Kanye West antisemitism: Was Adidas really founded by a Nazi?

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On Tuesday, sportswear giant Adidas announced it was severing its highly lucrative Yeezy sneaker partnership with Ye, after the rapper and designer formerly known as Kanye West made a string of antisemitic remarks in recent weeks.

The company said in a statement that it “does not tolerate antisemitism and any other sort of hate speech” and that “Ye’s recent comments and actions have been unacceptable, hateful and dangerous.”

As a result, Adidas said it would immediately “end production of Yeezy branded products and stop all payments to Ye and his companies,” a partnership estimated to net the company billions each year.

The growing public outrage over Ye’s comments quickly came to include criticisms of Adidas itself, with commentators arguing the company hadn’t acted swiftly enough to cut ties with the rapper.

“Your silence is a danger to Jews,” Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement on Monday. “We can’t let Ye’s antisemitism become normalized - we all need to demand Adidasrun away from hate by condemning his racist rhetoric and re-evaluating their partnership.”

Some argued the company was being slow to drop Ye because it had Nazi origins.

“Adidas was founded by literal Nazis so I guess the company’s reticence about dropping Kanye isn’t exactly shocking,” writer Marisa Kabas said on Twitter on Monday.

The founders of the company that eventually became Adidas were in fact members of the Nazi party, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports.

In 1924, brothers Adolf (“Adi”) and Rudolf Dassler founded Gebrüder Dassler Schuhfabrik (Dassler Brothers Shoe Factory), in the Bavarian town of Herzogenaurach.

A decade later, as the company continued to grow and Hitler rose to power, both brothers joined the Nazi party, according to journalist Barbara Smit’s book about Adidas, Sneaker Wars.

During this period, both men signed their letters “Heil Hitler,” and German athletes wore the brothers’ shoes during the infamous 1936 “Nazi Olympics” in Berlin.

The company has subsequently emphasised how Adi Dassler also provided sneakers during the 1936 games to Jesse Owens, the groundbreaking African-American track star who dazzled the American and German public alike.

Adidas told Insider that seeing athletes "perform at their best was more important to Adi Dassler than politics," and that the company is "proud that Adi Dassler showed moral courage ... in this darkest phase of German history."

During WWII itself, the company’s shoe factories were converted into munitions factories for the Germans. After the war, both brothers were scrutinised for their Nazi ties.

Rudolf was arrested on suspicion he fed information to the Gestapo and was briefly sent to a POW camp, while Adi was also accused of supporting the Nazis during the war, but had local leaders vouch that he wasn’t a party loyalist. Adi also claimed he continued to do business with Jewish leather traders long after other German businesses refused to do so.

It was only in 1949, five years after the end of WWII, that Adi broke off and formed his own company, Adidas, amid a fraternal rift, while Rudolf founded Puma.