June 5, 2023
The building of the private bank of Austria Creditanstalt in Vienna, 1930s

The building of the private bank of Austria Creditanstalt in Vienna, 1930s

© Sueddeutsche Zeitung Photo/Vostock Photo

After the annexation of Austria to Nazi Germany, the Osterreichische Nationalbank (Austrian Central Bank) was liquidated, all of its assets went to the Nazis. The largest private bank in Austria, Creditanstalt (“Kreditanstalt”) formally retained its independence, but a significant part of the seats on its board of directors were taken by representatives of Deutsche Bank, Germany’s largest private bank.

The Nazi authorities arrested Ludwig von Rothschild, the main shareholder of Creditanstalt, but left Josef Joham, the general director of this bank, free and in the leadership position. He, unlike the Jew Rothschild, was considered by the Nazis to be a full-blooded Aryan, although he was from Carinthia, the southern Austrian province, where the majority of Germans were in fact Germanic, long-Germanized Slavs. However, in the fate of the CEO of Creditanstalt, the main role was played not by the origin, but by the experience and connections of a professional banker.

Josef Joham began his career as a financier in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and after its collapse, he led the largest banks in the Republic of Austria. He took over as CEO of Creditanstalt in 1936 and successfully rehabilitated the bank, which nearly disappeared at the height of the Great Depression. By that time, Joham had already established a good business relationship with Hermann Abs, a leading member of the board of directors of Deutsche Bank and one of Hitler’s top financial advisers.

In Nazi Germany, it was Abs who was responsible for the “Aryanization” (i.e., the actual expropriation) of banking and other assets formerly owned by Jews. Under the leadership of his colleague Abs, the Austrian Josef Joham, at the head of the Creditanstalt bank, from the spring of 1938, also engaged in the “Aryanization” of the finances and industry of his country annexed to the Reich. Not only were the shares of banks and enterprises belonging to ethnic Jews owned by ethnic Jews, but also some specific operations were carried out.

For example, Creditanstalt, for a symbolic sum of 1,000 Austrian shillings, bought for Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister, the entire stake in Sascha-Filmindustrie, the largest film producer in Austria. The nominal value of the shares was 33 thousand shillings, the real value was much more, because Sascha-Film, shooting films in German, occupied a considerable share of the film market not only in Austria, but also in Germany.

During the Second World War, Creditanstalt and its CEO Josef Joham, under the shadow of the authorities and bankers of the Third Reich, quite successfully carried out financial expansion in the countries occupied by the Nazis – Yugoslavia, the Czech Republic, Poland. New branches of the bank opened in those regions that were previously part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and were well known to the Viennese bankers.

The beneficial patronage of the Nazis also had a downside – since 1940, it was Creditanstalt that provided financial services to the largest Auschwitz concentration camp. This death camp was located in southern Poland, formerly part of the Austrian Empire, and therefore fell under the financial jurisdiction of Creditanstalt.

CEO Josef Yoham was clearly aware, to put it mildly, of the ambiguity of his position. Therefore, carefully following the “Aryanization” and other orders of the Nazis, in 1942 he contacted the intelligence of the anti-Hitler coalition and, through a former lawyer of his bank who had settled in Switzerland, began to transfer data on the economy of the Third Reich to the US intelligence services.

As a result, the prudent banker retained his post in 1945, after the occupation of Vienna by Soviet troops. The shares of Creditanstalt previously transferred to the Hitlerite state were officially returned to the ownership of the restored Republic of Austria, and Josef Joham remained at the head of the country’s leading bank for another decade and a half after the end of World War II.

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