The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest – David de Jong
The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest – David de Jong
A reckoning awaits some of Germany’s wealthiest families. They seized Jewish businesses, used slave labor, and maintained concentration camps. Yet the heirs of these dynasties fail to acknowledge their dark pasts. David de Jong joins host Charles Mizrahi to discuss how the patriarchs of the families controlling companies like Volkswagen and BMW became involved with the Third Reich — and why now is the time for transparency.
- An Introduction to David de Jong (00:00:00)
- Uncovered Secrets (00:01:47)
- Aryanizing Businesses (00:7:43)
- The Industrialists Meet Hitler (00:12:49)
- Germany’s Wealthiest Families (00:17:00)
- Sanitizing the Past (00:19:51)
- Why Now? (00:24:57)
David de Jong is a journalist and author. He previously covered European banking and finance for Bloomberg News. His work has also been featured in The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg Businessweek, and the Dutch Financial Daily. His debut book (below) explores how Germany’s biggest companies profited during the Third Reich.
Before You Leave:
DAVID DE JONG: It’s the billionaire branch of the Flicks. And they today maintain a foundation in the name of Friedrich Flick, convicted in the Nuremberg trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And they have never said anything about their patriarch’s past or their tainted fortune.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: My guest today is David de Jong. David is a journalist who covered European banking and finance for Bloomberg News. His latest book is Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties. In this landmark work of investigative journalism, David reveals the true story of how Germany’s wealthiest business dynasties amassed untold money and power by abetting the atrocities of the Third Reich. I recently sat down with David and we talked about how the brutal legacy of the dynasties that dominated Daimler-Benz, co-founded Allianz and still control Porsche, Volkswagen and BMW have remained hidden in plain sight until now.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: David, thanks so much for coming on the show. I really was looking forward to it, especially after reading your book, which was fantastic.
DAVID DE JONG: Thank you, Charles. I’m so happy to be here and I appreciate you having enjoyed the book so much.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yes, sadly I enjoyed it. That was a problem.
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, right. Exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: The name of the book is Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties. Before we even begin, you worked for Bloomberg, right?
DAVID DE JONG: Right, yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you’re working for Bloomberg. Investigative reporting is something that Bloomberg people do extremely well. Why did you pick this topic of trying to uncover Nazi billionaires and how the wealth that was stolen off the backs of slave labor, off of murder, is still around today? What drove you to come up with this book?
DAVID DE JONG: I feel that the topic picked me. When I started working at Bloomberg about a decade ago, I started working for this team which covered hidden fortunes, hidden wealth and billionaire fortunes. And even though I’m Dutch, I was hired as one of the American reporters. But because I’m Dutch, very soon … So, I started in New York 10 years ago, and very soon they asked me if I wanted to cover the German-speaking countries.
DAVID DE JONG: And that’s when I discovered how many of Germany’s leading families — the family that controlled BMW, Porsche, Audi, Daimler, but also brands like Mini, Rolls-Royce, Lamborghini, Bentley, you name it — almost every one of the non-American car brands and non-Asian ones had these horrific histories, or their patriarchs did during the Nazi era, that they were not being transparent about today.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When you say transparent, what do you mean by that? That they had all this wealth and they never disclosed where they got it from?
DAVID DE JONG: Well, that they maintain all these global foundations today in the name of “the savior” BMW, or the man who constructed the first Porsche car. And they were all celebrating his business successes, but they didn’t say he maintained a concentration camp, or he built this concentration camp in 1944. I think people could learn most from history by being transparent about it. You learn from the good and the bad, and that’s not what they do. They just show the good.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, you were shining a light. I don’t think there’s a book like this out there or close to it. There are a couple close to it, but I don’t think there’s one that went into the kind of research that you did. You speak and read German, so you had to go through tons of documents to find some of this right?
DAVID DE JONG: Yes. I spent four years in Berlin researching and writing. I left New York to move to Berlin and to research and write this book.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And you were mentioning to me when we spoke earlier that your grandmother, I believe it was, or your grandfather, was in the Holocaust in Denmark?
DAVID DE JONG: No. So, my grandparents from my father’s side were Jewish, and they were in the Netherlands. And my grandmother was Swiss, and she fled with my aunt together with another companion to the French-Swiss border during the war, where they were arrested by a Gestapo officer. And he took pity on my grandmother and my aunt, and let them go. But their companion was deported to Sobibor and murdered in an extermination camp.
