Sudden Departure of Volkswagen's Nazi-hunting Historian Sparks Controversy

Steph Willems
by Steph Willems
sudden departure of volkswagen s nazi hunting historian sparks controversy

The sudden termination of historian Manfred Grieger’s contract with Volkswagen is generating controversy in Germany, with some accusing the automaker of trying to put a lid on its dark past.

Grieger spent 18 years on the VW payroll, and was hired specifically to air the automaker’s dirty laundry. During his time with the company, Grieger penned detailed accounts of Volkswagen’s wartime use of forced labor from concentration camps while opening up the company’s archives to journalists and historians.

The New York Times reports that his contract came to an end this week. Some suspect that Grieger’s criticism of a report on Audi’s past led to his departure, and they worry VW could be trying to downplay revelations about its history with the Nazis and Brazil’s military dictatorship.

Before joining VW, Gieger co-authored the tell-all book Das Volkswagenwerk und seine Arbeiter im Dritten Reich (The Volkswagen Works and Its Workers During the Third Reich), published in 1996.

The book detailed VW’s use of forced labor — and the deaths that resulted from it — during the Second World War. The company’s production turned to military vehicles and munitions during that time, with concentration camp prisoners brought on to boost output. Among the weapons created with the help of VW’s forced labor were V1 flying bombs — a pulse jet powered guided missile that rained down on British civilians.

Volkswagen’s hiring of Grieger was commendable, though many take issue with how he left. While the historian hasn’t commented on what made him decide to leave, he’s said the decision to end his contract was mutual. A group of 75 academics has since accused VW of punishing the historian, claiming his criticism of a 2014 report downplaying Audi’s wartime past irked company executives.

“Just this brief discussion in an academic journal then led to talk that Grieger be put on a short leash and limited in his academic freedom, which in turn led the prominent historian to leave,” the group wrote in an open letter. The group worries that VW will stop digging into its past.

Volkswagen refutes the claim. In a statement, the automaker said, “The fact is that Volkswagen continues to recognize the achievements of Dr. Grieger and to thank him for the work performed.”

The company continued, saying it “has examined its history as an enterprise consistently, honestly and strongly, and will continue to do so.”

Grieger may be gone, but another figure has popped up to delve into VW’s Brazilian past. The BBC reports the automaker has hired Professor Christopher Kopper of Bielefeld University to investigate claims of torture at the company’s Brazilian operations during the rule of that country’s military junta.

A group of former employees has sued the automaker, claiming they were subjected to torture, arrest and blacklisting during Brazil’s authoritarian era, which spanned 1964 to 1985. They also claim the company collaborated with the junta.

For its part, Volkswagen has vowed to uncover the truth.

In a statement to the BBC, VW board member and legal affairs representative Christine Hohmann-Dennhardt said, “We want to shed light on the dark years of the military dictatorship and explain the behaviour of those responsible at that time in Brazil and, if applicable, Germany.”

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  • Sector 5 Sector 5 on Nov 06, 2016

    I'm still trying to grasp the catalyst to both WW's. Something between a Kaiser's withered arm and Secretary of Navy Churchill ordering the first round of attack on the German fleet. Cars are just cars. Trade appliances. Better trade than war.

    • Pch101 Pch101 on Nov 06, 2016

      Take a large country with a superiority complex, a strong military and industrial know-how, and surround it with countries that are either natural allies or else easily invaded, and you end up with a trouble maker. WWI was facilitated by a series of communications mishaps that would probably not have happened had they had something akin to the UN. WWII was the byproduct of the failure to utterly defeat Germany in the previous war, which is one reason why unconditional surrender was the only option. An armistice was not possible; Germany had to be destroyed to the core so that it could be reinvented. And that's why it is important to continue to remind Germans of their past. Germany needs to be kept in check or broken apart.

  • Shortest Circuit Shortest Circuit on Nov 08, 2016

    Wait, so there is a person on this green Earth that did not know about VW's dark past?

  • Art Vandelay Pour one out for the Motors Liquidation Corporation
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  • Lou_BC Once again, Mustang is the last pony car standing. Camaro RIP, Challenger RIP.
  • FreedMike Next up should DEFINITELY be the Cadillac Eldorado. On the subject of Caddies, I saw a Lyriq in person for the first time a couple of days ago, and I'm changing my tune on its' styling. In person, it works quite well, and the interior is very nicely executed.
  • Probert Sorry to disappoint: any list. of articles with a 1 second google search. It's a tough world out there - but you can do it!!!!!!