• Germany's news in English
 
Slave probe exposes Audi's Nazi past
Flossenbürg concentration camp pictured after liberation in 1945 by US forces. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Slave probe exposes Audi's Nazi past

Published: 26 May 2014 12:34 GMT+02:00

Audi has been forced to re-think everything it knew about one of its founding heroes, Dr Richard Bruhn, after the study it commissioned into the company's past revealed he had close ties with leading Nazis.

Bruhn, long celebrated as the "Father of the Auto Union", which in the 1980s evolved into the modern Audi brand, exploited slave labour under the Nazi dictatorship on a massive scale, a newly-released historical investigation revealed on Monday.  

Although the firm told Spiegel it would be changing online profiles of Bruhn, he is still credited on a number of Audi's English-language websites worldwide 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".

On Tuesday an Audi spokesman told The Local the company had written to its websites in other countries asking them to change the text about Bruhn.  

The damning indictment of the previously-celebrated German entrepreneur came as a shock for Audi, when it revealed he had for years maintained the "closest ties" to top figures in the Nazi regime.

After 1942, Bruhn had been personally responsible for the firm's large-scale exploitation of forced labour, the study found. Only the intensification of the war had prevented him from further ratcheting up the company's use of slave labour across the country.

"There can be no discussion about the closeness of Auto Union to [the Nazis]," the authors wrote. It had been "firmly ensnared in the National Socialist regime”.

Bruhn revived the Auto Union group with funding from the US Marshall Plan in Ingolstadt after the war and was awarded West Germany's Grand Cross of Merit in 1953 for his entrepreneurial services to the nation, nine years before his death in 1964.

Yet with the in-depth study having ruined his reputation, Ingolstadt’s mayor Christian Lösel told Wirtschaftswoche the city was now considering changing the names of streets such as "Bruhnstraße," named in his honour.

Bruhn's firm had manufactured vehicles for the Nazi war effort during World War II and "got itself ensnared to a scandalous degree in the complex of concentration camps," according to the 500-page report by historians Martin Kukowski and Rudolf Boch seen by Wirtschaftswoche magazine ahead of publication.

The Chemnitz-based company was founded in 1932 following a merger of four German car makers. The Auto Union name was dropped after a further merger in 1985 resurrected the Audi brand which is based in Ingolstadt, Bavaria.

During the war, Auto Union used seven specially-built forced labour camps manned by the SS, the study found. In these camps alone, the firm employed over 3,700 prisoners who had been enslaved and forced to do hard labour by the Nazi regime.

Around a quarter of them were of Jewish descent.

'Responsible for 4,500 deaths'

Another 16,500 labourers, not interned in concentration camps, were forced to work for the firm in factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz, in Saxony.

Most shockingly, the former Auto Union management carried "moral responsibility" for the deaths of 4,500 inmates of Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria, who died while working at a nearby Auto Union labour camp in Leitmeritz, the study said.

Audi expressed concern over the study's findings and said it would look into granting compensation for any former labourers who were still alive.

"I'm very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour," Audi works council head Peter Mosch told Wirtschaftswoche. "I was not aware of the extent [of this involvement]," he added.

The firm will also now consider removing Bruhn's name from company initiatives such as pension plans, said Mosch.

The study was published on Monday by Franz Steiner Verlag under the title "Wartime Economy and Labour Deployment by Auto Union AG Chemnitz during World War II."

Audi is the last of the large German car makers to commission a historical study into its Nazi past, following in the footsteps of Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW. 

