Sheldon Kirshner

Volkswagen Faces Up To Its Historic Responsibility

Having announced that it will join forces with the Anti-Defamation League to fight the rising tide of antisemitism in Europe, Volkswagen, the German car manufacturer, has taken yet another step to make amends for its role in the Holocaust.

Last week, Volkswagen said it will fund the operations of an Anti-Defamation League office in Berlin whose task will be to research and combat antisemitism on the European continent. Funding for the pilot project will last three years, with an option to renew it, a Volkswagen spokesman said.

“The initiative will focus on assessing the root causes of antisemitism, extremism, and bigotry in society and develop programs to counter it through advocacy and education,” the Anti-Defamation League noted.

Herbert Diess, Volkswagen’s chief executive officer, told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in an interview   that he was concerned about the recent upsurge of antisemitism in Europe. He said that Volkswagen has a special obligation to counter racism due to its close connection with Nazi Germany.

“Volkswagen, because of its history, has an obligation to care about antisemitism and racism,” he said in a telling comment. “We have more obligation than others. The whole company was built up by the Nazi regime.”

“Antisemitism is creeping up again, so clearly we have to do more,” he added. “It’s really disturbing that in the last five years it has been creeping up again.”

With the emergence of right-wing populism, antisemitism is on the ascendance again in European countries. Last month, for example, the German government disclosed that hate crimes against Jews and visible minorities in Germany increased by a whopping 20 percent in 2018.

In a reflection of this malaise, the German official in charge of monitoring antisemitism advised Jews to refrain from wearing yarmulkes in certain parts of Germany. Subsequently, German Chancellor Angela Merkel assured Jewish citizens that Germany will do whatever is necessary to protect them from antisemitic violence.

But at the end of the day, the fact remains that open antisemitism is rearing its ugly head again, not only in Germany but throughout Europe.

Which is presumably why Volkswagen recently took it upon itself to position itself against the ageless spectre of antisemitism.

As Diess correctly suggested, Volkswagen was a creature of Nazi Germany. It was Adolf Hitler, the chancellor and Nazi Party leader, who devised the novel idea of building a “people’s  car” that ordinary Germans could afford and would be able to drive on the network of new highways, autobahnen, that criss-crossed Germany.

Ferdinand Porsche, the eminent engineer, designed the first Volkswagen in the early 1930s. In May 1938, six months before the eruption of the Kristallnacht pogroms in Germany, Nazi officials from Hitler on down converged on the town of Fallersleben to witness the inauguration of the first Volkswagen factory in Germany. In a comment that still haunts Volkswagen, Hitler declared that it  would be “a symbol of the National Socialist people’s community.”

About the Author
Sheldon Kirshner is a journalist in Toronto. He writes at his online journal,