By on May 28, 2014
Flossenbürg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

Flossenburg concentration camp, where slave laborers for Auto Union were imprisoned and executed.

A historical study commissioned by Audi to examine its corporate predecessors’ ties to the Nazi regime has revealed that Auto Union had exploited at least 20,000 slave laborers and held “moral responsibility” for the deaths of about 4,500 inmates of the Flossenbürg concentration camp who worked at a sub-camp operated for Audi in Leitmeritz, Bavaria. They died and were murdered while slaving for the German automaker. Audi expressed “shock” at the news and said that it is going to be revising company publicity materials about one of its founders, Dr. Richard Bruhn, who was revealed by the study to have close ties to the Nazi leadership. The company also said that it will consider compensating victims. Bruhn, considered the “Father of the Auto Union” was found to have exploited slave labor on a massive scale while serving the Nazi war effort.

Audi told Siegel that it would be changing online profiles of Bruhn at the company’s German website and today the company told Germany’s The Local that it has contacted its operations in other countries asking them to revise their materials on Bruhn, which describe him as having “guided the company with great competence” before the war and securing a “high reputation” post-war which “made it possible to obtain the credit needed to re-establish the Auto Union”. Audi will also be revising displays at the Audi Forum’s “museum mobile” near the company’s headquarters in Ingolstadt and at the Horch museum in Zwickau. Not only is Audi making changes to reflect Bruhn’s less savory actions, Ingolstadt’s mayor, Christian Lösel, told journalists that the municipality was considering changing the names of streets like Bruhnstraße that currently honor the Auto Union founder.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the post war Auto Union company.

Dr. Richard Bruhn, founder of the Auto Union company.

The study said that Bruhn maintained the “closest ties” to the highest ranking Nazis and that after 1942 he was personally responsible for Auto Union’s use of thousands of forced laborers. Bruhn had plans to expand the use of slaves but that was obviated by German reversals on the battlefield. He was a member of the National Socialist party and given the title of “Wehrwirtschaftsfuehrer” (military industrial leader or, more formally, Leader of the Armament Economy). This quasi-military rank was given to the executives of companies that the regime considered important to arming Germany in the 1930s and later to the war effort. Günther Quandt, whose family today controls BMW, was given a similar honor by the Nazis.


Tank engines being assembled in an Auto Union factory, 1943.

The 500 page report, “Wartime Economy and Labour Deployment by Auto Union AG Chemnitz during World War II”, was authored by Martin Kukowski, who heads Audi’s own history department and Rudolf Boch, a University of Chemnitz historian, and published by Franz Steiner Verlag. The authors conclude that, “There can be no discussion about the closeness of Auto Union to [the Nazis].” Auto Union was “firmly ensnared in the National Socialist regime”. Bruhn was not the only Auto Union executive who was an enthusiastic Nazi. In early 1945, company managers were organizing plans to evacuate themselves to escape advancing Allied forces as they continued to use slave labor in their still operating factories.

Auto Union was created in Chemnitz, Germany in 1932 under the direction of Bruhn from the merger of four German automakers, Horch, Audi, DKW and Wanderer. Those four founding firms are symbolized by the four rings in Audi’s logo.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SDK FZ-11 half-track.

Auto Union was one of the companies that made the SdK FZ-11 half-track.

During the war Auto Union made military vehicles for the German war effort and was “ensnared to a scandalous degree in the complex of concentration camps,” according to Kukowski and Boch. At the end of the war, Bruhn was interned by the British occupation forces along with other German industrialists who helped the Nazis. Upon his release, in 1949 he started to get Auto Union going again. Bruhn, who died in 1964, revived the business group in Ingolstadt with funding provided by the United States’ Marshall Plan and started making DKWs. In the late 1950s, Daimler-Benz bought the company, eventually selling its shares to Volkswagen starting in the mid 1960s. After some corporate restructuring, in 1985 the Auto Union name was discontinued and VW renamed it Audi.

The authors determined that the Nazi SS built and operated seven forced labor camps specifically for Auto Union. Those camps enslaved over 3,700 prisoners, a quarter of them of Jewish descent.

Another 16,500 people were forced to work for Auto Union in the company’s factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz, in Saxony. Perhaps the strongest and most shocking charge against Auto Union and Bruhn is the authors’ claim  that Auto Union management carried “moral responsibility” for the deaths of 4,500 inmates at the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. They died while slaving for Auto Union at a forced labor camp in nearby Leitmeritz, the study said.

Conditions in the Zwickau concentration camp where many Auto Union workers were held, were “devastating” according to the historians. Prisoners lived in unheated barracks. The authors discovered that when workers at the Zwickau factory became disabled, they were shipped to the Flossenburg concentration camp where they were executed. Near the end of the war, nearly 700 Zwickau inmates were put on a forced march to Karlovy Vary in what is now the Czech Republic and barely half of them survived the death march.


Auto Union made the chassis and running gear for the SdK FZ-222 armored vehicle.

Audi expressed shock and concern over the findings and in addition to revising how the company portrays Bruhn it said that it would look into granting compensation to any former forced laborers who are still alive. Bruhn’s name also graces a number of company projects such as pension plans. Audi board member and head of the company’s workers’ works council Peter Mosch told Wirtschaftswoche, “I’m very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour. I was not aware of the extent [of this involvement].” Audi had previously acknowledged some role in the exploitation of forced labor during the Nazi era and has paid millions of dollars into a compensation fund managed by the German government.

Audi follows Daimler, BMW and its corporate parent Volkswagen in commissioning a historical study into ties to the Nazis during 1933-45.

