German group Schaeffler worked with Nazis

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The auto parts company initially specialised in textiles but converted to work in the arms industry and employed forced workers.

Frankfurt -- The German industrialist family Schaeffler, creator of the eponymous auto parts group, collaborated with the World War II Nazi regime in Poland, according to research published Thursday.

The company initially specialised in textiles but converted to work in the arms industry and employed forced workers that included French, Poles and Russians, according to historian Gregor Schoellgen, whose work is to appear in the German magazine Cicero.

Parts of the report were released on Wednesday.

Schoellgen, who is based at the university in Erlangen, southern Germany, was mandated by heirs to the group's founders, including the current boss Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler, to explore the family's archives, a company spokesman told AFP.

The research was completed two years ago but has not been published before.

It was released this week owing to "false allegations on the Internet" that the historian sought to clarify, the spokesman said.

According to the report, Schaeffler grew out of Davistan AG, a company owned by a Jewish family that fled Germany following calls for a boycott of Jewish firms by the Nazis, Schoellgen explained.

The company was taken over by a consortium of banks that sold it in 1940 to Wilhelm Schaeffler, the researcher said.

Schaeffler began to produce military equipment and became a member of the Nazi Party, while his brother Georg also invested in the new company.

In 1946, Wilhelm Schaeffler was arrested by American forces and turned over to Polish authorities.

He was convicted of liquidating assets that belonged to the Polish state and citizens and to Jews on behalf of the Third Reich in 1949 and was imprisoned in Poland until 1951, Schoellgen said.

Schaeffler's Internet site sets the start of its history in 1946, with the launch of a group to produce industrial parts such as needle rollers, a kind of specialised ball bearing, by Georg and Wilhelm Schaeffler.

Maria-Elisabeth Schaeffler is Georg's widow.

The report in Cicero appeared after Schaeffler asked for public aid to avoid bankruptcy, after expanding rapidly in recent years.

The company has been hit by the global slowdown in auto markets and by the purchase last year of its much bigger German rival Continental, which has turned into a heavy weight on Schaeffler's finances.


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