Nazi billionaires, capitalist ethics, and other notable contradictions

On this episode Mark Blyth talks with this year’s invited speaker at the Rhodes Center’s annual 'Ethics of Capitalism’ lecture series, journalist D​​avid de Jong. 

David’s groundbreaking book “Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany's Wealthiest Dynasties”, looks at the individuals and companies that accumulated unimaginable wealth under the Third Reich. Through his incredible investigative work, he exposes how these companies – including iconic German businesses like Volkswagen, BMW, and Allianz – thrived under the Nazi regime. He also looks at how, despite their dark history, most have never fully reconciled with their past – and how the families that founded such enterprises have only grown more wealthy in the decades since. 

David and Mark discuss this dark history, and explore the questions it poses about the nature of capitalism: how can businesses operate responsibly in a world where it’s so easy to profit off the suffering of others? And what do private companies owe the rest of us, above their bottom line? 

Learn more about and purchase “Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany's Wealthiest Dynasties”

Learn more about the Watson Institute’s other podcasts


MARK BLYTH: From the Rhodes Center for International finance and economics at Brown University, this is the Rhodes Center Podcast. I'm the director of the Rhodes Center and your host, Mark Blyth. Today on the Rhodes Center Podcast, we're going to do something a little bit different. Every year going forward, we have a lecture series. And that lecture series is about the ethics of capitalism, or should we say the lack thereof.

Every week, it seems that there's something else that crops up. This past couple of weeks, it involves a Swiss bank and various nefarious deeds. But it could be that type of scandal, or it could be something much deeper and something that is deeply troubling. Someone who covers this is the guest that we have for our second lecture in this Ethics of Capitalism series, journalist David de Jong.

David worked with Bloomberg for a number of years and spent four years researching this book that came out in Twenty Twenty-Two, which is called, Nazi billionaires: the dark history of Germany's wealthiest dynasties. And it is a dark history indeed. We're going to have a conversation about the book, but also about what it means ethically. What's the minimum that we can and should expect from business in a world where it's so easy to make money out of the sufferings of others?

Welcome, David.

DAVID DE JONG: Thank you, Mark. Good to be here.

MARK BLYTH: So let's get started. The book opens with a shakedown.


MARK BLYTH: A bunch of businessmen, all men of course, go into a room in Berlin, which is Hitler's residence after he basically-- hasn't quite become feral, but nonetheless is in charge.

DAVID DE JONG: It's actually Israel Goering's residence. It's Goering's Palace. It's Goering's Palace on the spring river.

MARK BLYTH: Tell us about the shakedown.

DAVID DE JONG: Basically, on February 20, Nineteen Thirty-Three, a telegram goes out to two dozen of Germany's leading industrialists and financiers, CEOs and business heirs, telling them to report to Goering, who at that time is the Reichstag president, the parliament's president, so that the new chancellor out of Hitler can explain to these men his economic policies.

They all assemble there to hear the new chancellor, who most of them have not met. But instead of him explaining his economic policies, he goes into this 90 minute diatribe about how the coming elections, because there was an elections upcoming on March 5, Nineteen Thirty-Three is the one which is going to decide the battle between the right and the left. No word on any kind of economic policy whatsoever.

And at the end of his talk, which is then followed by Goering, both men explicitly promised the assembled businessmen the same thing, which is that if you throw your weight behind us financially for the March 5, Nineteen Thirty-Three elections, we will promise that there will be no more elections in Germany for the next 10 to 100 years. And after that is said, Hjalmar Schacht, the former Central Bank president of Germany and now current informal economic advisor to the regime gets up and says, and now gentlemen, to the cash register.

And what basically is proposed is this election campaign slash fund for the March 5 elections because what Goering and Hitler do not tell the assembled man is that the Nazi party is in financially dire straits. They have 12 million Reichsmarks in debt, and they have no money whatsoever to stage an election campaign. And the assembled businessmen, for 90% of those that are there have no qualms of taking their checkbooks and signing over German democracy to buy into this explicit promise of authoritarianism.

MARK BLYTH: So one of the things that Hitler says at that moment in that 90 minute rant, if I recall correctly, is that we're getting rid of democracy to make it safe for free enterprise.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes, yes, yes, yes. Free enterprise cannot be maintained in a democracy--

MARK BLYTH: In a democracy.

DAVID DE JONG: --is literally what he says.

