From time to time we like to highlight events from the long often-dark history of Royal Dutch Shell.
From time to time we like to highlight events from the long often-dark history of Royal Dutch Shell.
We have previously published evidence that Shell conspired directly with Hitler, financed the Nazi Party, was anti-Semitic and sold out its own Dutch Jewish employees to the Nazis.
This article reveals how Shell collaborated in the Nazi annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia in the run up years to World War 2.
Royal Dutch Shell and its long-term leader, Sir Henri Deterding, who became an ardent Nazi, had a close relationship with Adolf Hitler and his henchmen. Deterding was the subject of gushing praise by Hitler.
Rhenania-Ossag was the operating company for the Royal Dutch Shell Group in Nazi Germany. Shell was seeking an oil monopoly in the German market.
As one of the two biggest German oil companies and the main lube oil manufacturer, Rhenania-Ossag was an industry leader in Nazi Germany. Many of its workers and directors were Nazis.
The Nazi regime did not take control of Rhenania-Ossag until January 1940.
Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria on 12 March 1938 and the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia in March 1939, Royal Dutch Shell Group managing directors sanctioned Rhenania-Ossag taking over the Shell operating companies in those countries. This meant that a company dominated by the Nazis gained control over Shell companies in Austria and Czechoslovakia.
This clearly fell in with the Nazis plans, or otherwise it would not have been permitted.
This all took place before the outbreak of World War2 and while Royal Dutch Shell was still in control of all subsidiary companies, including Rhenania-Ossag.
Most of the above information comes directly from Volume 2 of “A History of Royal Dutch Shell” (page 78) and the remainder from Wikipedia.
We have already noted the Nazi government’s appointment of a Verwalterfor Rhenania-Ossag in January 1940; the Bataafsche Verwalter subsequently assumed formal control over the companies in countries under German occupation or in the German sphere of influence, such as Hungary.
Of the Group’s companies under Nazi control only Astra, Rhenania-Ossag, and Nafta Italiana continued operating at their former levels. As we have already seen, Astra was drawn into the German war effort. As one of the two biggest German oil companies and the main lube oil manufacturer, Rhenania-Ossag was an industry leader in the country. Following Hitler’s annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia, Group managing directors sanctioned Rhenania-Ossag taking over the Shell companies in those countries.142 With the rupture of overseas supplies, Rhenania-Ossag turnover plummeted, but the company formed part of the official oil cartel and thus had a share in the processing and distribution of any oil coming in, which assured a steady, if meagre, flow of revenues. In December 1940 the Verwalter activated the hidden financial reserves built up during the 1930’s to raise the company’s capital from 75 million to 120 million Reichsmarks. A year later Rhenania-Ossag floated a bond loan of RM 60 million to payoff an old loan from Bataafsche and finance some new installations.143 Meanwhile, the relationship between parent company and subsidiary had to some extent been reversed by the appointment of Rhenania-Ossag’s research director as Verwalter over Bataafsche’s Amsterdam laboratory, to ensure that it would contribute to the German war effort.
Astra was the operating company of Royal Dutch Shell in Romania.
Nafta Italiana was the operating company of Royal Dutch Shell in Italy.
Austria was annexed into the German Third Reich on 12 March 1938.
Following the Anschluss of Nazi Germany and Austria, in March 1938, the conquest of Czechoslovakia became Hitler’s next ambition. The incorporation of the Sudetenland into Nazi Germany left the rest of Czechoslovakia weak and it became powerless to resist subsequent occupation. On 16 March 1939, the German Wehrmacht moved into the remainder of Czechoslovakia.
Staff meeting of the Shell oil factory in Hamburg Curio-Haus, 8 April 1935.
March of Rhenania-Ossag employees on 1 May 1938 (on the accompanying sign says: “Operating-cell Rhenania Ossag”)
An international exhibition that’s become an international incident
An exhibition of art in the Louvre has provoked fury in Germany for portraying the country as a dark and dangerous neighbour – has it ignored key movements deliberately, or is it all a matter of taste?
Above, a detail from Max Beckmann’s The Hell of Birds. Photograph courtesy of the Louvre
The Louvre’s spring exhibition, De l’Allemagne; German Thought and Painting 1800-1939 has generated so many ruffled feathers and bruised feelings that it is worth saying at the outset what is good about it.
