Continental Reveals It Was an “Important Part of Hitler’s War Machine”

The automotive company commissioned an independent study of its Nazi past

Piston ring production at the Continental Frankfurt plant in 1935
A photo of Continental's Frankfurt plant in 1935 found during the study.
Photo: Continental AG

We’re less than a week away from the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, yet the horrors of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime and the Holocaust are still being unearthed, sometimes voluntarily, other times not.

In the former category, today Continental released the findings of an independent academic study looking into the company’s Nazi ties, divulging that the German auto parts maker used around 10,000 slave laborers during WWII, including “concentration camp prisoners who were used in the production of gas masks and in the relocation of production underground.”

As The New York Times noted, “Such studies have become obligatory for German companies, which often used slave laborers, profited from the Nazi regime and took part in the persecution of European Jews.” The significance of Continental’s push for historical transparency is in its tardiness; as the Times added, companies like Volkswagen and Deutsche Bank revealed their Nazi connections years ago. But as we’ve seen with companies outside Germany, like IKEA, there are still more records that could shed light on the period.

“The study shows that Continental was an important part of Hitler’s war machine,” Dr. Elmar Degenhart, Continental CEO, said according to a press release. The part they played included transitioning from consumer goods to military parts, which were tested by concentration camp prisoners “who sometimes died as a result,” according to the Times.

However, one of the most significant findings, according to Continental, wasn’t the company’s direct role in the atrocities, but “how susceptible Continental’s corporate culture in general was to the Nazi ideology of a corporate community and the political-ideological goals of the Nazi regime.”

It calls to mind that oft-repeated maxim: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

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