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BMW and the Holocaust

In March 2016, on its 100th anniversary, German car giant BMW apologized for its wartime past, expressing its “profound regret” for supplying Nazis with vehicles and using slave laborers.

Bayerische Motoren Werke –The Bavarian Motor Works – was founded in Munich during the First World War on March 16, 1916. In World War II, BMW designed engines for Nazi fighter planes, such as the Focke Wulf FW190. German planes gained air superiority over the British and French thanks to the high-performance engines produced by BMW, which replaced the original Mercedes engine.

“Under the National Socialist regime of the 1930s and 40s, BMW AG operated exclusively as a supplier to the German arms industry,” the company stated. “As demand for BMW aero engines increased, forced laborers, convicts and prisoners from concentration camps were recruited to assist with manufacturing them.”

BMW employed workers in several towns near concentrations camps:

The company said that in 1983 BMW “became the first industrial corporation to initiate a public debate about this chapter of its history” with the publication of a book entitled, ‘BMW – A German History.’” In 1999, BMW became a founding member of the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” for the compensation of former forced laborers.

BMW’s history is further clouded by the ownership of the Quandt family, which bought a controlling interest in the company after the war. In 2011, the family admitted involvement in Nazi crimes following the publication of a report it commissioned by historian Joachim Scholtyseck, which documented that Gunther Quandt and his son Herbert were guilty of using slave labor, taking over Jewish firms and doing business with the highest echelons of the Nazi party.

In 1923, Gunther Quandt became the majority shareholder of AFA a company that manufactured batteries for the German military. He became a Nazi Party member in 1933 and, four years later, Hitler awarded Gunther the title Wehrwirtschaftsführer - leader of the armament economy.

Gunther acquired companies through the Nazi program of “Aryanization” of Jewish-owned firms and, ultimately, employed an estimated 50,000 forced laborers in his arms factories, producing ammunition, rifles, artillery and U-boat batteries. Herbert was the director of a Berlin-based AFA subsidiary that used female slave laborers, including Polish women who had been transferred from Auschwitz.

Read more about the Quandts’ activities during and after the war here.

Source: Ray Massey, “German car giant BMW apologises for its wartime past, admitting its ‘profound regret’ for supplying Nazis with vehicles and using slave labourers, Daily Mail, (March 7, 2016).