Historical Commission presents comprehensive report on BA-CA’s predecessors during the Nazi period

  • Erich Hampel: “It is our moral and democratic obligation to assume responsibility.”
  • BA-CA creates a public historical archive

After five years, the independent, international Historical Commission created by Bank Austria Creditanstalt (BA-CA) in 2000 has completed its work entitled “Austrian Banks and Savings Banks under National Socialism and in the Post-War Period”. One key revelation from this 2-volume work of more than 2000 pages: although the predecessors of BA-CA –with exception of Zentralsparkasse der Gemeinde Wien – were controlled by German companies, they had a broader scope for action than previously known, particularly in Central and Eastern European countries.

“The history of major Austrian banks during the Nazi period cannot be studied solely from the perspective of their relations with their German owners and the interests of Berlin,” according to Gerald D. Feldman, head of the Historical Commission. Despite the political influence of the German institutions – Creditanstalt-Bankverein was under the majority control of VIAG and Deutsche Bank between 1938 and 1942, and Länderbank Wien was a subsidiary of Dresdner Bank – the banks still retained a considerable degree of autonomy. “They were able to manoeuvre freely within the limitations set by the Nazi regime,” noted Feldman.

When the Nazis took power in Austria, this was initially reflected by a radical transformation and purging of the boards of directors and administrative boards of financial institutions in Vienna. Racially and politically motivated dismissals of employees were pushed through quickly and decisively at the companies which were reviewed. Participation in discriminatory measures against Jews and political opponents of the Nazi regime and their effort to “Aryanise” companies is clearly detailed in this comprehensive study of the period.

“We have a democratic and moral obligation to the victims of the Nazi dictatorship and to society as a whole to accept responsibility for what happened,” explained Erich Hampel, CEO of BA-CA.

Austrian banks played a decisive role in integrating Austrian credit institutions into Nazi Germany and its wartime economy. For example, they supported companies which were “crucial for the war effort” or the “arms industry”. Clearly, the banks of that period also saw the territorial expansion of Hitler’s Third Reich as an opportunity to broaden their scope of activities. In many cases, there was a focus on the economic benefits.

As Oliver Rathkolb, one of the members of the Historical Commission, summarised, “Discussing and understanding the role of Austrian bank managers vis-à-vis Jewish clients and employees during the Nazi expansion in Europe is an important step towards formulating a common understanding of European history. As part of this process, we must also critically review the banking policy under the Nazi regime in Eastern and South-Eastern European countries – in cities and countries which are now part of BA-CA’s market.“

BA-CA creates a public historical archive
BA-CA does not view the final report of the Commission as the end of this process. The source materials of the Commission – comprising some 1,500 meters files – is to be opened to the public. In order to make this possible, a historical archive is being created at the BA-CA headquarters in Schottengasse in Vienna, under the direction of Ulrike Zimmerl. This is also intended to facilitate the study of Austrian banking and business history.

The independent Historical Commission was founded in 2000 within the framework of a legal settlement reached between Holocaust victims and BA-CA, as ordered by the US District Court, Southern District of New York. The objective of the Commission’s work was to thoroughly research and document the activities of Creditanstalt-Bankverein, Länderbank Wien, Zentralsparkasse der Gemeinde Wien and the regional banks such as Bank für Kärnten, Bank für Oberösterreich und Salzburg and Bank für Tirol und Vorarlberg during the Nazi era in Austria from 1938 to 1945.

Members of the Historical Commission:

Univ. Prof. Dr. Gerald D. Feldman, Chairman
Jane K. Sather Professor of history at the University of California in Berkeley, from 1994 to 2006, Director of the Institute of European Studies in Berkeley. Awarded the Great Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in 2000. Member of the Historical Commission of Deutsche Bank and member of the Advisory Committee to the Historical Commission of Dresdner Bank, 2001 published "Die Allianz und die deutsche Versicherungswirtschaft 1933-1945".

Univ. Prof. DDr. Oliver Rathkolb, Member of the Commission
Professor at the Institute of History of the University of Vienna

Dr. Theodor Venus, Member of the Commission
University lecturer at the University of Vienna, active as an independent researcher of history and communication sciences. Participated in numerous research projects, most recently within the framework of the Historical Commission of the Federal Republic of Austria and the Institute of History at the University of Vienna.

Dr. Ulrike Zimmerl, Member of the Commission
Historian, scientific project coordinator of the independent Historical Commission of Bank Austria Creditanstalt since 2000.
Information on the publication:

Gerald D. Feldman, Oliver Rathkolb, Theodor Venus, Ulrike Zimmerl
Österreichische Banken und Sparkassen im Nationalsozialismus und in der Nachkriegszeit
Volume 1: Creditanstalt-Bankverein
Volume 2: Creditanstalt-Regionalbanken, Länderbank und Zentralsparkasse

Published by Verlag C.H.Beck 2006.
Two clothbound volumes with decorative dust jackets
Volume 1: 942 pages with 24 figures
Volume 2: 1.077 pages with 61 figures
Price: € 98,–[G] / sFr 155,– / € 100,70[A]

ISBN 978-3-406-55158-1

The report will be published in English in 2007.

Enquiries: Bank Austria Creditanstalt Press Office
Peter N. Thier, Tel: +43 (0)5 05 05 52371; e-mail: peter.thier@ba-ca.com

Recensions: VERLAG C.H.BECK
Ms Katrin Daehn, Tel. +49 89 381 89 405; 
E-Mail Katrin.Daehn@beck.de