Money talks, that’s it

“Father of politically active Koch brothers built a refinery for the Nazis,” The Washington Post tells us, and so do a number of other newspapers and e-zines. Reviewing a new book on the Koch family by Jane Mayer,  Tom Hamburger explains:

It has long been known that Fred Koch made part of his early fortune working in Stalin’s Russia… Mayer, for the first time, describes the early effort to land a refinery construction deal that was ultimately blessed personally by Adolf Hitler. In 1934, Mayer reports, Fred Koch’s firm provided engineering plans and began overseeing construction of a massive oil refinery near Hamburg…

“Long known” does not mean “universally known.” To put things in context, it bears repeating that Winkler-Koch, an upstart engineering firm from Kansas, developed (yet another) method for thermal oil cracking in the 1920s but got sued by Big Oil for patent infringement. Besieged by the lawsuits, Winkler-Koch was unable to license out its technology in the US. The Soviets recognized an opportunity and placed a major order. From what I’ve seen so far, Moscow paid $5 million to get 15 cracker units installed at refineries in Grozny, Batumi, Baku, Tuapse and Yaroslavl.

Not bound by patent limitations, Soviet engineers soon copied and modified the technology, leaving Winkler and Koch to look for new markets. The firm moved on to Europe in search of new customers. When Nazi Germany became interested in their technology, Winkler and Koch did not shy away from the new opportunity: the Great Depression was far from over yet. It is not surprising they found something to admire about German industry: in terms of brutality, Germany had yet to catch up with Soviet Russia in 1934.

Commenters keep bringing up Henry Ford’s support for Hitler and for pre-WWII Nazi Germany. However, Ford did not build Germany’s automotive industry: it was German engineers who had put together the first automobile twenty years before the first Ford T was manufactured. The country where Ford Motor Company did build the first mass production car and truck plant was the Soviet Union.


  1. It all sounds a bit desperate, to be honest. Aside from the possible relevance of the activities of somebody’s father 80 years ago (and note how little the press makes of Joe Kennedy having his own daughter lobotomised), doing business with the Nazis in 1934 is somewhat different from doing business with the Nazis during WWII. European manufactruing and heavy industry was crossing borders centuries before the Nazis came to power, and whatever the Nazis turned into it’s a bit unreasonable to expect Papa Koch to have gotten the measure of the Nazis’ true colours and boycotted Germany. This is nothing more than a smear campaign, and a pretty desperate one at that. Why don’t they go after Hugo Boss or Volkswagen?

    • There’s more interesting stuff in the book that could be more damaging to the two living brothers – for example, their efforts to cut the third brother off from the inheritance – but Hitler is a magic word.

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