DAVID DE JONG: And my grandfather, he hid in Amsterdam for three and a half years after the Nazis occupied his textile factories at the Dutch-German border. And for my mother’s side, the Christian or the non-Jewish side, my grandfather tried to sail to England in 1941 to join the Royal Air Force together to with his best friend. And the second time, their sailboat flew back to shore and they were arrested by German soldiers. And they were convicted as political prisoners. And they were convicted to two years doing forced labor in Germany. My grandfather was 6′ 7″, and when he came out, he weighed 90 pounds.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Wow.
DAVID DE JONG: So, when I was asked also at Bloomberg to cover this a decade ago, I was very reluctant. I was kind of reluctant because, as a native Dutchman, I’m probably the last of my generation which had this antagonism against the Germans because of my grandparents surviving the war. And luckily, all four of them survived. It’s a miracle that I’m here today. But it was a playful antagonism, and my grandfather would always quip, he said: “Don’t take the Germans too seriously, because they take themselves so seriously.” But I came to take them very seriously once I started diving into this subject.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK. So, let’s put everything in a bigger perspective. During the Third Reich, 1933 to 1945, many of Germany’s industrialists were partners with the Third Reich. You had a government that was supplying you free labor. They were making enormous amounts of money. And the Nazis also implemented the Aryanization of businesses. Could you speak to that?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, absolutely. So, what happened once Hitler seized power in 1933 is anti-Semitic laws became codified. And especially in 1935, with the implementation of the Nuremberg Race Laws. Incrementally, these decrees were issued that Jews, in Germany and later in Nazi-occupied territories, could no longer owned businesses, could no longer earn a livelihood. Their assets were taken from them step by step.
DAVID DE JONG: First, it was their business. Then, it was their homes. Then, it was their lands, then it was jewelry, then it was art, et cetera. So, both by the government that was in power and the bureaucrats set that exerted these laws, as well as businessmen willing —and most were willing — to coerce or forcibly take over the livelihood of Jewish business owners.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, the Aryanization of a business is if you were a Jewish businessman and you own this business, you now have to do what?
DAVID DE JONG: Well. So Aryanization is removing the Jewish element of an asset — which is the horrific definition of it. So, whether there was a business or land or a house, it was removing the element of Jewish ownership from that asset. As the repression was growing, people had to leave. Before they started stripping their German citizenship, people were trying desperately to get out. They had to sell their businesses or they were forced out. And this, of course, had the veneer of a normal business transaction, right? But people would say, if the nominal value of somebody’s shares were 3000 Reichsmark. They said: “We’ll give it to you for the nominal value, but not for the market value, because you’re not going to get that anywhere.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: The nominal value being extremely, extremely low.
DAVID DE JONG: Exactly, extremely low. So, we’ll buy you out at what you bought it for.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Pennies on the dollar.
DAVID DE JONG: Exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, now you had a lot of industrialists — and we’ll go through a couple of big families now — that their fortunes are still out in the open or hiding in plain sight, that your book is shedding light on, that took advantage of this by taking over Jewish businesses after the war. I think it was 1960 when they had compensation back to the Jewish Council. They did not pay, or really just dragged their feet, held them up in court and never compensated the original Jewish owners. And that was one aspect. And the other aspect is the concentration camp labor, the slave labor, the workforce that the Nazis supplied, and the industrialists being not only aware, but in partnership with. Is that right?
DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely. I mean, Nazi Germany’s entire economy was retooled into a war economy. And once Germany invaded Poland in 1939 — and this especially ramped up once Germany invades the Soviet Union in 1941 — all the German men are enlisted, of the able-bodied, and you have millions and millions of people who were rounded up across Nazi-occupied Europe and were deported to Germany to be used as forced and slave labor.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let’s take a step back to the beginning, because what your book shed light on — which I never read anywhere else — is Hitler’s rise and the way the Nazi Party, the National Socialist Party, needed money in the beginning because they’re virtually bankrupt. And Goebbels — the propaganda man who become the second most powerful person under Hitler in Nazi Germany — was living off his wife’s money and they had no money. So, I think it was 1931 or 1932, I remember the exact year, the Nazis start putting people — industrialists — in front of Hitler to raise money. Could you speak to that?
DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely, yes. So, in 1930, you have the first time that the Nazi Party really has a massive electoral success. But Hitler doesn’t have any ties to businessmen like he does now, because most businessmen at that point are completely weary of Hitler. They want establishment. They want your regular conservatives in power. So, he asked his economic adviser: “What shall we do?” And they start inviting businessmen to Berlin, to this hotel, where Hitler starts courting them — with mixed results still, at this point.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Let’s just put one thing in context. We’re dealing with 1929, the Depression. And these rich German industrialists … I didn’t realize the cross-ownership of so many industries within just a few people’s hands. They were looking for someone who was going to keep the communists out, get the economy back on its feet and to preserve their enormous amounts of wealth.
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah. And of course, they were completely rattled by October 1929, by Black Tuesday and the wiping out of much of their wealth. A lot of it was tied up in the U.S. bonds and the U.S. stock market, as well as in Germany. But they were mostly rattled by the fact that Germany at the time was a volatile place, that the communists and socialists were vying. They wanted stability. They first saw the Nazis as these garish, boorish people from the German hinterlands. They laughed about them, like uniformed curiosities. But as soon as Hitler seizes power, the attitude changes.
DAVID DE JONG: And the meeting you’re referring to is three weeks after Hitler seizes power. Twenty-four of Germany’s most powerful industrialists, financiers and executives are invited to the residence of the parliamentary president. And on the invite, it says Hitler is going to explain his economic policies. But in fact, they’re invited there to basically pony up, to pay into a parliamentary election slush fund. And Hitler promises them that the election of March 5, 1933 will be the last election held in the next 100 years in Germany. Then, by the time that election happens, the parliament has been the famous Reichstag fire happens. So, the elections are a sham and a few weeks later, Hitler consolidates his power and becomes the Führer.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so now just touch on some of the industrialists of brand names that we know today, the patriarchs, the founders of these families, that are not only there, but through their full support to the Nazi Party and after the war, many of them disavowed what they said, but they actually said that they were 100% committed to the party and everything the Nazis were doing. So just give us a couple of names and brands that we would know.
DAVID DE JONG: Sure. So, the main family is the Quandt Dynasty, of which two members today control near majority over BMW. And their patriarch Günter Quandt was married, actually, his second marriage was to Margaret Goebbels — the woman who later became Margaret Goebbels. Then there’s the Flicks, who today only run their private wealth, but their patriarch was convicted at Nuremberg. During the Third Reich, he controlled Germany’s largest steel, coal and weapons conglomerate — privately held. He got convicted in Nuremberg. His sentence was commuted by the US. He gets out and within a decade, he’s the controlling shareholder of Daimler-Benz.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Mercedes-Benz.
DAVID DE JONG: Exactly. Daimler-Benz was the company that produced Mercedes. It’s now called Daimler, but by the time it was renamed Daimler, they didn’t control it anymore. Third, there’s the von Finck family, which is an aristocratic family which co-founded Alliance and Munich Re — two of the largest insurers and reinsurers in the world today. And they also owned his private bank called Merk Finck. The fourth family is the Porsche and Piech family, which today controls the Volkswagen Group — which is the largest car company in the world. And they control brands such as Porsche, Volkswagen, Audi, Bentley, Lamborghini, and they’re actually preparing to do a huge IPO. They’re going to spin off Porsche from the Volkswagen Group and list it separately. It’s going to be one of the biggest IPOs of 2022. And their patriarch’s very known. Porsche — which is quite a well-known story — developed the Volkswagen. Basically pitched to Hitler to develop the Volkswagen, the people’s car. And then the Volkswagen actually barely gets constructed. But instead the Volkswagen factory that he leads together with his son in law becomes a place where you have mass weapons production, and tens of thousands of forced and slave labor are used.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so now the patriarch of BMW, Daimler-Benz, Allianz, Munich Re, Audi, Porsche, which owns all the other brands … Your book is not telling us anything new in the sense that we knew that these patriarchs had Nazi ties. This is 1950s, it was pretty known. But what you bring to light is that these companies are, I wouldn’t say whitewashing, how would you describe what they’re doing to their past?
