Gerhard Alois Westrick

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Gerhard Alois Westrick
Born 1889
Died 1957
Nationality German
Occupation Lawyer, businessman
Known for Representing U.S. companies in Germany during World War II

Gerhard Alois Westrick (1889–1957) was a German lawyer and businessman who represented several major American companies in Germany before World War II. He was known for his efforts during a trip to New York in 1940 to gain support for the Nazi government. Later he turned against the regime.

Early years[edit]

Gerhard Alois Westrick was born in 1889. During World War I (1914–1918) he was badly wounded, and lost part of one leg. He joined the law firm of Heinrich Friedrich Albert in 1921, and became a specialist in international corporate law.[1] Heinrich F. Albert advised or represented major industrial and financial organizations in Germany and the United States. They were associated with Allen Dulles and his New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell.[2] The German law firm's clients included Kodak, Ford, Texas Oil, General Motors and ITT.[3] In 1938 Westrick founded his own law firm in Berlin, taking some of the American clients with him, including ITT.[2] Westrick was appointed chairman of ITT's German subsidiary. He played a leading role in helping ITT acquire companies in Eastern Europe.[3]

Intelligence work[edit]

In 1936 Westrick was called up to serve in the officer reserve, but was rejected because of his injury. He still wanted to serve Germany, and said he was interested in intelligence work.[3] On the advice of Joachim von Ribbentrop, the French-American businessman Charles Bedaux met Westrick in August 1939 and hired him as his lawyer.[1] Westrick quickly managed to remove the obstacles that had been preventing Bedaux from operating in Germany.[3] Westrick recognized Bedaux's potential as a source for intelligence, and brought him to the attention of Leopold Bürkner, head of the foreign liaison section of the Abwehr.[4] Westrick's correspondence with the intelligence organization emphasized his own importance as chairman of ITT in Germany, for example in influencing what the Hungarian ITT plant would ship to Turkey, a key supplier of chromium to Germany.[5]

World War II broke out in September 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. France and Britain immediately declared war.[6] France fell in June 1940.[7] However, Russia remained neutral until it was invaded in June 1941.[8] The USA remained technically neutral until four days after the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, when Germany and Italy declared war on the United States.[9]

Westrick was well-connected with the Nazi regime. His brother Ludger was head of the aluminum industry in Germany under Hermann Göring, while his brother Julius was on the staff of Otto Abetz, who became German ambassador to France after the occupation of that country. In January 1940 Westrick was given the title of Wehrwirtschaftsführer for his contributions to the war effort. He was assigned by von Ribbentrop to undertake a mission to the United States to meet American business leaders and gain their support for Germany. He was also asked to look into obtaining a $5 billion loan for the Third Reich after the war had ended.[10]

United States visit[edit]

Westrick left Berlin in January 1940.[11] He was accompanied by his wife and his two boys, Klaus, 9, and Peter, 6.[12] They travelling to the United States via Russia and Japan, both neutral at the time, and reached the United States on 7 March 1940.[10] Westrick later said he had gone to the United States on his own initiative, planning to stay there, and his bringing his family lends some support to this assertion.[11] However, according to Charles Higham in his book Trading with the Enemy, Sosthenes Behn of ITT arranged the trip and persuaded Torkild Rieber, CEO of Texaco, to look after Westrick's local needs.[11][a] Rieber arranged for offices in New York, a house in Westchester County, New York, and a Buick. Westrick found support among American business leaders who were hostile to Bolshevism and to President Roosevelt, and who were interested in continuing to do business in Europe.[15]

At this time Westrick represented many American companies in Germany including ITT, Ford, General Motors, Standard Oil, the Texas Company, Sterling Products, and the Davis Oil Company.[16] Westrick seems to have expected a friendly reception. He gave press conferences, and attended receptions and parties. He presented the view that after the war America, Germany and Japan would dominate the world economy.[11] On 26 June 1940, one day after the surrender of France, Rieber sponsored a celebratory dinner for Westrick at the Waldorf Astoria New York. Attendees included Sosthenes Behn of ITT, James D. Mooney of General Motors,[b] Edsel Ford of the Ford Motor Company and Philip Dakin Wagoner of Underwood.[18] Westrick told the guests that Britain would be defeated in three months, and there would then be huge opportunities for trade between America and the German Empire.[19][c]

