Remembering the First Fight Against Fascism
Remembering the First Fight Against Fascism
Sun Jan 23, 2005 18:30

Remembering the First Fight Against Fascism

Out of gas - out of ammo - out of time
One of Rommel's tankers surrenders at El Alamein

Prescott Bush - Hitler's Angel
The Nazi's banker in America

Hitler’s Angel

Many of the great houses of American industry and finance had very dirty hands when it came to dealing with the Nazis. General Motors, IBM, Standard Oil and many others have had their sorted dealings with the enemies of the United States aired in public forums. However, one criminal has had little exposure – Prescott Bush, father and grandfather to two occupants of the Whitehouse.

The story of Prescott Bush and his association with the Nazis begins just before the end of World War I with the dealings of the German industrialist family of Thyssen. As German hopes for victory sank into the mud filled trenches of the western front, August Thyssen, known as the “Rockefeller of the Rhur” opened the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart in Rotterdam, placing his son Fritz at its head. The bank, being in neutral Holland, was an excellent place to hide his vast wealth as the Imperial Germany disintegrated. Meanwhile, his other son, Heinrich, married into Hungarian nobility and changed his name to Barron Thyssen Bornemisza de Kaszon.

After the war, Avrell Harriman, son of the rail baron E. H. Harriman, and his partner George Herbert Walker, was busy setting up their own international banking network. In 1922, Harriman met with Fritz Thyssen and agreed to set up banking interests for him in the states. By 1924, the Union Banking Corporation was born.

Meanwhile, back in Germany, the crippling effects of the war and the harsh conditions inflicted on the German economy due to the Versailles Treaty were causing widespread unrest. One of the players in this unrest was, of course, Adolph Hitler. Fritz Thyssen became an ardent follower of Hitler, embarrassing the ideas of the Nazis, especially his anti-union, anti-labor views. He provided Hitler with his first infusion of cash. Several German industrialists followed Thyssen’s lead and also donated to the Nazis. After the failed “Beer Hall Putsch” in 1923, many gave up on Hitler, but not Thyssen.

The late 1920’s saw a boom in the German economy. August Thyssen died, leaving his son Fritz in control of their vast holdings. Thyssen merged his steel operations with Flick who owned many coal and steel interests throughout Germany and Poland, forming United Steel Works (USW). Walker and Harriman meanwhile sold $50,000,000 in German bonds to bankroll the Thyssen/Flick Empire.

It was at this time that the young Prescott Bush entered the picture. Walker hired his new son-in-law to run the American side USW. Prescott was a hard worker and helped everyone involved make a great deal of money.

Then 1929 came. World financial markets crumbled to dust. However, the plutocrats –, Thyssen, Harriman and Flick maintained their empires. With the ever-deepening desperation setting into the mindset of the German public, Hitler’s maniacal rants became more popular. Thyssen joined the Nazis and bankrolled their rise to power. By 1932, despite loosing 35 seats in parliament in the national election, the Nazis were able to broker a power sharing deal. By 1934 Hitler was the dictator of Germany.

Hitler wanted to see the rebirth of Germany. He began a massive campaign to build the autobahn and rebuild his military. All of this needed steel, steel which Thyssen and Flick controlled. Profits for the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart and the Union Banking Corporation soared. Prescott Bush became managing director of Union Banking Corporation and personally ran the German end of the business.

However, all was not rosy for the gang. The Polish government was growing weary of Flick’s operations in Poland and threatening to take over the businesses claiming fraudulent bookkeeping, securities fraud, tax evasion and excessive borrowing. The conflict with the Polish government ended when Hitler invaded, destroying that nation and, starting World War II in Europe.

Thyssen and Flick’s Polish steel interests were centered at Oswiecim in the heart of a vast coal and steel-producing region. After Hitler’s takeover, he decided to place a forced labor camp in the area in order to exploit the resource rich state. That camp became Auschwitz.