An extensive, five-part, German language series on the study and Audi’s history with the Nazi regime, including interviews with survivors of the forced labor, can be found at Wirtschaftswoche. This TTAC post only touches on the material covered in Kukowski and Boch’s study. Even if you don’t read German, Google’s translator works well enough to give you the gist of the material in the Wirtschaftswoche series and I encourage you to check it out.

Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. Thanks for reading – RJS

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82 Comments on “Audi “Shocked” by Study on Slave Labor During Nazi Era that Finds Auto Union ‘Morally Responsible’ for 4,500 Deaths...”

  • avatar

    You may want to correct one sentence: Leitmeritz is not in Bavaria but in the Czech Republic (c.f.
    Best Regards,

  • avatar

    Maybe they should use this excess of money they find themselves in to build better quality vehicles.
    Who cares if a manufacturing company that employs no one from WW2 sided with its own country. Evil or not ripping open long since healed wounds is attention seeking at its worst.

    I bet someone that works at Audi now is within 4 siblings from Hitler, Fire them!

    But seriously I feel like I just read an enquirer article, from the company itself, how low can they go?

    • 0 avatar

      Wow really – slave labor- 4500 deaths – concentration camps – and you’re not even phased. I’m simply stunned.

      • 0 avatar

        What I’m saying isn’t to lessen the severity, so push your jaw back up. It’s that I can’t fathom how this can come to a surprise to anyone, if you wanted to live you either fleed Germany, or joined the Nazi’s. These people were living in depression, add to it being hungry an uneducated, and the Nazi’s sounded like a good idea. Of course each step coconspiritors took was a foot deeper into a bottomless pit.
        Yea it’s bad but is it stunning, maybe if one were to completely ignore history classes.

        • 0 avatar


          Speaking of history class, let’s revisit a few of the errors in your post.

          1) The Nazi party never had the support of anything even remotely approaching a majority of the German people. In fact, as I recall, in the last non-rigged national election, they got about 1/3 of the vote. Hitler took it from there.

          2) Germans were not required to join the Nazi party.

          And your post was awfully flip.

      • 0 avatar

        When its been rammed down your throat continually the net effect is one of apathy. What more needs to be revealed about Nazi controlled Germany? When generally talking about Germany from say 1933 to 1944 you can count on at least three talking points; Nazis, concentration camps, and lots of dead people who died in pretty bad circumstances.

        • 0 avatar

          This times 100.

          In Germany almost every township has a place with pictures and artifacts from Nazi controlled Germany. To be surprised at a so-called “new” found connection in the past to Nazism requires someone to call BS.

          Like Raph just said, everything I’ve posted in this thread to me just feels like thoughts that are widespread, and for the 20th time, I don’t understand how this can come to a shock for anyone.

      • 0 avatar

        Don’t bother, people like Hummer aren’t interested in History and could care less about the sad realities of the past. They’re too busy being wrapped up in their false machismo and desire for enthusiast cars.

        • 0 avatar

          The thoughts that go through that head of yours…

          Not sure why you such dislike me, you’ve never even met me!

        • 0 avatar

          Having been fortunate enough to tour quite a bit of Germany, I can say that there are a lot of prominent memorials in prominent places-history isn’t glossed over. Notable in the middle of the German Tech Museum in Berlin, amongst all the great inventions of the 30s and 40s, is a lone freight car, the exact type used to transport the unfortunate.

          More notable is that at Peenemünde, the location of the very first real rocketry by the human race, all built with the desire to kill and on the backs of slave labor; they devote a lot of space and unedited content as to that part of the story. They blew up hundreds of test rockets before they figured it out-the technical side is impressive, even if the sources were poison. Our first step to the stars is sadly on the backs of others. I do believe we will do better.

          Oh, and the exact same crew got a free pass over here after in return for that knowledge.

          Audi ? Any “war essential” business ? Free labor ? Sure !!! Surprised ? No one over 50.

          • 0 avatar

            The Peenemunde scientists were ‘rehabilitated’ in the US in the early 50’s. Werner von Braun wound up in Huntsville and his boss, Walter Dornberger, was a chief engineer and Vice President at Bell Aerospace in Buffalo. Bell created the X planes, including Yeager’s X-1A, first supersonic aircraft (well first that was intentional and/or didn’t end in a smoking crater). The X-1A development was before Dornberger’s time at Bell, I believe. According to people who worked there, early on, emotions ran very high between US and Canadian former military and the Germans, to the point that even scheduling lunch shifts was a serious matter.

      • 0 avatar
        Compaq Deskpro

        If he didn’t cooperate with the government, Audi probably wouldn’t exist today. Shame that this man’s legacy will change from brilliant business man and entrepreneur to evil Nazi and Hitler’s best bud. There must be a middle ground.

        • 0 avatar

          bs. Who cares if some company didn’t survive. This bastard killed thousands of people. And stirring up the past is incredibly important because without that people forget. As it stands neo nazism is alive and well in europe.

      • 0 avatar

        OMG 4500! I am never buying an Audi again. And like, who are these Nazi guys they keep talking about?

        They sound really bad, so I don’t think I’m gonna buy anything from them either.

    • 0 avatar

      Companies that address their corporate history in a balanced and academic manner are to be commended. Would you rather not have an accurate record of a company’s history, in peace time and during war?

      Charles Hyde recently published a new book on automotive history, this one’s about the Arsenal of Democracy, how the U.S. auto industry moved to war production just before and during WWII. If it’s okay to write about how Nash-Kelvinator made helicopters and Oerlikon guns and how auto executives like George Romney and “Engine” Charlie Wilson managed military production for the U.S. government and military, why not write about roles played by German car companies and auto executives during WWII?

