Porsche’s Dirty Secret – and United States’ complicity

I’ve never owned a Porsche, but an old school friend in New Zealand took me for a ride in his Carrera once. I can’t say I was vastly impressed. It was a pretty bumpy ride. But then we were in the heart of urban Auckland, so I couldn’t experience the full effect of accelerating from 0 to 100 km/h in 4.6 seconds or feeling the wind blowing in my hair at the top speed of close to 300 km/h. If you can find somewhere to do that, you may think it worth forking out $NZ 200,000 or more for the buzz. And you may be joining in the 70th birthday celebrations of the Porsche company.

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The “first” Porsche

Interestingly, however, an article in the UK Telegraph informed me that Porsche isn’t 70 as is being celebrated here, but 87 years old. It was in 1931 that Porsche formed his own company . . .  Ferdinand Porsche was the majority shareholder, with his son in law Anton Piëch and Adolf Rosenberger, each contributing the remainder of the start-up capital. Rosenberger became the managing director and the staff consisted of Porsche’s former colleagues, including Austrian engineer/designers Karl Rabe and Erwin Komenda, and his son Ferry Porsche.”

Early projects for Porsche’s new firm were a design for a new Wanderer saloon, the Kübelwagen military vehicle, the Elefant Panzerjäger tank, Hitler’s people’s car the Beetle, and the Type 64, a streamlined racing car based on the Beetle. 

Porsche kept his people close, but he wasn’t above borrowing ideas from others or dropping those who’d become an embarrassment. The Beetle’s swinging axles were designed by Edmund Rumpler in 1903, but its backbone chassis and rear-mounted air-cooled engine were all first used by Hans Ledwinka in his designs for Tatra – Porsche even admitted that he ‘might have looked over Ledwinka’s shoulder.”

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Adolf Rosenberger in his motor-racing days

Tatra sued for patent infringement and Hitler said he’d sort it out, which he did by invading Czechoslovakia. After World War Two, Volkswagen settled out of court with Tatra. Similarly Rosenberger had to flee Nazi Germany and give up his Porsche shareholding. He changed his name twice and ending up in America. After the war, Porsche and Piëch sent begging letters and Rosenberger sent back food and money, yet when he sued for the reinstitution of his shareholding in 1950 the German courts offered a derisory sum and a Volkswagen Beetle in compensation.

I’m just snipping out a few extracts from the Telegraph article here, since most of it is a car enthusiast getting excited about the 1948 Porsche 356 “Number One”. What I did do was follow up some questions that crossed my mind as I was reading. For example, why did Adolf Rosenberger have to flee Nazi Germany? Why did he change his name twice? What was Hitler’s involvement in the Porsche company?

Well, Wikipedia tells me that Adolf Rosenberger was a successful Jewish businessman born in Pforzheim, Germany in 1900 and a well-known racing car driver in the 1920s. “[W]hen Hitler came to power in Germany [he]was arrested for “Rassenschande” (racial crimes), and imprisoned at KZ Schloss Kislau near Karlsruhe.” He was released with the help of an influential friendbut “forced to leave Germany immediately. He emigrated to France, and later to Great Britain, representing Porsche GmbH in both of those countries. He immigrated to the United States in 1939 and in 1944 he became a US-citizen under the name of Alan Arthur Robert.

rewriting historyDuring the Nazi era, the role in the auto history of many Jews like Adolf Rosenberger . . . was written out of history.”

Two other sources I found provided further information. The Car Aficionada has this to say (again, I am providing excerpts): Devout Porsche enthusiasts are well-versed in the marque’s heroes. They can cite chapter and verse about Ferdinand and his son, Ferry. The roles Dr. Anton Piëch, Ferdinand’s son-in-law, and his descendants played founding and nurturing this brand are well documented. In the modern era, Hans Mezger’s brilliant engine contributions are core to the Porsche legend. But any mention of Adolf Rosenberger draws blank stares from the Zuffenhausen faithful. Here we set the record straight on his place in the Porsche lore.

“When the other Adolf became Germany’s chancellor in January 1933, it became clear to Rosenberger that his Jewish heritage was a distinct liability. He resigned from Porsche and transferred his ownership share and management responsibilities to a close friend, Baron Hans Veyder-Malberg. In spite of the fact that his speed in the experimental Auto Union racer during Nürburgring tests nearly matched Hans Stuck’s lap times, Rosenberger’s competition license was denied by Nazi officials. Since the purpose of the state-backed Auto Union and Mercedes-Benz racing programs was to demonstrate Aryan superiority, Jewish drivers were prohibited.

Rosenberger wisely departed Germany to represent Porsche interests first in France, then in Switzerland. Upon his return in the summer of 1935, he was arrested by the Gestapo and dispatched to a concentration camp for “racial disgrace”—defined as relations with an Aryan woman.

