Many people might not readily associate the Ford Motor Company with Adolf Hitler's Nazi regime. But according to legal researcher Miriam Kleiman and several recently declassified government documents, the two were very closely linked during World War II. Kleiman, who represents Holocaust survivors in her work, spoke to more than 20 students Monday in Logan Hall's Terrace Room about the use of slave labor during the war by American and German industrial firms. She was the third lecturer in a four-part seminar series entitled "The Future of Holocaust Commemoration." It is sponsored by Penn's Jewish Renaissance Project and features a different speaker every Monday during the month of February. Twenty-five students registered for the non-credit seminar. Citing declassified documents from the U.S. National Archives, Kleiman said that companies such as Ford, Volkswagen and Bayer used slave labor from Jews and other Holocaust victims to produce their goods for the Third Reich. "Germany's 'economic miracle' after World War II was built on the backs of hundreds of thousands of slave laborers," Kleiman said. "When people think of the Volkswagen Beetle, we want them to think of Hitler." Kleiman distributed a dozen different reports at the seminar that documented abuses committed by Volkswagen and Ford Werke AG, a German subsidiary of Ford. Each report was read aloud by a student as Kleiman moved her lecture from one topic to the next. One of the documents was written by the manager of a Ford-owned plant in Germany during the war. In it, he described the company's workers as "soldiers of the Fuhrer," referring to Hitler's German title as leader of the Nazi regime. Lawsuits have recently been filed by Holocaust survivors against the companies that were shown to have used slave labor, Kleiman said. "We want the story to be told," she said. "There are different ways of commemorating the Holocaust -- our way is litigating." But she noted that the lawsuits are more intended to generate public exposure of abuses than to recover compensation. "It's not about the money," Kleiman said. "It's about justice and preserving the historical record." The students who attended the lecture asked Kleiman questions about her work, and many said they left the lecture with a new perspective on some of the world's most trusted companies. "I was interested to hear different people's perspectives on the Holocaust," College sophomore Robyn Badiner said. "This was a good lecture to do that." Also in attendance was Seymour Mayer, a survivor of four Holocaust concentration camps, including Auschwitz. He spoke highly of both Kleiman and the seminar as a whole. "I thought it was very useful and very informative," Mayer said after the lecture. "It's a good beginning for students to get involved." "The Future of Holocaust Commemoration" was organized by two fellows in the Jewish Renaissance Project, Wharton junior Cory Perlstein and College sophomore Ariel Groveman.Comments powered by Disqus
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