      Would you have Audi close down their museum in Ingolstadt because that money they spend on the museum could be used to build better quality cars?

      Joining the Nazi party was optional. The idea that everyone was forced into doing the Nazi’s complete bidding is simply not born out by the historical reality. As matter of fact, German soldiers could and did ask to be relieved of duty killing civilians with no negative consequences. Many German companies used slave labor and it may indeed have been encouraged by Albert Speer and the Nazi leadership, but most smart businesspeople know that slaves make terrible workers. They aren’t very motivated to create quality work and during wartime they are prone to sabotage. Not all German businessmen worked as eagerly with the Nazis and the concentration camp-military-industrial complex as Bruhn and his associates at Audi did. For example, while Leica produced military goods for the Wehrmacht, and used forced labor doing so, the company secretly helped save Jewish employees and associates by transferring them out of the country.

      Operating a business in a fascist state means that you’re going to be under state control and you may have to do some things you don’t want to do to stay in business but just as not everyone was an Oskar Schindler or Ernst Leitz, not every German businessman was Richard Bruhn.

      • 0 avatar

        All good points, but the nature of expected reaction was all but subtle, the information found really makes no difference on the company today and only serves to learn its history. While preserving History is a noble cause, lest we forget, making the reader feel like what I assume an Enquirer pulpit feels isn’t where I’d want to take an article.

        Of course the history is significant, but for the Company to supposably take it with such surprise makes one wonder how far of a disconnect exists between manufacturing and the bigwigs.

        • 0 avatar

          I agree that some skepticism about how much, for example, Mr. Piech knows about the Nazi ties of Bruhn and other Audi exec, is probably warranted. Still, how much people’s Nazi pasts were discussed in Germany in the 1950s and 1960s when Piech came of age is unclear. When Opa has an unsavory past, do families discuss it?

          I urge you to check out the Wirtschaftswoche series before you say that this is sensationalist or tabloid worthy. Jack, Derek and I were well aware of how sensitive the topic is so I wrote it up by-the-numbers from the sources, with no editorializing.

          • 0 avatar

            My apologies, I’m sure I was too quick at the gun.
            The story reads nothing like I’ve come to expect by authors here which definately threw me off.

          • 0 avatar

            I haven’t read this yet, but about 15-20 years ago the WSJ had at least one page 1 article on the use of slave labors by German companies during WWII. I dont have a subscription anymore, but I’m sure a search could find it. I dont recall Audi by name, but I do seem to recall Mercedes Bayer and some other well known German names.

        • 0 avatar

          The company history is a little complicated. The Soviets took over the Saxony based company. The Bavarian company was really opened w/ Marshall Plan help.

          In 1958 Daimler bought the company and sold it to VW in 1964. VW really didn’t want Audi, they just wanted the capacity.

          That may account for the detachment.

      • 0 avatar
        Bill Wade

        I’ve read autobiographies from German submarine sailors, tankers and pilots bitterly complaining about sabotage from slave labor.

      • 0 avatar

        “Operating a business in a fascist state means that you’re going to be under state control and you may have to do some things you don’t want to do to stay in business but just as not everyone was an Oskar Schindler or Ernst Leitz, not every German businessman was Richard Bruhn.”

        Absolutely true, and the most valid takeaway from this.

        I guess Audi deserves kudos for owning up to this, but the folks running the organization today are far reserved from the regime of the past.

      • 0 avatar

        The problem we have today is that we have been taught to see what makes us alike, not what makes us different. There are huge moral differences being overlooked.

        1.) This report is important to Germans. This is a culture that had to be conquered in order to stop exterminating themselves. They weren’t just exterminating Jews – they were exterminating their neighbors because they didn’t fit a pure mold the German culture demanded of itself. While the majority of this problem was anti-Semitism, it wasn’t all. It was about a people who demanded that they meet a strict societal standard, or face extermination. “Good” Germans were not sent to their deaths. “Important” Germans weren’t sent to concentration camps. “Valuable” Germans weren’t driven from their homes. Before Hitler, this mentality was already in effect. It is still in effect today. This report demands that a culture demanding allegiance to a societal standard of perfection, face the consequences of that allegiance.

        2.) The Germans turned in their neighbors by the thousands. Not because for just a religious heritage they didn’t consider pure, but also for any societal violations. The neighbor who was a drunk, the lady that earns extra money under the table, the man who listens to the radio too late into the night. We have millions of records from surviving Gestapo and Stasi offices jammed full of Germans reporting on one another. They still do this today. Germans will report you on any societal infraction that irritates them. Don’t separate your garbage correctly? Drive a car to the corner, instead of walking? Flushing your toilet after 2 AM? This is a culture that only tolerates individuality to the extent that the individual doesn’t bother them. Or the police get a call.

        3.) Consequently, Audi, Mercedes, BMW, and other German industries are being forced, due to a growing global market, in figuring out how to present themselves outside of Germany. These reports is what has happened after the Wall came down and the War ended with German reunification in 1989. It has taken 20 years for Germans to deal with the massive Stasi records across the former East Germany. This self-examination has been a catalyst for the current interest in how German citizens handled themselves after 1932 as well.

        4.) It was the job of the Allies to clean up Germany after 1945 societally. The Nuremberg trials was pushed onto Germans. This first wave of judgment was not German driven. Today, the Germans are trying to figure out how they wish to handle the stains left behind as the generation which inflicted and was victim of this era of German history, die.

