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Tuesday 17 September 2019

Collaborating with the Nazis: The Black Mark on Remington’s Typewriter History

There are many damnable acts in the chequered history of the Remington Typewriter Company, but none so execrable as Remington’s collaboration with the Nazis in World War II. In the First World War, it was absurd that Australian Prime Minister Billy Hughes should briefly declare Remington an “alien company”. But there was nothing risible about Remington’s each-way bet with the Allies and Axis between 1941-45. Remington was at once supplying arms to the US Army while materially assisting the German Army and Air Force.
One American newspaper headed its article on the affair, “Hitler Aided by Remington Rand Plant in Reich”.
I became aware of this sordid business while following up on Richard Polt’s August 28 post on The Typewriter Revolution blog about his Remington Torpedo (Dynacord) typewriter. To my amazement my searches led to revelations about Remington’s secret machinations to keep its greedy hands on Torpedo’s German typewriter factory, which had been converted to produce Nazi war equipment. Remington had put the plant in the temporary care of three Nazi Party members, at least two of whom had close connections to Third Reich leaders Himmler and Göring.  
SS chief Himmler
The story was broken in American newspapers on July 13, 1945, by war correspondent and former Office of War Information operative Pat Frank (real name Harry Hart Frank, 1908-1964).  At the time Frank was working for the Overseas News Agency, which had been set up the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1940. The ONA was aligned to the British Security Coordination, the New York outpost of MI6, the British equivalent of the CIA, and it provided press credentials to British spies. It may have even collaborated with the predecessor to the Russian spy agency, the KGB. The ONA has since been accused of planting fake news in US newspapers, but in this Remington case the story was 100 per cent true.
Pat Frank at his Smith-Corona portable typewriter.
Would he have touched a Remington?
          Frank reported that “Remington Rand’s German subsidiaries produced war materials for the Nazis throughout the hostilities, according to evidence uncovered by [American] Military Government [AMG] officials [in Frankfurt]. [Remington’s] factories in Germany … were producing parts for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe, including flak guns. Both of the [Frankfurt] plants have been sequestered, along with their cash assets and profits, by the AMG … Torpedowerke Aktien-gesellschaft before the war manufactured Torpedo bicycles and typewriters. It was entirely owned by Remington.”
          Frank might well have substituted the word “is” for “was”, for it transpired that Remington had basically “lent” its controlling interest in Torpedo to three Nazi Party members for the duration of the war. One temporary owner had been Helmuth Roehnert of the Rheinmetall-Borsig typewriter organisation, a director of the Dresdner Bank who was closely linked to Heinrich Himmler, Reichsführer of the Schutzstaffel (SS), and Hermann Göring, commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe. Roehnert was a member of the Nazi production council under Albert Speer. Roehnert died before the end of the war. Another Torpedo part-owner was Max Wessig, also of Rheinmetall-Borsig AG and connected with Göring. Wessig had been involved with the Nazis from the time of the Spanish Civil War.
Hitler and Göring
At the head of this group was Fritz Heinrich Harms, who continued to manage the Torpedo operation throughout the war years.
          In late June 1945 Harms approached the AMG’s property control officer Lieutenant Abraham Richstein, asking that materials be provided for the resumption of typewriter production. He also wanted to be able to resume communications with Remington Rand in the US. But Richstein’s inquiries unearthed that because of a deal done between Remington and Harms in 1941 (just before Nazi Germany declared war on the US on December 11), Remington had been able to avoid being listed by the US State Department as an American company with assets in Germany.
          Harms told Richstein this was a mere “technicality” and that the “loan” of Remington’s majority stake in Torpedo was done “to avoid trouble”. Harms said James Rand himself had told Harms “to play ball with the Nazis”. Remington had retained an option to repurchase the stock at any future time – and did indeed regain the stock. The plants were valued at $US7 million and cash and bank deposits totalled $1.73 million, and the State Department was left with a decision as to whether Remington was entitled to the money.
          On April 10, 1946, another ONA correspondent, Robert Gary, reported that “The persistent efforts of Remington Rand  … to retain the same general manager who ran the firm’s German subsidiary during the Nazi regime, have at last been crowned with success. The manager, Fritz Heinrich Harms, is back in the opulent offices [in Frankfurt] of the Torpedo Works, the German counterpart of Remington Rand, this time with the official blessing of the American Military Government.” Gary said the AMG had removed Harms in late November 1945, and investigated his Nazi ties for two months.
          Harms’ “unexpected” restoration, wrote Gary, “has taken place after extraordinary transocean pressure [had been] exerted by Remington officials here and in the United States”. An examination of Harms’ case record had revealed “interesting data concerning Harms personally and his company’s international manipulations during the pre-war and war years.” Harms admitted joining the Nazi Party in 1937, claiming he did so to “protect the Torpedo works and the majority stockholders, Remington Rand, from hostilities on the part of the Nazis, and to secure profitable work for them [the stockholders, that is].”
          Harms, who met high-ranking Remington officials in New York in 1939, insisted he had done nothing to assist Nazi war production. Yet, as Gary pointed out, “Torpedo Work was up to its neck in war work, producing engine parts and other aeronautical apparatus.” During this time Harms was paid an annual salary of $US85,000.
          Just before the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, on December 7, 1941, Remington transferred $289,000 worth of its shares to Harms to ensure Torpedo Works would not be declared an enemy concern. After Harms was removed by the AMG from his role as Torpedo Works general manager, he was temporarily replaced by a Remington official from the US, Donald Brown, who worked hard to get Harms reinstated. In mid-December 1945, Remington Rand president James Rand himself intervened, cabling the AMG special board investigating Harms that he was “anxious” to have Harms back at work. With that urging, Brown and Harms called on AMG deputy director Major General Clarence Alcock, and in mid-January the AMG voted to restore Harms.
Left, 8th Air Force bombing of military installations in Frankfurt. Right, a café in Frankfurt, 1945.
          Not surprisingly, this business is not recorded in any of Remington’s various histories, nor is it to be found in the section on Torpedo in Leonhard Dingwerth’s Die Geschichte de deutschen Schreibmaschien-Fabriken, Band 1 (2008). However, Dingwerth outlines the takeover of Weilwerke AG (Torpedo) by Remington, announced in US newspapers in mid-April 1932. He says Remington retained control until 1978, which, given what happened between 1941-46, is not - at least technically - entirely true. Nonetheless, given the arrangements Remington made with Harms and his Hitler henchmen, the reality is that Remington did still own the Rödelheim factories throughout the war.
          Of the war years, Dingwerth writes, “During the Second World War, the Weilwerke initially continued the production of typewriters. Mainly the models Torpedo 6 and 17 were manufactured …  The factory also produced other goods for the German armaments industry. In 1942, parts of the plant were relocated to Zeist in Holland, a small town near Utrecht, to ensure continued operations. In the beginning, stockpiles that were mainly shipped to Holland were included in the outsourcing in 1943, which also included parts of the machinery production. Until the end of the war, the Dutch factory produced the Torpedo 17.
Frankfurt Cathedral amid rubble after Allied bombing, 1944.
          “In 1944 the Weilwerke were hit hard by bombs. The main plant in Rödelheim was destroyed with all facilities to about 90 per cent … After the war, the rebuilding of the work in Rödenheim began very soon. The work was financed by Remington, but carried out by the company itself … Soon the typewriter production in this factory could be resumed in a modest amount at first. Since raw materials and spare parts were in short supply, the first machines were often assembled from components of different models.”
          With breathtaking gall, at the end of the war Remington Rand accepted British Government money and Scottish Industrial Estates Ltd help to set up a factory west of Glasgow, on Woodside Crescent on the Hillington Industrial Estate. Even before Remington’s pact with the Nazis, in 1940-41 the Luftwaffe had killed thousands of Glaswegians in bombing raids, with planes using equipment made in Remington’s factory. Conveniently – and in the very short space of just three years - Remington’s role in colluding with the Nazis had already been erased from collective typewriter knowledge. But this black mark against the company’s name must now return to haunt it.


