German Schaeffler Scandal Gets Hairy

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt
german schaeffler scandal gets hairy

Any larger German company that was in business during and/or did business with the Hitler regime must face history—at some point. Some companies, such as Volkswagen, owned-up early on that they had used slave labor. Some, such as BMW’s owners Quandt, denied it. American companies, such as Ford and Opel, are amongst those guilty by association. Finally, a fund was set up, which probably benefited the lawyers more than the 25k survivors.

Now, history is catching up with German car parts supplier Schaeffler. According to the Independent, “the giant but debt-crippled Schaeffler car parts supplier was accused of using hair shorn from at least 40,000 Auschwitz death camp prisoners to make textiles at its factories in Nazi-occupied Poland during the Second World War. The highly disturbing allegations were contained in new evidence unearthed by Polish historians at the Auschwitz museum, who said they had found rolls of fabric made from camp inmates’ hair at a former Schaeffler factory in Poland’s southern region of Silesia.” The company’s historian has dismissed the allegations.

He said there was no evidence to support the theory that Schaeffler processed death camp inmates’ hair industrially during the Second World War. According to the Independent, “hair was routinely shorn from prisoners, usually on arrival, at the death camps. The Nazi war machine used it to make army blankets and socks for U-boat crews.”

The allegations can’t come at a worse moment for the company.

As if being an auto parts manufacturer isn’t bad enough, Schaeffler wanted to “do a Porsche” and took over the much larger Continental group. They swallowed more than they could chew. Family-owned Schaeffler borrowed 16 billion euros to buy control of Continental, but the credit crunch left it struggling to service its debt.

The Schaeffler family is now being pressured to surrender control of its company to banks that financed the ill-fated deal, or face bankruptcy. Schaeffler has appealed for government help, but German Finance Minister Peer Steinbrueck said the company had to first do what it could on its own before hoping for support from the government.

Ironically—but not surprising to those with knowledge in German history—the textile factory where the hair is alleged to have been processed formerly belonged to the Jewish-owned Davistan AG. When the Nazis came to power, Ernst Frank, the enterprise’s Jewish owner, was compelled to flee Germany.

The firm came under the control of a consortium of banks, among them the Dresdner Bank. In October 1940, Wilhelm Schaeffler, an employee of the Dresdner Bank, acquired 67 percent of the shares at a price 30 percent below the rated value.

In 1942, the Davistan AG was renamed “Schaeffler AG.” The company made armaments for the Nazi war machine. After the Second World War it re-emerged as one of Germany’s main suppliers of parts to the car industry, specializing in needle roller bearings.

People familiar with those stories call the revelation too coincidental. There are skeletons of this kind in most German companies. Poland is reeling from a devastating banking crisis. They want their fledgling auto parts companies to be bailed out not some high rollers in Germany.

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  • Robert.Walter Robert.Walter on Mar 04, 2009

    I find the post ok, and am not frightened by the negative. I do think Mr. Frankfurter needs to tighten-up his facts: - It was not the Graf Zeppelin, but rather the Hindenberg, which went down in flames at NAS Lakehurst; - Ford and Opel were semi-autonomus entites, Henry Ford I progressively degenerated with age from a progressive, to jew-baiter, senile crank. In the last 10 years, academic research (at least that which I saw) did not seem to hold the parent compaines in Detroit responsible for the actions of their subsidiaries; - I don't know if Schaeffler ever looked into, or took ownership of its past, but as mentioned above, Quandt never did (unlike Acolac, which pled guilty, under criminal prosecution.) The actions of Quandt's holdings (Varta Batterie et al.) under the NS regime were continually swept under the rug, until about a year ago when one of the cousins outed Herbert's family. The Family, in damage control mode, announced the establishment of a foundation to study the issue (presumably until even the descendents of the aggreived have passed away.) Finally, to those that wondered about the uses of hair, one of the uses, was as a sound-attenuation material in U-boats. And food for thought, in some of the camps that processed hair for industrial uses, there was also the processing of human flesh for tallow to be used the making of soap. And, in rebuke to Mr. Frankfurter, aside from the wholesale murder, enslavement, and forced work of the innocent, the likewise processing of their living flesh and human remains for industrial purposes can hardly be equated with the goings-on at Gitmo. To paraphras the movie Magnolia: "I was done with the past, but the past was not yet done with me."

  • Vozilka Vozilka on Mar 04, 2009
    @Robert.Walter : March 4th, 2009 at 1:35 pm And, in rebuke to Mr. Frankfurter, aside from the wholesale murder, enslavement, and forced work of the innocent, the likewise processing of their living flesh and human remains for industrial purposes can hardly be equated with the goings-on at Gitmo. You cannot compare the holocaust, the industrial extermination of unwanted by a fascist regime to anything going on today as this, and I fight for that, would illegally relatives the historically outstanding Nazi crime to which is no match. This I want to clarify without any fine-print or reservation. The Nazis where the worst of the worst - last slime. And the Nazis are in developed countries of historic interest only - besides in the USA where the Nazis are allowed to march in speepgoose step and can show the swatiska proudly on the open without being thrown in in the slammer in a second - the Nazis shown in Europe by US media are produced and paid for from elsewhere, often by religious fanatics from the other side of the river, they send the printed material swapping over as brown dirt from the US to Europe. We have a saying " be aware - never let that happen again - never forget" True - we have not to voice it, talk is cheap, but to live by it. And that leads to a big... Butt... and thats a very, very big but... ...that historic lesson does not lessens other crimes going on today in Gitmo, AbuGraib, thousands of known or unknown locations on land (think Diego Garcia) or US military vessels or friendly dictators countries to which the US either outsourced torture to show clean hands or does it in undisclosed locations in clandestine mode.

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