DAVID DE JONG: I would partly say whitewashing. In a sense, they’re leaving out part of the history. I’m in favor of radical transparency because people learn from history by being radically transparent. Personally, I’m not in favor of renaming. I think that’s a politically correct way of whitewashing. You learn from history by saying somebody was successful in business. OK, sure. But part of his business success was acquiring companies stolen from Jews and constructing and dismantling a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland, by overseeing a factory with, among other people, 500 female slave laborers from concentration camps. I mean, that’s a way to not whitewash it through global foundations because I do think … Today, you have the Herbert Quandt BMW Foundation, which has inspired responsible leadership. And the only reason that he inspired responsible leadership is because he saved BMW from bankruptcy in 1959. And that to me, is perverse. If you really want to inspire responsible leadership, you say: “Well, he saved BMW from bankruptcy in 1959. But he also committed war crimes during the Third Reich, and he was a Nazi Party member.”
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And so, even though many of these patriarchs died in the 1970s and 1980s, mostly. And by the way — which is just shocking when I’m reading this — back in the 1980s, you had some founders, that were members of the Nazi Party and SS officers, all becoming billionaires. 1970, this is not ancient history. Friedrich Flick, August von Fink, Herbert Quandt and Rudolf August Oetker made up West Germany’s top four wealthiest businessmen in descending order, and all were former members of the Nazi Party and profiteers. And one of them was a voluntary Waffen-SS officer, and they all become billionaires. So you’re talking 35 years after the end of the war.
DAVID DE JONG: Twenty-five years.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: But even further, you keep going on where the banking industry, head of Deutsche Bank at the time … Was it the Deutsche Bank? You had so many great names in here. Was a Nazi also? Was it Deutsche Bank?
DAVID DE JONG: I mean, yeah, the chairman of Deutsche Bank at the time, I don’t think he ever became a member of the Nazi Party, but he was called the linchpin of plunder during the Third Reich. And he ends up becoming West Germany’s most powerful financier. There’s also, if you’ve read David Enrich’s Dark Towers, he’s also referenced in there. His name is Hermann Joseph Abs and he distances himself, but he becomes omnipresent. He was omnipresent in the Third Reich, but he becomes far more powerful in West Germany. And he works together with the Quandts and the Flicks. He’s the chairman of Deutsche Bank. He runs Deutsche Bank for many, many decades and he’s on the board of BMW, of Daimler-Benz. He was basically on 30 or 40 boards. He is really the most powerful man together with the Flicks and Quandts in postwar Germany, I would say up until late 1980s, up until the German reunification. So for like 45 years.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so now my question to you is … These patriarchs are gone. The businesses still stand, but the families are, in many cases, not even involved, or maybe they have some shares, but not controlling shareholders. Well, in some cases. In some cases, they’ve taken their money and left. But it’s not the same people, or it’s their grandchildren or their children.
DAVID DE JONG: Right. Exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: OK, so my question to you is this: What is your reason for shining a light on these people and their fortunes and these companies? If the war was 75 years ago, 77 years ago, not the same people still around anymore, why not let bygones be bygones?
DAVID DE JONG: Because you see, many examples are provided, they’re still covering it up. That’s what pushed me to write this book — to shine a light on this history. You know, many of these stories are known in Germany, but they’re not known to a global audience.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And if a global audience finds out that … We see with this MeToo movement in the past couple of years, calling out people for sexual innuendoes that they did when they were 17 and now they’re 72, you know, those kind of things — not right or wrong, it’s just different parts of people’s lives. But be that as it may, what do you think the repercussions will be if these are found out through your book and the companies are pressed to answer for this? What do you think is going to happen? Is there going to be a forcing … something on social media? Don’t do business with Daimler?
DAVID DE JONG: No, I wouldn’t argue for a boycott, no. I’m arguing for transparency. Acknowledge, be transparent, say that Ferry Porsche applied to the SS in 1938, was voluntarily admitted in 1941 as an SSofficer, surrounded himself in the 1950s and 1960s with high ranking SS officers, some who were sentenced to death and whose sentences were commuted. And in the late 1970s, in his first autobiography, Ferry Porsche spews virulently anti-Semitic vitriol about his Jewish co-founder, Adolf Rosenberger, who was bought out of the company at nominal value of the shares and was erased in Porsche company history.
