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How Bush’s grandfather helped Hitler’s rise to power

Rumours of a link between the US first fam­i­ly and the Nazi war machine have cir­cu­lat­ed for decades. Now the Guardian can reveal how reper­cus­sions of events that cul­mi­nat­ed in action under the Trad­ing with the Ene­my Act are still being felt by today’s pres­i­dent

by Ben Aris and Dun­can Camp­bell


George Bush’s grand­fa­ther, the late US sen­a­tor Prescott Bush, was a direc­tor and share­hold­er of com­pa­nies that prof­it­ed from their involve­ment with the finan­cial back­ers of Nazi Ger­many.

The Guardian has obtained con­fir­ma­tion from new­ly dis­cov­ered files in the US Nation­al Archives that a firm of which Prescott Bush was a direc­tor was involved with the finan­cial archi­tects of Nazism.

His busi­ness deal­ings, which con­tin­ued until his com­pa­ny’s assets were seized in 1942 under the Trad­ing with the Ene­my Act, has led more than 60 years lat­er to a civ­il action for dam­ages being brought in Ger­many against the Bush fam­i­ly by two for­mer slave labour­ers at Auschwitz and to a hum of pre-elec­tion con­tro­ver­sy.

The evi­dence has also prompt­ed one for­mer US Nazi war crimes pros­e­cu­tor to argue that the late sen­a­tor’s action should have been grounds for pros­e­cu­tion for giv­ing aid and com­fort to the ene­my.

The debate over Prescott Bush’s behav­iour has been bub­bling under the sur­face for some time. There has been a steady inter­net chat­ter about the “Bush/Nazi” con­nec­tion, much of it inac­cu­rate and unfair. But the new doc­u­ments, many of which were only declas­si­fied last year, show that even after Amer­i­ca had entered the war and when there was already sig­nif­i­cant infor­ma­tion about the Nazis’ plans and poli­cies, he worked for and prof­it­ed from com­pa­nies close­ly involved with the very Ger­man busi­ness­es that financed Hitler’s rise to pow­er. It has also been sug­gest­ed that the mon­ey he made from these deal­ings helped to estab­lish the Bush fam­i­ly for­tune and set up its polit­i­cal dynasty.

Remark­ably, lit­tle of Bush’s deal­ings with Ger­many has received pub­lic scruti­ny, part­ly because of the secret sta­tus of the doc­u­men­ta­tion involv­ing him. But now the multi­bil­lion dol­lar legal action for dam­ages by two Holo­caust sur­vivors against the Bush fam­i­ly, and the immi­nent pub­li­ca­tion of three books on the sub­ject are threat­en­ing to make Prescott Bush’s busi­ness his­to­ry an uncom­fort­able issue for his grand­son, George W, as he seeks re-elec­tion.

While there is no sug­ges­tion that Prescott Bush was sym­pa­thet­ic to the Nazi cause, the doc­u­ments reveal that the firm he worked for, Brown Broth­ers Har­ri­man (BBH), act­ed as a US base for the Ger­man indus­tri­al­ist, Fritz Thyssen, who helped finance Hitler in the 1930s before falling out with him at the end of the decade. The Guardian has seen evi­dence that shows Bush was the direc­tor of the New York-based Union Bank­ing Cor­po­ra­tion (UBC) that rep­re­sent­ed Thyssen’s US inter­ests and he con­tin­ued to work for the bank after Amer­i­ca entered the war.

Bush was also on the board of at least one of the com­pa­nies that formed part of a multi­na­tion­al net­work of front com­pa­nies to allow Thyssen to move assets around the world.

Thyssen owned the largest steel and coal com­pa­ny in Ger­many and grew rich from Hitler’s efforts to re-arm between the two world wars. One of the pil­lars in Thyssen’s inter­na­tion­al cor­po­rate web, UBC, worked exclu­sive­ly for, and was owned by, a Thyssen-con­trolled bank in the Nether­lands. More tan­ta­lis­ing are Bush’s links to the Con­sol­i­dat­ed Sile­sian Steel Com­pa­ny (CSSC), based in min­er­al rich Sile­sia on the Ger­man-Pol­ish bor­der. Dur­ing the war, the com­pa­ny made use of Nazi slave labour from the con­cen­tra­tion camps, includ­ing Auschwitz. The own­er­ship of CSSC changed hands sev­er­al times in the 1930s, but doc­u­ments from the US Nation­al Archive declas­si­fied last year link Bush to CSSC, although it is not clear if he and UBC were still involved in the com­pa­ny when Thyssen’s Amer­i­can assets were seized in 1942.

Three sets of archives spell out Prescott Bush’s involve­ment. All three are read­i­ly avail­able, thanks to the effi­cient US archive sys­tem and a help­ful and ded­i­cat­ed staff at both the Library of Con­gress in Wash­ing­ton and the Nation­al Archives at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land.

The first set of files, the Har­ri­man papers in the Library of Con­gress, show that Prescott Bush was a direc­tor and share­hold­er of a num­ber of com­pa­nies involved with Thyssen.

The sec­ond set of papers, which are in the Nation­al Archives, are con­tained in vest­ing order num­ber 248 which records the seizure of the com­pa­ny assets. What these files show is that on Octo­ber 20 1942 the alien prop­er­ty cus­to­di­an seized the assets of the UBC, of which Prescott Bush was a direc­tor. Hav­ing gone through the books of the bank, fur­ther seizures were made against two affil­i­ates, the Hol­land-Amer­i­can Trad­ing Cor­po­ra­tion and the Seam­less Steel Equip­ment Cor­po­ra­tion. By Novem­ber, the Sile­sian-Amer­i­can Com­pa­ny, anoth­er of Prescott Bush’s ven­tures, had also been seized.

The third set of doc­u­ments, also at the Nation­al Archives, are con­tained in the files on IG Far­ben, who was pros­e­cut­ed for war crimes.

A report issued by the Office of Alien Prop­er­ty Cus­to­di­an in 1942 stat­ed of the com­pa­nies that “since 1939, these (steel and min­ing) prop­er­ties have been in pos­ses­sion of and have been oper­at­ed by the Ger­man gov­ern­ment and have undoubt­ed­ly been of con­sid­er­able assis­tance to that coun­try’s war effort”.

Prescott Bush, a 6ft 4in charmer with a rich singing voice, was the founder of the Bush polit­i­cal dynasty and was once con­sid­ered a poten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­date him­self. Like his son, George, and grand­son, George W, he went to Yale where he was, again like his descen­dants, a mem­ber of the secre­tive and influ­en­tial Skull and Bones stu­dent soci­ety. He was an artillery cap­tain in the first world war and mar­ried Dorothy Walk­er, the daugh­ter of George Her­bert Walk­er, in 1921.

In 1924, his father-in-law, a well-known St Louis invest­ment banker, helped set him up in busi­ness in New York with Aver­ill Har­ri­man, the wealthy son of rail­road mag­nate E H Har­ri­man in New York, who had gone into bank­ing.

One of the first jobs Walk­er gave Bush was to man­age UBC. Bush was a found­ing mem­ber of the bank and the incor­po­ra­tion doc­u­ments, which list him as one of sev­en direc­tors, show he owned one share in UBC worth $125.

The bank was set up by Har­ri­man and Bush’s father-in-law to pro­vide a US bank for the Thyssens, Ger­many’s most pow­er­ful indus­tri­al fam­i­ly.

August Thyssen, the founder of the dynasty had been a major con­trib­u­tor to Ger­many’s first world war effort and in the 1920s, he and his sons Fritz and Hein­rich estab­lished a net­work of over­seas banks and com­pa­nies so their assets and mon­ey could be whisked off­shore if threat­ened again.

By the time Fritz Thyssen inher­it­ed the busi­ness empire in 1926, Ger­many’s eco­nom­ic recov­ery was fal­ter­ing. After hear­ing Adolf Hitler speak, Thyssen became mes­merised by the young fire­brand. He joined the Nazi par­ty in Decem­ber 1931 and admits back­ing Hitler in his auto­bi­og­ra­phy, I Paid Hitler, when the Nation­al Social­ists were still a rad­i­cal fringe par­ty. He stepped in sev­er­al times to bail out the strug­gling par­ty: in 1928 Thyssen had bought the Bar­low Palace on Bri­en­ner­strasse, in Munich, which Hitler con­vert­ed into the Brown House, the head­quar­ters of the Nazi par­ty. The mon­ey came from anoth­er Thyssen over­seas insti­tu­tion, the Bank voor Han­del en Scheep­var­rt in Rot­ter­dam.

By the late 1930s, Brown Broth­ers Har­ri­man, which claimed to be the world’s largest pri­vate invest­ment bank, and UBC had bought and shipped mil­lions of dol­lars of gold, fuel, steel, coal and US trea­sury bonds to Ger­many, both feed­ing an
d financ­ing Hitler’s build-up to war.

Between 1931 and 1933 UBC bought more than $8m worth of gold, of which $3m was shipped abroad. Accord­ing to doc­u­ments seen by the Guardian, after UBC was set up it trans­ferred $2m to BBH accounts and between 1924 and 1940 the assets of UBC hov­ered around $3m, drop­ping to $1m only on a few occa­sions.

In 1941, Thyssen fled Ger­many after falling out with Hitler but he was cap­tured in France and detained for the remain­der of the war.

There was noth­ing ille­gal in doing busi­ness with the Thyssens through­out the 1930s and many of Amer­i­ca’s best-known busi­ness names invest­ed heav­i­ly in the Ger­man eco­nom­ic recov­ery. How­ev­er, every­thing changed after Ger­many invad­ed Poland in 1939. Even then it could be argued that BBH was with­in its rights con­tin­u­ing busi­ness rela­tions with the Thyssens until the end of 1941 as the US was still tech­ni­cal­ly neu­tral until the attack on Pearl Har­bor. The trou­ble start­ed on July 30 1942 when the New York Her­ald-Tri­bune ran an arti­cle enti­tled “Hitler’s Angel Has $3m in US Bank”. UBC’s huge gold pur­chas­es had raised sus­pi­cions that the bank was in fact a “secret nest egg” hid­den in New York for Thyssen and oth­er Nazi big­wigs. The Alien Prop­er­ty Com­mis­sion (APC) launched an inves­ti­ga­tion.

There is no dis­pute over the fact that the US gov­ern­ment seized a string of assets con­trolled by BBH — includ­ing UBC and SAC — in the autumn of 1942 under the Trad­ing with the Ene­my act. What is in dis­pute is if Har­ri­man, Walk­er and Bush did more than own these com­pa­nies on paper.

Erwin May, a trea­sury attache and offi­cer for the depart­ment of inves­ti­ga­tion in the APC, was assigned to look into UBC’s busi­ness. The first fact to emerge was that Roland Har­ri­man, Prescott Bush and the oth­er direc­tors did­n’t actu­al­ly own their shares in UBC but mere­ly held them on behalf of Bank voor Han­del. Strange­ly, no one seemed to know who owned the Rot­ter­dam-based bank, includ­ing UBC’s pres­i­dent.

May wrote in his report of August 16 1941: “Union Bank­ing Cor­po­ra­tion, incor­po­rat­ed August 4 1924, is whol­ly owned by the Bank voor Han­del en Scheep­vaart N.V of Rot­ter­dam, the Nether­lands. My inves­ti­ga­tion has pro­duced no evi­dence as to the own­er­ship of the Dutch bank. Mr Cor­nelis [sic] Lievense, pres­i­dent of UBC, claims no knowl­edge as to the own­er­ship of the Bank voor Han­del but believes it pos­si­ble that Baron Hein­rich Thyssen, broth­er of Fritz Thyssen, may own a sub­stan­tial inter­est.”

May cleared the bank of hold­ing a gold­en nest egg for the Nazi lead­ers but went on to describe a net­work of com­pa­nies spread­ing out from UBC across Europe, Amer­i­ca and Cana­da, and how mon­ey from voor Han­del trav­elled to these com­pa­nies through UBC.

By Sep­tem­ber May had traced the ori­gins of the non-Amer­i­can board mem­bers and found that Dutch­man HJ Kouwen­hoven — who met with Har­ri­man in 1924 to set up UBC — had sev­er­al oth­er jobs: in addi­tion to being the man­ag­ing direc­tor of voor Han­del he was also the direc­tor of the August Thyssen bank in Berlin and a direc­tor of Fritz Thyssen’s Union Steel Works, the hold­ing com­pa­ny that con­trolled Thyssen’s steel and coal mine empire in Ger­many.

With­in a few weeks, Homer Jones, the chief of the APC inves­ti­ga­tion and research divi­sion sent a memo to the exec­u­tive com­mit­tee of APC rec­om­mend­ing the US gov­ern­ment vest UBC and its assets. Jones named the direc­tors of the bank in the memo, includ­ing Prescott Bush’s name, and wrote: “Said stock is held by the above named indi­vid­u­als, how­ev­er, sole­ly as nom­i­nees for the Bank voor Han­del, Rot­ter­dam, Hol­land, which is owned by one or more of the Thyssen fam­i­ly, nation­als of Ger­many and Hun­gary. The 4,000 shares here­in­be­fore set out are there­fore ben­e­fi­cial­ly owned and help for the inter­ests of ene­my nation­als, and are vestible by the APC,” accord­ing to the memo from the Nation­al Archives seen by the Guardian.

Jones rec­om­mend­ed that the assets be liq­ui­dat­ed for the ben­e­fit of the gov­ern­ment, but instead UBC was main­tained intact and even­tu­al­ly returned to the Amer­i­can share­hold­ers after the war. Some claim that Bush sold his share in UBC after the war for $1.5m — a huge amount of mon­ey at the time — but there is no doc­u­men­tary evi­dence to sup­port this claim. No fur­ther action was ever tak­en nor was the inves­ti­ga­tion con­tin­ued, despite the fact UBC was caught red-hand­ed oper­at­ing a Amer­i­can shell com­pa­ny for the Thyssen fam­i­ly eight months after Amer­i­ca had entered the war and that this was the bank that had part­ly financed Hitler’s rise to pow­er.

The most tan­ta­lis­ing part of the sto­ry remains shroud­ed in mys­tery: the con­nec­tion, if any, between Prescott Bush, Thyssen, Con­sol­i­dat­ed Sile­sian Steel Com­pa­ny (CSSC) and Auschwitz.

Thyssen’s part­ner in Unit­ed Steel Works, which had coal mines and steel plants across the region, was Friedrich Flick, anoth­er steel mag­nate who also owned part of IG Far­ben, the pow­er­ful Ger­man chem­i­cal com­pa­ny.

Flick­’s plants in Poland made heavy use of slave labour from the con­cen­tra­tion camps in Poland. Accord­ing to a New York Times arti­cle pub­lished in March 18 1934 Flick owned two-thirds of CSSC while “Amer­i­can inter­ests” held the rest.

The US Nation­al Archive doc­u­ments show that BBH’s involve­ment with CSSC was more than sim­ply hold­ing the shares in the mid-1930s. Bush’s friend and fel­low “bones­man” Knight Wool­ley, anoth­er part­ner at BBH, wrote to Aver­ill Har­ri­man in Jan­u­ary 1933 warn­ing of prob­lems with CSSC after the Poles start­ed their dri­ve to nation­alise the plant. “The Con­sol­i­dat­ed Sile­sian Steel Com­pa­ny sit­u­a­tion has become increas­ing­ly com­pli­cat­ed, and I have accord­ing­ly brought in Sul­li­van and Cromwell, in order to be sure that our inter­ests are pro­tect­ed,” wrote Knight. “After study­ing the sit­u­a­tion Fos­ter Dulles is insist­ing that their man in Berlin get into the pic­ture and obtain the infor­ma­tion which the direc­tors here should have. You will recall that Fos­ter is a direc­tor and he is par­tic­u­lar­ly anx­ious to be cer­tain that there is no lia­bil­i­ty attach­ing to the Amer­i­can direc­tors.”

