BMW’s Quandt Family Faces Its Nazi Past

October 10, 2007

A shocking documentary aired on German TV exposes the family’s shameful history of Nazi profiteering and use of slave labor

Automaker BMW is Germany’s most admired employer and a pioneer in profit sharing. So it came as a shock Sept. 30 when an investigative television documentary exposed the Nazi-era misdeeds of BMW’s controlling shareholder family, the Quandts. The Silence of the Quandt Family highlighted how patriarch Günther Quandt, grandfather to the generation now controlling BMW (BMWG.DE), built a blood-stained wartime fortune on the back of slave labor and how he sidestepped postwar recrimination.

The reclusive Quandt family responded to the documentary five days later, on Oct. 5, pledging to back a research project into the family’s Nazi past and its role under the Third Reich, opening family archives and documents to an independent historian.

 quandt trioThe mysterious and elusive Quandt family 

“The accusations that have been raised against our family have moved us,” said the family in a statement. “We recognize that in our history as a German business family, the years 1933 to 1945 have not been sufficiently cleared up.”

BMW, of which the Quandts became major shareholders 15 years after the war, was not implicated in the documentary. In keeping with its normal policy, the automaker made no comment about the Quandts, but noted that it has publically confronted its own wartime history via independent research projects.

The TV program stunned Germany and triggered a raft of newspaper stories with headlines such as “The Quandts’ Bloody Billions” and “A Fortune Stained in Blood.” The hour-long documentary included interviews with former slave laborers who testified to the devastating conditions and atrocities which took place at Günther Quandt’s battery company, Accumulatorenfabrik AG (Afa). Afa produced highly specialized batteries for the Nazi war machine, used in U-boats and V-2 rockets. It also produced munitions. “We were treated terribly and had to drink water from the toilets. We were also whipped,” said Takis Mylopoulos, a forced laborer who worked in Quandt’s Hannover plant.

Based on documents unearthed by the filmmakers, Quandt estimated a “fluctuation of 80 prisoners per month,” in his battery factory—a likely reference to expected deaths per month, the film claims. It also says that Quandt, who joined the Nazi party in 1933, wielded close family ties to the Nazi elite to grow his battery business. Sven Quandt, a grandson of Günther and the only family member to appear in the documentary, says that he and his siblings cannot be held responsible for their grandfather’s activities.

Quandts Rejected Pleas for Reparations

Afa had factories in Hannover, Berlin, and Vienna and was supplied with slave laborers from concentration camps who died by the hundreds, according to the documentary. One former Danish slave laborer testified in the film that he and other survivors, who were deported to a German concentration camp and sent to work at Afa, returned to Germany in 1972 to plead for financial support from the Quandts, since the harsh working conditions at Afa had resulted in lifelong ailments.

The Quandts turned them away, the film says. “It’s for me a step in the right direction that the Quandt family, after so many decades, finally is willing to face its history,” says Carl-Adolf Sörensen, a former Danish resistance fighter who was sent to the Hannover-Stöcken concentration camp in 1943. Sörensen wants the Quandts to admit that Afa relied on slave labor from the camp.

Escaping Justice

The Silence of the Quandt Family was broadcast by Norddeutsche Runkfunk (NDR), an affiliate of the national ARD network, and was based on five years of research by authors Eric Friedler and Barbara Siebert. It premiered at the Hamburg Film Festival on Sept. 30 and was aired without notice on television later that night, at 11:30 p.m., reaching an estimated audience of 1.3 million. Some German commentators surmise the broadcast was not announced in advance for fear of legal interference from the Quandts to block the program. ARD officials denied the speculation and said they decided to air the program only after the Film Festival premiere.

Despite his Nazi membership—and, as it now appears, his use of slave labor—Günther Quandt was deemed after the war to have been more of a “passive follower” than a convinced Nazi. But Benjamin Ferencz, a prosecutor from the Nuremberg Trials interviewed in the documentary, said that the facts revealed today likely would have led to Quandt’s conviction for war crimes—similar to those meted out to members of the Krupp and Flick families.

“Quandt escaped justice,” Ferencz told the filmmakers. Industrialist Friederich Flick, by contrast, received a prison sentence of seven years at the Nuremberg Trials for deploying slave labor and for serving the Nazi war machine, but was freed in 1950.

After the war, Quandt received his company, later renamed Varta (VARGK.F), back from the government and continued to build his industrial wealth—the fortune eventually wielded by his son Herbert in 1959 to buy BMW. Herbert’s heirs, including wife Johanna, daughter Susanna Klatten, and son Stefan, today own a controlling 47% stake in BMW, which has a market capitalization of $42 billion. The Quandts also own a controlling stake in pharmaceutical giant Altana (ALTG.DE). The family’s holdings are worth an estimated $34 billion.