        5.) Reparations have been paid to survivors and there has been an admirable support for Israel from Germany since 1945. This era is now distant enough for today’s Germans to reexamine the amount of punishment which has been placed upon them. Additionally, there are today millions of new Germans uncomfortable with their country’s support of Israel. These reports help remind today’s Germans why this needs to be continued. So there is that as well.

        It took a world to stop Germans from doing to themselves what they ought to have never done. This has shocked this culture into wondering just what it was that made them do it. These reports help them in this discussion. Had the Germans rose up to end Nazism on their own, the culture would be in a much better place today. The fact that it didn’t leaves them wondering just how long they would have tolerated these crimes against humanity and why they grew so comfortable with it in their lives.

        Finally, I don’t wish to lessen anything about the Holocaust by going outside their mass exterminations. It is my intention to expand this a bit to recognize that the Germans not only had the Gestapo, but that they also had the Stasi right up to 1989. This is a culture decidedly different from many others in this respect. The Germans didn’t just exterminate Jews – they exterminated their own, whom they labeled as undesirable, due to their religion.

        Throw a piece of plastic litter on a pavement in Hamburg today, and you will see that they are a self-regulating society that will be quick to jump on you if you stray out of the lines of their approval.

      • 0 avatar

        Quick (and very late) reality check for an excelent post. I should point out that while German soldiers *could* get out of civilian killing jobs without reprisal, nearly all available spots for transfer were on the Eastern Front (think where all the dead Germans were, and where they needed to be replaced). Such a transer would have been a death sentance, but it must have happened or we wouldn’t know that they could.

  • avatar
    Ron B.

    The mind still boggles after all these decades when I think of the treatment of Borgward and the Allied forces support of former Nazis.

    “…“guided the company with great competence” before the war and securing a “high reputation” post-war which “made it possible to obtain the credit needed to re-establish the Auto Union”….”

  • avatar
    Sgt Beavis

    How could they not have known he was a Nazi? Wasn’t there a massive Nazi hunt by the Allies after WWII? Did they cover up his involvement? Did anyone ever wonder where all those half tracks were coming from?

    It is admirable that Audi is trying to clean up its past a bit but it is just a bit suspicious when they claim that they just didn’t know.

    • 0 avatar

      yup – not something you forget easily.

    • 0 avatar

      There is a difference between contributing to wartime production and being an active Nazi sympathiser. Among German industrials there was a broad range of attitudes towards the regime and the use of slave labour. From enthusiastic support to dragging your feet as much as possible without getting into the crosshairs…

  • avatar

    I work with an older Jewish lady who’s parents were forced to work in a concentration camp for none other than Mercedes-Benz (no bull).

    To this day, she will not touch a German car, let alone ever purchase one.

    And you know what? Can’t say I blame her.

    This is a load of crap.

    • 0 avatar


      I lost family in that holocaust. So, I leave the BMWs and Mercedes for others cause I don’t want my money going there.

      Couldn’t buy a Chrysler for awhile, either. Only GM, cause what’s good for Government Motors is good for me. Thank god they’ve found their way again.

    • 0 avatar

      I can’t say what the right course of action happens to be. It’s a complex issue. I know that I’ll never likely own a German car because it would make my wife uncomfortable. I’m not one for punishing the children or grandchildren of criminals for crimes committed by their ancestors, but I can certainly understand why people just can’t buy a BMW, Audi or Mercedes. The crimes were so awful that there’s something deeply ugly about glossing over them. A couple of years back Mercedes was running an ad about the history of their achievements with a running timeline that utterly ignored the war years. I thought it was despicable.

  • avatar

    For your benefit, learn from our tragedy. It is not a written law that the next victims must be Jews. It can also be other people. We saw it begin in Germany with Jews, but people from more than twenty other nations were also murdered. When I started this work, I said to myself, ‘I will look for the murderers of all the victims, not only the Jewish victims. I will fight for justice.
    *Simon Wiesenthal*

  • avatar

    It is admirable that they are confronting their history. It would be pretty easy to ignore the atrocities while “focusing on the future”. I agree that it is a little suspicious that they had no idea. Every German company to come out the other side of WW2 intact is suspect.

    • 0 avatar

      Sounds more like they can’t hide it any more.

      • 0 avatar

        They hired and threw their archives open to one of the authors who was formerly a prof at the Technical U. of Chemnitz. He had previously published (one year before Audi hired him) a book about Audi during the postwar Soviet occupation.

        Looks like Audi deliberately orchestrated this.

        • 0 avatar

          If I understand the Google translator, a preliminary study was done but ran out of funding in 2010 and Audi stepped in. Other German automakers have looked into their Nazi ties and apparently it’s a bit of a thing with German companies, perhaps like how funding basic research departments became de rigueur with U.S. corporations in the 1960s.

          While I’m sure that the authors were independent, and while the current Audi company’s connection to the events of 1933-45 are a bit tenuous, obviously it benefits the company to be out in front on this.

          I’m sure that IBM and GM wish they’d hired Edwin Black and Ralph Nader.

  • avatar

    May 14, 2014:

    The Anti-Defamation League surveyed 53,000 people in 102 countries and found only 54% of them had ever heard of the Holocaust, the mass murder of roughly 6 million Jews in Europe.

    Awareness is predictably high in Western Europe, where 94% of those surveyed had heard of the Holocaust. But in the Middle East and Africa, awareness is low.