Bill M said...

I read some where that Hitler used a Remington typewriter. Now I know why. I had not known Remington was so involved with the Nazis.

Mark said...

Fascinating article. In response to Bill, Hitler did indeed use a Remington portable in the 1920s, around the time he composed Mein Kampf.

Ted said...

Well, that's I guess not entirely surprising with a multinational trying to protect its assets in hostile territory. I suppose it goes to show how purity is a very transient and ephemeral thing. That'll be tough on purists who love Remingtons. /:

Words are Winged said...

There's always the conspiracies out there about big enterprises milking both sides of a conflict, but then there are the real cases such as this. Thank you for your research, always an enlightening experience. Like Ted said, it's bound to happen with international corporations at some point or another in the course of world events, but one would never otherwise think to compare the all-american Remington name to the Nazis.

Richard P said...

Wow. I have wondered, off and on, about this situation, as I knew that Remington at least legally retained its control of Torpedo throughout the war. Now I see that the profit motive was paramount. This really is shameful. Thanks for your research.

(I wonder whether there's any information on how the sweet designation "Blue Bird" was chosen for Torpedos in the UK. Obviously "Torpedo" was not the friendliest name.)

Thom Cholowski said...

Yes, there is such a beast as a Nazi Remington typewriter, complete with SS runes.

Terry Day said...

I found this article very interesting and informative. It was very well written and provided a behind the scenes look at what was really going on. I would be willing to bet that the AMG and the American news media never thought to bring this out. I think the more I hear about how the American government was involved in WWII the more I am enlightened about what is happening now. I know you don't accept anonymous comments so I will introduce myself. My name is Terry Day. I spent 29 years in a government uniform serving the United States Air Force and the American people. My specialty was supply and I went around the world during my time. I now live in Panama City, Florida. I definitely appreciated reading what you had written and would love to learn more if it is available. I recently retired from the Air Force having served an additional 12 years as a civil servant. I can tell you that nobody in the government that I worked with ever breathed a single word of this and many other things that I have been discovering. Again, thanks for helping me to understand how things really were during the war.