Damage Control

Despite its acknowledgement that the family’s ties to the Nazis have been played down, the Quandt family members insist the details of Günther Quandt’s past are not entirely new. A 2002 biography covered much of the same ground. It’s also been known that Quandt’s wife Magda Ritschel, whom he divorced in 1929, remarried Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels in 1931 and that Goebbels adopted Quandt’s son Harald. Adolf Hitler acted as witness at the wedding.

Many German companies including BMW, Volkswagen (VOWG.DE), and Deutsche Bank (DB) already have explored their own wartime collaboration and misdeeds during the Nazi era, publishing books, turning over documentation to experts, and paying millions of dollars into funds distributed to forced-labor survivors. Volkswagen’s book documents its deployment of 20,000 slave laborers during the Third Reich. In 1999, BMW and other German companies founded the “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” foundation, which provides compensation to former forced laborers.

The Quandts, by contrast, have remained silent about their past, perhaps fearing a global public backlash against the BMW brand. Until now, the family has refused historians access to its Nazi-era historical archives and papers—and it still has not acknowledged that Afa factories made use of slave labor from concentration camps.

The Oct. 5 statement by the family noted that Quandt-owned companies BMW, Varta, and Altana, as well as individual family members, contributed to national funds established to compensate former slave laborers but did not mention the sums contributed.


BMW dynasty breaks silence over Nazi past

The Quandt family empire, which became a major shareholder in BMW after the Second World War building it up to become one of the most desirable car brands, launched a project to investigate its Nazi-era activities after unpleasant revelations were aired in a 2007 TV documentary.

The ensuing research using company files from the 12-year period of the Third Reich has established the depth of collaboration between the family patriarch, Günther Quandt and his son Herbert, and Hitler’s regime.

“The Quandts were linked inseparably with the crimes of the Nazis,” concluded Joachim Scholtyseck, the Bonn historian who compiled and researched the study, “The family patriarch was part of the regime.”

The 1,200 page report provides details of the practises common at Quandt family factories where an estimated 50,000 slave labourers from concentration camps were used to supply arms contracts to the regime.

Hundreds of these labourers died from working in the inhumane conditions and others were executed.

The family was also discovered to have profited from taking over dozens of businesses seized from Jewish families by the Nazis and handed over to the Quandts.

BMW was not implicated in the report.

Gabriele Quandt, the grandson of Günther Quandt, responded to the study’s conclusion by admitting his family had been “wrong” in trying to avoid confronting the truth about its Nazi past for so long.

Family dynasty behind BMW admits to using 50,000 slave labourers during Nazi era

  • Guenther Quandt was a member of the Nazi party and benefited from its ‘Aryanisation’ programme by taking over Jewish firms
  • His wife, Magda Behrend Rietschel, later divorced him and married Joseph Goebbels, with whom she died in Hitler’s bunker in 1945
  • Quandt factories employed 50,000 slave labourers to churn out weapons and ammunition for the Nazis during World War Two, making the family very rich
  • Family still retains majority of shares in luxury car maker


The dynasty behind the BMW luxury car marker has admitted, after decades of silence, using slave labour, taking over Jewish firms and doing business with the highest echelons of the Nazi party during World War Two.

Gabriele Quandt, whose grandfather Guenther employed an estimated 50,000 forced labourers in his arms factories, producing ammunition, rifles, artillery and U-boat batteries, said it was ‘wrong’ for the family to ignore this chapter of its history.

He spoke out after an in-depth study by Bonn-based historian Joachim Scholtyseck, commissioned by the family, that concluded Guenther Quandt and his son Herbert were responsible for numerous Nazi injustices.

It found Guenther acquired companies through the Nazi programme of ‘Aryanisation’ of Jewish-owned firms.

Herbert Quandt was ‘part of the system’, son Stefan Quandt said after the conclusion of the three-year study – forced on the family by public outrage over a German TV documentary – compiled using company files from the 12-year period of the Third Reich.

The Quandt family bought into BMW 15 years after the War.

The study shows Guenther became a Nazi Party member on May 1, 1933, a month after Adolf Hitler achieved supreme power in Germany.

But he had long used a network of party officials and Wehrmacht officers to build up contacts for lucrative state contracts.

Married to Magda Behrend Rietschel, Guenther was divorced by her in 1929 although they remained on friendly terms.

She went on to marry the ‘poison dwarf’ of the Nazi party, the propaganda maestro Joseph Goebbels, and would die with him – after murdering their six children – in Hitler’s bunker in 1945.

 The company grew rich in the Nazi era. In 1937, Hitler bestowed on Guenther the title Wehrwirtschaftsführer – leader of the armament economy – and his business supplied weapons using slave labourers from concentration camps in at least three factories.
quandt-2   Family ties: Herbert Quandt, Guenther’s son, was also aware that slave labour was being used in the family’s factories. Right, Adolf Hitler and his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels. Guenther Quandt divorced Magda Behrend Rietschel, who went on to become Goebbels’ wife (pictured right)
Hundreds of these labourers died.