    Young people under the age of 35 are also less likely to know about the Holocaust than people over the age of 50. Here’s a look at awareness by region:

    Among those who have heard of the Holocaust, 32% believe it is either a myth or has been greatly exaggerated.

    Additionally, 26% of adults surveyed had anti-Semitic attitudes…

    A society that forgets its past is doomed to repeat it.

    • 0 avatar

      >> Awareness is predictably high in Western Europe, where 94% of those surveyed had heard of the Holocaust. But in the Middle East and Africa, awareness is low.<<

      Its actively suppressed and widely treated as a myth in those parts of the world.

      Enjoy this children's show to see how deep it runs.

      >> <<

      • 0 avatar

        Yep, the people who boycott Audi over this, in order to buy another brand burning that sweet, sweet OPEC crude are about to get run over by the irony bus.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m 100% in favor of learning from history. We should learn everything we can from the past. What I’m not in favor of is blaming people for the actions of their ancestors. Where do you stop? The 20th century? The 19th century? The 16th century? The first? Seems like something the Nazis did.

  • avatar

    Why is Audi presumably supporting this expose by one of their employees nearly 70 years after the war? They must reckon that there is still social capital to be had from raking it all up again.

    Or, could it be that they sniff the winds of change to a more right-wing Europe and want a little Wehrmacht cred with the millions of Europeans who secretly admire the Godwin guy? All in the guise of earning still more Persilschein, of course.

    • 0 avatar

      Or, just trying to do the right thing? I know, hard to fathom for a cynic…

      What’s with ‘presumably supporting’? They paid for it, even if the findings were not flattering for them…

      “Or, could it be that they sniff the winds of change to a more right-wing Europe and want a little Wehrmacht cred with the millions of Europeans who secretly admire the Godwin guy? All in the guise of earning still more Persilschein, of course.” In addition to being offensive, this shows a significant level of ignorance about the complexity of current-day Europe.

    • 0 avatar

      “Or, could it be that they sniff the winds of change to a more right-wing Europe and want a little Wehrmacht cred with the millions of Europeans who secretly admire the Godwin guy?”

      The A8 Goebbels edition?

  • avatar

    Audi being shocked to discover this reminds me of the famous movie quote: “I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!” (from “Casablanca”)

  • avatar
    Rod Panhard

    You don’t have to cast a wide net to find the “German” car companies were not alone with this.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    In my mind, there’s a huge difference between supporting the German war effort by building armaments, etc. and taking advantage of the slave labor offered by the SS in their “camps.” So, with this discovery of the founder’s role, it’s clearly appropriate of the company to fully describe his past, not just the “good parts.”

    And it’s certainly true that both the U.S. and the Soviets eagerly recruited German scientists and engineers without regard to the extent of their support of the Nazi regime, the most famous example of which is Werner von Braun, designer of the V-2 rocket . . . and of the Saturn V, which sent Americans to the moon.

    But its false to equate those people with people who profited by doing something that they knew was morally wrong. Slave labor is morally wrong, that’s not a subject that was even debatable in the 20th Century.

    It is worth contrasting Germany’s response to it’s World War II history and Japan’s. It has been the official policy of various German governments not to gloss over any sordid aspect of the Nazi past; and the country has not done so. On the other hand, Japan’s evident desire to “forget” the evils of the Tojo regime — not just the war, but the atrocities against civilians in China and in Korea, not to mention the despicable treatment of POWs — has created and continues to create relational problems with those countries and their people.

    An interesting and significant piece, Ronnie. Thanks for bringing it here.

    • 0 avatar

      I’ve always thought Japan just refused to accept wrongdoing in WW2.

    • 0 avatar

      I have visited many battle and POW sites in Asia and outer islands..the WWII Japanese military was beyond brutal. Years ago I spoke with many Filipino, Chamarro and other survivors. What a horrible legacy left by the Imperial Military.

    • 0 avatar

      The modern impact of Japan’s refusal to admit wrongdoing (and the western allies turning a bit of a blind eye on the atrocities perpetrated like Unit 731 due to the “research” gained by analyzing the data) echos in China today. The modern class over oil rights and regional dominance comes into play, but there are those in China who refuse to forget the brutality of the Japanese Imperial Army.

      For POWs the horrors is far beyond our understanding. For the Japanese soldier in World War II, surrender was unthinkable. You weren’t a prisoner. You weren’t a criminal. You weren’t even a diseased dog. You were nothing because you didn’t die gloriously in battle. The prisoners were treated as such.

      From Wikipedia…

      …After Imperial Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945, General Douglas MacArthur became the Supreme Commander of the Allied Powers, rebuilding Japan during the Allied occupation. After discovering the research papers, MacArthur secretly granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731, including their leader, in exchange for providing America, but not the other wartime allies, with their research on biological warfare and data from human experimentation…

      The atrocities committed on men, women, children and infants included vivisection without anesthesia, germ warfare attacks, weapons testing, deprivation of food or water until death, exposure to high air pressure until death, or low air pressure until death, chemical weapons, lethal doses of X-ray radiation, immersion in cold until death, burned alive, buried alive, and putting humans into centrifuges and increasing g-forces until death.

      The doctors, administrators, and “jailers,” were all given a “get out of jail free card,” by the US Government. The action is still justified today if you do some digging, because of the value of the research in advancing medicine and understanding the limits of human beings. But the price paid is — unthinkable.

      While their Nazi counterparts were tried in Nuremberg (and many ultimately pardoned as the years ticked by) the Japanese government got a free pass.

      The pardons were given, under Soviet protest in 1946.

      It just churns my stomach thinking about it.

