- Kriegswirtschaft und Arbeitseinsatz bei der Auto Union AG Chemnitz im Zweiten Weltkrieg by Martin Kukowski and Rudolph Boch
German carmakers found themselves in the spotlight during the mid-1980s when, for the very first time, a broad debate erupted on the use of forced labor during World War II. Many companies in Germany had glossed over their history during the twelve years of the Third Reich; and German corporations had refused to provide any financial compensation—all of which had the makings of an enormous scandal. German carmakers slowly realized that they had to conduct a house cleaning of their histories or risk exposing their companies to further attacks that could severely tarnish their reputations. Daimler-Benz and Volkswagen were the first companies to commission historians; BMW and Opel/General Motors have also followed suit.
But at least until recently, Audi AG remained aloof. In a strictly formal sense, the Volkswagen subsidiary had severed all legal ties to its predecessor companies. Hence the carmaker refused to make any payments into the compensation fund for former forced laborers called the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future.” [End Page 186] Setting aside all legal quibbling for a moment, it goes without saying that Audi is the successor to the former Auto Union AG. This connection was made patently clear in the summer of 2010, when the business magazine Wirtschaftswoche published an article entitled “Public Crimes,” which highlighted their exploitation of forced laborers and concentration-camp prisoners. Only then did Audi decide to subject the issue to a thorough academic investigation. The result is a sweeping study written by Rudolf Boch and Martin Kukowski, whose work was financed by Audi, but who were otherwise granted all necessary liberties to conduct their research.
The book begins by providing historical context on the 1920s, since Auto Union was a typical product of the Great Depression. It was created in the summer of 1932 at the height of the economic crisis in order to save four smaller carmakers, along with their many suppliers, from bankruptcy. The Sächsische Staatsbank (State Bank of Saxony) stood behind this rescue, while the treasury of Saxony became the majority shareholder. During the prewar years of the Third Reich, the company maintained a remarkable degree of autonomy despite the usual opportunistic changes made to accommodate the Nazi regime. Until 1939, the firm focused on the civilian market and, in addition to cars, primarily manufactured motorcycles.
The dominating figure at the time was CEO Richard Bruhn, who incidentally continued to manage the company long after 1945. The study retraced the professional careers of company executives and characterizes them as pragmatists. Like Bruhn, most of them joined the Nazi Party, and some were even appointed Wehr-wirtschaftsführer, meaning that they were executives crucial to the war effort. This section of the book appears to be motivated by the somewhat antiquated notion that it is possible to precisely determine which members of management sympathized with the Nazis. Ironically, the actual empirical core of the work demonstrates why this approach has been largely dropped over the last decade. The decisive measure should be neither party membership nor a clear commitment to the ideology of the Third Reich but rather the nature of a company’s actual activities.
During 1940, Auto Union underwent a radical transformation and placed itself fully in the service of the armaments sector. From a business perspective, and in view of the state control of raw materials and labor, one could say that the company had no alternative. Auto Union manufactured not only aircraft components, tractors, and tank engines but also torpedoes. It endeavored to use the circumstances of the war economy to build up its own truck division, which, at the time, appeared to be a highly promising venture with regard to the postwar period. Despite relatively advanced development plans, however, the project remained mired in bureaucracy and red tape.
The study examines the different manufacturing programs along with sample armaments projects. During the war, forced laborers...