MARK BLYTH: He literally says that?


MARK BLYTH: So how many of the people in that room are going along because this is the way the wind's blowing, and how many of them are, this is the way that we need to go? How many of them become committed Nazis?

DAVID DE JONG: At that point, with the exception of one man, who we'll get to later, August von Finck Sr., everybody else is sheer opportunist.

MARK BLYTH: So this is all opportunism, they're going with the flow? Are they already thinking, we're going to reap the economic benefits of a lack of democracy? How do they think about that moment?

DAVID DE JONG: Well, I mean, this is a tail end of the Great Depression and also the end of the Weimar Republic. It's been both an incredibly profitable period, as well as volatile period. What Hitler promises them in the beginning and what he also initially delivers on is to initiate the largest rearmament program that the world had seen until then. And the prospect of billions of Reichsmark flowing to their coffers and their companies is something that they can't resist and that they implicitly buy in, to this too this promise of economic stability and prosperity.

And again, he does initially deliver on that.

MARK BLYTH: So it's interesting. But the way that was financed, and you talk about that in the book, it was essentially a bunch of IOUs because it wasn't until I believe '36 that they were able to really pay real money to the industrialists. So the industrialists are kind of quasi stealth re-arming on the side with a bunch of IOUs with this regime that's come to power.

But since '33, there's another way that they're enriching themselves, which is forced alienisation. Tell us about that.

DAVID DE JONG: It's first divine alienisation, which is such a perversely cynical term. But it actually means the removal of any aspect of Jewish ownership from an asset, whether these are securities, real estate, art, jewelry, you name it. And initially, alienisation in its first form was a removal of Jewish executives from executive boards and supervisory boards and from the upper tier of management as a whole. But particularly from Nineteen Thirty-Four onwards, it is basically the coercion of Jewish business families selling their companies, their real estate, their assets at a fire sale price.

Now, either they did that because they were coerced by the Nazi authorities or their competitors, which also happen in many cases. Or it was because they wanted to raise money to flee the country, because all these fictitious back taxes were imposed on them. In order to leave the country, you had to pay an enormous amount of capital and then also get an entry visa for a different country.

MARK BLYTH: So you have this position where these families are being forced to leave, told in no uncertain terms to not stay for this day. We won't allow you to leave unless you present us with an enormous amount of wealth that we will confiscate.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes, exactly.

MARK BLYTH: And in order to generate that, you need to sell these businesses to basically our friends. And your friends are the ones that have already ponied up the cash for the election campaign, right?


MARK BLYTH: Who are the worst offenders on this?

DAVID DE JONG: Initially, these alienisation transactions had a veneer of legal business transactions. You know, it's the nineteen-thirties. Persecution ramps up. It devolves into outright theft and seizure. The largest profiteers, at least in private business, the main one is really Friedrich Flick, who runs Germany's largest steel, coal and weapons conglomerate named after himself.

And he manages to basically through a swap deal, get for free the largest lignite brown coal mines of the Czech dynasty, both in Central Germany and after the occupation of Sudetenland, also in the Czech Republic. The first deal he does, he actually pays them $6 million, which is about 12 million under the market value of their assets, which is negotiated actually via New York because they have their assets in all kind of trusts and shell companies.

They managed to flee. They managed to get out. Then their cousins in the Czech Republic are wholesale expropriated, and they also managed to flee. But they receive nothing for their assets, which was an even larger conglomerate.

MARK BLYTH: There was also-- one of the families that you talk about was involved in private banking. And they basically were able to take over the Rothschilds' assets. How did that one come about?

DAVID DE JONG: August von Finck Sr, who was the alienising patriarch in that case, his father was a co-founder of Allianz and Munich Re, two of the world's largest insurers and reinsurers back then and today. His father had also co-founded a Private Bank called Merck Finck. And August von Finck Sr, who was deemed to be the richest man in Bavaria but also the stingiest man by the Nazi party was tasked with fundraising because he refused to spend any money of his own on fundraising money for a new museum, kind of Hitler's pet project, the Haus der Deutsche Kunst, which is still one of the most-- now, it's called the Haus der Kunst. Still one of the most iconic buildings in Munich today.