SEE ALSO: President tells Greece sorry for Nazi crimes

For more stories about Germany, join us on Facebook and Twitter

Josie Le Blond (news@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
German kids 'growing up sitting down'
Photo: DPA

German kids 'growing up sitting down'

Too much sitting is bad for you, as we all know. But health experts warned on Monday that half of German children have firmly adopted the sedentary and damaging habits of their parents. READ  

Business makes confident start to 2015
A worker checks compensators in a Baden-Württemberg factory. Photo: DPA

Business makes confident start to 2015

German businesses are confident about the outlook for Europe's biggest economy, a new poll showed on Monday, as a weaker euro and falling oil prices are set to boost the country's exporters. READ  

'Stick to the plan': Germany to Greece
Syriza leader Alexis Tsipras celebrates the party's election victory on Sunday. Photo: DPA

'Stick to the plan': Germany to Greece

UPDATE:German Chancellor Angela Merkel expects the new Greek government to uphold its commitments to international creditors, her spokesman said Monday after the electoral triumph of Greece's anti-austerity leftists Syriza. READ  

Give refugees holiday homes: Berlin official
Monika Herrmann attempts to mediate in a refugee dispute in 2014. Photo: DPA

Give refugees holiday homes: Berlin official

Amid rising tensions around the Pegida movement, a Berlin official stirred alarm on Monday with a proposal to commandeer private holiday apartments to house asylum seekers. READ  

Parties welcome Gabriel's Pegida meeting
Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel in Dresden on Friday. Photo: DPA

Parties welcome Gabriel's Pegida meeting

Politicians welcomed Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel's controversial decision to meet members of anti-Islam movement Pegida on Friday. READ  

Self-driving cars to hit German Autobahn
Hopefully there won't be any roadworks on the test stretch. Photo: DPA

Self-driving cars to hit German Autobahn

A section of the A9 Autobahn in Bavaria will be converted into a test route for self-driving cars, Transport Minister Alexander Dobrindt said on Monday. READ  

 Deutsche Bahn wins allies in air cartel suit
Deutsche Bahn's HQ in Potsdamer Platz in Berlin. Photo: Volker Emersleben/DB

Deutsche Bahn wins allies in air cartel suit

Rail operator Deutsche Bahn said Sunday it has been joined by several companies in a 2.9 €billion euro lawsuit against Lufthansa and other airlines for fixing air cargo prices. READ  

Merkel phones Putin over Ukraine violence
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Photo: DPA

Merkel phones Putin over Ukraine violence

Chancellor Angela Merkel urged her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in a phone call on Sunday to "put pressure" on Ukraine's pro-Kremlin separatists to end a recent upsurge in violence. READ  

New anti-Islam march draws 17,000  people
The Pegida demonstration in Dresden on Sunday. Photo: Arno Burgi/dpa

New anti-Islam march draws 17,000 people

Thousands of people joined a march by the anti-Islamisation PEGIDA movement on Sunday, the group's first rally since threats surfaced against the group and its leader resigned over "Hitler" photos. READ  

Anti-Muslim rallies 'hurt Germany's image'
Police prepare for the demonstration on Sunday on Dresden's Theaterplatz. Photo: Arno Burgi/dpa

Anti-Muslim rallies 'hurt Germany's image'

Hours before a new rally in Dresden by the anti-Islamisation PEGIDA movement on Sunday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said the group's sentiments were harming the nation's image. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Gallery
The best regional foods TTIP opponents want to protect
Photo: DPA
Features
The rise and spread of Pegida
Photo: Shutterstock
Culture
This cosplayer did not think his plan through
National
Europe in statistics - from Spain to Sweden
Photo: DPA
Politics
The Local's report from Pegida's largest ever demonstration.
Sponsored Article
Top-notch tech boosts bilingual schools
National
Six stories that will rock Germany this year
Photo: DPA
National
Terror alert at a new high. Should you be worried?
Dresden skyline and river by night. Photo: DPA
Politics
What does Dresden have against Muslims?
Photo: DPA
National
What were your favourite news stories of 2014?
Gallery
Top 12 German idioms
National
Why has The Local got a new logo?
Photo: DPA
National
This German was abducted and tortured by the CIA
Culture
10 top tips for partying in Germany
Photo: DPA
Technology
What does the Chancellor see as the future of the internet?
Photo: DPA
Berlin
The Local's series on 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

1,428
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd