German Administration of American Companies 1940-1945:
A Very Brief Review

By Dr. Greg Bradsher, National Archives and Records Administration
(May 9, 2000. Revised June 12, 2000, September 8, 2000, June 6, 2001)


The Work of the Reich Commission for the Handling of Enemy Property

By decrees of June 24 and 28, 1941, the German Government blocked the assets of American Companies. This was done in response to the United States blocking German assets on June 14, 1941. According to one report even prior to the outbreak of war between Germany and the United States the foreign branches of some American enterprises had been integrated into the German war economy. And from looking at one claim file, I saw this was indeed true.

American company and bank assets were seized by a December 11, 1941, amendment to the Decree Concerning the Treatment of Enemy Property of January 15, 1940. These companies and bank assets were controlled by the Reich Commissioner for the Handling of Enemy Property (Reichskommissar fuer die Behandlung Feindliehen Vermoegens). This Office, which was part of the Ministry of Justice, attempted to operate within the framework of the German law and the Reichskommissar apparently took the position that he was a trustee for the property of the enemy alien and that he must administer it for the benefit of the owner and that at the termination of the war he would relinquish control and the property would be returned to the owner with proper accounting.

A custodian or Administrator (Verwalter) of the American property was appointed by the Reichskommisar, of which there was one at each Oberlandesgericht. The man usually chosen was a German director of manager of the firm, a lawyer, or other responsible individual. The Administrator, once appointed, made a report to the Reichskommissar once every six months, giving profit and loss information and balance sheet data [the records of the Reichskommisar, which had been microfilmed, were used by US Army occupation forces; they are not among the holdings of the Captured German records at the National Archives]. For property or concern of which the owner was absent the Reichskommisar appointed an Administrator called a Pflager.

The Administrators were given authority to carry out all transactions. The Administrator was to carry out the conduct of the firms for benefit of Germany's war effort. One would assume this meant ensuring the production of goods that benefited the war effort, regardless of profit to the company. I did not fine any reference to what happen to the profits. But I would assume, they were retained by the company and not forwarded to the Reichskommissar's office. Expenses of the Administrator were paid by the company. The Germans, it does not appear, compensate the American companies during the war for damage inflicted on the companies by the Allies. American companies made such claims with the War Claims Commission and the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission after the war.

According to a US Army report, the Reich Ministry of Economics, that represented Nazi Party interests, took the attitude that enemy alien property was forfeited to the state (much like the American view), and, through the agencies of the SD and the Gestapo, much property was seized and confiscated which should have, under German law, been administered by the Reichskommissar. US Army investigators found that the Reichskommissar's Office made an attempt to appoint trained, competent, and honest administrators for alien property. However, the Security Police were charged with screening the prospective administrators for their "political reliability," and that no appointment could be made without approval from that office. It should be noted that one report stated that as of August 1942, no American property had been confiscated. So either this report is wrong, or that the Germans did not start confiscating property until after August 1942.

By mid-1943, the Administrators, according to one report, were over seeing 2 companies in Norway; 7 companies in France; 3 companies in Belgium; and 35 companies and 24 banks in Germany. According to the Germans, in 1943, the value of American assets was $680,000,000. The Foreign Funds Control (FCC) put the figure at $1.29 billion as of May 31, 1943. The discrepancy was seen by the fact that the FFC counted Jewish refugee assets in Germany, including those seized by the Nazis.

By March 1, 1945, the Reichskommissar Office had taken under administration property in excess of RM 3.5 billion. On that date, the approximately RM 945 million of US property was administered by the Reichskommissar's Office and another RM 267 million of US property was not administered by the Reickscommissar's Office.

After the war most, if not all, of the American corporate property was returned by the United States occupying forces to its rightful owner.

General Observations

Without further study it is impossible to say how many American companies, that were more than 50% American-owned, operated in Germany during the war; but certainly the number does not appear to exceed 150; although some American companies did have a minority interest in some German companies. Also, without further study, it is impossible to say how many used forced/slave laborers, how many made a profit during the war [although the profit making was apparent out of their hands and in that of the Administrator], and how many lost monies, even with postwar compensation from the United States Government. I would imagine for each company there would be a different story.

Using the records at the National Archives and Records Administration, including, but limited to, those of the Treasury Department, Foreign Assets Control [especially the 1943 Census of American Property abroad], the Army Occupation of Germany, Foreign Claims Settlement Commission, Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce, Foreign Funds Control, and the Department of Justice, a researcher could pretty much establish the financial picture of an American company in Germany in 1940 and 1945 and what transpired during the war. Additionally, a researcher would want to track down the Reichskommissar records in Germany to develop a more complete picture.

Sources Used:

Folder entitled "Foreign Property in Germany" in the records of the Economic Warfare Section of the Antitrust Division of the Department of Justice (Record Group 60) Subject File, (Box 75 location 230/31/2/01)

Two Treasury Department Reports, March 1944 and February 1945, on German Financial Laws, Decrees, and Regulations contained in the Foreign Funds Control Subject File (Records of the Office of Alien Property, Record Group 131, Box 173, location: 230/38/17/05)

Folder entitled "Germany-Treatment of Enemy Property" contained in the Foreign Funds Control Subject File (Records of the Office of Alien Property, Record Group 131, Box 174, location: 230/38/17/05)

Folder entitled "Property Control; History and Etc." in the records of the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission (Record Group 299) in the series entitled OMGUS Property Control Correspondence Maintained by the Foreign Claims Settlement Commission of the United States, (Box 3 location: 230/43/34/05). Contained in the folder is a 96-page report prepared by the Property Control and External Assets Branch, Property Division, OMGUS, entitled "Property Control History, Policies, Practices and Procedures of the United States Area of Control, Germany," dated July 1949.

Other lists and information about the Reichskommissar's office, personnel, and files are located in the folder captioned Reichskommissar Fur Die Behandlung Feindlichen Vermogens" in Box 24, Records of the Branch Chief, 1944-1950, Property Control & External Assets Branch, Records of the Property Division, Office of Military Governor for Germany (U.S.) (OMGUS); location: 390/44/20/7


Source: NARA