And he did this so successfully that he was allowed as a thank you to alienise two private banks. The first was the Dreyfus Bank in Berlin, and the second was the Rothschild bank in Austria. Headquartered in Vienna, was Austria's largest private bank at the time. And following the annexation in March Nineteen Thirty-Eight of Austria, its owner, the debt branch or the controlling shareholder, Louis von Rothschild was basically held hostage by the SS in Hotel Metropole in Vienna.

And it wasn't until his siblings ponied up, which is still the largest modern ransom to date. I think it's about 250 million. He was released, and August von Finck Sr was able to acquire the Rothschild bank. I think it was 42 million Reichsmarks under its bank value basically. And the Austrian Rothschild branch was never reconstituted. They all managed to flee, but the Rothschild bank was liquidated after the war.

And it's the one branch of the Rothschild bank that no longer really exists, at least in its Native country.

MARK BLYTH: So forced alienisations by that point, but then the armaments begin to kick in. Who are the industrialists that are primed to basically take advantage of this?

DAVID DE JONG: It is again, Friedrich Flick, who retools his steel factories into mass weapons factories. And he makes his pitch, basically, to Germany's ministry of defense saying, well, all our factories are in Central Germany, so you don't have to worry about bombers destroying our factories because we're not rural area. So actually, he makes this his unique selling point.

And secondly, it's Gunther Quandt, who is a-- he owns a massive battery factories, but he also owns a-- well, at the time of the acquirers it, a nearly bankrupt weapons ammunitions conglomerate called, very literally, Deutsche [SPEAKS GERMAN], the DWM, which also had subsidiaries like Mauser, famous pistol brand. And he is perfectly positioned from Nineteen Thirty-Three onwards to revive the factories that of course under the Treaty of Versailles were not allowed to produce any kinds of armaments. And he also becomes one of the largest profiteers through weapons manufacturing.

MARK BLYTH: So if I remember my wages of destruction from Adam Tooze, I mean, the sums going through these firms are percentages of GDP. This is very, very significant spending. How rich do these families become in this period?

DAVID DE JONG: I mean, it is very much-- I mean, they're already rich to begin.


DAVID DE JONG: I think that is also one of the myths that I'm trying to dispel of the book, is that a lot of people think that these families laid their foundations during the third rush. With the exception of the Porsche-Piech family, which controls Porsche and Volkswagen and Audi and Bentley and Lamborghini today, all the other dynasties in the book were already very well off before Hitler seizes power. And they multiplied their wealth very extensively during the Third Reich.

But just to give you a measure of how big the armaments budget was, I think 10% of just for the aviation industry in Nineteen Thirty-Nine, it's a $40 billion Reichsmarks sum that Goering, that the Reich aviation ministry put toward the development of fighter jets and of bombers. And that was, I would say 10% of the entire defense budget of Germany at that time. So it's really humongous sums.

But then of course, a third aspect of profiteering was through the mass exploitation of forced and slave labor during World War two.

MARK BLYTH: So of course, once you've got these big contracts, it's great if you have labor. But then you ship them all off to fight these giant wars with the stuff you're making. Where do you get the labor? How does the forced labor story fit into this? Where does it come about?

DAVID DE JONG: So it's really in June Nineteen Forty-One with the start of Operation Barbarossa--

MARK BLYTH: So it's not early? It's '41?

DAVID DE JONG: It is '41. Wow it is '41, where Hitler initiates the largest forced labor program that the world had seen to date. German men are at the Eastern front or start being shipped to the Eastern Front, and there's this huge labor vacuum. And you have an estimated 12 to 20 million Europeans who end up being deported from all across Europe to be exploited in German factories and mines. And with the exception of maybe-- not even in food production, forced and slave labor was commonplace throughout German industry.

It was almost inescapable to not exploit forced and slave labor during World War two.

MARK BLYTH: So what's the distinction between forced and slaved, right? And does it make a difference?

DAVID DE JONG: It does make a difference. There was a very strict hierarchy in the forced and slave labor system, where even a part of the 12 to 20 million even came voluntarily in Nineteen Thirty-Nine, Nineteen Forty. That's a very small part. You know, highest on the food chain were Western European laborers, who were deported in [INAUDIBLE] or otherwise had been sent as political prisoners.

They would get wages, far less so than German employees. But they were treated relatively well because in the whole racial hierarchy as well, they were basically equated to Germans. So these were Danish and Dutch and so forth. And you could request those through the German labor front. Then far lower on the hierarchy were prisoners of war, particularly Soviet prisoners of war, which a company could request through the Wehrmacht.

And they were slaves. But they, of course, because they fell under the Geneva Conventions again, had a different status as well. So they could only come through to the Wehrmacht labor office. Could they be requested? And of course, lowest in the food chain where concentration camp captives. And they were subjected to the SS and basically, companies, very large companies made deals with the SS to lease concentration camp captives.

It was four Reichsmarks per day for an unskilled concentration camp captives and eight Reichsmarks per day for a skilled concentration camp captive. And there would be-- the company was basically responsible for everything. They would have to build a sub concentration camp on its factory complexes. The circumstances there were generally-- tended to be the worst.

There was captives who did not-- they weren't allowed to wear protective clothing. There was no medical care. There was inadequate food, slept 40 people in one room.

MARK BLYTH: From the point of view of the sort of the, we always think of German capital as being vaguely efficient, right? What on Earth is efficient about getting half starved people to work on machines that required a certain level of skill? I mean, how did-- they must have known that this was-- and you tell the story in the book of one of the sons of one of these great patriarchs running this factory in France and all the slave labor involved in this.

And this just sounded like a total nightmare. It was unproductive. It was hell on Earth for the people involved. Not so much how did it get so bad, that's obvious. But how did they get themselves into a position where they were doing this? I mean, surely these industrialists realized this was just not what they should be doing.

DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, absolutely. But it really changed because they thought they were going to win the war. And that really changes after February Nineteen Forty-Three. Up until that point, war is never profitable, with the exception if you're in the arms business.

MARK BLYTH: And you have to be on the winning side.

DAVID DE JONG: And you have to be on the winning side, exactly. Right. And as the tide changes, you still have of course, millions and millions of German men, able-bodied men deployed both in the Western theater of war and on the Eastern front. It becomes wholly unsustainable.

And also the Nazi war machine kind of crashes. Also, the production really starts to crash because as you rightly pointed out, the people you get in are starving. You can't even feed them. You can barely feed them. You can't provide for medical care, even if they wanted to at that point because there was such rationed-- also, domestically. Yeah, it becomes a hopeless and h--

MARK BLYTH: Brutal. Just brutalizing, yeah.

DAVID DE JONG: Brutalized that ended up costing also an estimated 2.5 million men, women, and children their lives in these factories and mines. So it was--

MARK BLYTH: Incredible. It's a hugely important part of the total that hardly ever gets a mention.

DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely, yeah. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: So with that in mind, it all comes crashing down. Some of these folks try to flee to Switzerland and comically don't get in because no one believes they're going for a business meeting. I believe that was Quandt, Günther Quandt and other sort of escapist tactics. But mainly, they kind of sit tight and just hope that it all blows over. And to a certain extent, despite Nuremberg and everything, it really did blow over for most of them, right? Only one of them was really held to account, and even then, it was partial. Tell us about that.

DAVID DE JONG: Yeah. So in early Nineteen Forty-Seven with the emerge of the Cold War, the United States, the Truman administration basically makes a policy decision to rebuild occupied Western Germany at that point still as a viable democracy and as a strong economy as a buffer and a bulwark against the Soviet Union, occupied Eastern Germany to try and contain communism.

But what then subsequently happens is that hundreds of thousands of suspected Nazi war criminals and ardent Nazi sympathizers are returned by the Americans and the British back to West German authorities for these so-called de-nazification proceedings, which denotes a very flawed legal process that basically saw the notables in a village or in a neighborhood.

It was layman trials, where of course there was no incentive on the side of the West German authorities to convict or indict their fellow compatriots for crimes that they had committed themselves and for sympathies that they had held. So you basically see millions of Germans because everybody had to go through the denazification, some sort of de-nazification, whether it was through forms or if you were suspected of major crimes through these committees, these panels, these tribunals, but see millions of Germans go scot-free, including the main characters of my book.

So de-nazification in Germany as a whole, but particularly in West Germany, was a myth. It was a continuation of money and power. From the Third Reich to West Germany and his five years vacuum between Nineteen Forty-Five and Nineteen Fifty where the Americans could have properly-- because they were in the lead. The French and the British were economically weak and also politically weak.

Could have done a proper job by supervising, at the bare minimum, supervising these de-nazification proceedings, see that they didn't turn into kind of follies, that did not happen.

MARK BLYTH: And then the same arms manufacturers found their weapons books being ordered again. And the manufacturers of other goods stepped up when the Americans were manufacturing their weapons for the Korean War. And suddenly, the same people are back on top.

DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely. I mean, the irony was that the Allied Forces in West Germany, they let the industrialists keep everything. There was no sort of-- because of course, in East Germany or occupied Eastern Germany, there were wholesale expropriated. In Western Germany, they had businessmen keep everything, and they could go-- once they were de-nazified, they could go back to work and pretend like nothing had happened.

And then of course, with the emergence of the Korean War and the Cold War flaring up further, you see initially Truman, which then continued under Eisenhower, the enacting of the War Defense Act, which has All-American factories producing arms. And suddenly, West Germany is thrust as the key Western industrialized nation to produce consumer goods for the US market and for the rest of the world.

You see hundreds of former high ranking SS officers who had slaughtered hundreds of thousands on the Eastern Front, see their death sentences get commuted to life sentences. And then their life sentences get commuted to five years, and they're all free by the mid nineteen-fifties. And you see the industrialists and the financiers-- they were only three industrialists trials, but you see the Friedrich Fick, Alfred Krupp and their managers and the entire executive board of IG Farben all being released over the course of Nineteen Fifty and Nineteen Fifty-One.

In the case of Friedrich Flick, he is again Germany's wealthiest man at the end of the nineteen-fifties as the controlling shareholder of Daimler-Benz.

MARK BLYTH: Let's talk about one of the micro stories in the book. One of the co-founders of Porsche was Jewish. And they basically alienised his stake and paid him a tenth of what he was on-- basically, his initial investment is what he got back.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes. He got his nominal value. He got the nominal value of his shares that he paid for in Nineteen Thirty-Four his founding stake, his 10% stake in Porsche. And the Porsche car design firm was bought out in July Nineteen Thirty-Five even though profits had skyrocketed because in that time, Ferdinand Porsche and his son-in-law, Anton Piech. Ferdinand Porsche had become Hitler's favorite engineer and was developing the Volkswagen.

MARK BLYTH: The Volkswagen, yeah.

DAVID DE JONG: They buy out or they push out, essentially, the Jewish co-founder out of Rosenberger for 5,000 Reichsmarks. And he's subsequently erased from Porsche history.

MARK BLYTH: But there was almost a rapprochement from that clan towards him because they needed him for a personal shine.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes. To get a personal shine, which was a kind of--

MARK BLYTH: Affidavit.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes, affidavit. It's an affidavit.


But It's a perjured affidavit because it is-- wash and clean is literally to be washed clean of your Nazi crimes, sins and convictions by receiving one of these.

MARK BLYTH: So the family went to him when he was living in the US and said, can you do one of these things? They had a chart. He wanted the licensing for Porsche. They did a little dance, and then ultimately ended up screwing him again, right?

DAVID DE JONG: Yes. Yeah. So in Nineteen Fifty, there was a settlement between Adolf Rosenberger, well Adolf Rosenberger's lawyer because the deal was made behind his back. Because Adolf Rosenbereger ended up immigrating to Los Angeles, and he had a asset freeze, he had to impose an asset freeze or an injunction basically to get the assets of the Porsche car design firm frozen over in Stuttgart. And a settlement is accepted by Rosenberger's lawyer, which gives him 50,000 Deutschmark-- and a choice--

MARK BLYTH: The choice of the car.

DAVID DE JONG: --between a Volkswagen Beetle and a new Porsche sports car. Yeah.

MARK BLYTH: Which one did he take?

DAVID DE JONG: And he took the Volkswagen Beetle. But of course, a 10% stake in Porsche. I mean, they went--

MARK BLYTH: Oh my god, yeah.

DAVID DE JONG: --public last year for a market value of $70 billion. It would have represented 7 billion.

MARK BLYTH: But it's just it's such a perfect micro story of sort of, even people that you knew, even people that you worked with, even people you were a co-founder with, once that sort of opportunity set opened up of, I can tear your face off because the law is behind me, and the law is a Nazi law, so many of them did it. And these are still household names, household brands.