      • 0 avatar

        When even Nazi officials tells them to dial the brutality a few notches down (as it has been documented several times in documents and letters), you know the Japanese goes over the line one too many times.

  • avatar

    If you were an industrial company in Germany during the war – you were supporting the war effort. Period. The only real differentiating factor is those who were fervent supporters of National Socialism – the Quandts and apparently the AU guys, and those who were not – supposedly Dr. Porsche, but who knows, really.

    Sunlight is a much better disinfectant than shadow, and I’m glad to see that they are more thoroughly researching their history, even if it’s uncomfortable.

  • avatar

    Audi’s so called “shock” is what has always pissed me off about the germans. Since the end of the war they’ve all acted like they had no idea what was going on. Like it was just the SS and only the SS that committed the atrocities and nobody outside Hitlers inner circle and the SS knew about the genocide and forced slave labor and atrocities of ww2.

    They all knew, they’ve always known, and they were all part of it. The germans culture of “oh if only we’d known…forgive us please” has always disgusted me.

    • 0 avatar

      You didn’t really look deeply into the reactions of Germans now, did you?

    • 0 avatar

      I remember reading somewhere that Oskar Schindler and people like him were actually reviled publicly on the streets of Germany as “race traitors” as recently as the late 70s. This was a surprise to me at that time.

    • 0 avatar

      @3800FAN – read @cpthaddock comment about 20 times.

      Seeing things through the eyes of another person or another culture is a very difficult thing to do. Your post is proof positive of that fact.

      Human nature is such that we will follow the group (mob,clan,group,country, nationality, race, religion) that we associate ourselves with.
      a study was done years ago where volunteers were asked to administer a shock to other volunteers. The vast majority of those in the study kept on ramping up shocks to extreme levels because they were told it was in the name of science and the experts said it was the right thing to do. No shocks were actually delivered. It was a study of how far people would go.
      Even with that being said it is easy to be in a position to not be totally aware of what is going on.

      Are you completely aware of every atrocity perpetrated by your own country internally or externally?
      Do some research on how native Americans have been treated.
      Google Operation Condor.

      That is just the tip of the iceberg……..

      “oh if only we’d known…forgive us please”

      I wonder how many times that phrase has been uttered by residents of our own respective countries?

  • avatar

    The domestic German perspective is unlikely to be well represented by any of us. Given my deep experience with the people and country I’ll try my best to offer as much insight as I can.

    Germany, collectively, lives with the legacy of national shame over the holocaust not by denying it, but by embracing it honestly. Holocaust denial is a crime in Germany. Not just because they don’t want to forget, but because they understand our human weakness to repeat our mistakes.

    Now, some wonder how this could come as a surprise. Post war reconstruction took place in the context of the unimaginable national trauma not just from having lost a war, but from being forced to confront the truths that propoganda hid from view, or provided the comfort of plausible deniability. Anyone who has dealt with huge personal loss, like divorce or bereavement, understands that it’s not possible to deal with everyting up front, then move on. You do it bit by bit, tiny steps as time allows you to face things. This is a process that Germany is going through, still to this day. What we see in this research and anouncement is a process of national therapy taking place. It’s Germany’s variation of South Africa’s Truth & Reconcilliation. We would all do well, as countries, to learn from the efforts of Germany and South Africa in this regard.

    Finally, and with the greatest respect, the statement “if you wanted to live you either fleed Germany, or joined the Nazi’s” is an implausibly simplistic standard to apply. Propoganda works. If anyone doubts that, we only need to look at the number among us who continue to believe Iraq had WMDs or that Saddam Hussein was responsible for 9/11. Our duty, as responsible citizens, is to seek fact and truth beyond the boundaries of our comfort, and eleviate this above any and all tribal alliegances.

  • avatar

    I practically never agree with Ronnie on anything. But as a professional historian (my BA/MA is in history) this is a proper response to the questions put forward. Academic-level reports on these corporations are rare because more often than not they would rather hide their past indiscretions regardless of time. The fact that VW committed to acknowledging their past is admirable and yes, the Germans do acknowledge a great deal of Nazi issues. Also they deny and hide a great deal. It is a source of shame and interest in the same moment and frankly it isn’t the first and only case of Fascism carrying the day in a country. The US had their fight over it, England is still dealing with it, Greece and France are almost submitting to it. The fights are never going to end but atleast studying it and understanding how Fascism, power, and capitalism all played together gives us a chance to figure out how to drive a wedge to stop them from coalescing into a juggernaut that drives a nation to commit genocide on a people.

    Jews were just a part of the genocide, the mentally ill, the intellectuals, the LGBT community. The way they manipulated the people is disturbing and the rival elites went along as displayed by Auto Union because they were essentially bought off by the fascist powers. This information will help shed further light on the political conundrum of Fascism and how it gains support even in the face of moral wrongs.

  • avatar
    SCE to AUX

    “The company also said that it will consider compensating victims.”

    This would be a mistake. They have already done this in the past.

    The only appropriate response would be to close down the company in eternal shame, because you can’t really put a value on the lives that were lost.

    OR – Audi could revise its glowing history of Bruhn (as they plan to do), say we’re sorry we had his bio wrong, and move on.

    Every nation’s companies contribute to their war efforts, and if they survive the war, they rebuild the business and make positive contributions to the world. You can’t unwind the consequences of war.

    It’s too easy to focus on the Nazis, while ignoring the slave labor which continues today all around the world. (Surprisingly, VW’s Chattanooga plant isn’t one of them, despite the UAW’s claims to the contrary.)

