- 1930's German ad for the VW Beetle

The Uncomfortable Relationship between Nazis and Cars

As Holocaust memorial day approaches, it is time to look at the unfortunate relationship between some of our favorite brands, and their History

4w ago
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It is a well-known fact that the German Nazi Party was the main driver behind the famous Volkswagen Beetle, which ironically later became a symbol of the hippie movement in the United States; but the relationship between today's German cars and their uncomfortable history is a lot closer than the manufacturers would like to admit.

Ferdinand Porsche showing Adolf his new creation

Ferdinand Porsche showing Adolf his new creation

Germany's top business magazine WirtschaftsWoche has published a league table illustrating the Nazi past of top German firms like Bosch, Mercedes, Deutsche Bank, VW, and many others, which involved the use of almost 300,000 slaves.

The league table follows revelations earlier that Audi, which was known as Auto Union during the Nazi period, was a big exploiter of concentration camp supplied slave labor, using 20,000 concentration camp inmates in its factories.

Many of the companies listed by WirtschaftsWoche have already had internal reckonings with their Nazi past. In 2011, the dynasty behind the BMW luxury car marker admitted, after decades of silence, to using slave labor, taking over Jewish firms, and doing business with the highest echelons of the Nazi party during World War Two.

BMW was also heavily involved directly contributing to the German war effort, producing thousands of airplane engines, most notably the BMW Bramo 323 which was heavily used in German Bombers of the time such as the Dornier Do 17.

Dornier Do 17

Dornier Do 17

Daimler-Benz was even more heavily involved in the production of aircraft engines than BMW, producing more engines, with 32 variants of the Daimler-Benz DB 600 series used in iconic fighters such as the BF-109 which was the backbone of the Luftwaffe throughout the majority of the war.

BF-109

BF-109

Unfortunately, not only did the influence of the Nazi's extend to the; to be expected war production, but the origin of our beloved performance vehicles were backed by, you guessed it, Adolf Hitler himself. Adolf Hitler was obsessed with motor racing and used the sport to prove Germany's dominance before the outbreak of World War Two. Nazi top-brass started the short-lived ‘speed week’ - a way of ramping up the competition between Auto Union and Mercedes, and a platform for showcasing the excellence of Nazi engineering. The speed week ran until 1938, and took place between Grand Prix seasons. Its premise was simple - both Mercedes and Auto Union would try to record the fastest possible speed over a quarter-mile stretch of the newly-built public autobahn network. The Mercedes-Benz W125 Rekordwagen was an adaptation of the W125 that the Stuttgart manufacturer had used to win six from 12 races in the 1936 Grand Prix season and eventually won out over the Auto Union offering.

The record-breaking car

The record-breaking car

You may have spotted the name further up this article, and yes; Ferdinand Porsche was close within the inner ranks of the Nazi Party and was a friend of the man himself.

The ghostly type 64, still resembles a modern-day Porsche, built-in 1939 months before the war broke out

The ghostly type 64, still resembles a modern-day Porsche, built-in 1939 months before the war broke out

Porsche's proximity to the Nazi inner circle enabled him to win government contracts; most infamously a prototype for the Tiger tank. Somewhat ironically it was the first proper use of a hybrid drivetrain (tell that to your Prius driving mates next time they drag you about how saintly they are).

Tiger Tank

Tiger Tank

As of the writing of this article, both Volkswagen and BMW have clearly on their website, acknowledged the full history of their brand, including the horrific period throughout which they profited. However; Audi and Mercedes have worrying omissions from their official brand history on their websites, and any information that was available was not easily accessible and had to be directly looked up. As Holocaust memorial day approaches tomorrow (27th of January), I hope that these brands acknowledge their History as a part of them, instead of hiding it away in the depths of their websites.

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Comments (25)

  • Sure, let's admit it as history, but I don't think it serves any helpful purpose to hold it against the brands today- generations have passed and none of them celebrate their Nazi history - even if they don't go to great pains to agonise over it on their website landing pages.

    It's Australia Day today, and as it's always marked with controversy amongst certain groups, I'm reminded how useless and divisive it is to focus exclusively and resentfully on negative aspects of the past.

      30 days ago
    • Too true, but I think that rather than hiding their past, brands should acknowledge it, and the pain of many who are still alive, recognition can go a long way

        30 days ago
    • Thank you John for mentioning that. I grew up in Austria, we learned every little detail about both wars, trips to the camps and so on. It was getting to a point that we started to feel guilty for a war which happened way before we got born.

      My...

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        30 days ago
  • Comment your thoughts on this article

      1 month ago
  • Interesting read. Perhaps follow up articles exploring the American, British, Italian, etc automotive industries’ involvement and contributions towards other historical atrocities against humanity?

      1 month ago
  • Ferdinand Porsche was the Tony Stark of his era, in most possible ways. His life reflects incredible well the of 20th century history of Central Europe.

    I have zero intention to mitigate the horrible crimes that the Nazi system committed, but living under that ruthless oppressive regime was different than today cheering for a the republicans or democrats. Same is true for the communist regimes, killing or deporting millions to sure death. You marched along or you ended up in a labour camp.

    I often see that even highest circle people who were not involved in the crimes against Humanity (like Caracciola, or Porsche) got away clean, and for that the US led world order can't be praised enough, compared to the eastern block, where "liberated" or even allied countries received much worse treatment than the ones occupied by the US led allied forces.

    Indeed Porsche could relaunch his peaceful ideas helping his country to restart (see Porsche Diesel) and even now, the world is so much richer with a dream factory that sells brilliant cars. This is much better

    Certainly, I don't think it is fair to extrapolate the sins of the past on current Germany. Basically, all the war criminals are dead, and many have been punished for their crimes.

    In my view, it seems that Germany learned his history lesson, and the US was the right teacher.

      29 days ago
  • Nice read - sensitively written and good points made!

      29 days ago
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