What is the story of Volkswagen

1938: The Nazis build a car factory

Status: 16.12.2020 11:46 a.m.

A Volkswagen for everyone: that is what the Nazis promised the Germans. On May 26, 1938, they laid the foundation stone for the VW plant - and produced armaments there.

by Malte Krebs

"You have to save five marks a week - do you want to drive in your own car!" More than 300,000 savers in the German Reich followed this slogan by the end of the 1930s. The financing model promised the unbelievable: a "Volkswagen" affordable for everyone, which Adolf Hitler had announced to his "Volksgenossen" as early as 1934.

Saving masses on your own car - in vain

And the Germans saved - week after week they stuck their stamps on the savings card in the hope of having their own car. The problem with that: The advertised car didn't even exist. Not even the factory where it could have been built. Hundreds of thousands had already signed a savings contract when the foundation stone for the Volkswagen factory was laid on May 26, 1938 near the small town of Fallersleben in Lower Saxony.

But the so-called Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen was never built. With the start of the war, production was switched to armaments. Private cars continued to be reserved for a small, privileged class.

Motorization of the masses?

At that time, Germany was underpowered by European standards. In 1930 there were only about 500,000 registered motor vehicles. The empire was thus far behind neighbors such as France or Great Britain, where more than 1.5 million cars were already rolling on the streets. The difference to the USA is even more blatant: Here, with a good 26 million vehicles, mass motorization had long since begun.

Germany should follow the will of the Nazis. Soon after he came to power, Adolf Hitler announced the ambitious goal: 100 kilometers per hour, space for four people, inexpensive to buy and economical in consumption - this is how the "Volkswagen" should look. Car maker Ferdinand Porsche (1875-1951) was commissioned with the construction. His spherical car, developed in the mid-1930s, was not yet called the "Beetle", but rather the "Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen". It is questionable whether he could have become a worldwide best seller with this name.

The National Socialist car mobilization

The design for the "Kraft-durch-Freude-Wagen" came from Ferdinand Porsche.

Progress, technology, speed: although he did not have a driver's license himself, Hitler knew about the fascination of the automobile and used it for propaganda purposes. As was the case with the autobahns, which were not built coherently across Germany as a job creation measure and were dubious in view of the low level of motorization, the same applies here: the propaganda effect was more important than the real benefit. This was accompanied by the vague promise that the car would soon no longer be a privilege of the upper class, but a pleasure for everyone. Accordingly, the motorization of the masses was staged with great effort.

A Volkswagen adorned a postage stamp for the 1939 automobile exhibition.

The National Socialist mass organization "Kraft durch Freude" (KdF) was in charge of this project: it was supposed to organize the leisure time of the German "Volksgenossen", to monitor them and to win them over to the regime with seemingly harmless amusements. She organized vacation trips and hiking trips, held bowling tournaments and sewing courses. And under the direction of KdF, the car should also be produced for the masses. But for that you first needed a factory.

A new factory city

There were also military reasons for the VW location in Südheide.

The Volkswagen factory was supposed to be an exemplary project from the start. Ferdinand Porsche - at the same time managing director of the newly founded "Volkswagenwerk GmbH" - had learned the modern production methods on study trips to the USA, especially the assembly line principle with which the Ford company had revolutionized low-cost mass production. The project in Germany was financed not only from the many millions of Reichsmarks of savers, but also from the assets of the trade unions expropriated in 1933.

The choice of location fell on the small town of Fallersleben in Lower Saxony, northeast of Braunschweig. Above all, the location between the Mittelland Canal, the railway line and the Reichsautobahn Berlin - Hanover seemed favorable. In addition, military aspects spoke in favor of the location: in the event of the foreseeable war, the factory was far from the state borders and thus somewhat protected from air raids.

Laying of the foundation stone with a lot of pathos

The foundation stone was laid in Fallersleben on May 26, 1938. The regime did not miss the opportunity to stage a pathetic staging. The ceremony was meticulously planned down to the last detail. KdF savers made a pilgrimage to the future production site from all over the Reich, the SA and SS sent honorary formations, members of the Reich Labor Service, the Hitler Youth and party comrades were promoted to the sparsely populated "Wolfsburg Ländchen".

AUDIO: Laying of the foundation stone for the VW factory (3 min)

50,000 participants and around 600 guests of honor were present in the Südheide when Adolf Hitler stylized the future VW plant as a "symbol of the National Socialist German State, the National Socialist People's Community" in his mass-impact speech.

VW anniversary in Wolfsburg

On October 8, 1949, the British handed the Volkswagen factory over to Lower Saxony. It still has a significant impact on the cityscape of Wolfsburg today. 2 min

The plant needs a new city

The founding of the Volkswagen factory is also an early example of industrial settlement on the green field: at the end of 1937, just 857 inhabitants lived in the area. There was neither enough manpower nor adequate accommodation for the planned mass production. So a few weeks after the new plant, the new "City of the KdF car near Fallersleben" had to be built out of the ground. It was not given the much more concise name "Wolfsburg" by the Allies on May 25, 1945 after the war.

With the Volkswagen to the front

But before that happened, more than 20,000 forced laborers and concentration camp prisoners had to work under inhumane conditions in the Volkswagen factory, many of whom died in agony. Instead of the promised automobiles for the masses, military Kübelwagen were made. The main thing that impressed Hitler about the mass-produced "Volkswagen" was the fact that it could easily be converted from a civilian to a military vehicle. VW supplied more than 60,000 copies to the Wehrmacht and SS for the German war of annihilation, as well as fighter planes, mines and flying bombs. For this, the VW plant was allowed to call itself a "war model company" and was also awarded the honorary title of "National Socialist model company".

By the end of the war, only 630 civilian vehicles left the factory - for leading NSDAP functionaries. The real triumph of the "Beetle" as a symbol of the economic miracle was to begin later.

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Hello Lower Saxony | 05/27/2018 | 19:30 o'clock