I write these words not alone, but in the company of six million souls who cannot stand and accuse their tormentors, who cannot cry out “J’accuse!” For their remains rest in the heaps upon the hills of Auschwitz, the fields of Treblinka, and the forests of Poland. Their resting places stretch across the vast expanse of Europe. Though their voices may be silenced, their blood calls out for justice. In their absence, I shall take up the mantle of their spokesperson, and on their behalf, I will take meaningful action against those responsible.
It is a known fact that if the world were to observe a moment of silence for each Holocaust victim, we would remain silent for a staggering eleven and a half years. The truly alarming reality is that there has been a deafening seventy-eight years of silence!
Volkswagen stands as one of the world’s most successful automobile manufacturers, celebrated for three key attributes: reliability, affordability, and quality. Yet, for me and many others, Volkswagen is associated with three different attributes: complicity with Nazism, deception, and involvement in wartime atrocities.
The Bussing-NAG firm, which later merged into a corporation now owned by Volkswagen, bore responsibility for the operation of the Braunschweig Concentration Camp. This grim camp housed approximately 1,200 enslaved labourers from 1944 to 1945. Tragically, under the company’s oversight, hundreds of lives were lost due to extreme conditions, including exhaustion, starvation, beatings, torture, and executions. The executives of the Bussing-NAG firm were slated to face war crimes trials for their roles in these atrocities. However, the British authorities in the occupied region of Germany ultimately dismissed the charges. To make matters more perplexing, not only were the charges dropped, but Bussing-NAG was actively encouraged to resume manufacturing after the war. Remarkably, the Director-General of the company, Rudolf Egger, did not deny these accusations but admitted to them without hesitation. Astonishingly, there exists no documented explanation for the British authorities’ decision to drop the charges. Historians have suggested that these reasons were primarily “practical,” implying that the British intentionally failed to preserve trial evidence or reports. The motive behind this decision raises questions. It appears that this move was intended to allow Bussing-NAG to rebuild its corporate operations and provide work for the Braunschweig community. In the immediate postwar era, the Bussing-NAG plant employed approximately 3,500 workers alongside their families, resulting in a community of around 10,000 individuals. This strategic decision not only provided employment and income but also aimed to prevent potential social conflicts between the civilian population and the British authorities in the town.
The historical context surrounding these events raises troubling questions about accountability, justice, and the delicate balance between practicality and the pursuit of justice in the aftermath of a devastating conflict. During the same period, Director-General Solms Wittig of Steinol GmbH faced trial for his involvement in war crimes similar to those attributed to Bussing-NAG, albeit of lesser severity. Wittig received a death sentence from the British courts, but this sentence was never carried out. Instead, he was later sentenced to twenty years in prison in 1947. Remarkably, Wittig was released and pardoned in 1955 by the German judiciary. Notably, records from Wittig’s trial have been preserved and are accessible in the British Public Records Office.
In contrast, Rudolf Egger assumed the role of chairman of the Industry-Commerce Chamber of Braunschweig shortly after the war. Furthermore, in 1953, he was granted honorary citizenship of the city of Braunschweig and honorary membership in the senate of the local Polytechnic. Surprisingly, Bussing-NAG itself was never held accountable for any of the war crimes associated with the corporation. Subsequently, Bussing-NAG merged with MAN SE, which later merged into Traton SE, an entity now owned by Volkswagen. Fully aware of the corporation’s historical involvement, Volkswagen acquired the firm. Consequently, there exists a shared responsibility for addressing the crimes that were committed, one that ultimately falls upon Volkswagen.
On the Volkswagen website, the words “Sustainability and Community. For the Future. For everyone.” are prominently displayed. However, we cannot ignore the painful history that links Volkswagen, its predecessor companies, and those it now owns to the suffering of tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Holocaust victims who endured unspeakable horrors. These victims toiled as slave laborers, many enduring brutal beatings, while thousands lost their lives under the banner of companies now associated with Volkswagen. Their future was stolen from them, and their identities often remain unknown. Volkswagen must confront this dark history and take responsibility for the roughly 90 concentration camps it operated during the Holocaust, as well as any others connected to the companies it later acquired. The atrocities committed on their properties cannot be overlooked. It is imperative that Volkswagen acknowledges its role, takes full responsibility, and works towards accountability for these crimes against humanity and war crimes. Adequate compensation must be provided to those who rightfully deserve it. The path to true sustainability and community must include recognizing the past and striving for justice in the present.