Thyssen and Flick, fearing a repeat of the collapse of Germany after WWI, bailed out, selling their Polish interests to Union Banking Corporation and fleeing Germany. As it turned out, Fritz and his brother Heinrich had made similar slights of hand between these banks and a third bank – The August Thyssen Bank of Berlin – many times, perpetrating a series of tax and securities frauds. Whenever there was a threat to the Thyssen Empire, the brothers would collude to hide their assets. In this case, Harriman became the controlling interest and Bush managed the former Polish enterprises, all of which were supplied labor from the camps at Auschwitz.

On December 13, 1941, six days after the attack at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt signed the “Trading With the Enemy Act”. This act banned business dealings the enemies of the United States. Prescott Bush ignored this and continued to do business with the Nazis.

Prescott’s dreams of riches began to crumble in the summer of 1942. The New York Tribune had discovered and written on the Bush-Thyssen connection. The Tribune hung the moniker of “Hitler’s Angel” on Bush. On October 20, 1942, after investigation by the US government, Vesting Order 248 was executed. The order stated…

Under the authority of the Trading with the enemy Act, as amended, and pursuant to law, the undersigned, after investigation, finding:

(a) That the property described as follows:

All of the capital stock of Union Banking Corporation, a New York corporation, New York, New York, …[identifying E. Roland Harriman, Cornelius Lievense, Harold D. Pennington, Ray Morris, Prescott S. Bush, H.J. Kouwenhoven and Johann G. Groeninger as shareholders] …

… all of which shares are held the benefit of Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart, N.V., Rotterdam, The Netherlands, which bank is owned or controlled by members of the Thyssen family, nationals of German and/or Hungary …

(b) That the property described as follows …is an interest in the aforesaid business enterprise held by nationals of an enemy country or countries, and also is property within the United States owned or controlled by nationals of a designated enemy country… deemed it necessary in the national interest, hereby vests such property in the Alien Property Custodian, to be held, used, administered, liquidated, sold or otherwise dealt with in the interest of and for the benefit of the United States….

With that, Prescott Bush lost his power in the Union Banking Corporation. Bush resigned as managing director in 1943, but still retained his stock interests. For the remainder of the war, he engaged in fund raising activities and became the founder of the United Services Organizations (USO).

But the story, and the audacity, of Prescott Bush do not end here. For that, we must return to Fritz Thyssen.

After Holland was overrun in 1940, Hitler’s auditors investigated the Bank voor Handel en Scheepvaart. Hitler was after Fritz Thyssen’s fortune, which had been transferred to the Netherlands after he fled Germany in 1939. Transfer of funds outside the Reich was illegal. However, no evidence was found in Rotterdam and Hitler imprisoned his one-time benefactor for the duration of the war. Unknown to Hitler, Thyssen had transferred his family’s assets to his brother Heinrich in Hungary.

As the war ground on and German hopes faded, Thyssen planned to transfer his empire back to “neutral” Rotterdam as in German and the Soviet bloc would not be recoverable. The only hitch in the plan was that the August Thyssen Bank of Berlin was destroyed in the war and the vault with all the Thyssen family papers were buried under a mountain of rubble. But the enterprising Thyssen brothers got Dutch authorities to dig up the vault and bring it back to The Netherlands.

Despite being held and interrogated by the Allies, Fritz Thyssen never told the authorities where his fortune was hidden and ultimately he was released from prison. He died in Argentina in 1951. Upon his death, the Alien Property Custodian released the assets of the Union Banking Corporation. The principles cashed out and the UBC was no more.

Prescott Bush received $750,000 for his share of Union Banking Corporation, a princely sum in 1951, but nothing compared to the millions the Thyssen family got back. Prescott used some of this Nazi cash to bankroll his son George Herbert Walker Bush’s first business enterprise and to support his successful bid for Senate in 1952. The Thyssen’s rebuilt their empire, and today, the Thyssen Group (TBG) is the largest industrial conglomerate in Germany.

D. A. Friedrichs

This column relied heavily on the writings of John Loftus, President of the Florida Holocaust Museum and Tony Rogers of Clamor Magazine. I am greatly indebted to them for their work.


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