But the own­er­ship of the CSSC between 1939 when the Ger­mans invad­ed Poland and 1942 when the US gov­ern­ment vest­ed UBC and SAC is not clear.

“SAC held coal mines and def­i­nite­ly owned CSSC between 1934 and 1935, but when SAC was vest­ed there was no trace of CSSC. All con­crete evi­dence of its own­er­ship dis­ap­pears after 1935 and there are only a few traces in 1938 and 1939,” says Eva Schweitzer, the jour­nal­ist and author whose book, Amer­i­ca and the Holo­caust, is pub­lished next month.

Sile­sia was quick­ly made part of the Ger­man Reich after the inva­sion, but while Pol­ish fac­to­ries were seized by the Nazis, those belong­ing to the still neu­tral Amer­i­cans (and some oth­er nation­als) were treat­ed more care­ful­ly as Hitler was still hop­ing to per­suade the US to at least sit out the war as a neu­tral coun­try. Schweitzer says Amer­i­can inter­ests were dealt with on a case-by-case basis. The Nazis bought some out, but not oth­ers.

The two Holo­caust sur­vivors suing the US gov­ern­ment and the Bush fam­i­ly for a total of $40bn in com­pen­sa­tion claim both mate­ri­al­ly ben­e­fit­ed from Auschwitz slave labour dur­ing the sec­ond world war.

Kurt Julius Gold­stein, 87, and Peter Gin­gold, 85, began a class action in Amer­i­ca in 2001, but the case was thrown out by Judge Rose­mary Col­lier on the grounds that the gov­ern­ment can­not be held liable under the prin­ci­ple of “state sov­er­eign­ty”.

Jan Liss­mann, one of the lawyers for the sur­vivors, said: “Pres­i­dent Bush with­drew Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton’s sig­na­ture from the treaty [that found­ed the court] not only to pro­tect Amer­i­cans, but also to pro­tect him­self and his fam­i­ly.”

Liss­mann argues that geno­cide-relat­ed cas­es are cov­ered by inter­na­tion­al law, which does hold gov­ern­ments account­able for their actions. He claims the rul­ing was invalid as no hear­ing took place.

In their claims, Mr Gold­stein and Mr Gin­gold, hon­orary chair­man of the League of A
nti-fas­cists, sug­gest the Amer­i­cans were aware of what was hap­pen­ing at Auschwitz and should have bombed the camp.

The lawyers also filed a motion in The Hague ask­ing for an opin­ion on whether state sov­er­eign­ty is a valid rea­son for refus­ing to hear their case. A rul­ing is expect­ed with­in a month.

The peti­tion to The Hague states: “From April 1944 on, the Amer­i­can Air Force could have destroyed the camp with air raids, as well as the rail­way bridges and rail­way lines from Hun­gary to Auschwitz. The mur­der of about 400,000 Hun­gar­i­an Holo­caust vic­tims could have been pre­vent­ed.”

The case is built around a Jan­u­ary 22 1944 exec­u­tive order signed by Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt call­ing on the gov­ern­ment to take all mea­sures to res­cue the Euro­pean Jews. The lawyers claim the order was ignored because of pres­sure brought by a group of big Amer­i­can com­pa­nies, includ­ing BBH, where Prescott Bush was a direc­tor.

Liss­mann said: “If we have a pos­i­tive rul­ing from the court it will cause [pres­i­dent] Bush huge prob­lems and make him per­son­al­ly liable to pay com­pen­sa­tion.”

The US gov­ern­ment and the Bush fam­i­ly deny all the claims against them.

In addi­tion to Eva Schweitzer’s book, two oth­er books are about to be pub­lished that raise the sub­ject of Prescott Bush’s busi­ness his­to­ry. The author of the sec­ond book, to be pub­lished next year, John Lof­tus, is a for­mer US attor­ney who pros­e­cut­ed Nazi war crim­i­nals in the 70s. Now liv­ing in St Peters­burg, Flori­da and earn­ing his liv­ing as a secu­ri­ty com­men­ta­tor for Fox News and ABC radio, Lof­tus is work­ing on a nov­el which uses some of the mate­r­i­al he has uncov­ered on Bush. Lof­tus stressed that what Prescott Bush was involved in was just what many oth­er Amer­i­can and British busi­ness­men were doing at the time.