MARK BLYTH: --the same thing. Let's close out by talking about the generations that followed. There wasn't much going on until the '60s. Then you began to get a few ructions. There is the Flick scandal, the funding scandal. And there's that in the '70s

DAVID DE JONG: It was in the '80s. Yeah. The corruption takes place through wholesale buying off of German politicians, CDU, SBD, and FDP happens all over the course of the nineteen-seventies. And then the scandal of the corruption is discovered in the first half of the nineteen-eighties.

MARK BLYTH: And it's kind of out of the wreckage of that people start looking into, well, exactly what happened to the Quandt family, and what happened to the Flicks, et cetera. So just give us a sort of a flavor as to where the children were and how they dealt with this legacy.

DAVID DE JONG: I think it's important to highlight the Nineteen Ninety-Nine settlement between the United States-- between the Clinton administration and the German Federal government, which foresaw the compensation of forced and slave laborers. And basically 5 billion US dollar compensation fund was established, which paid surviving forced and slave laborers. And the highest payout was about $10,000 at the time, which is a pittance for a survivor in concentration camp captive.

But there was a clause in that settlement, which said that German business as a whole does not have to admit any kind of crime, wrongdoing or culpability for the career crimes of the Third Reich. And so they paid money, but there was a difference between paying money and taking responsibility.

MARK BLYTH: This is like every time a bank gets fined, right?


MARK BLYTH: We fine you $600 billion, but you didn't do anything wrong, which begs the question, why am I fining you $600 billion? Right.

DAVID DE JONG: Exactly. And that allowed German business by and large-- there are some positive counterexamples, to pretend like nothing happened and continue to kind of whitewash history today, which is also the impetus why I wrote this book, to kind shine a light on this brazen whitewashing that's going on today. Where you have, for example, the BMW foundation, Herbert Quandt, with the motto, inspire responsible leadership in an every man who saved BMW from bankruptcy in Nineteen Sixty, but also built a sub concentration camp in German occupied Poland, or four oversaw the exploitation of thousands of forced and slave laborers in battery factories in Berlin and acquired companies stolen from Jews in France.

And after having prepared to have reckoned with these crimes by saying, oh, yeah, we've commissioned a study, 1,200 pages in academic German, it's all in here. But then because these studies are only discussed in academic circles and never reach a wider audience, they basically hide it in plain sight. They let it collect dust on the shelf.

MARK BLYTH: In fact, it's become quite a sort of MO, right? What happens is if you get rumbled? You find three underemployed German historians, you hand over the family archives, who knows of it's the whole thing. And then you write something which is kind of critical but somewhat exculpatory. It's published in German and nobody ever reads it because they've all forgotten about the scandal seven years later, right?

DAVID DE JONG: Exactly, exactly. I mean, the studies are good. They're very thorough. So I mean, I think it's not-- there are a few exceptions. I mean, there was a Porsche whitewashing study, and there's a few other Scheffler shakedowns and another one, which were complete whitewashing studies. But overall, by and large the studies are solid.

But it is what happens after it that these German says, oh, yeah, it's all in the study. But then they don't list any of the facts to a global facing due to the consumer, as it were, while continuing to champion their fathers and grandfathers and business patriarchs through all sorts of--

MARK BLYTH: Media awards.

DAVID DE JONG: --media awards and all sorts of kind of these-- to protect the brand, to build up the brand. Because that is in the end holy for them is that the brand has to be protected at all costs. And the family's legacy doesn't care that Papa was a Nazi war criminal. He was a successful businessman. That's what matters.

Of course, their entire identity is wrapped up as heirs. Of course, standing in the shadow of their fathers and grandfathers because they didn't--

MARK BLYTH: They benefited. They weren't the founders.

DAVID DE JONG: They benefited, but they didn't-- so to kind of disavow that identity is also, what is then left of your own self, basically?

MARK BLYTH: I wonder if it's a little bit of this is bound up with sort of the other side of this is guilt and shame--


MARK BLYTH: --in the sense that you think about someone like Herbert Quandt. Now, if I remember correctly, he was actually a serving officer, right? He was a soldier.

DAVID DE JONG: Harald Quandt.

MARK BLYTH: Harald Quandt. That's right. Harald Quandt was a soldier, right? And went to Russia, was in [INAUDIBLE] He was in Italy, Monte Cassino?

DAVID DE JONG: Yes, it was Monte Cassino. It was all kinds of--

MARK BLYTH: Just awful battlefields, right?


MARK BLYTH: Now, you come back from that after years of this, right? And by the way, this is the first son of Magda Goebbels.


