companies during the existence of the Third Reich. The largest of them are: Continental, BMW, Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen, Siemens, Bayer, Agfa, Dr. Oetker, Hugo Boss, Allianz, Deutsche Reichsbahn, Lufthansa, Deutsche Bank, IG Farben concern. A total of 14 million people, including 3.2 million Poles, were forced to work for the German economy. In addition, there were massive lootings – according to the estimates of the German historian Götz Aly, the resources plundered by the Germans would be worth at least EUR 2 trillion today.
“The concept of Lebensraum in order to gain living space implies what happened later, i.e. the Holocaust of the Jewish nation and the destruction of the Polish nation, while the acquisition of a dominant economic position implies the looting that the Germans carried out throughout Europe” – said prof. Tomasz Panfil during the opening of the “Economy of the Third Reich” exhibition, showing the sources of today’s German economic power: infrastructure and technologies from the Wehrwirtschaft era. “Very often in historiography it is said that the Nazis are the army and the party, that the economy is simply German. In fact, that’s not true. The German economy was the same tool for the implementation of Hitler’s and NSDAP’s genocidal plans as other institutions of the German state, such as the Wehrmacht and the SS” – he added. At the same time, he reminded that “the Germans plundered everything: from coffee spoons to children.”
“The agreement concluded between the Home Army (AK) and General von dem Bach contained a point stating that the German army and the German state take full responsibility for the property left by Varsovians” – reminded prof. Panfil. What was this responsibility like? “This number is also mentioned here and it is possible that it is even underestimated: 46,000 railway cars of everything that could be stolen from Warsaw left Warsaw for Germany. Everyone plundered and everything” he noted.
“Once high-ranking officials of the regime are becoming prominent businessmen or politicians in the new, democratic Germany. There is no rupture, there is continuity – there is legal continuity, there is human continuity, there is material continuity” – the historian pointed out. “Something that begins as a business in the field of heavy industry, food, ends as a fencing business, i.e. building further success on what was stolen from Jews, Poles, Belgians, Norwegians, Czechs, Greeks, Dutch, French” – he concluded.
Although after the war the German economy experienced intensive development also thanks to money from American investment funds called the Marshall Plan, the historians of the Institute of National Remembrance have no doubt that the infrastructure and technologies from the Wehrwirtschaft era were the foundation of the German economic miracle. “During the first years of the war, the revenues from looting and ruthless exploitation of the territories conquered by the Germans as a result of lightning campaigns exceeded the costs of warfare. However, at the turn of 1942 and 1943, after huge losses suffered in the fights with the Soviet Union and in North Africa, Germany was forced to increase its efforts” – the Institute of National Remembrance points out, adding that in total, about 17 million people served in the Wehrmacht and the SS. “So who was working while the Germans were fighting?” – experts ask rhetorically.
What about the rule of law?
“Violence can be tried to justify, but it will never be legitimate. More can be said: evil, cruelty, robbery, forced labor can be closed with diplomatic words, you can try to enchant it with speech about the rule of law, about freedom, but without real, economic, financial compensation, it will never allow us to build a better world, a better common Europe, without war and based on drawing concrete consequences against those who destroyed and set fire to Europe and the world” – said the president of the Institute of National Remembrance, Dr. Karol Nawrocki. At the same time, he pointed out that the debt of the perpetrators of World War II, i.e. the Germans, had not been repaid so far, and German capital was built in concentration camps and places of execution.
“Can we be indifferent to the fact that 90 percent of German companies built their potential in alliance with the German National Socialists during World War II? Are we really indifferent to the fact that the Deutsche Reichsbahn, after the confiscation of Polish rolling stock, used it to transport Polish and Jewish victims to German concentration camps and transport 200,000 Polish, stolen children with the same rolling stock?” – he was asking. “Are we indifferent to the fact that Siemens has built its capital and its potential, which is also present in the 21st century, on electrical systems regulating gas chambers? Do we accept that Deutsche Bank handled gold taken from Holocaust victims, Polish victims and Jewish victims? The same Deutsche Bank invested in the development of the German Auschwitz concentration camp” – he said, noting that many German companies built their capital on suffering, on death, on forced labour. The President of the Institute of National Remembrance called the exhibition “a great question mark placed in the capital of Poland, in the middle of Europe”.
“Without reparation for the evil and suffering during World War II, will we be able to build a Europe of values that is law-abiding, full of allied commitments and beautiful words?” – Dr. Nawrocki wondered. “I believe that our allies in NATO, our partners in the European Union, i.e. Germany, will understand that without real compensation, without war reparations, for which, as we can see after this exhibition, there are financial resources, it will not be possible to build a better world and a better Europe” – the head of the Institute of National Remembrance noted.
The exhibition of the National Education Office of the Institute of National Remembrance is presented in front of the Polonia House in Warsaw from January 12 to February 1, 2023. It has been prepared in two language versions: Polish and English.