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When Coke sponsored the Nazis

A Coca-Cola ad at the Berlin Olympics (Source: Adbranch.com)

A Coca-Cola ad at the Berlin Olympics (Source: Adbranch.com)

There’s a concept in journalism called “burying the lede,” defined by Wiktionary as: “To begin a story with details of secondary importance to the reader while postponing more essential points or facts.”

That may have been what Atlas Obscura did in its recent article about the orange soda drink Fanta being invented when the German Coca-Cola subsidiary was forced to come up with a new drink after Germany declared war on the US, which mean that the American Coca-Cola company could no longer do business with Germany. That really isn’t all that interesting considering it’s pretty well known that Fanta is German, and considering the novelty of soft drinks, it stood to reason that it may have been developed during the Nazi era.

No, what’s really interesting is what’s buried in the story: The close relationship between Coke’s German subsidiary and Nazism.

According to the article, which is based on Mark Pendergast’s For God, Country, and Coca-Cola:

In 1933, right when Hitler and the Nazi Party were assuming power, German-born Max Keith took over the company’s German subsidiary, Coca-Cola GmbH.

He saw no quarrel with boosting sales by tying Coca-Cola to every aspect of German life and, increasingly, Nazi rule.

Back in America, the Coca-Cola Company — led by Robert Woodruff — did not discourage this. The company sponsored the 1936 Berlin Olympics, which Woodruff attended, and made banners featuring the Coca-Cola logo alongside the swastika.

The Berlin Olympics were a masterful propaganda event, used by Adolf Hitler to promote his racial ideology. In fact he tried to bar Jews and blacks from participating outright. He certainly didn’t want any Untermenschen on the German team, allowing only one token Jew to avoid boycott. Let’s not forget: By 1936, the Nazi racial laws (Nuremberg Laws) were of public record and known throughout the world. That Coca-Cola allowed itself to be used as a sponsor for such an event is repugnant.

Keith used a 10th anniversary party for Coca-Cola GmbH to order a mass Sieg-Heil (Nazi salute) in honor of the dictator’s 50th birthday.

According to Pendergast, the Coca-Cola continued supplying the German subsidiary even after Hitler’s invasion of Europe in 1939, and Keith followed German troops into conquered countries to take over their Coca-Cola businesses.

Does your stomach turn reading this unsavory chapter of Coca-Cola’s history? Here’s another oddity about the article: It keeps focusing on the Fanta angle, discussing its later success, as well as Keith’s continued success as a Coca-Cola executive. The article never questions the Coca-Cola company, however, for the role it played in sponsoring Nazism. That’s the real story.




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