    But for me, they could start by never using the phrase “German engineering” again, because it has an arrogant nationalistic tone to it that isn’t realized in their products.

  • avatar

    Good article. I’d have to agree that Auto Union’s involvement was uglier than that of the average German company. Most of the slave laborers in the Reich were non-Jewish civilians from Poland or the occupied parts of the Soviet Union; they were treated terribly, but they didn’t fall under the “extermination through labor” program like the Jewish workers (and Roma, homosexuals, leftists, the mentally ill…). You were more likely to death labor camps by your factories if the Nazi party considered you an insider.

    And even if the SS was running the workers’ “dorms” next door, there was a lot that a company could do to take care or not take care of its laborers. It’s clear which approach Auto Union took.

    I see Albert Speer was mentioned in one of the comments above. His role is still debated, but he has some facts in his favor. He was pushing to expand the use of German women in factories and more modern manufacturing processes (Germany hadn’t mastered the assembly line, which really hurt its war effort). But instead of Speer’s candidate, Hitler was convinced by other party members to appoint some other guy as labor ‘czar’ (I forget his name), and that other guy was behind a large expansion in the use of slave labor. I get the impression that Speer knew it wasn’t efficient.

  • avatar
    Frank Galvin

    Given that I’m rarely surprised by newly uncovered acts of WW2 barbarism, Audi’s response is an absolute cluster-f and a slap to the face of Nazi victims.

    1) I’m glad Audi stepped up in 2010 to make sure the study was concluded. They had the moral and ethical duty to do so given that they had actual or constructive knowledge of the company’s activities during the war, especially as they had previously acknowledged their role in the war. Also, they did know their president was a diabolical b*****d.

    2) Shame on Audi for stating that they were “shocked” that the company used slave labor and that such labor led to the death of thousands. Its confounds belief that in 2010 -2014 they did not have an inkling of this. Own it, apologize, offer redress for survivors and the descendants of the murdered, and beg for forgiveness. Nothing else will suffice. Stating that you “will consider” compensation is outrageous. No, Audi, you will pay, and immediately.

    Thanks for sharing this Ronnie. Nicely done.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Tell me, how much would be enough?

      If Audi has 1 Euro left over after paying, have they paid too little?

      Per my post above, they ought to just liquidate the whole company if ‘fairness’ is the goal.

    • 0 avatar

      Don’t forget the significant upheaval, reforming and restructuring the whole group underwent after the war. What is now Audi has only little to do with the Auto-Union of pre-war years. Largest parts of the assets (and the company archive) were unavailable to the company for decades, given that the Auto-Union HQ was in Zwickau, which was part of Eastern Germany after 1949.

  • avatar

    I really don’t think dwelling on past atrocities does any good to anyone. There’s enough bad stuff going on right now around the world, most of which goes unnoticed.

    Well, at least Audi accepts the guilt, unlike so many others.

    • 0 avatar

      +1 Ikea got away with it with German and Cuban political prisoners as recently as late 80s. Few paid any attention to it.

  • avatar
    Big Al from Oz

    I really do respect what Audi have done. They instigated an investigation into the involvement of Auto Union and the Nazi.

    Audi don’t need to apologise for the actions of others 60-70 years ago.

    Audi isn’t trying to change history, but atone an inaccurate recorded piece of history.

    I take my hat off to Audi for what they are currently doing.

    Unfortunately war is sometimes a necessary evil. War has throughout history created ‘Hitler’s and Nazi Parties’. Whilst we talk of this lets look at the USSR and it’s current leader.

    The odds are this situation will occur again, as it has done numerous times in the past.

    Like WWI, the Great War. The War to End All Wars, this phrase was a dream that sounded good at the time.

  • avatar

    Thank you, Ronnie, for writing this and treating it with appropriate sensitivity and objectivity.

    Thank you, TTAC, for hosting a mostly constructive conversation.

  • avatar

    The comments of the B&B are pretty interesting. While I’m not “shocked” by the extent Audi’s involvement with the Nazis, I also don’t know why some want to push this aside as a trivial story with no real value in the 21st century.

    It sounds like Audi is truly interested in putting down the real history of their company, both good and bad (as they should). As an American, I’d gladly welcome the same here if a company wanted to research their involvement with slave labor. Every country has unsavory elements from its past. As time passes, the focus may change from punishment and retribution to remembrance and acceptance of wrongs. However, I don’t think it diminishes the value.

  • avatar

    This is Truth in Engineering.

  • avatar
    Joe K

    Being part of the LGBT community, I often find myself 70 years after the fact, what should my response be to something that happened in a different time, by different people, under a name that is still active today. This was a genocide, as was what happened to the Native American population here in this country, only that did not involve forced labor. Maybe that is the difference, profit on the backs of others who are forced to work for a company.
    Should I also choose not to have any Mitsubishi products (only name I can think of off the top of my head) because they used forced Chinese labor.
    Once you bring these horrible horrible crimes and sins to daylight, then and only then can things move forward. These wounds will never heal and never close, and maybe never should when looked in the context of the time they happened. Maybe compensation is too little too late, but that is how our society measures crimes of war.
    I have no answer to this, and there may be no answer to this, but hiding from such things just makes it worse.

  • avatar

    Perhaps I’m just cynical, but I don’t believe they were overly shocked at their involvement with the Nazis. Perhaps the degree. I’ve always assumed any German company that existed between 1938-45 had ties to the Nazi Party,and profited from them. Also, all could be linked either directly or indirectly, via suppliers, to slave labor.

