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"Naming Rights and Historical Wrongs"

2008 September 10
by Skip Sauer

In this NYT article, Sandomir discusses the prospect of the NFL’s Giants and Jets playing in Allianz Stadium:

The Giants and the Jets face moral and public-relations questions as they negotiate the possible sale of the naming rights to their new stadium with Allianz, a Munich-based insurer and financial services company with disturbing connections to Nazi Germany.

Allianz insured facilities and personnel at concentration camps like Auschwitz and Dachau. Kurt Schmitt, its chief executive in the 1930s, served as Hitler’s second economics minister and can be seen in a photograph from a rally wearing an SS-Oberführer’s uniform and delivering the Nazi salute with Hitler standing in front of him.

Like other insurers in Germany at the time, Allianz followed anti-Semitic policies by terminating or refusing to pay off the life insurance policies of Jews, and sent cash that was due beneficiaries and survivors to the Nazis.

It also became the insurer of Jewish valuables taken by the Nazis.

Gerald Feldman was a historian asked by Allianz in 1997 to produce an unfettered history of its role in Hitler’s Germany. He wrote in “Allianz and the German Insurance Business, 1933-1945” about when the company extended its group accident insurance for engineers working for the notorious I.G. Farben chemical company at Auschwitz.

“It was just one more piece of business in the Third Reich,” he wrote in his book, which was published in 2001, “but it demonstrated that such pieces on any large scale made contact at some point with all that is represented by the name ‘Auschwitz’ — from slave labor to extermination — virtually inescapable.”

A deal with Allianz would not be easy to sell publicly, like Citigroup’s with the Mets. The possibility of an Allianz Stadium will make some people cringe, especially in a market that is home to many Jewish people, and in which the Tisch family, which owns half of the Giants, has supported many Jewish causes.

“There must be sensitivity to the psychological impact this would have,” said Elan Steinberg, a vice president of the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors and Their Descendants. “Survivors are still alive. It would not be appropriate to affix the Allianz name to a stadium name in an area where a lot of survivors still living.”

This is an intriguing dilemma. At some point – as with slave reparations in the U.S. – one must decouple form the past and take actions which make for a better a future. Allianz is not the only German company with past Nazi ties, and as Feldman’s history and the related facts suggest, the company has owned up to much of it. But the weird thing to me is this: what does Allianz expect to gain from having its name on the stadium? Is this kind of visibility (Allianz is a big, but behind-the-scenes insurer in the U.S.) worth paying for?

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