Thanks to the intervention of his ally Veyder-Malberg, Rosenberger was released after but four days of internment; the Reich billed him 953 RM (about $230) to cover the cost of his “protective custody” and legal fees. Taking the beatings he suffered during confinement seriously, Rosenberger relocated to France and changed his first name to Alfred. Then in 1938, he moved to America, settling first in New York before seeking employment in Detroit.

With World War II raging, the U.S. government considered Rosenberger an enemy alien and restricted his movements. Because of that status, no car company would have him, so he moved to Los Angeles, changed his name again to Alan Arthur Robert, and opened a gas station. When that venture didn’t pan out, he worked as a day laborer, selling plastic products on the side. He finally obtained U.S. citizenship in 1944.

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Doesn’t a girl have the right to lie about her age?

Rosenberger sued Porsche for 200,000 DM (about $480,000 today) through the German retribution tribunal. When the dust finally settled in 1950, his award was one-fourth that amount plus his choice of a new Beetle or a 356. While the historical record doesn’t show why Rosenberger chose the Volkswagen, it should be assumed that what he sought was respect, the one thing no one at Porsche seemed willing or able to provide.”

A second source, The Truth about Cars corroborated most of that information in a piece entitled Porsche’s Forgotten Man, adding some extra interesting thoughts:

“In fact, without Adolf Rosenberger, there would not have been a Porsche company in the first place.

According to Ghislaine Kaes, Porsche’s personal secretary, the engineer had a good reputation — but not much money.

“Porsche didn’t have the financial means at the time for such an establishment. These funds were supplied by Adolf Rosenberg.” Adolf Rosenberger put up 30,000 marks to capitalize the design agency. Dr. Porsche got 80 percent of the stock, Anton Piëch received 10 percent and Rosenberger was allotted the remaining 10 percent. Facilities were rented at Kronenstrasse 24 in Stuttgart.

In 1933, [a] sponsor was found in the person of Adolf Hitler, newly installed as German chancellor. Hitler saw auto racing as a means of projecting German prowess and power. In February 1933, Hitler gave a speech opening the Berlin auto show and Dr. Porsche sent the soon-to-be-dictator a congratulatory letter, offering his services. A month later, Ferdinand Porsche, Baron von Oertzen, and racer Hans Stuck met with Hitler in the Reich Chancellery. The result was that Porsche and Auto Union were given 300,000 reichsmarks to build a race car.

Later, of course, Hitler’s commission to Porsche for the KdF Volkswagen people’s car would put Dr. Porsche’s company on even better financial footing.

While all that was going on, Rosenberger began to have concerns about himself being a Jew in Germany and Adolf Hitler, no great judeophile, being in power. Rosenberger brought in his friend Baron Hans von Veyder-Malberg to serve as Managing Director of the design agency and apparently gave nominal control of his shares in the company to Malberg in a strawman deal.

To keep the company afloat before Hitler’s sponsorship of the Auto Union racecar came through, Rosenberger made a stockholder loan of 80,000 reichsmarks to the firm. That means that not only did Rosenberger provide the startup capital for the Porsche company, he kept it in business for the first two years of its existence.

In September of 1935 . . . the Gestapo arrested Rosenberger for “racial shame.” In other words, he had an “Aryan” German girlfriend. After about three weeks in the Kislau concentration camp, where the treatment was apparently brutal enough that it permanently affected his health, Rosenberger was released and made to pay 53 reichsmarks for the cost of his “protective custody.”

In 1945, Ferry Porsche, Dr. Porsche’s son said that the Porsche and Piech families had interceded on behalf of Rosenberger, to get him released. However, Rosenberger maintained until his death that the only help he got was from Baron von Veyder-Malberg, who bailed him out.

In terms of the wider picture, I read that an exhibition has opened at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum – Americans and the Holocaust. According to Lily Rothman, “news that publications like TIME ran in the 1930s and ’40s shows that, in fact, Americans had lots of access to news about what was happening to Europe’s Jewish population and others targeted by the Nazi regime.

In fact, Dr. Paul Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister, [was]on the cover of the July 10, 1933, issue of TIME Magazine.

It would have been public knowledge in the late 1930s (and not entirely controversial) that the U.S. was denying entry to some refugees from Hitler’s regime . . .”

Well, it’s ancient history now, I guess – but nevertheless, there are lessons for us

First, writing inconvenient facts out of history is common practice in all countries.

Second, the truth tends to come out long after the events took place.

That being so, we should be suspicious that similar “adjustment” of facts is taking place today, at national and international levels. Fortunately, we today have the internet, and it is much more difficult for unscrupulous businessmen/women and politicians to hide what is really going on. As always, however, the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

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