DAVID DE JONG: Today, there’s a Ferry Porsche Foundation — which is financing shares of corporate history in Germany. And there’s nothing about Ferr Porsche. The only thing it says is Ferry Porsche invented the first Porsche car. But if you’re going to finance shares in corporate history anywhere in the world, but particularly in Germany, you should be transparent on your website that he was an SS officer, that he was voluntarily applied to the SS, that he surrounded himself with SS men in the 1950s and 1960s and that he also said the most horrific anti-Semitic things about the Porsche co-founder, who was erased from company history. That’s what I’m arguing for.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Have you approached these companies?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, of course I did. I had elaborate back-and-forths, particularly with Porsche.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And what did they respond to what you just said?
DAVID DE JONG: Well, they dodge. They say the only explanation for Ferry Porsche saying these anti-Semitic things about Porsche’s co-founder was because he was angry about a business conflict that emerged after World War II.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: They whitewash, right? They just go over it and whitewash it. Just try to smooth it out as best they can and then they move it on. Is that more or less what they’re doing to you?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, I think so. I think BMW and Porsche are the most blatant examples of this, because they have global foundations that they’re doing global philanthropy in the name of men who did evil and not being transparent about the evil. I’m not saying rename it because, as I said before, I think renaming is a politically correct form of whitewashing in and of itself. I said be transparent about it. That’s when people learn from history.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Mm hmm. So, what I found so interesting in your book is like, Quandt, for example, even when they had an opportunity to make good, for example, I think it was the Jewish Council for compensation of some sort…
DAVID DE JONG: Yes. Yeah, exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: In 1960. Not only did he not write a check, but he had lawyers defend him. He stalled, and these are people whose livelihoods, businesses and fortunes were taken away by a stroke of a pen and appropriated to him.
DAVID DE JONG: Indeed. Yeah. I mean, the companies … And Friedrich Flick — who was then the controlling shareholder of Daimler-Benz — was the largest private profiteer in the Third Reich of Aryanizations. He took over massive brown coal assets in Germany, and he litigated it for 15 years and actually ended up getting compensated by the German government for the assets that he gave up in an asset swap, in order to Aryanize one of these companies. I mean, you just can’t make it up.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: That’s adding insult to injury. It was staggering his compensation for stealing, just amazing. I remember reading somewhere that one of the ways of coming up with valuations is that the goodwill of a business in the shares is counted to zero. So, that’s like buying Coca-Cola’s business now and taking their 40 or 50 — I don’t how much they have on their books — of goodwill and erasing it to zero. So you’re basically buying carbonated water with syrup. So this was unfair. This was unjust. There is no veneer of justice in any of this.
DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely not. No. And another practice they did was that the Nazi government or the Nazi Ministry of Finance would make up random back taxes and it would go as high as a quarter billion Reichsmark in order to be able to say: “We’re going to take your business because you have 300 million in back taxes” — which are just completely fabricated.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: When I was reading that, you could have been writing it about Putin right now, what he did with a lot of these companies, in Browder’s book Red Notice. He just destroyed … I believe he just came out with another book.
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, he came out last week with a sequel.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, and how his lawyer was killed in prison.
DAVID DE JONG: Yes, Sergei Magnitsky.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And we have the Magnitsky amendment because of that.
DAVID DE JONG: In the U.S., exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So, here you have a situation where history doesn’t repeat itself, exactly, but it sure as heck rhymes.
DAVID DE JONG: It does. What happened with the Russian oligarchs, of course, in the wild west of Russia of the 1990s, they got this cash for shares exchange. They ended up getting stakes in some of Russia’s largest companies. And they consolidated this power when Putin seized power from Yeltsin in 2000, by doing this devil’s bargain with Putin, where they said: “Well, you’re basically holding part of these assets in my name, or you’re basically my straw man. And you can present a face of Russia to the outside world. You can buy soft power, buy Chelsea Soccer Club, et cetera. And you can enjoy your wealth, you can enjoy your riches, as long as you remain loyal to me.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And any time you weren’t loyal to Putin, all of a sudden you woke up one morning and you were arrested for back taxes, fraud or embezzlement. All these charges that were fabricated in order to get back. But I think the main difference here and correct me if I’m wrong, David, is that Germany had private businesses. With the Soviet Union, it was the state. So, there they were stealing the state. Here, they were destroying people’s lives and everything they built. And many Jewish families over centuries have built humongous businesses which were stolen. And what happened to them is, in many cases, they were killed or they were murdered or they left the country, but their wealth disappeared.
