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
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
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
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.
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
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
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).
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.