The British MI6 chief in North America, William Stephenson, found out about Westrick's mission and leaked it to the press.[17] The story was picked up by the Chicago Daily News, Time, Life, and the New York Herald Tribune.[22] On 8 July 1940 Time published a hostile story calling Westrick "Hitler's ambassador-off-the-record to U. S. businessmen".[12] The Herald Tribune ran stories with headlines like "Hitler's Agent Ensconced in Westchester" and gave the address of his house. Many of his business associates no longer wished to be associated with him.[23] Westrick's house became a target for angry citizens.[24] An FBI guard was placed round the property.[25] Westrick had disappeared from view by the end of July.[26]

The FBI found that Westrick had concealed his disability and obtained a driving licence illegally.[27] His license was removed on 1 August 1940. Newspapers reported that the FBI had asked the police to record the licence numbers of cars that stopped at Westrick's house in Scarsdale.[28] On 11 August the New York Post said $5 million had been deposited for Westrick in a bank in San Francisco by a source in Germany, followed by additional sums. The paper said the Nazis thought he was an ace propagandist.[26] Columnists such as Walter Winchell and Drew Pearson attacked Westrick, wildly exaggerating his connections with the Nazis.[29]

In the face of this storm of hostile publicity, the German Chargé d'Affaires Hans Thomsen asked Westrick to return to Germany.[29] Westrick left the United States on 23 August 1940, returning to Germany via the Pacific route.[17]

Later career[edit]

Back in Germany Westrick continued to work for his American clients.[17] Westrick had been given power of attorney over all the European ITT properties just before the fall of France to forestall the possibility of a Nazi seizure.[30] Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941 after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.[9] Early in 1942 Westrick flew to Madrid where he met with Sosthenes Behn to discuss how to manage ITT's European business in the new political climate.[31] Wilhelm Ohnesorge, the Reich Postal Minister repeatedly tried to dissolve ITT on the grounds that it was an enemy-favored enterprise. Westrick did all he could to prevent this happening, perhaps to protect his own interest in the company. Ohnesorge took his case to Hitler, calling Westrick an American sympathizer, but Hitler recognized the importance of ITT and let the company continue operating in Europe with Westrick as chairman of the managing directors.[29] During the war, Westrick remained in touch with ITT's head office in America through G. Edouard Hofer, managing director of ISE in Switzerland. The U.S. State Department was aware of these communications, and monitored them.[32]

Westrick also continued his intelligence work. His last report giving information from Bedaux was written in March 1942 and reported on Marshal Philippe Pétain and his intimates and their dealings with the French Legion in North Africa.[4] However, he became disillusioned with the Nazi regime. During interrogations after the war the head of foreign intelligence, Walter Schellenberg, said that Westrick was among the few people with whom he could discuss in 1943 the need to overthrow Hitler, or even to kill him.[33] Around the end of 1944 Westrick and two other business leaders suggested to Schellenberg that they could negotiate for him with Dulles in Switzerland. Schellenberg turned down the offer since he had nothing tangible to propose to Dulles.[33]

The war in Europe ended in May 1945. Westrick was interrogated over his role in the regime in April 1947.[34] Behn would have no contact with Westrick after the war, and refused to vouch for him during the trials.[35] Westrick died in 1957.[36] He was aged about 68.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Torkild Rieber was to suffer for his support of Westrick. When the newspapers picked up the story about Westrick's visit, publicity about Rieber's pro-Nazi views began to threaten Texaco's sales.[13] After a stormy meeting in August 1940 the Texaco board of directors forced Rieber to resign.[14]
  2. ^ Adolf Hitler had given James D. Mooney the Golden Eagle award.[17]
  3. ^ With the fall of France, Britain with her colonies and imperial possessions stood alone against Hitler, who controlled most of Europe.[20] Many in the United States expected Germany to next invade Britain. The mood in America quickly changed from non-involvement to preparation for war with Germany.[21]

Sources[edit]