DAVID DE JONG: I give one example in the book of the von Finck family — the one that co-founded Allianz in Munich Re — where the patriarch is asked by Hitler to fundraise for a museum, a pet project that he has in Munich. He does that, he fundraises about 20 million from his fellow industrialists and financiers. And as a thank you, he gets to Aryanize two private banks, one of them in Vienna — which is the Rothschilds’, the branch of the Austrian Rothschild family — and he Aryanizes it, and it’s never reconstituted. He ends up fleeing to the U.S. And there is no Austrian Rothschild branch anymore.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: So how was Germany dealing with their past … Well, let me rephrase. When this book builds up traction and gets out there … And just for our listeners, we’re recording this a short time before the book is going to be on sale, so we don’t know what the impact would be from this book. But I’m sure there’s going to be press releases in corporate offices throughout Germany responding to this and hopefully in some way maybe coming to some resolution. But how is Germany dealing with this? The German government, the German people, who have seen this up close and personal for the past 20 to 30 years?
DAVID DE JONG: I think Germany did not reckon with any of it until the late 1960s, or didn’t start the reckoning process until the late 1960s and early 1970s. And I would say overall, Germany has done … I mean, they’re never going to be able to live it down, but they’ve done a good job, I would say, for most aspects of society. To reckon with it, to have a good remembrance culture, to be reflective of the crimes that their fathers, grandfathers and whomever, for sympathies they may have had, and the murder of their fellow people and many other Europeans.
DAVID DE JONG: But to me, these business executive families, many of the examples that I provide are the exception. It is, of course, also because these heirs have inherited everything. It’s not that they built anything up, so it’s their fathers and grandfathers built up their entire fortune. So their entire identity is, of course, completely in the shadow of their fathers and grandfathers. Who are they without them? Because they did not create any of it.
DAVID DE JONG: Furthermore, they have billion-dollar brands and fortunes that are on the line, that need to be protected at all costs. So the reckoning that ends up happening is not with the victims of their crimes or their heirs. It is with their fellow Germans who, again, were not the victims. These stories thus far have been contained to Germany and as has been the reckoning.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah. In the end of the book, the epilog, you have the museum. And you talk about how you flew to Tel Aviv to visit your German girlfriend for a week. Could you just share that with us?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, absolutely. Actually, we’ve moved now — or I’m about to move to Tel Aviv. But my partner, who is German, moved there already. And last year I flew there. And it was actually a friend of a friend of mine from New York, Max Abelson, who recommended me to go to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I had just spent years researching this subject. And then you suddenly see this plaque with the German friends of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and two of the heirs of the main families are on the plaque of this museum in Israel.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Which are the Quandt family.
DAVID DE JONG: Right, the Quandts and the Flicks. It’s not a branch of the Quandts that controls BMW, it’s a branch of the Quandts that stems from Magda Goebbels, whose grandmother was Magda Goebbels. And they’ve actually done a reasonably good job at the reckoning as opposed to the BMW cousins. But it’s the billionaire branch of the Flicks and they today maintain a foundation in the name of Friedrich Flick, convicted in the Nuremberg trials for war crimes and crimes against humanity. And they have never said anything about their patriarchs past or their tainted fortune. Furthermore, you have a foundation named after a convicted Nazi war criminal sitting on the foundation board of one of Germany’s most prestigious universities.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: You write: “Friedrich Karl, who like his father, refused to ever pay compensation to any of the tens of thousands of people used as forced labor or slave labor at Flick factories and mines. Thousands died there, many of them Jews brought in from concentration camps. Friedrich Karl took his billions and fled to Austria, leaving the family’s ghosts for his niece and nephews to publicly reckon with.”
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, and Friedrich Karl’s widow, Ingrid, today chairwoman of the Friedrich Flick Foundation, has never uttered anything. There’s never been one public word about any of it. And has never paid compensation either. So she’s just continuing the line of her father in law and her late husband.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah. You write here that when you saw these German names, these German families are spelt in Hebrew, the word you used in German was “unheimlich.”
