From Petition to Arms: A Story of Friends Caught Up in the American Fight for Independence

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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 s before falling out with him at the end of the decade.

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.

During the war, the company made use of Nazi slave labour from the concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

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 which records the seizure of the company assets. What these files show is that on October 20 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. 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 stated of the companies that "since , 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 In , 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. 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 s, 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 , 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 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 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 s, 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 and financing Hitler's build-up to war. In , 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 s and many of America's best-known business names invested heavily in the German economic recovery. However, everything changed after Germany invaded Poland in Even then it could be argued that BBH was within its rights continuing business relations with the Thyssens until the end of as the US was still technically neutral until the attack on Pearl Harbor.

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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. What is in dispute is if Harriman, Walker and Bush did more than own these companies on paper. 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. 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 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. 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, 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.

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. 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.

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. All concrete evidence of its ownership disappears after and there are only a few traces in and ," 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. Kurt Julius Goldstein, 87, and Peter Gingold, 85, began a class action in America in , 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.


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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 Anti-fascists, suggest the Americans were aware of what was happening at Auschwitz and should have bombed the camp.

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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. The little gold and silver in circulation was not in the hands of farmers, whose assets were tied up in land, livestock and produce. Pelham joined dozens of towns across the Commonwealth in petitioning for debtor relief, and for laws lowering judicial court fees and government salaries.

Daniel Shays and other Pelham residents met here to discuss grievances and petition the Massachusetts General Court. The government chose not to enact the debtor relief and reforms for which the petitioners pleaded. Instead, the General Court urged Massachusetts citizens to exercise patience and frugality. As in the years leading up to the Revolution, armed men prevented courts from convening or conducting any business. They called themselves Regulators and insisted they were there to uphold justice. It was at this point that Daniel Shays emerged as one of the local leaders of the protest movement.

Shays met with other local men at Conkey's Tavern in Pelham, where they discussed their situation and what could be done in the face of the government's lack of interest in constitutional reforms or debtor relief policies. Shays was, by all accounts, a reluctant leader. Yet, the following month, he played a prominent role in an even more dangerous protest.

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Everyone expected that the judges of the Supreme Judicial Court session scheduled to sit at Springfield in September would issue indictments against Captain Luke Day of West Springfield and other men who had led the Regulators against the Northampton court. Captain Shays agreed to present the demands of the Regulators that the Springfield court not issue any indictments or sit again until the grievances of the people had been addressed.

Tensions ran high, but Shays believed he could keep the situation from getting out of hand by assuming leadership over the angry and potentially violent group of protesters, many of whom had made a point of coming armed with muskets and clubs. Captain Shays cut an impressive figure in his Continental Army uniform. His dignified air of command and his confident knowledge of military protocols lent credence and respectability to the ranks marching on the courthouse. He rode forward to confer with General William Shepard , commander of the militia troops stationed in front of the court house.

The two former Continental Army officers negotiated the peaceable abandonment of the courthouse by the judges and the militia. In return, Shays agreed that the Regulator troops would confine themselves to peaceably marching and demonstrating in front of the building rather than seeking to close it by force.

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Captain Daniel Shays presented the demands of the Regulators and negotiated the peaceful abandonment of the courthouse with the commander of the government militia General William Shepard. Shays' appearance at the head of the Regulators at Springfield marked a turning point for him personally and for the Regulator movement in general. The Massachusetts General Court interpreted the closing of the Commonwealth's highest court as a direct assault on the sovereignty of the state government. Almost overnight, Shays rose to the top of the government's most wanted list and was labeled the "generalissimo" of the movement the Friends of Government were calling a rebellion.

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Although Shays did not know it, the momentum had begun to build that would result in his name becoming synonymous with the Regulation. This woodcut depicts the two men the government believed were the leaders of the Regulator movement: Daniel Shays of Pelham and Job Shattuck of Groton. As for Shays himself, the Springfield court closing offered an opportunity to observe the strengths and the weaknesses of the Regulator movement.

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