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© The Boston Globe 2001.  Used by permission.
The Secret History of World War II

by Mark Fritz / Globe Staff / May 31, 2001

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Since then, dozens of similar class-action suits have been filed against corporations ranging from Ford Motor Co. to IBM to virtually every German concern that was in business back in the day of the Gestapo. The declassification drive has created a cottage industry for lawyers and historians who are being hired by both sides of the docket to comb the National Archives and figure out what wrongs might have been committed by some previous corporate management.

Army Second Lieutenant Alexander Nininger Jr. was killed in action in 1942.

The least successful interest group is comprised of American civilians and soldiers interned by the Japanese, who used prisoners for Judo practice, frivolously lethal medical experiments, and torture. Their creative ways to be cruel ranged from shoving bamboo splinters under a prisoner's fingernails to forcing a water hose down a missionary's throat until he inflated like a water balloon - a perfect target for a punch to the stomach.

''Japanese crimes were horrific, maybe worse than what the Germans did, especially in regard to medical experimentation,'' said Eli Rosenbaum, chief Nazi hunter for the US Justice Department and a member of the Interagency Working Group on Nazi and Japanese War Crimes, the panel formed to oversee the biggest declassification of American espionage files in history.

Focus criticized

The commission of historians, military experts, and sundry public servants has taken some heat for spending the first two years of its existence chasing the last records of Nazi war crimes, a task that continues to produce piecemeal revelations about how widely US intelligence employed former Nazis in its spy games with the Soviet Bloc.

Now, aided by auditing teams with high-security clearances, the group has begun submitting requests to the intelligence community for files on Japanese war crimes. ''We need names,'' Rosenbaum said.

US Representative Carolyn B. Maloney, a New York Democrat and one of the sponsors of the Nazi War Crimes Disclosure Act, said the commission will also ask the Japanese government to do something it has resisted: open the intelligence records that the United States seized after winning the war, then returned as a friendly gesture in the 1950s.

''I think there is a lot in there,'' Rosenbaum said. ''My office has been trying for years to get those records. The US government's position is that the [1951] treaty settled legal questions. But the position of our office is that friendly nations assist each other in law enforcement matters. Japan is the only country on the planet that has not cooperated.''

Tokyo has opened many of its records, though it kept sealed biographical dossiers on war criminals who were previously convicted or implicated, said Satoru Satoh, spokesman for the Japanese Embassy in Washington. ''The government cannot offer any information which is disadvantageous to them,'' he said.

As for reparations, a treaty clause does relieve Japan of further liability, but another section says it has to up its ante to American internees - who got a dollar for each day of captivity - if it makes more favorable settlements with other countries. Japan has in recent times offered better deals to other Asian nations it exploited.

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