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, exactly.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Eerie. So, it’s interesting how Israel has dealt with this back in the 1950s, when West Germany was going to pay compensation, how then a member of Knesset — Menachem Begin — almost brought down the government. There was almost a civil war in Israel when Ben-Gurion was being very practical — who was the prime minister — and says: “We need that money, we need those reparations.” And Begin said: “How much are you going to give me for a Jewish life? My father, my mother, my family was killed. How much is their blood worth?” And they were looking very practically, Ben-Gurion and his party, and Begin said no. But Israel had to do the pragmatic thing at the time.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: And look, Germany has been a very strong supporter and friend of Israel since its founding. So, do you think when this gains more traction, hopefully, that we might see a change in attitude among these heirs of these billionaires? That’s not fessing up, but trying to come to terms with, or come to grips with, their terrible past by creating foundations, charities or at the minimum, you’re just looking for acknowledgment.
DAVID DE JONG: I mean, there’s a modicum of acknowledgment in some of these family, actually in very few. But but even that … You know, it has to be an honest coming to terms with the past, not one that protects their own business interests. But an honest one. And one that is transparent. As I said, renaming is not the way to go. Transparency is the way to go. You let people learn about history, and that’s the way one should do it.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah. Well, I really hope that you hit half your goals because this is a cold splash of water in the face for many of these, because I think in the beginning of the book, you talk about one of the errors of I think the Quandt family. Was the Quandt family in the beginning with the young girl?
DAVID DE JONG: No, Bahlsen. It’s a very famous cookie dynasty in Germany.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: It was very flippant as to piss off. She was young, well, I think, 30s or 20s, whatever it might be.
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, she’s now 30.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Yeah, 30. And it was like, and correct me if I’m wrong, you want to change those attitudes, right?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, I do. I want people who have power and influence to have a reflection on this in Germany. Because I want to see their businesses flourish, I want to see them all doing great — the next generation, my generation. But I want them to be reflective on the topic, and I want them to know about the topic. I don’t want it to be swept under the rug.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Right, which they’ve been doing the past 75 years, pretty successfully. Yeah. All right, David. Outstanding work. When I started reading this, I said to myself: “My gosh.” Because this is not all put together in a folio for you. You had to probably dig in records and just the way the corporate structure is in many of these German companies with directors and boards — I think a lot of that’s illegal in United States. They’re sitting on 14 different boards, controlling three different companies. My hat’s off to you and how you dug through tons of paper documents to figure out this whole labyrinth of corporate structure, which is really amazing.
DAVID DE JONG: Thank you, Charles. I appreciate it. It took me four years. I left Bloomberg to write this book and I dedicated four years of my life to it. I did it every day with joy. I mean, not with joy, because joy is not the right word, but I did it every day with determination. I felt invigorated every day to do it. And I’m delighted to show it to the world.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Outstanding. The name of the book, folks, is Nazi Billionaires: The Dark History of Germany’s Wealthiest Dynasties. This is your first book, right David?
DAVID DE JONG: It is. Yeah, it’s my debut.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Like I told you on the phone before we met, I don’t think anyone else has that title. That’s going to stand out at the airport bookstores.
DAVID DE JONG: Thank you. That’s the goal.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: Do you have any other books planned or are you going to take a little time off now?
DAVID DE JONG: Yeah, I’m moving to Israel. I’m going to be working as a Middle East correspondent. No time off, I love working. So now I’m going to move continents, move to Tel Aviv. A lot going on there at the moment, and I’m going to be covering the Middle East.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: For Bloomberg?
DAVID DE JONG: No, actually. I’m going to be writing in Dutch for the very first time for the Dutch Financial Times. Yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: For the Dutch edition?
DAVID DE JONG: Exactly, yeah.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: How about that? Wow. Excellent. Outstanding, David. Lots of luck to you and all the power. And I hope this book has the impact that you were planning on every day when you were drudging through these thousands and thousands of documents. I really do because I think it’s a part of history that, if we don’t learn from it and we don’t fess up to it, it will repeat itself and in some form.
DAVID DE JONG: Absolutely. I couldn’t agree with you more, Charles.
CHARLES MIZRAHI: All right, David. Thanks so much, man.
DAVID DE JONG: Thank you. Appreciate it.
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