BERLIN — German media giant Bertelsmann made large profits by selling millions of anti-Semitic books during the Nazi era and used Jewish slave laborers, a commission set up by the firm said Monday.
Bertelsmann tapped the rising Nazi tide to switch from publishing religious and school books to entertainment for the German army, selling 19 million books to soldiers in World War II, according to the Independent Historical Commission.
Chief executive Gunter Thielen on Monday reaffirmed the company's "sincere regret" over inaccuracies in the conglomerate's previous history and its activities during the Nazi era as Bertelsmann presented the final report by a commission led by Israeli historian Saul Friedlaender.
"We have learned that we cannot neglect our history, rather, our goal was to uncover the truth and learn from the mistakes that we have made," Thielen said in a statement, adding that all the material used for the 800-page report would be made public.
The commission found that the company did not use slave laborers at its headquarters in Guetersloh, but that Jews were forced to work at printing facilities used by Bertelsmann in Nazi-occupied Vilnius, Lithuania--and probably in Riga, Latvia.
"It is unclear if C. Bertelsmann had any influence on the work conditions in these presses, and if, on account of the use of cheaper [Jewish] forced labor, the move to the Baltic for printing meant saving money," the commission's report concluded.
The commission also found the company "legend" that it was a victim of the Nazis was a lie. The Nazis did indeed close the firm in 1944, but probably because their own publishing house wanted to kill off competition, not because of subversive texts.
"In 1945, the legend that C. Bertelsmann was closed down because of resistance to the Nazis smoothed the way for the occupation authorities promptly granting the firm a new license to publish," the report said.
When Bertelsmann became America's biggest book publisher by acquiring Random House in 1998, it portrayed its role in the Nazi era as being prosecuted for its theological works. However, media reports about its past prompted Bertelsmann to set up the commission.
"Bertelsmann published a variety of papers and books that clearly had anti-Jewish bias," Friedlaender told a news conference.
The commission found Bertelsmann produced books to indoctrinate soldiers and targeted the youth market with its "Exciting Stories" series and the likes of "The Christmas Book of the Hitler Youth" as its sales shot up by a factor of 20.
"The 'Exciting Stories' series and other material belonging to the firm's theological and popular literature programs contained anti-Semitic stereotypes and polemics," it said.
Bertelsmann is one of 6,000 German firms paying half of a $5- billion settlement with hundreds of thousands of people forced to work under the Nazis. Several large German companies including Deutsche Bank and Dresdner Bank have appointed independent historians to probe their background during the Third Reich.