Origins of Denial

Question:

I have heard of Volkswaagon deliberately killing babies during Hitler's reign of terror. Can you provide any information on this.

Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:

I have not heard of any such crime by the company that manufacturers Volkswagen automobiles. This is not to say that they did not employ slave labor during World War II, nor that they did not mistreat their workers during that period. Like most makers of heavy industrial and war material, they were responsible for considerable suffering.

The following information about Ferdinand Porsche and the company that he created might give you some idea of what this company did. I have used the following book for source material:

Small Wonder: The Amazing Story of the Volkswagen
Nelson, Walter Henry
c. 1965, Little, Brown and Company
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 65-10899

Pages 77:

On Ascension Thursday, May 26, 1938, Adolf Hitler laid the cornerstone of the Volkswagen factory near Fallersleben, Lower Saxony. [...] ...Ferdinand Porsche was conspicuous in mufti, wearing a trench coat and no hat. [...] Porsche commuted between his Bureau in Stutgart and his job in Wolfsburg, overseeing the construction of his plant. [...] Nazi Germany honored its leading designer [Porsche] in 1938 with its own equivalent of the Nobel Prize. [...] Orders from Berlin forced the factory to devote part of its capacity to building other war equipment, instead of concentrating on automobiles. Yet another factor may have been a human one. Today [1965] the factory is manned by free men; in World War II, two thirds of its workers were slaves. [...] The labor force increased more than 600 percent, from 2732 in 1939 to 17,365 in 1994; the vast majority were foreign prisoners. Some were Russian and Polish prisoners of war; most were forced laborers from France, Belgium and Holland, and a few were court-martialled German soldiers sentenced to work at the plant. While treatment of the prisoners at Wolfsburg appears to have been better than elsewhere in Nazi Germany, it is a fact that many of those who arrived there were half-starved. ...Porsche designed a succession of tanks and other military vehicles , for which he was lavishly honored by the Third Reich.

I hope that this material is of some use to you.

Sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

Question:

I heard something about Hitler comming up with the first idea of the Volkswagon Beetle, is this true?

Harry W. Mazal OBE answers:

I am one of the volunteers who responds to such questions. It is possible that other of my colleagues will also wish to add a comment.

Hitler had nothing to do with the design of the Volkswagen. While it is true that he was interested in the development of a "People's Car" which is what the name means in German (Volks = People's; Wagen = Car), the truth can be read in

Small Wonder: The Amazing Story of the Volkswagen
Nelson, Walter Henry
c. 1965, Little, Brown and Company
Library of Congress Catalog Card No. 65-10899

You may also get additional information by clicking on the link below:

http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/porsche.shtml

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

Question:

I am a student at Winona State University in Winona, MN and I am studying Western Civilization during the WWII era. First of all I wanted to say that many of your writings are intriguing and packed full of useful information. In my studies I have ran across accounts of the slave labor that was used during the WWII era by Volkswagen. I read the article that you have at

Harry W. Mazal OBE Responds:

Thank you for your recent query concerning Volkswagen's role during World War II. I am circulating your message to other colleagues of mine who might wish to add their comments.

One of the better sources for the history of Volkswagen and its role in World War II, including the use of slave labor, can be found in:

Beyond Expectation: "The Volkswagen Story" K.B. Hopfinger. Third Edition c. 1956, G.T. Foulis & Co., Ltd. (London)

from which most of my comments (below) have been taken. You might try to get your university library to obtain a copy on interlibrary loan.

Although flaunted as the "People's Car" by the Nazis, and sold to the general public before the war on a subscription basis, very few people actually ever received the vehicle. On February 18, 1938 Hitler stated in a speech: "...It has now taken four years not only to complete the development of the Volkswagen, which is to sell at a price attractive to everybody, but it has also been ensured that the design of the vehicle will permit a high production output.The plant in which the Volkswagen will be produced will be the most modern in the world."

"On May 26, 1938, the foundation stone of the Volkswagen plant was to be laid... [Hitler] ...made a speech in which he said: '...this car has been created for the people, it will serve them in their daily tasks as a means of transport and will bring them joy in their leisure. The car shall bear the same of the Strength-through-joy movement , which made all this possible...'"