A German newspaper lamented that the contemporary German artist Anselm Kiefer’s monumental engraving on wood and collage on canvas “sets the tone for the rest of the exhibition” by reminding visitors of “Germany’s bloody past”. Yet Kiefer’s work is a powerful evocation of the tragic pairing of countries that fought one another four times in two centuries, taking many tens of millions of people to their graves.
Kiefer’s room, through which one must pass to enter and exit the exhibition, is black, white and grey. The Rhine, the border between France and Germany, surrounds one, along with the Atlantic Wall and the Maginot Line, vestiges of two World Wars. Black tree trunks rise from the banks of the Rhine, like the bars of a prison that traps, submerges and encloses the visitor in an inescapable past. A geometric prism floats across the scene, annotated with the word “Melancholia”.
Kiefer was born in 1945 and has spent his life asking how the horror happened. He adds Satan to the Holy Trinity, thus transforming it into a quartet. Among the names of great German thinkers painted on the walls, Kiefer includes Paul Celan, the Romanian-born, German-speaking Jewish poet whose parents perished in the Holocaust, and who drowned himself in the Seine in 1970. “There are still songs to sing, above and beyond the history of men,” are the hopeful words of Kiefer’s homage to Celan.
The mood then shifts to the past, with Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein’s iconic portrait of Goethe in the Roman Countryside (1787). The German Centre for the History of Art in Paris, one of the chief protagonists in the controversy over the exhibition, had wanted the great German poet, writer and thinker to be its focus. Goethe’s watercolour studies of the spectrum of light and his paintings of plants are a delightful surprise, shown alongside strikingly similar works by Paul Klee, done more than a century later.
Max Beckmann’s The Hell of Birds , painted in 1938, after the painter fled Nazi Germany for Amsterdam, closes the exhibition. A row of garish figures on the left raise their hands in Nazi salutes. A dark German eagle presides over the centre of the canvas, beneath the Nazi salute of a bird-like priestess with four breasts. A naked man lies prostrate on a table, his hands and feet bound, while a creature scores his back with a knife. Le Monde called Beckmann’s painting “perhaps the only canvas of the century that could be hung next to Guernica and hold its own”.
It is easy to see why the exhibition’s German critics interpreted The Hell of Birds as an allegory for Nazi dictatorship; it is more difficult to understand why the Louvre’s curators excused it as “a militant pacifist work, a work of resistance”.
The exhibition of more than 200 works was meant to commemorate 50 years of Franco-German friendship since the Treaty of the Élysée. It will continue, under the patronage of President Francois Hollande and Chancellor Angela Merkel, until June 24th.
The world’s most-visited museum strived for political correctness, all but ignoring the official, Nazi-approved art of the 1930s and dubiously portraying universalist humanism as the German artistic response to the horrors of the first World War. Among August Sander’s striking 1930s photographs at the end of the show are two portraits, one a man, one a woman, entitled “persecuted”. Were they Jewish? The Louvre doesn’t tell us.
A sinister vision
The Louvre was “surprised and profoundly hurt . . . shocked by the openly Francophobe statements” in Die Zeit ’s critique of the exhibition, wrote Henri Loyrette, the director of the Louvre,
in a four-page letter to the Hamburg daily. Accusations that the museum intended to convey a “sinister” vision of Germany were “totally unfounded”, Loyrette continued. “We had no other ambition than to enable the French public to discover the richness, diversity and inventiveness of German painting from 1800 to 1939,” he protested.
Yet the official notes, published by the museum, seem to confirm its German critics’ chief grievance. The notion that nationalism was the driving force in German art permeates the exhibition. “While the Napoleonic occupation helped advance the cause of unity in this vein, providing the political underpinnings for the earliest stirring of the Romantic movement, the rise of Nazism, at the end of the period’s chronological span, revealed the tragic dimension of this concept,” the curators write.
The wings of the angel in Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld’s Annunciation (1820) are gold, red and black, the colours of Germanic peoples since the Middle Ages. The museum calls Franz Pforr’s Rudolph von Habsburg Enters Bâle (1808-1810) “a nationalist manifesto”. Painted under Napoleonic occupation, Pforr’s masterpiece shows the foundation of the Habsburg dynasty in 1273, but in 16th-century costume. Nostalgia for the 962-1806 Holy Roman Empire, when German-speaking peoples lived under unified rule, is a recurring theme in early 19th-century art.