An execution area to murder those who displeased their masters was found in one of his plants in Hannover and the study mentions the fate of a Polish man who was hanged at another plant in front of 50 other inmates.

The study showed that the Quandt firms also used Russian POWs as slave labourers and that Guenther and Herbert knew about them, detailing their dispersion among their empire from the company HQ in Berlin.

Herbert even employed Ukrainian slaves on his weekend retreat outside the Reich capital.

Guenther was described as an ‘opportunist’ who enthusiastically helped the regime to rid Berlin industries of Jewish workers before the start of the war.

This was despite his numerous contacts with Jewish bankers in the years before the Nazis began their climb to power.

quandt-1                                                                                                                          Family secret: Guenther Quandt, whose family now owns BMW, used slave labourers during World War Two in his weapons factories in Germany

He was also ‘unscrupulous’ in his take-overs of Jewish firms which were forcibly sold for a pittance to loyal German industrialists such as himself.

‘The family patriarch was part of the Nazi regime’, judged the historian in the 1,200 page study.

‘The Quandts connected themselves inseparably with the crimes of the National Socialists.’

The Quandts were pressured into commissioning the study after a 2007 TV documentary in Germany entitled The Silence Of The Quandt Family.

Five days later, as the press headlines about a fortune built on blood piled up, the reclusive family announced its full backing for the research project.

At the time it said: ‘The accusations that have been raised against our family have moved us.

‘We recognize that in our history as a German business family, the years 1933 to 1945 have not been sufficiently cleared up.’

BMW, of which the Quandts became major shareholders 15 years after the war, was not implicated in the documentary.

‘We were treated terribly and had to drink water from the toilets. We were also whipped,’ said Takis Mylopoulos, a forced labourer who worked in Quandt’s Hannover plant.

In 1946 Guenther Quandt was arrested and interned. To the surprise of many, he was judged to be a ‘Mitlaufer’, or fellow traveller –  namely someone who accepted the Nazi ideology but did not take an active part in crimes.

He was released in January 1948.

One of the prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials, Benjamin Ferencz, now says that if today’s evidence against him had been presented to the court at the time,’Quandt would have been charged with the same offences as the directors of IG Farben’ – the makers of the gas used to murder the Jews at Auschwitz.

Quandt was able to re-install himself in the supervisory boards of various German firms such as Deutsche Bank. He also became an honorary citizen of the University in Frankfurt in 1951.

He died on holiday in Cairo on December 30, 1954.

Paying For the Past (2000) – Part 2

Clip description
The organisation The Claims Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany seeks to compensate the victims of slave and forced labour by German industry during the Second World War. Karen Heilig works for victims and points out that her organisation is non-profit. Ruth Meyer says that victims want someone to listen to them and to receive an apology.

Paying for the Past (2000) Part 3

President Rau of Germany publicly apologises to the forced and slave labourers used by German industry during the Second World War. German lawyer Dr Michael Vitti says that getting closure is difficult for the Holocaust victims. US lawyer, Ed Fagan, says that other countries will be pursued for atrocities. He nominates Japan and countries of Eastern Europe, Switzerland, Austria, France, England and the USA.

BMW – The Silence of the Quandts

The first 15 minutes of a documentary about the BMW families involvement in the Holocaust. Here is another link with English Subtitles:

The Quandt family is the silent might, behind one of the world’s largest and most profitable automakers, BMW. Yet the family has a dark past. Its businesses profited from forced labour during the Third Reich, and the patriarchs, who were intimately involved with the Nazi regime, managed to escape prosecution and keep those profits when the war ended, profits with which they could buy and rescue BMW. This documentary shows the victims, and asks the question, “Why are the Quandts silent?

Michael Moore – The Awful Truth – BMW Slave Labor

BMW refuses to compensate slave laborers that were forced to work for their company under the Nazi regime.

In this episode, Sal Piro, The Awful Truth’s bill collector, confronts BMW over the issue of slave labor used during World War II. Disgusted by the company’s refusal to pay damages or even speak to a former laborer, Piro smashes a window out of a BMW. Throughout the program, Moore points out that Germans enjoy six weeks of vacation each year. To emphasize this, he sets up a display of vacationing Germans in Times Square.

Dachau Concentration Camp Workers at Bavarian Motor Works (BMW) in München-Allach 1943

Slave laborers assembling airplane parts - 1943

Slave laborers assembling airplane parts – 1944

München-Allach forced labor camp opened in May 1944. It had approximately 3,900 inmates, who worked in BMW and Porzellan-Manufaktur plants. About 50 prisoners worked for the Porzellan-Manufaktur plant and about 3,800 prisoners worked for BMW-“Bau” (construction) and BMW-“Fertigung” (aircraft production).