Siemens' Dark History

The Wangan and Jagalingou Family Council has called on Siemens to suspend its railway signalling contract with Adani. Their elder Murrawah Johnson is in Munich right now seeking a meeting with Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, and will try to address Siemens shareholders at the annual meeting this afternoon (5/02/2020).

Their current contract which enables the exploitation of a huge, new coal basin resonates with a dark past, which Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black shares in this article.

Buddhist, Gillian Reffell (left), and Catholic, Thea Ormerod (right) were arrested peacefully protesting outside Siemens' office in Sydney

In a previous statement, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser had claimed the Wangan and Jagalingou had approved the Adani mine, when in fact they have never given their free, prior and informed consent. 

Meanwhile, Siemens has made a commitment to be carbon neutral by 2030.[1] That is less than 10 years away, and certainly less than the lifespan planned for the Carmichael mines!  It would seem that Siemens cares more about profit than their commitment to the planet.  Read their balance sheets and their profit projections rather than their words!

As a Rabbi concerned for the world, I wrote to Joe Kaeser, Siemens CEO, and this is part of what I said:

Siemens, a responsible major world engineering company for seventy-five years, have reportedly and inconceivably agreed to provide signalling for the Adani rail line …

But of course, Siemens has a longer history than three-quarters of a century.  It’s just that it was not so responsible back then – and it has spent 75 years trying to repair the damage to its reputation.  Because of the irresponsible decisions now being made, I feel you should be told, or reminded, of Siemens darker past:

Siemens was a leading corporate participant in Hitler’s “death through work” program, taking Jewish and other slave laborers during the Holocaust and using them to construct the gas chambers that would subsequently kill them and their families.

Siemens, already a major European enterprise by then, also ran slave labour factories at Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Flossenberg, Gross Rosen, Mauthausen, Neuengamme, Ravensbruck, & Sachsenhausen death camps. In late 1944, at the height of World War II, Siemens’ total workforce included 50,000 slave labourers.

Siemens Electric Company was the major private firm that used slave labour at Ravensbrück Concentration Camp. Today this is the second largest electric company in the world. In a separate camp adjoining the main one, Siemens used the women to make electrical components for V-1 and V-2 rockets that devastated parts of Britain.[2]   This is the history that Siemens has been trying to expunge for 75 years.

Actually, Siemens suffered a major slip back into those dark years less than 20 years ago, surely the single biggest post-Holocaust moment of insensitivity of any major company. In 2001, they tried to trademark the word “Zyklon” for a new line of products… including a line of gas ovens[3].  Zyklon B, of course, was the name of the poison gas used in the gas chambers during the Holocaust.

I asked the CEO: Do we need to publicise these huge mistakes by previous managements to highlight what Siemens will do for a profit?  I urge you to rapidly change your decision and walk away from Adani's coal line.  In the Holocaust, Siemens undoubtedly participated in major crimes against humanity – and by helping to develop major new fossil fuel mines, they will again be doing just that - crimes against humanity for more shareholder profit – never mind the cost!                                          

Rabbi Jonathan Keren-Black, 5/2/2020

[1] Siemens is leading the way: carbon neutral operations by 2030 “Committing to cutting our global carbon footprint is not only prudent – it’s profitable.”  – Joe Kaeser, CEO Siemens AG, https://new.siemens.com/global/en/company/sustainability/decarbonization/carbonneutral.html

[2] http://holocaustonline.org/siemens/

[3] http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/business/2233890.stm