  • avatar

    Ronnie: Thank you for posting this. And thanks to the B&B for the mostly circumspect and thoughtful comments. I’m not sure whether I should question Audi’s motive(s) – in the current environment of corporate and individual lack of responsibility, Audi’s willingness to shed light on the company’s war years activities is a refreshing change.

    Forgive me, those who will be offended by my next statement, but WW2 ended 70 years ago; 2,3, and 4 generations removed from the present. It’s time to forgive, not forget, but forgive. And hopefully learn from the past and not repeat it. The German people owned up to the horrors of World War II, and have spent most of the intervening years in penance.

    My grandfather served, and was wounded, in both world wars, and when we wanted him to share his memories with us when we were small children, he wouldn’t. He told us many times: “The past is past, the future is ahead, and the present is right now – don’t ever look back, always look ahead.” He didn’t hold any grudges against the Germans, and in fact had a Benz when I was a small child. He opined that the German people would feel so much shame and guilt that Germany would never be allowed to repeat the Nazi era.

    Every nation and people have committed atrocities against fellow citizens and other nations and peoples – none of us have the moral high ground here. We should instead welcome Audi’s historical review and acceptance of responsibility and learn from it.

  • avatar

    When I woke up, that is to say, when I got old enough to remember, I was less than 3 years old, and living in Bookeburg, West Germany, British Zone of Occupation in the summer of 1950. My father was a Squadron Leader in the RAF and a medical doctor. My mother was pregnant with my first brother and we had two day maids, Gisela and Elisabet, shared with other senior officers’ families.

    We lived in a large six unit apartment building just off the base, all occupied by RAF families. I have photographs from those days. Playing in the sandbox created by filling in a goldfish pond, the huge front yard otherwise unkempt and overgrown. My little English girlfriend helping me build sandcastles.

    Who knows what my parents must have said, what I absorbed. That winter of 1950/51 at the age of three, when my little brother was busy crapping on my Dad unnecessarily and beginning a life of teeing the old man off, when our lost cat finally smelled enough to be found tongue hanging out behind the huge fridge, shortly after my mother almost sliced a finger off with a silly sharp knife whose shape I recall to this day, I added to the drama.

    Lying in wait in the building’s coal cellar, I managed to bring a coal shovel down on the coal-deliveryman’s head with sufficient force to knock him out. I weighed over 40 pounds at the time, big for my age. As my Mum told me many times later, I was discovered after the horse hauling the cart wandered off, still standing guard over the Hun, the presumed enemy, I guess.

    When revived, the man was so amazed at what happened, he insisted on taking me around the rest of his deliveries with Gisela walking alongside, me up on the seat. This, I don’t remember, but apparently, the coalman told everyone he met what I had done, all in the greatest good humour. Finally, they understood the English spirit, not obvious from the threadbare appearance of the British military, who were poor, and had worse food than the Germans. That was the gist of the report the maid gave my mother and related to me many times over the years.

    Well, Gisela’s Dad was so impressed, I was invited to his home. I remember a train trip with her, he lived miles away, and she was but eighteen, glad to have any job even if travel cost money. Her father cured hams and ran a smokehouse. Real food. I was given a big ham to take home, a prize according to my Dad. Nothing like that in RAF rations.

    See something funny here? My distrust of Germans no doubt engendered by parents’ offhand comments in front of a probably uncomprehending child, but a mother and father apparently unconcerned at letting me go off unaccompanied with the former enemy. Mum always said she liked Germans individually, but not in a group, and I remember the sudden silence when she went shopping and bought creamcakes at the kiosk in her halting German. The ladies staring at us, foreigners, mother, little boy and baby in stroller. Invading their space, lording it over them by dint of force. Resentment at the injustice of it all. The unpleasant atmosphere.

    I think, so far as it goes, official Germany has done well over the decades in acknowledging the sins of Hitler’s regime. My experience with haughty young Germans when I backpacked the Greek islands in 1971 (they ALL stayed in hotels, unkempt Canadians, Americans and Brits living cheap were sneered at), and subsequent visits to Hamburg and West Berlin in 1980, along with their attitudes here in Nova Scotia buying up properties and running nature camps, plus other experiences have not endeared them to me personally. I find them to pay proper attention to you only when you act a bit sharpish, otherwise you are treated as yokelish.

    They do have a lot to be proud of. As Dad used to say, they worked like crazy rebuilding bombed out areas, often through the night. When we returned to England in 1951, it was a grey place. In my memory, Bookeburg was all yellow and green and pleasant. The 1950s in Portsmouth, UK, and all I remember is weed-overgrown bombsites, still untouched by rebuilding. Well, Germany got the Marshall Plan but Britain had to pay off its war debts to the USA, a huge burden. And so the US removed Britain from any real power on the world stage. To the winner, the spoils, I guess. People in England used to look at the ruination and wondered who won the war anyway. Poor food, rationing until 1954. Dad wanted out, and eventually we emigrated to Canada. Thank goodness, our family was so much better off for it.

    The UK still had 20,000 troops in West Germany in 2011 ostensibly to oppose the Soviets despite the Cold War ending in 1989. The plan is to withdraw them gradually by 2020. Bet most of you had no idea about that. You all figured only the US stationed troops overseas. The shadow of WW2 lingers on.

    Good for Audi in at least acknowledging the sins of its former leaders. Will it fall on deaf ears? Does anyone really care after all these years, or is it just one more mind-numbing statistic to be forgotten by everyone with little skin in the tragedy of genocide and enforced enslavement? Has Germany really changed in any meaningful way insofar as the innate feelings of its citizens have developed with the passing years?

    Who knows …..

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