An investigation into Audi’s past has found that one of the company’s founders had deep Nazi connections and the company had used workers housed in Nazi Germany’s concentration camps.
The report was funded by Audi and authored by Martin Kukowsi, co-ordinator of archives and business history at Audi, and Rudolf Boch, a profession of history at the University of Chemnitz.
According to the 500 page report, Dr Richard Bruhn (below), founder of Auto Union, Audi’s direct corporate predecessor, was a committed Nazi with deep contacts within the party. During the war he was bestowed with the title of Wehrwirtschaftsführer or military economy leader.
At the outbreak of World War II, Auto Union transformed itself into an armaments company producing, amongst other things, tank engines and torpedoes. The report states that Auto Union directly employed at least 3700 prisoners, around a quarter of whom were Jewish, across seven concentration camps that were specially built for the company.
Most distressingly, the company bears the “moral, if not legal, responsibility” for the deaths of around 4500 inmates at the Flossenburg concentration camp (below) who worked at Auto Union’s nearby Leitmeritz facility.
In addition, the company employed 16,500 forced labourers at its factories in Zwickau and Chemnitz. Due to the high mortality rate at all these locations, these numbers may not be exact.
Prior to the new evidence, Bruhn was considered as a hero in Audi’s history. In 1932 he brought together Audi, Horch, Wanderer and DKW to form Auto Union, and after being released from captivity by the British he successfully applied for funds from the United States’ Marshall Plan to help revive the company. He was later awarded the Grand Cross of Merit by the West German government in 1953 and died in 1964.
Speaking to Wirtschaftswoche, Peter Mosch, the head of Audi’s works council, said that he was “very shocked by the scale of the involvement of the former Auto Union leadership in the system of forced and slave labour”.
He added that there moves within the company to rename the pension fund named in Bruhn’s honour. Additionally Christian Lösel, the mayor of Ingolstadt, Audi’s home town, is considering changing the name of the street Bruhnstraße to something unrelated to the Auto Union founder.
Audi has amended its German website entries on Bruhn and, according to Der Spiegel, headquarters has instructed its international subsidiaries to do likewise. At the time of writing Audi Australia’s website still contains complimentary phrases to describe Bruhn, such as his “high reputation” and “great competence”, which have been removed from the company’s German-hosted site.
The company had previously admitted limited involvement in Germany’s Nazi-era crimes and has contributed funds to the nation’s compensation fund. Audi is one of the last German automakers to investigate its history during the Nazi era, with Volkswagen, Daimler and BMW having done so earlier.
For those interested, the complete report, “Kriegswirtschaft und Arbeitseinsatz bei der Auto Union AG Chemnitz im Zweiten Weltkrieg” or “The war economy and labour use in Chemnitz by Auto Union during World War II”, is available for purchase online for 77 euros.