How Bush's grandfather helped Hitler's rise to power
Rumours of a link between the US first family and the Nazi war machine have circulated for decades. Now the Guardian can reveal how repercussions of events that culminated in action under the Trading with the Enemy Act are still being felt by today's president
Ben Aris in Berlin and Duncan Campbell in Washington
Saturday September 25, 2004
George Bush's grandfather, the late US senator Prescott Bush, was a director and shareholder of companies that profited from their involvement with the financial backers of Nazi Germany.
The Guardian has obtained confirmation from newly discovered files in the US National Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a director was involved with the financial architects of Nazism.
His business dealings, which continued until his company's assets were seized in 1942 under the Trading with the Enemy Act, has led more than 60 years later to a civil action for damages being brought in Germany against the Bush family by two former slave labourers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-election controversy.
The evidence has also prompted one former US Nazi war crimes prosecutor to argue that the late senator's action should have been grounds for prosecution for giving aid and comfort to the enemy.
The debate over Prescott Bush's behaviour has been bubbling under the surface for some time. There has been a steady internet chatter about the "Bush/Nazi" connection, much of it inaccurate and unfair. But the new documents, many of which were only declassified last year, show that even after America had entered the war and when there was already significant information about the Nazis' plans and policies, he worked for and profited from companies closely involved with the very German businesses that financed Hitler's rise to power. It has also been suggested that the money he made from these dealings helped to establish the Bush family fortune and set up its political dynasty.
Remarkably, little of Bush's dealings with Germany has received public scrutiny, partly because of the secret status of the documentation involving him. But now the multibillion dollar legal action for damages by two Holocaust survivors against the Bush family, and the imminent publication of three books on the subject are threatening to make Prescott Bush's business history an uncomfortable issue for his grandson, George W, as he seeks re-election.
While there is no suggestion that Prescott Bush was sympathetic to the Nazi cause, the documents reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Brothers Harriman (BBH), acted as a US base for the German industrialist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evidence that shows Bush was the director of the New York-based Union Banking Corporation (UBC) that represented Thyssen's US interests and he continued to work for the bank after America entered the war.
Bush was also on the board of at least one of the companies that formed part of a multinational network of front companies to allow Thyssen to move assets around the world.
Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal company in Germany and grew rich from Hitler's efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. One of the pillars in Thyssen's international corporate web, UBC, worked exclusively for, and was owned by, a Thyssen-controlled bank in the Netherlands. More tantalising are Bush's links to the Consolidated Silesian Steel Company (CSSC), based in mineral rich Silesia on the German-Polish border. During the war, the company made use of Nazi slave labour from the concentration camps, including Auschwitz. The ownership of CSSC changed hands several times in the 1930s, but documents from the US National Archive declassified last year link Bush to CSSC, although it is not clear if he and UBC were still involved in the company when Thyssen's American assets were seized in 1942.
Three sets of archives spell out Prescott Bush's involvement. All three are readily available, thanks to the efficient US archive system and a helpful and dedicated staff at both the Library of Congress in Washington and the National Archives at the University of Maryland.
The first set of files, the Harriman papers in the Library of Congress, show that Prescott Bush was a director and shareholder of a number of companies involved with Thyssen.
The second set of papers, which are in the National Archives, are contained in vesting order number 248 which records the seizure of the company assets. What these files show is that on October 20 1942 the alien property custodian seized the assets of the UBC, of which Prescott Bush was a director. Having gone through the books of the bank, further seizures were made against two affiliates, the Holland-American Trading Corporation and the Seamless Steel Equipment Corporation. By November, the Silesian-American Company, another of Prescott Bush's ventures, had also been seized.
The third set of documents, also at the National Archives, are contained in the files on IG Farben, who was prosecuted for war crimes.
A report issued by the Office of Alien Property Custodian in 1942 stated of the companies that "since 1939, these (steel and mining) properties have been in possession of and have been operated by the German government and have undoubtedly been of considerable assistance to that country's war effort".