In This Review

Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties
Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties
By David De Jong
Mariner Books, 2022, 400 pp

Many German businesspeople supported the rise of Hitler, exploited forced labor during World War II, thrived in a Cold War West Germany that needed their skills and wealth, and passed on that wealth to new generations that prosper in Germany today. These include the owners of firms such as BMW, Daimler (then Daimler-Benz), IG Farben, Siemens, and ThyssenKrupp (formerly Krupp). De Jong, a journalist who specializes in such topics, provides a readable overview of this trajectory. Importantly, he underlines the decisive facilitating role that business interests often play in bringing populist authoritarians to power. Yet he seems unconcerned with this. Instead, he frames the book as a sensational and original investigation that shows that the Germans have not fully reckoned with their past. Nothing could be further from the truth. For three-quarters of a century, Germans have been debating the abiding prominence of private businesses that thrived under the Nazis and persisted in postwar Germany. These very companies have sponsored independent academic histories of their past. German high schools and universities teach this history routinely. Older generations of owners have been replaced by younger generations whose members support modern Germany’s relatively moderate, even pacific, foreign policy. If only the elites of other countries had so fully internalized the grim lessons of their history.