“You can’t blame Bush for what his grand­fa­ther did any more than you can blame Jack Kennedy for what his father did — bought Nazi stocks — but what is impor­tant is the cov­er-up, how it could have gone on so suc­cess­ful­ly for half a cen­tu­ry, and does that have impli­ca­tions for us today?” he said.

“This was the mech­a­nism by which Hitler was fund­ed to come to pow­er, this was the mech­a­nism by which the Third Reich’s defence indus­try was re-armed, this was the mech­a­nism by which Nazi prof­its were repa­tri­at­ed back to the Amer­i­can own­ers, this was the mech­a­nism by which inves­ti­ga­tions into the finan­cial laun­der­ing of the Third Reich were blunt­ed,” said Lof­tus, who is vice-chair­man of the Holo­caust Muse­um in St Peters­burg.

“The Union Bank­ing Cor­po­ra­tion was a hold­ing com­pa­ny for the Nazis, for Fritz Thyssen,” said Lof­tus. “At var­i­ous times, the Bush fam­i­ly has tried to spin it, say­ing they were owned by a Dutch bank and it was­n’t until the Nazis took over Hol­land that they realised that now the Nazis con­trolled the appar­ent com­pa­ny and that is why the Bush sup­port­ers claim when the war was over they got their mon­ey back. Both the Amer­i­can trea­sury inves­ti­ga­tions and the intel­li­gence inves­ti­ga­tions in Europe com­plete­ly bely that, it’s absolute horse­shit. They always knew who the ulti­mate ben­e­fi­cia­ries were.”

“There is no one left alive who could be pros­e­cut­ed but they did get away with it,” said Lof­tus. “As a for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor, I would make a case for Prescott Bush, his father-in-law (George Walk­er) and Aver­ill Har­ri­man [to be pros­e­cut­ed] for giv­ing aid and com­fort to the ene­my. They remained on the boards of these com­pa­nies know­ing that they were of finan­cial ben­e­fit to the nation of Ger­many.”

Lof­tus said Prescott Bush must have been aware of what was hap­pen­ing in Ger­many at the time. “My take on him was that he was a not ter­ri­bly suc­cess­ful in-law who did what Her­bert Walk­er told him to. Walk­er and Har­ri­man were the two evil genius­es, they did­n’t care about the Nazis any more than they cared about their invest­ments with the Bol­she­viks.”

What is also at issue is how much mon­ey Bush made from his involve­ment. His sup­port­ers sug­gest that he had one token share. Lof­tus dis­putes this, cit­ing sources in “the bank­ing and intel­li­gence com­mu­ni­ties” and sug­gest­ing that the Bush fam­i­ly, through George Her­bert Walk­er and Prescott, got $1.5m out of the involve­ment. There is, how­ev­er, no paper trail to this sum.

The third per­son going into print on the sub­ject is John Buchanan, 54, a Mia­mi-based mag­a­zine jour­nal­ist who start­ed exam­in­ing the files while work­ing on a screen­play. Last year, Buchanan pub­lished his find­ings in the ven­er­a­ble but small-cir­cu­la­tion New Hamp­shire Gazette under the head­line “Doc­u­ments in Nation­al Archives Prove George Bush’s Grand­fa­ther Trad­ed With the Nazis — Even After Pearl Har­bor”. He expands on this in his book to be pub­lished next month — Fix­ing Amer­i­ca: Break­ing the Stran­gle­hold of Cor­po­rate Rule, Big Media and the Reli­gious Right.

In the arti­cle, Buchanan, who has worked main­ly in the trade and music press with a spell as a muck­rak­ing reporter in Mia­mi, claimed that “the essen­tial facts have appeared on the inter­net and in rel­a­tive­ly obscure books but were dis­missed by the media and Bush fam­i­ly as undoc­u­ment­ed dia­tribes”.