Eight weeks previously the Nazi troops had marched into Austria, and a few weeks after the laying of the foundation stone Hitler ordered the German Army into Czechoslovakia.

By late Autumn of 1938 it became apparent that the new factory could not be completed in time due to an acute shortage of labor. With a 10% unemployment rate in Italy, Mussolini sent 1000 unemployed Italians to Wolfsberg: "When the somewhat bewildered Italians arrived at Wolfsberg they found a huge camp of wooden huts, surrounded by barbed wire and watchtowers, the Stormtroopers on guard duty beng there only for their 'protection.' "

"In Augist 1939, Czechoslovakia was a conquered territory... Under the circumstances Porsche received the not unreasonable order to develop a military vehicle based on the Volkswagen."

"Whilst early in 1940 a few cars were supplied to leading personalities of the Nazi Party, any car eventually produced was taken over by the services."

"From the very first day German troops marched into Poland there no longer existed any labor problem at Wolfsberg or in any branch of the German war industry. There was always an ample supply of forced foreign labor. [...] There were at times as many as 11,000 foreign workers forced to work at Wolfsberg."

"But only a very small percentage of these people were employed in producing vehicles. In fact during the war less than 100,000 vehicles were produced at Wolfsberg. Of these there were 70,000 military vehicles, some 15,000 of these being amphibian vehicles. Wolfsberg played no important part as a vehicle factory during the war, but other war material was produced there. [...] [These included] ..aero-engine parts, to mines and hand-grenades..."

"The fate of the foreign workers at Wolfsberg was not the best and varied little from what forced labor experienced in Germany during the war. [...] The death rate of the foreign labor camps was high, food was bad and in short supply."

There a number of other books on Volkswagen's history. Your University librarian can search on the keyword "Volkswagen" and suggest a number of texts.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

Question:

Hello, I am trying to determine whether Volkswagon ever made-or at least attempted-reparations for using slave labor during the Holocaust. Thanks much for any information.

Harry W. Mazal OBE Responds:

I am one of the persons that responds to questions from our=20 readers. It is possible that you will receive other responses from my colleagues

Although we had touched on some aspects of Jewish slave labor in the Volkswagen facility:

http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/volkswagen.shtml http://www.holocaust-history.org/questions/porsche.shtml

we had not touched on the aspect of reparations. There is, however, much information available on the web.

One report, found at:

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/holocaust1.html

states:

"German Businesses In July 1998, Volkswagen AG http://www.vw.com admitted that it had used labor from 15,000 slaves during the war, and announced plans to set up a fund to compensate these workers (many of whom are now dead). Until the announcement, the company had vigorously denied responsibility for using the slave labor, saying that they acted on government orders.

In fact, the company is still 20% owned by the government of the region of Lower Saxony, of which Gerhard Schroeder was governor before winning the election in 1998 to become German Chancellor. Apparently Volkswagen changed its position in part because of the politically untenable and hypocritical action of buying two luxury automakers (Rolls=20 Royce and Lamborghini) but refusing to repay those who had worked for the company under appalling conditions. The decision came on the heels of another court case in which a weapons maker, Diehl Stiftung & Co., reached an out-of-court settlement to pay $700 a month to former slave laborers.

By February 1999, the German government, now led by Schroeder, announced plans to pay reparations to victims of Nazi atrocities from funds provided by some of the country's largest companies. By agreeing to set up a=20 fund that acknowledges responsibility for profiting from slave labor, the German government hopes to end the various lawsuits filed on behalf of Holocaust victims=20 suing dozens of German firms and banks for damages. Though the magnitude of the German fund has yet to be specified, it is expected to amount to $1.7 billion, with a dozen major German businesses - including Deutsche Bank, Daimler-Benz, Volkswagen, and Siemens - participating."

A very powerful article, "Ill Gotten Gains" is very critical of Volkswagen's post-war policies:

http://www.worldfreeinternet.net/news/nws151.htm

I hope that this is the information you were seeking.

Yours sincerely,

Harry W. Mazal OBE

back to the list of questions