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Nazi past claims prompt Bertelsmann review

The AOL and Barnes & Noble partner has withdrawn its history, pending an investigation

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German media giant Bertelsmann's corporate history is down for engineering, following claims by a Swiss magazine that the company had been less than honest about its business during the 1930s and 1940s. The Nazis closed the company down in 1943, but Die Weltwoche claims that Bertelsmann was the largest supplier of books for the Wehrmacht and SS. Bertelsmann has evolved into a global media giant in recent years, owning Random House and RCA, and partnering with Barnes & Noble and AOL, among others. With the latter it's a 50-50 owner of AOL Bertelsmann Online Europa. Bertelsmann's previous line was that it had opposed the Nazis. In the face of the claims that this isn't entirely true, which were made by sociologist Hersch Fischler, it has decided to remove its corporate history from its Web site and appoint a committee of historians to review its past. Fischler says the company published pro-Nazi books, and that the CEO of the time was a "passive" member of the SS. Current chairman Thomas Middelhof conceded to the New York Times today that some "abhorrent" books were published during the period, and says he's mounting the review despite his belief that the company's official history is accurate. He also seems to be playing a straight bat -- the findings will be published whatever they say, and without any censorship by Bertelsmann. ®

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