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Enema Action: The Koch Family’s Nazi Nanny

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COMMENT: Jane Mayer’s Dark Money has received considerable discussion and media play over the last couple of years. What has been overlooked is a detail about the upbringing of the young Koch boys.

Aficionados of psycho-history will find the German Nazi nanny hired by Fred Koch to mind and raise his young sons substantial, as well as interesting.

With Fred Koch having networked with the Nazi spy William Rhodes Davis, we wonder if the nanny might have worked for Nazi intelligence as well.

Dark Money by Jane Mayer; Anchor Books [SC]; Copyright 2016, 2017 by Jane Mayer; ISBN: 978-0-307-94970-1; pp. 39-40.

 . . . . he [Fred Koch] was enamored enough of the German way of life and thinking that he employed a German governess for his first two sons, Freddie and Charles.  At the time, Freddie was a small boy, and Charles was still in diapers. The nanny’s iron rule terrified the little boys, according to a family acquaintance. In addition to being overbearing, she was a fervent Nazi sympathizer, who frequently touted Hitler’s virtues. Dressed in a starched white uniform and pointed nurse’s hat, she arrived with a stash of gruesome German children’s books, including the Victorian classic Der Struwwelpeter, that featured sadistic consequences for misbehavior, ranging from cutting off of one child’s thumbs to burning another to death. [That’ll learn ’em!—D.E.] The acquaintance recalled that the nurse had a commensurately harsh and dictatorial approach to child rearing. She enforced a rigid toilet-training regimen requiring the boys to produce morning bowel movements precisely on schedule or be force-fed castor oil and subjected to enemas. [“Shitzkrieg?”—D.E.]

 The despised governess ruled the nursery largely unchallenged for several years. In 1938, the two boys were left for months while their parents toured Japan, Burma, India, and the Philippines. Even when she was home, Mary Koch characteristically deferred to her husband, declining to intervene. “My father was fairly tough with my mother,” Bill Koch later told Vanity Fair. “My mother was afraid of my father.” Meanwhile, Fred Koch was often gone for months at a time, in Germany and elsewhere.

 It wasn’t until 1940, the year before the twins were born, when Freddie was seven and Charles was five, that back in Wichita the German governess finally left the Koch family, apparently at her own initiative. Her reason for giving notice was that she was so overcome with joy when Hitler invaded France she felt she had to go back to the fatherland in order to join the Fuhrer in celebration. What if any effect this early experience with authority had on Charles is impossible to know, but it’s interesting that his lifetime preoccupation would become crusading against authoritarianism while running a business over which he exerted absolute control. . . .


2 comments for “Enema Action: The Koch Family’s Nazi Nanny”

  1. Another set of important passages in this book include:
    A controversial chapter is missing. After leaving the U.S.S.R., Fred Koch turned to Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich. Hitler became chancellor in 1933, and soon after, his government oversaw and funded massive industrial expansion, including the buildup of Germany’s capacity to manufacture fuel for its growing military ambitions. During the 1930s, Fred Koch traveled frequently to Germany on oil business. Archival records document that in 1934 Winkler-Koch Engineering of Wichita, Kansas, as Fred’s firm was then known, provided the engineering plans and began overseeing the construction of a massive oil refinery owned by a company on the Elbe River in Hamburg.

    The refinery was a highly unusual venture for Koch to get involved with at that moment in Germany. Its top executive was a notorious American Nazi sympathizer named William Rhodes Davis whose extensive business dealings with Hitler would eventually end in accusations by a federal prosecutor that he was an “agent of influence” for the Nazi regime. In 1933, Davis proposed the purchase and conversion of an existing German oil storage facility in Hamburg, owned by a company called Europäische Tanklager A.G., or Eurotank, into a massive refinery. At the time, Hitler’s military aims, and his need for more fuel, were already well-known. Davis’s plan was to ship crude petroleum to Germany, refine it, and then sell it to the German military. The president of the American bank with which Davis dealt refused to have anything to do with the deal, because it was seen as supporting the Nazi military buildup, but others extended the credit. After lining up the American financing, Davis needed the Third Reich’s backing. To gain it, he first had to convince German industrialists of his support for Hitler. In his effort to ingratiate himself, Davis opened an early meeting with Hermann Schmitz, the chairman of I.G. Farben—the powerful and well-connected chemical company that soon after produced the lethal gas for the concentration camps’ death chambers—by saluting him with a Nazi “Heil Hitler.” When these efforts didn’t produce the green light he sought, Davis sent messages directly to Hitler, eventually securing a meeting in which the führer walked in and ordered his henchmen to approve the deal. On Hitler’s orders, the Third Reich’s economic ministers supported Davis’s construction of the refinery. In his biography of Davis, Dale Harrington draws on eyewitness accounts to describe Hitler as declaring to his skeptical henchmen, “Gentlemen, I have reviewed Mr. Davis’s proposition and it sounds feasible, and I want the bank to finance it.” Harrington writes that during the next few years Davis met at least half a dozen more times with Hitler and on one occasion asked him to personally autograph a copy of Mein Kampf for his wife. According to Harrington, by the end of 1933 Davis was “deeply committed to Nazism” and exhibited a noticeable “dislike for Jews.”

