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Everything seems to be justifiable

A prominent lecturer at the University of Leiden asked the attendees if we believed that invading privacy was justifiable when exposing the truth. After a long discussion, the majority agreed by accepting that invading privacy could be justified if the truth was to be exposed. With a smile on his face he continued and said: ‘I guess we all agree: in this world everything seems justifiable’.

After the lecture I found myself reading about Deutsche Bank and its complicity in the Nazi crimes and decided to apply the same exercise. Were the decisions of Deutsche Bank justifiable to the point of not considering them crimes?

After Adolf Hitler seized power, the first thing that Deutsche Bank did was dismissing its three Jewish board members. From then on, the bank would take part in the aryanization of Jewish-owned businesses (James, 2004), this meant “the expropriation of Jewish businesses, enterprises and property, by German authorities and their transfer to “aryan” ownership or control” (Jewish Virtual Library). According to its own historians, the bank was involved in 363 such confiscations by November 1938, undoubtedly profiting from the Jewish tragedy.

Additionally, the bank had been involved in appropriating assets of financial institutions in countries overrun by the Nazis, (Mattera, 2014), it provided banking facilities for the Gestapo and loaned the funds used to build the Auschwitz camp and the nearby IG Farben facilities. Deutsche Bank revealed its involvement in Auschwitz in February 1999. (Schmidt, 1999).

In accordance to reports originated from an investigation carried out by the US Office of Military Government, Deutsche Bank assigned some of its most talented officials to organize private sector profiteering from Nazi Aryanization of Jewish property. (Simpson, 2002). According to the post-war U.S. government investigation, the international departments of the bank—led most notably by Hermann Abs—took as its tasks money laundering for the Nazi Party and the SS, and gold smuggling and collecting intelligence on behalf of the regime. (Simpson, 2002). It exploited the German military conquest to absorb rival banks across Europe. (Simpson, 2002). The US investigative division also reported that the institution traded in hundreds of kilograms of concentration camp gold. (Simpson, 2002).

The bank assigned its most senior officers as liaisons with the SS and the Nazi Party. (Simpson, 2002) It was determined that Deutsche Bank had not only actively supported the Nazi regime but had also maintained close ties to officials such as SS chief Heinrich Himmler. (Mattera, 2014).

It is true that what Nazis did was horrible. I wouldn’t doubt on calling that a horrible crime today, but in the days of the Nazi regime, killing Jews or appropriating Jewish assets was not a crime. A crime is a wrong against society, proclaimed and punished by law. In the Nazi society and its laws the former was not a crime. On the contrary, it was welcomed.

The structure created by the Nazi State not only allowed, but more importantly, demanded that the structures of powers complied with the Nazi ideals. In this sense, the economic structure represented by the largest bank in Germany did not really have an option but to comply. Politically speaking it was impossible for the Deutsche Bank to disobey Nazis ‘requests’ without obtaining deadly reprisals in response. Economically speaking it was impossible for the bank to turn its back to the Nazis and look away, without welcoming its bankruptcy in times of war.

Soldiers fight the wars on foot and they kill in order to survive, corporations fight the wars through skillful and well-thought choices, meaning investing on those who seize the power and the opportunities to make money. A corporation ultimate goal is to make profit, if a corporation does not make profit it ‘dies’. Just like the soldier needs to kill in order to live, the corporations need to make decisions in order to make profit, sometimes those decisions are not morally accepted but are financially-savvy.

Simply put it, Deutsche Bank ensured its political and economic survival through the war years by providing financial support to the Nazi regime and removing the Jewish members of its board of directors. It was not a crime but a wise financial decision.

In a society where laws not only regulated but greeted a dual and vertical structure, where Jews were in the bottom of society and the Aryan Germans on top, the message sent to members of that society was that the order of things had changed and whether they liked it or not, if they were to survive the change, they had to comply. Deutsche Bank financed the Nazi regime not only because economically speaking it was the wise thing to do, but also because legally it was demanded. In conclusion in Nazi Germany what Deutsche Bank did was legal, and how can something legal be a crime?

Certainly, it seems that everything can be justifiable, and from that perspective, as the largest bank in Germany wouldn’t we have done the same?

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