Buchanan suf­fers from hyper­ma­nia, a form of man­ic depres­sion, and when he found him­self rebuffed in his ini­tial efforts to inter­est the media, he respond­ed with a series of threats against the jour­nal­ists and media out­lets that had spurned him. The threats, con­tained in e‑mails, sug­gest­ed that he would expose the jour­nal­ists as “trai­tors to the truth”.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, he soon had dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting his calls returned. Most seri­ous­ly, he faced aggra­vat­ed stalk­ing charges in Mia­mi, in con­nec­tion with a man with whom he had fall­en out over the best way to pub­li­cise his find­ings. The charges were dropped last month.

Buchanan said he regret­ted his behav­iour had dam­aged his cred­i­bil­i­ty but his main aim was to secure pub­lic­i­ty for the sto­ry. Both Lof­tus and Schweitzer say Buchanan has come up with pre­vi­ous­ly undis­closed doc­u­men­ta­tion.

The Bush fam­i­ly have large­ly respond­ed with no com­ment to any ref­er­ence to Prescott Bush. Brown Broth­ers Har­ri­man also declined to com­ment.

The Bush fam­i­ly recent­ly approved a flat­ter­ing biog­ra­phy of Prescott Bush enti­tled Duty, Hon­our, Coun­try by Mick­ey Her­skowitz. The pub­lish­ers, Rut­ledge Hill Press, promised the book would “deal hon­est­ly with Prescott Bush’s alleged busi­ness rela­tion­ships with Nazi indus­tri­al­ists and oth­er accu­sa­tions”.

In fact, the alle­ga­tions are dealt with in less than two pages. The book refers to the Her­ald-Tri­bune sto­ry by say­ing that “a per­son of less estab­lished ethics would have pan­icked ... Bush and his part­ners at Brown Broth­ers Har­ri­man informed the gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors that the account, opened in the late 1930s, was ‘an unpaid cour­tesy for a client’ ... Prescott Bush act­ed quick­ly and open­ly on behalf of the firm, served well by a rep­u­ta­tion that had nev­er been com­pro­mised. He made avail­able all records and all doc­u­ments. Viewed six decades lat­er in the era of ser­i­al cor­po­rate scan­dals and shat­tered careers, he received what can be viewed as the ulti­mate clean bill.”

The Prescott Bush sto­ry has been con­demned by both con­ser­v­a­tives and some lib­er­als as hav­ing noth­ing to do with the cur­rent pres­i­dent. It has also been sug­gest­ed that Prescott Bush had lit­tle to do with Aver­ill Har­ri­man and that the two men opposed each oth­er polit­i­cal­ly.

How­ev­er, doc­u­ments from the Har­ri­man papers include a flat­ter­ing wartime pro­file of Har­ri­man in the New York Jour­nal Amer­i­can and next to it in the files is a let­ter to the finan­cial edi­tor of that paper from Prescott Bush con­grat­u­lat­ing the paper for run­ning the pro­file. He added that Har­ri­man’s “per­for­mance and his whole atti­tude has been a source of inspi­ra­tion and pride to his part­ners and his friends”.

The Anti-Defama­tion League in the US is sup­port­ive of Prescott Bush and the Bush fam­i­ly. In a state­ment last year they said that “rumours about the alleged Nazi ‘ties’ of the la
te Prescott Bush ... have cir­cu­lat­ed wide­ly through the inter­net in recent years. These charges are unten­able and polit­i­cal­ly moti­vat­ed ... Prescott Bush was nei­ther a Nazi nor a Nazi sym­pa­this­er.”

How­ev­er, one of the coun­try’s old­est Jew­ish pub­li­ca­tions, the Jew­ish Advo­cate, has aired the con­tro­ver­sy in detail.

More than 60 years after Prescott Bush came briefly under scruti­ny at the time of a far­away war, his grand­son is fac­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of scruti­ny but one under­pinned by the same per­cep­tion that, for some peo­ple, war can be a prof­itable busi­ness.


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