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Deutsche Bank’s Auschwitz Role Tangles Takeover in U.S.

From Reuters

Deutsche Bank AG, Germany’s biggest bank, said Thursday that it helped finance construction of the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz--a surprise revelation that came in the middle of its bid to buy America’s eighth biggest bank.

The announcement, made by the company’s historian in Frankfurt, cast a shadow over the German bank’s effort to complete its planned $10.1-billion takeover of Bankers Trust. However, Deutsche Bank speedily set up a meeting with one of its chief Jewish critics, the World Jewish Congress.

The New York-based WJC, which is negotiating with the bank, is expected to try to block the planned merger unless Deutsche Bank agrees to pay reparations to Holocaust victims or to set up a process under which victims will be paid.

The meeting will be held by Monday and will include representatives of the German government, which is considering an umbrella plan to pay reparations to Holocaust victims on behalf of German industries and businesses.

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Analysts said the latest revelation could delay the deal, which Deutsche Bank wants to wrap up by the end of the second quarter, by no more than a few months.

Some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews, were killed at the camp during the World War II.

Manfred Pohl, head of Deutsche Bank’s historical institute, said newly uncovered documents showed the bank had links with firms that built the camp in Poland. It also had credit links to one company that made incineration units and funded another whose subsidiary made the Zyklon-B gas used in the camp.

“On examination of credit records, we determined that branches . . . had credit links to local companies which were active at the construction site . . . in Auschwitz,” Pohl said at a media briefing in Frankfurt.

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Asked if it was clear whether Deutsche Bank officials were aware that the funds were being used for the Auschwitz death camp, Pohl said Deutsche Bank officials in the Polish city of Katowice were aware of these facts.

“It is clear that this was known as high up at the main office in Katowice. It is not certain whether it was known in Berlin,” Pohl said, adding that the loan would have had to be approved in Berlin to go ahead.

Bankers Trust shares eased to finish off $0.56 a share at $85.31 in New York on Thursday, while Deutsche Bank stock ended up 0.35 euro at 48.30 euro in Frankfurt.

The revelation also came as Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder tried to make good his pledge to protect German business from Holocaust-era lawsuits.

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The giants of German industry and banking face a tide of class-action suits filed in the United States by Holocaust survivors and those used as slave laborers by the Nazis.


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