A detail from Franz Pforr’s Rudolph
The show includes six paintings of the Catholic cathedral of Cologne. After a lapse of centuries, Protestant Prussians completed the cathedral in 1880. It was then the tallest building in the world, and a symbol of a powerful and united Germany.
Natascha Marest, a German guide employed by several French museums, finds the Louvre’s exhibition “superb”. Yet she understands why a German who regards it superficially might be offended. “In my youth, in the 1970s and 1980s, all we watched were films about the Holocaust,” she explains. “We never read Goethe. The myths of the Nibelungen were not taught. We were ashamed of our cultural heritage. When a German sees the Cologne cathedral and [Leo von Klenze’s 1836 painting of] Valhalla in an exhibition, it may shock him; he may say, ‘This is a nationalist interpretation of German art’.”
The exhibition includes 20 paintings by Caspar David Friedrich, the master of the 19th-century Romantic landscape. Friedrich’s Woman in the Morning Sun (1818) shows an elegantly clad woman facing the sunrise and is the signature painting of the exhibition. The spiritual, mystical Friedrich rejected Goethe’s exhortations to paint according to scientific theories. “Close your physical eye to see first with the eye of your mind,” Friedrich said.
Yet even Friedrich’s syrupy landscapes are accused of nationalism. In Tree With Crows (1822), gnarled branches, freighted with birds of ill portent, are framed against a pastel sky. The tree grows from an ancient Druid tumulus, evoking the nation’s origins and its capacity to survive.
During the wars against Napoleonic France, the Louvre notes, “the land takes on patriotic connotations; the feeling of nature an ideological dimension”. Friedrich exalted the landscape – considered an inferior art form by the French – and made it quintessentially German.
A detail from Caspar David Friedrich’s Friedrich’s Woman in the Morning Sun. Photograph courtesy of the Louvre
The Louvre’s logic
The title of the exhibition is taken from Germaine de Staël’s De l’Allemagne (1813), which shaped French attitudes throughout the 19th century. One has only to read her chapter on fine art to understand the Louvre’s approach: “Germans in general conceive of art better than they put it into practice,” she began. Germany’s best painters – Dürer , Cranach and Holbein – lived before the Reformation, de Staël wrote. Germany produced fine writers and musicians, she added, but not artists. The stereotype persists today.
Much of what is best in German art – the Brücke, Blaue Reiter and Bauhaus movements, for example – was left out of the exhibition on the grounds that these were international movements. Instead, many of the paintings on show are second-rate, a confirmation of the French view that Germans can’t paint. And many are Austrian or Swiss, not German. Anselm Feuerbach’s Lucretia Borgia (1864) is mannish and ugly. Arnold Böcklin’s Frolicking Mermaids (1886) is kitsch.
Whatever the intention of the Louvre’s curators, and despite the controversy they’ve ignited – or perhaps because of it – the exhibition is a success, drawing 3,400 visitors daily; 81 per cent more than the museum expected. “Our bet was that the French, like Madame de Staël in her time, harbour curiosity and fascination for Germany,” says Henri Loyrette. For Germany, he concludes, is France’s neighbour, “so close and yet so far away”.
The German view: criticism belies exhibition’s success
Critical reaction to the Louvre exhibition in Germany has ranged from polite applause to furious scorn. The Frankfurter Allgemeine and Die Zeit attacked the show for, in their eyes, following the controversial Sonderweg (“special path”) narrative of German history – namely, that German history took a path separate to its neighbours that triggered an inevitable slide towards Hitler.
This impression, they suggested, is underlined by the exclusion of respected German art movements dubbed “degenerate” by the Nazis – such as the Secession, Bauhaus or Brücke. Both newspapers relate complaints from the German Centre for the History of Art in Paris. Although ostensibly a co-curator, it claims to have been excluded from the show’s curation process.
“These restrictions are unusual in international academic circles, to put it mildly,” says Andreas Beyer, the centre’s director, in Die Zeit. When finally allowed into the Louvre the Germans told the FAZ they were “amazed and appalled” by a “visual history of an abysmal land . . . headed more or less straight for National Socialism”.
