Venture capitalist Thomas Perkins, not to be confused with the equally befuddled, dishonest, and hyperbolic Religious Right figure, compared, in a letter to the editor of The Wall Street Journal, America’s 1 percent to the Jews of Nazi Germany:
Writing from the epicenter of progressive thought, San Francisco, I would call attention to the parallels of fascist Nazi Germany to its war on its ‘one percent,’ namely its Jews, to the progressive war on the American one percent, namely the ‘rich.’
In a time when the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer, when the unemployed are denied unemployment benefits and the sick are denied medical care and everyone is denied a job, Perkins wrote of “a rising tide of hatred of the successful one percent,” He claimed, “In the Nazi area it was racial demonization, now it is class demonization.”
Perkins concluded that, “This is a very dangerous drift in our American thinking. Kristallnacht was unthinkable in 1930; is its descendent ‘progressive’ radicalism unthinkable now?”
From this, you would expect the 1 percent to be thrown into concentration camps almost immediately. But nothing could be further from the truth, and the parallels with Nazi thinking are nonexistent. Perkins, not to put too fine a point on it, lied through his teeth.
Actually, Adolf Hitler and the National Socialist Party were eager to climb into bed with the German 1 percent, other than rich Jews, of course, whose money could simply be confiscated later. In fact, it has been argued that without support from rich German industrialists, Hitler would never have risen to power in 1933. And not only did Hitler have financial supporters in Germany but in the United States.
Hitler’s confident and friend Ernst Hanfstaengl recalled later how in the early days of the Nazi movement, he brought Hitler into contact with “national-minded wealthy business men” and “national-minded Bavarian industrialists.” He notes also that Hitler was involved with the Bruckmanns, whom he described as “big publishers in Munich” and that Elsa Bruckmann “made something of a protégé of Hitler.” The Bechstein family, the piano makers, also took an interest in Hitler. The Party was also subsidized by the Germany army in Bavaria, which was looking for allies against the communists.
Another close acquaintance of Hitler, his photographer Heinrich Hoffmann, wrote that when Hitler left Landsberg prison he had not even “a farthing” in his pocket but that one of his “most ardent supporters, a wealthy member of famous aristocratic family and the wife of a highly respected businessman, arranged a personal office for him and furnished it with furniture of her own…”
Hitler’s press chief, Otto Dietrich, wrote in his memoirs that “Hitler addressed captains of industry for the first time in 1926 in my home town of Essen.” By the end of the 1920s, Hitler was not only receiving the support of German monarchists and the German aristocracy (“these were people from the right sort of society” as Hanfstaengl related – the 1 percent in other words), but started receiving, in Hanfstaengl’s words, “quite large subsidies” from German industrialists in the Ruhr like Fritz Thyssen and Emil Kirdorf. Fritz Thyssen later claimed in his memoirs that he “donated 100,000 gold marks to the NSDAP in October 1923.”
Accoding to Dietrich, Hitler “was a frequent guest at his [Kirdorf’s] house in Mülheim-Saarn near Duisberg.” Hitler’s secretary Christa Schroeder, related in her memoirs an important incident related to Kirdorf:
He [Hitler] often spoke of the financial bonds in which the Party invested earlier, and were signed by him. Often somebody had to be found in the last moment to redeem them. He liked to quote this example:
I signed a Loan Note for the Party for 40,000 RM. Money I was expected had not been received, the Party coffers were empty and the redemption date on the note was coming nearer without any hope of my getting the money together. I was considering shooting myself, since there seemed no alternative. Four days before the redemption date I informed Frau Bruckmann of my unfortunate plight. She phoned Emil Kirdorf and sent me to see him. I told Kirdorf of my plans and won him over at once to the cause. He placed the money at my disposal and thus enabled me to liquidate the debt on time.
This is a story Hitler also related to Joseph Göbbels, who noted it in his diary on 15 November 1936.
From 1931 – and this is two years before Hitler came to power – 5 pfennigs out of every ton of coal sold by Rhine-Westfalen Coal Syndicate, went to the NSDAP. Wikipedia notes that Kirdorf “was personally awarded by Adolf Hitler the Order of the German Eagle, Nazi Germany‘s highest distinctions, on his 90th birthday in 1937, for his support to the Nazi Party in the late 1920s.”
The Holocaust Education & Archive Research Team notes that,
At a meeting of leading German industrialists with Hjalmar Schacht, Hermann Goering and Heinrich Himmler, held on the 20 February 1933, IGF contributed 400,000 reichsmarks to the Nazi Party, the largest single amount in the total sum of 3 million reichsmarks raised at this meeting by German industrialists for the Nazi Party’s election campaign.