MARK BLYTH: You're somewhat traumatized, I'll bet. And there's probably an instinct in the family like, we just don't talk about this stuff. That's it. And the whole country to a certain extent has that legacy of, we just don't talk about that stuff. So perhaps these families feel kind of an undue burden on them to be forthright, whereby everyone else gets to move on. And that perhaps is the source of some of the resistance.

They don't want to open up what they see as their own family trauma over these events. Why should they suffer when no one else has been asked to?

DAVID DE JONG: But the whole thing is, of course, is that they do pretend that they're opening up, right? Because that's the whole thing because they do have the Friedrich Flick foundation on the board of to Goethe to University, and having a whole bio and a whole website, and then pretending like nothing's happened. And this is even more brazen because it's in the name of somebody who was actually convicted for war crimes and crimes against humanity at Nuremberg.

But also, Ferry Porsche, the foundation which finances the only academic chair in corporate history in Germany at the University of Stuttgart, whereas the Porsche family has never said anything publicly about neither Ferdinand Porsche and his stint as the director of the Volkswagen factory, where tens of thousands of forced and slave laborers were exploited to build war arms, nor about his son, Ferry Porsche, who was a voluntary Waffen SS officer.

Instead, they fund an academic chair together and said, if you don't know where you're going, you don't know-- if you don't know where you're from, you don't know where you're going. I mean, that is such a brazen revision of history that that is really something I wanted to shine a light on. And it has nothing to do with trauma.

Yeah, a man like Harald Quandt might have been traumatized because he actually served as a paratrooper in the Wehrmacht. But his half brother, Herbert Quandt, who built the concentration camp and oversaw all these factories with forced and slave laborers or men like Ferry Porsche, who volunteered for the Waffen SS but never served, they never saw any combat. They just don't want to talk.

They don't want to talk about it. That generation didn't want to talk about it, but nor did their heirs. Because why spoil the entire image of the global brand that you have built up and of your own of your own family name? I mean, I think a lot of these families are also just surrounded by a lot of yes men. And just there is no kind of reflection of reality in the stratosphere of when you're in the realm of overseeing 10 to the $40 billion in net worth, it's very few criticism that one receives, if at all.

MARK BLYTH: So we're going to be talking shortly about the ethics of capitalism in the context of this conversation. So just for the benefit of the listeners on this podcast, I'm just going to ask you, I suppose the $64,000 question, having worked as a business journalists for years, having been through lots of different companies and lots of different scandals and tried to talk to these families and some will talk and some won't and so on and so forth, is there such a thing as an ethics of capitalism? Or is it just kind of naive to expect-- is it in a sense, given the opportunity, everyone will be awful?

DAVID DE JONG: Yes. But that's why I'm also a financial reporter, a business reporter and not a political reporter because you always know what the bottom line is with business in a sense. They always-- they want to make a profit. It doesn't matter how they try to green-wash something or how they try to whitewash history.

What matters is that they make money. And whether it's through these kind of historical revisionism or through this contemporary green-washing, you know, yeah, there is an inherent conflict of course, between ethics and capitalism. And you can couch it as nicely as you want to, but the bottom line is always profit.

That's why I could never be a political reporter because you never know really what it's about. You never really know what drives one or which. I mean, you can try to grasp at it really hard, but power in a way, is far, far less tangible than profits.

MARK BLYTH: You can at least see the ethical trade off.

DAVID DE JONG: Exactly, yeah.

MARK BLYTH: You know where you stand.

DAVID DE JONG: Right, yes.

MARK BLYTH: Unfortunately, sometimes that's knee deep in someone's blood.

DAVID DE JONG: Yes, unfortunately, that is often the case, and still today.

MARK BLYTH: David De Jong, thank you for this great conversation.

DAVID DE JONG: Thank you, Mark.


MARK BLYTH: This episode was produced by Dan Richards and Lila Wirth. I'm Mark Blyth. You can listen to more conversations like this by subscribing to the Rhodes Center Podcast wherever you listen to podcasts. We'll be back soon with another episode of the Rhodes Center Podcast. Thanks.

About the Podcast

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The Rhodes Center Podcast with Mark Blyth
A podcast from the Rhodes Center, hosted by political economist Mark Blyth.

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Mark Blyth

Host, Rhodes Center Podcast