“The accusation is that the Louvre took the material delivered by the German Centre and formed their own history of Germany that confirms all cliches of the romantic-strange, dangerous and dark neighbour,” writes FAZ critic Niklas Maak.
He adds: “Whoever doesn’t read the catalogue essays and only follows the show’s signs gets the impression that the Germans, after a short period of fascination with the antique era, retreated to their forests and . . . went crazy around 1900 before emerging during National Socialism.”
Die Zeit agrees, suggesting visitors should concentrate on the art and ignore the Louvre’s attempt to impose an Apollonian- Dionysian dichotomy of order and chaos on German art. “To call the exhibition’s concept an over-simplification would be a euphemism,” it notes drily. Germany’s best-selling quality daily, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, disagreed, praising the show for “not drawing a direct line from romanticism to National Socialism”.
It points out that footage of Leni Riefenstahl’s Olympia is juxtaposed with Billy Wilder’s little-seen film Menschen am Sonntag, showing that 1930s German life was not one endless show of Aryan muscle. On Deutschlandradio Kultur, Prof Bénédicte Savoy, a French-born art historian based in Berlin, suggested the allergic reaction in some quarters suggested that “Germans don’t like being liked. In Paris, the exhibition is a huge success,” she said.
“Everyone’s saying that their eyes have been opened and have got to know the more gentle Germans.”
The remarks by Colm Keaveney TD comparing the group of protesters in Dundalk to Golden Dawn whilst describing them as ‘neanderthals’ -an expression that recalls precisely the fascist perspective he claims to oppose- are the latest salvo in the assault on truth conducted by the Labour Party.
Labour and its supporters have repeatedly resorted to describing loud and rambunctious -though not at all dangerous- protests as ‘anti-democratic’ and attacks on free speech, and so on. Frequent references are being made to fascism and Nazism. The shameless arrogance and ignorance of such a stance, in the context of brutal attacks on the livelihood of working class people -which Labour claims the government is conducting in the name of the Irish people in the ‘national interest’, is all too unsurprising.
It is important to bear in mind though that this isn’t just an attempt by Labour flunkies to shore up legitimacy for its actions in government, but an implicit call for the police to batter such protestors.
Given this context it is important to highlight and emphasise, in public, on the one hand, the seething hatred of democracy that such a stance demonstrates; and, on the other hand, the impeccable democratic legitimacy of protesters who disrupt and frustrate a regime bent on stripping away wages, benefits and public services in order to sate insatiable financial loan sharks.
Spot the Dictator
If we asked you to name the most significant thing about this picture, you’d probably say “The fact that everyone’s wearing the same hat.” However, there are two historically important things about it: First, this was taken on August 2, 1914, at Munich’s Odeonsplatz, and it shows the cheerful reaction of a German crowd in the plaza during the announcement of World War I, because there’s no way something like that could go wrong for them. Remember, at this point words like “Nazi” and “Holocaust” meant nothing to the German people.
The second thing is that within this crowd, there’s a subtle hint of the terror that awaits the country — take a closer look at the man in the circle and see if you recognize him …
“World war? Now there’s an idea.”
Yep, that’s a 26-year-old Adolf Hitler looking stoked that his country is going to war, or possibly asking people if they like his new mustache. He’s two decades away from hijacking the nation into Nazism and leading them into an even more devastating global conflict.
You can’t see his legs, but judging from that haircut, he must have been wearing cigarette jeans.
The photo was taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, who would go on to become Hitler’s personal photographer. In 1932, Hitler visited Hoffmann’s photo lab and mentioned that he was in the 1914 Odeonsplatz crowd. Hoffmann looked in his negatives and, sure enough, found a face that could only belong to the future Fuhrer.
Hoffmann Collection, U.S. National Archives
“Or Charlie Chaplin. But most likely the Fuhrer.”
Recently, German historians have put the authenticity of the photo in doubt, claiming that Hoffmann could have faked it to shut up critics who questioned his boss’ patriotism. While we wouldn’t put something like that past Hitler, those guys will excuse us if we don’t trust the historians in a country where half the children still don’t know what Nazism was.