The Bush Family Fortune


Within the chainsaw-wielding Texas rancher, the blue blood of Connecticut runs deep. But not so many people know that there are a couple of rocks to be turned over in the Bush family history.

Prescott Bush, sometimes described as a progressive Republican senator from Connecticut and often described as the man who looked like he should be president, turns out to have been a creepy front man for industrialists who bankrolled and built the Nazi war machine.

Over the weekend, The Guardian (U.K.) set out in a lengthy story based on files in the National Archives the story of how in the ’30s, young Prescott Bush, with the help of his father, got together with Averill Harriman, son of the railroad scion E.H. Harriman, and set up a company called UBC (Union Banking Corporation). Bush was a founder and director and owned one share, valued at $125. As it turned out, UBC was an American shell company for the Thyssen family interests. The Thyssens were a preeminent German business family that dominated the nation’s iron and steel and coal businesses and were crucial to bankrolling and building the Nazi war machine. UBC was a shell, owned by a Netherlands bank, with anonymous real owners who, on further inspection, turned out to be the Thyssens.

Young Fritz Thyssen was infatuated with Hitler and joined the Nazi party in 1931. When the Nazis were having a hard time, he bailed them out financially. By the late ’30s, along with Harriman’s Brown Brothers Harriman, which claimed to be the world’s largest investment bank, Bush had bought and shipped millions of dollars of gold, fuel, steel, coal, and U.S. treasury bonds to Germany. In addition, it appears that Bush may have had ties to the Consolidated Silesian Steel Company, which during the war used slave labor from the Nazis’ concentration camps. He might also have been involved through the Thyssens in another company that was linked to the chemical giant I.G. Farben, which used slave labor.

There was nothing illegal or even unusual about doing business with the Germans in the ’30s before war broke out; numerous American companies had holdings in Germany during that era. The issue with Prescott Bush is whether he had actually owned shares in the Thyssen enterprise or was just holding them in a shell for the German owners. U.S. investigations never answered the question, and no one ever brought any charges.

John Loftus, a former U.S. attorney who prosecuted Nazi war criminals in the ’70s, is working on a novel that relates to some of the material he found about the Bushes. He told The Guardian, “You can’t blame Bush for what his grandfather did any more than you can blame Jack Kennedy for what his father did—bought Nazi stocks—but what is important is the cover-up, how it could have gone on so successfully for half a century, and does that have implications for us today? This was the mechanism by which Hitler was funded to come to power, this was the mechanism by which the Third Reich’s defense industry was re-armed, this was the mechanism by which Nazi profits were repatriated back to the American owners, this was the mechanism by which investigations into the financial laundering of the Third Reich were blunted.”

Loftus, who is vice chairman of a Holocaust museum in Saint Petersburg, Florida, added, “The Union Banking Corporation was a holding company for the Nazis, for Fritz Thyssen. At various times, the Bush family has tried to spin it, saying they were owned by a Dutch bank and it wasn’t until the Nazis took over Holland that they realized that now the Nazis controlled the apparent company and that is why the Bush supporters claim when the war was over they got their money back. Both the American treasury investigations and the intelligence investigations in Europe completely belie that, it’s absolute horseshit. They always knew who the ultimate beneficiaries were.”

Additional reporting: Laurie Anne Agnese and David Botti