BMW Owners Finally Admit Nazi Past

Bertel Schmitt
by Bertel Schmitt

The Quandt family, major shareholder of BMW, and one of the richest in Germany, is finally and belatedly confessing to its Nazi-past. Patriarch Günther Quandt was an early member of the Nazi party, he joined 1933, after Hitler’s election. During the Third Reich, Quandt company empire was kept running by more than 50,000 slave laborers. Many businesses that were taken away from Jewish owners ended up in the hands of Quandt. He even had odd family ties with the Nazi elite. His second wife Magda, which he had married when she was half his age, divorced him eight years later, only to marry propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, with Adolf Hitler as a witness. While other German carmakers, first and foremost Volkswagen, came to terms with their past, the owners of BMW denied it until recently. When the German Forced Labor Compensation Program was established, the family declined to make a contribution, claiming they had no reason to do so.

Bertel Schmitt
Bertel Schmitt

Bertel Schmitt comes back to journalism after taking a 35 year break in advertising and marketing. He ran and owned advertising agencies in Duesseldorf, Germany, and New York City. Volkswagen A.G. was Bertel's most important corporate account. Schmitt's advertising and marketing career touched many corners of the industry with a special focus on automotive products and services. Since 2004, he lives in Japan and China with his wife <a href=""> Tomoko </a>. Bertel Schmitt is a founding board member of the <a href=""> Offshore Super Series </a>, an American offshore powerboat racing organization. He is co-owner of the racing team Typhoon.

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  • Herb Herb on Oct 01, 2011

    As it has said here before by others, you simply can't compare Nazi Germany with the US. The trouble with Germany started far earlier than WWII. The Nazis were not some early tea-party-like right wingers, they simply were decided to eliminate a) democracy b) everyone staying in their way. They announced it openly, 1933 they won an election (about 30% gave them their vote) and power (due to an opposition, too diverse to act), and then they did what they announced, brutally. Immediately, after they came to power they started to jail (KZs were certainly not for Jews exclusivly), kill (yes, even their own SA leadership), forced to emigrate (everybody who could afford it), silenced all others opposing that regime by simply changing laws. "Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer", was the parole valid until 1945. Law, justice, sanity, everything was down the drain then. After that, nobody really had a chance to change this, whether he was a local GM, Ford, Mercedes boss or even a simple farmer. Yes, even farmers had to use forced labor, each and every business that was relying on workforce. Of course, GM and Ford had to use forced labor, too (GM in Rüsselsheim about 20%, in Brandenburg 40 of their workforce). That's why you don't read anything about a successful counter force within Germany against Hitler and his regime, aside from some heroic, suicidal efforts more or less limited to single persons or small groups. As already has been stated here before, the Quandt family is not BMW. They acquired a majority on deadly sick BMW well after WWII and, by their money, saved that company. But, and that's the difference: this family got rich already in WWI by delivering substandard cloth and uniform material unfit for service, killing soldiers. There is not much use in an army winter coat, for example, that soaks so much that you freeze to death when in the field and forced to use it. Although many others might have done the same in other countries at the same time I would not call this acceptable. Personal greed is no force majeur. That's why such people are called "war profiteers" and not people making some profit in a war. What I also do dislike about the Quandt approach is that they supported Hitler BEFORE he came to power (c.f. , the German version). Aside of that, the Quandt business decisions always were successful, since WWI. So, don't hesitate to invest as the Quandts do.

  • Sprocketboy Sprocketboy on Oct 04, 2011

    Everyone seems to have a pretty strong opinion here without having actually seen the documentary, which actually has nothing to do with BMW. The Quandts made their money in the years up to World War II primarily through a corporation that made batteries (eventually becoming the firm using the VARTA brand name). Like many German industrialists, the family had no problem with supporting the Nazis, and were particularly enthusiastic when it came to war production as all those machines would need batteries. Old Man Quandt signed a contract with the SS to obtain concentration camp inmates as workers, with expected turnover of 75 days as the chemicals would kill them all since they were given no protective gear. In addition, forced labour (usually civilians from occupied countries) was used and the program showed a Danish man in his 80s who ended up at the battery plant and suffered ill health for his life. The land is so toxic it can never be used productively again. There is a memorial in front to all those who died there, to which the Quandts refused to donate anything. Old Man Quandt should have been charged with war crimes, as were the equally disgustingly greed and ruthless Alfried Krupp and Friedrich Flick, but the documentary suggests that the British protected Quandt. Of course the United States arranged the pardon of Krupp and Flick soon after their imprisonment as they were seen as vital to building up Germany as a key Cold War ally. For car fans, Flick controlled both Daimler-Benz and Audi at one point. Quandt Senior and Herbert should have been hanged, but that is meaningless now. What is meaningful is that a family that is worth billions has never acknowledged how that fortune came to be until finally prodded by a television program. In the film, one of the Quandts (the only one who would even talk) says: "All families have dark sides." Not like this, they don't. For five years the filmmakers hunted down and pieced together the evidence from archives all around Germany since the Quandts refused access to their own files. So now we have a historian confirming all this after nearly five years more. Nothing in here or other news reports about what the Quandts could do to make some kind of amends.

  • Eldard Eldard on Oct 06, 2011

    Speaking of apologies, because the Japs don't like to do that, in a global war scenario, after retaking Taiwan, guess who's China gonna go after next?

  • MSmith4795 MSmith4795 on Jun 14, 2016

    I guess no one finds it amazing that BMW and Mercedes and now VW suddenly got this conscience for the past in the 1980s, after the United States promised them immunity from prosecution by Holocaust survivors, in return for donations to a they could build their plants in the US and make a bloody fortune? How convenient.