    In 1934, Davis turned to Fred Koch’s company, Winkler-Koch, for help in executing his German business plan. Under Fred Koch’s direction, the refinery was finished by 1935. With the capacity to process a thousand tons of crude oil a day, the third-largest refinery in the Third Reich was created by the collaboration between Davis and Koch. Significantly, it was also one of the few refineries in Germany, according to Harrington, that could “produce the high-octane gasoline needed to fuel fighter planes. Naturally,” he writes, “Eurotank would do most of its business with the German military.” Thus, he concludes, the American venture became “a key component of the Nazi war machine.”

    Historians expert in German industrial history concur. The development of the German fuel industry “was hugely, hugely important” to Hitler’s military ambitions, according to the Northwestern University professor Peter Hayes. “Hitler set out to create ‘autarchy,’ or economic self-sufficiency,” he explained. “Gottfried Feder, the German official in charge of the program, reasoned that even though Germany would have to import crude oil, it would be able to save foreign exchange by refining the products itself.”

    In the run-up to the war, Davis profited richly from the arrangement, engaging in elaborate scams to keep the crude oil imports flowing into Germany despite Britain’s blockade. When World War II began, the high-octane fuel was used in bombing raids by German pilots. Like Davis, the Koch family benefited from the venture. Raymond Stokes, director of the Centre for Business History at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and co-author of a history of the German oil industry during the Nazi years, Faktor Öl (The oil factor), which documents the company’s role, says, “Winkler-Koch benefited directly from this project, which was designed to help enable the fuel policy of the Third Reich.”

    Fred Koch often traveled to Germany during these years, and according to family lore he was supposed to have been on the fatal May 1937 transatlantic flight of the Hindenburg, but at the last minute he got delayed. In late 1938, as World War II approached and Hitler’s aims were unmistakable, he wrote admiringly about fascism in Germany, and elsewhere, drawing an invidious comparison with America under Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal. “Although nobody agrees with me, I am of the opinion that the only sound countries in the world are Germany, Italy, and Japan, simply because they are all working and working hard,” he wrote in a letter to a friend. Koch added, “The laboring people in those countries are proportionately much better off than they are any place else in the world. When you contrast the state of mind of Germany today with what it was in 1925 you begin to think that perhaps this course of idleness, feeding at the public trough, dependence on government, etc., with which we are afflicted is not permanent and can be overcome.”

    When the United States entered World War II in 1941, family members say that Fred Koch tried to enlist in the U.S. military. Instead, the government directed him to use his chemical engineering prowess to help refine high-octane fuel for the American warplanes. Meanwhile, in an ironic turn, the Hamburg refinery that Winkler-Koch built became an important target of Allied bombing raids. On June 18, 1944, American B-17s finally destroyed it. The human toll of the bombing raids on Hamburg was almost unimaginable. In all, some forty-two thousand civilians were killed during the long and intense Allied campaign against Hamburg’s crucial industrial targets.

    Fred Koch’s willingness to work with the Soviets and the Nazis was a major factor in creating the Koch family’s early fortune. By the time he met his future wife, Mary Robinson, at a polo match in 1932, the oilman’s work for Stalin had put him well on his way to becoming exceedingly wealthy.

    Posted by Alex B. Smith | December 20, 2017, 8:38 am
  2. As Bomber Harris said, the Nazis never imagined that they in turn would be bombed. Hamburg was too close to England for a refinery…

    Posted by Andy | December 24, 2017, 2:09 pm

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