According to Antony C. Sutton, this money went into Hitler’s political “slush fund” and “It was this secret fund which financed the Nazi seizure of control in March 1933.*
Not all Nazis were so willing to deal with the wealthy. Hitler and Otto Straßer, for example, different how how to deal with these people when the Nazis came to power (Kirdorf left the Nazi Party in 1928 on account of Straßer but rejoined in 1934 after Straßer was killed on Hitler’s orders).
Thomas Friedrich relates that Straßer asked Hitler “what he would do with Krupp and similar companies in the event of his assuming power. Would everything remain unchanged in terms of ownership, profits and management?” “But of course,” Hitler is said to have replied. “Do you think I’m mad enough to destroy the economy?” Straßer was dismayed, writes Friedrich. “If Hitler was planning to retain the capitalist system, he could hardly speak of ‘socialism’…Hitler retorted that the term ‘socialism’ was intrinsically bad’ and repeated his view that companies could be nationalized only if they failed to act in the national interest. ‘As long as this does not happen, it would simply be a crime to destroy the national economy.'”
Before the 1932 elections, Hitler met with the Industrial Club at the Park Hotel in Düsseldorf and told them his economic policies were not a threat to them. Henry Ashby Turner writes that “From all indications, neither Hitler nor any other Nazis mounted any sustained follow-up from those who had been present at his Industry Club speech or otherwise to enlist them for their purposes.” Dietrich agrees, saying that the ice was broken but that contributions were “insignificant in amount.”
But what counts here is the efforts to which Hitler went to court, rather than, as Thomas Perkins claims, kill rich Germans.
Ashby-Turner claims that these rich industrialists were never a huge source of funding for the Nazi Party but whether they were or they weren’t, that they gave any money at to Hitler, and that he courted their support, and that after 1933 big business back Hitler to the hilt, paints a very different picture than that presented by Perkins, who would have us believe that the 1 percent should be equated with Germany’s Jews (the old anti-Semitic claim that the “Jews own everything”).
If anything, what emerges is a picture of Hitler and industrialists that reminds us of nothing so much as the Republican Party’s relationship with the mainstream media and the Tea Party’s own relationship with big business. Hitler publicly condemned industrialists as Jewish interests just as the GOP publicly condemns the mainstream media as leftist tools, but secretly relied on them, just as the GOP relies on the mainstream media to spread conservative propaganda and the Tea Party relies on Big Business to fund their supposed “grass roots” activities.
In no way can the 1 percent be compared to Hitler’s Jewish victims. They can, however, be compared to Hitler’s 1 percent, who saw in the Nazi leader an ally against the radical left, the same alliance of ultra-nationalist right wing forces that exists today between the GOP and America’s rich against the radical populist, and working-class left. One is reminded of Sarah Palin’s “blood libel” scandal, and Thomas Perkins should apologize to Hitler’s Jewish victims and to the American people.
* From Sutton: The I.G. Farben transfer slip dated February 27, 1933 is found on Nuremberg Military Tribunal document NI-391-395, the “Original transfer slip dated March 19, 1933 from Accumulatoren-Fabrik to Delbrück, Shickler Bank in Berlin, with instructions to pay 25,000 RM to the ‘Nationale Treuhand’ fund administered by Hjalmar Schacht and Rudolph Hess to elect Hitler in March 1933” is found on Nuremberg Military Tribunal document NI-391-395, and “The transfer slip, dated March 2, 1933, from German General Eletric to Delbrück, Schickler Bank in Berlin, with instructions to pay 60,000 RM to the ‘Nationale Treuhand’ fund (administered by Hjalmar Schacht and Rudolph Hess) used to elect Hitler in March 1933 is found on Nuremberg Military Tribunal document No. 391-395.”
Ashby-Turner, Henry, German Big Business and the Rise of Hitler. Oxford University Press, 1985.
Dietrich, Otto. The Hitler I knew: Memoirs of the Third Reich’s Press Chief. Skyhorse Publishing, 2010.
Friedrich, Thomas. Hitler’s Berlin: Abused City. Yale University Press, 2012.
Hanfstaengl, Ernst, Hitler: The Memoir of a Nai Insider Who Turned against the Führer, Arcade Publishing, 2011 .
Hoffmann, Heinrich, Hitler Was My Friend: The Memories of Hitler’s Photographer. Frontline Books, 2011.
Schroeder, Christa. He Was My Chief: The Memoirs of Adolf Hitler’s Secretary. Frontline Books, 2009.
Sutton, Antony C. Wall Street and the Rise of Hitler. Clairview Books, 2010.