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Reparations in Europe, How About the US?

Jerry Henderson, the election expert just back from Bosnia, sent in a few press clippings appearing in the European press.  In his accompanying letter, Jerry notes, “It is interesting that the issue of slave labor is now on the front burner in Europe.   You may want to do something with these articles in relationship to the research you did for the articles on reparations.”   Following Jerry’s suggestion, we give you this:

From The International Herald Tribune, September 13, 1998 p.18. “Volkswagen establishes $12 Million Fund for Nazi-Era Victims” (Los Angeles Times) Berlin – With its announcement Friday of a $12 million Private Relief Fund, automotive giant Volkswagen became the first German company to accept a moral obligation to compensate Nazi-era slave laborers. VW, Europe’s biggest car maker, cast it decision as a voluntary humanitarian gesture rather than a legal obligation, saying it was “morally called upon” to redress the wrongs of the company’s World War II forerunner.  Last month, Holocaust survivors filed two lawsuits in New York seeking back wages for wartime slave labor from some of Germany’s leading industrial giants, including VW, Siemens, Daimler-Benz and BMW.  “We are satisfied with this decision, as it should accelerate other out-of-court settlements” between German companies and their surviving wartime slaves, said Klaus von Muenchhausen, who represents 150 Nazi victims with various claims against German companies. Von Muenchhausen has pressed and won claims in district courts in Bremen and Bonn on behalf of other slave laborers over the past two years.  He contends that those cases established a legal precedent that companies that used workers enslaved by the Nazis individually are obliged to make restitution even though the German federal government has paid out 100 billion marks, or about $59 billion, in war reparations. “Many companies have said they would pay if a general fund was created,” said Von Muenchhausen.

(From The Wall Street Journal Europe, September 16, 1998 p. 10 excerpted from  Eric Peters’ column.)  “The industrial companies of Germany played and integral role in the Holocaust,” said Mr. Fagan (an attorney) whose suit also names Daimler-Benz, BMW, Audi and five non-automotive corporations.  “They masterminded and implemented with the Nazi regime a conspiracy to purposely enslave and exploit Holocaust victims and to profit from the Holocaust.’ All of that is true enough.  Just as the Confederate States of American practices chattel slavery, just as the U.S. government repeatedly abrogated lawful treaties made with sovereign American Indian tribes and stole their land.  But that was a long time ago and the principals are all dead. What happened was indeed tragic, cruel, and grossly, maliciously iniquitous.  But what has that to do with people born years after the fact-or companies whose only connection to their predecessors of half a century ago is a name on a corporate logo? The Volkswagen of the Third Reich died with Hitler in April 1945.  Its factories in Wolfburg lay in ruins….It’s one thing to demand that Swiss banks-intact corporate entities before, during and after the war-be made to account for their activities during the war. (OTP emphasis)  But as for VW and the other German industrial concerns of today, their sins died with the empire they served.”

And finally, this from the January 1998 issue of Our Time Press:

 “Stolen Land Stolen Labor -The Case
for Reparations: America’s Real Debt.”


By 1856 the advertised prices for European-owned African-Americans on one document of that time ranged from a high of $2,700 for Anderson, a “No.1 bricklayer and mason,” and $1,900 for George, a “No. 1 Blacksmith,” to $750 for Reuben, even though he was labeled “unsound.”  (See Railroad Contractor’s Credit Sale document of a choice gang of 41 slaves.)   The average cost for this lot of people was  $1,488.   As a second reference for this number, we can look at the chart for the cost of Prime Field Hands, and find that it is pretty accurate.   By multiplying the census count of slaves by the average advertised price, we arrive at a value of $5.3 billion ($5,327,079,968).    This may not look like a lot of money now, but compare it to other figures of the day.  The National Wealth Estimate for the entire nation in 1856 was $12.3 billion ($12,396,000,000).  [Note:  All figures, come from Tables in the cited U.S. Bureau of the Census publication]  Total Bank Savings Deposits in 1856 was $95.6 million.  Manhattan Island, Land and Buildings, was worth only $900 million dollars, less than one-fifth of the value invested in African-Americans.  The 1855 total capital and property investment in railroads was only $763.6 million dollars.   Why the $5 billion dollar investment in slaves?   In 1859, the total private production income was $4,098,000,000 ($4 billion).  Of this total, labor-intensive industries like “agriculture” and “transportation and communication,” accounted for $1,958 million (1.9 billion),   Almost one-half the total private income… The money earned from this investment found its way into a variety of banking institutions, which increased from 506 in 1834 to 1,643 in 1865.  Many of the names remain familiar to this day:  The Bank of New York Company, Inc. – founded 1784,  Fleet National Bank – 1791, Chase Manhattan Corporation – 1799, Citicorp/Citibank N.A. -1812 , The Dime Savings Bank – 1859.    As banks in King Cottons’ “chief American market, that of New York,” it is inconceivable that these institutions, and through them the nation, did not benefit from the profits made on a slaves’ wages.   Their business then, as it is now, was to be a source of funds to build empires in a variety of industries, across the continent, to make land purchases, upgrade equipment, save to send children to college, etc.   Railroads could be built using a combination of slave labor and loans taken at banks that held money on deposit from the cotton/slave industry.   Money was also paid to a variety of people who, while not slave-owners themselves, were “in the loop” of payments for goods and services.  Thus were assets being used to develop the country for the benefit of Europeans and their heirs.  The nation as a whole benefited, and that’s why the nation as a whole should pay.
If Mr. Peters of the Wall Street Journal Europe, supports the notion of Swiss banks being accountable because they remained corporately intact through the holocaust and beyond, then perhaps he also supports the notion that the banks just listed be held accountable for the monies earned from chattel slavery.  After all, Slavery only ended 75 years before the Holocaust they speak of here.   
Additionally, unlike wartime corporations dying and new ones springing up here in the States, many corporations can be found that directly owe the building of their foundations to the work of slave labor.   The push for reparations for the African American community must go forward.         DG

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