Consumers often prefer not to know the history behind the products they buy. Was this Nike shirt made in a sweatshop by a 6-year-old kid in Bangladesh? Did an animal have to suffer a short, lonely and painful life and death to feed me these lousy chicken nuggets? Was Nazi slave labor pivotal in producing the cars that my cute Volkswagen Beetle is based off of today? Well, shameless consumer, you may want to keep burying your head in the sand for this one.
Volkswagen is currently embroiled in a diesel emissions scandal; in just a few days, VW’s stock declined 29% and its market value fell by nearly $25 billion. Under the U.S.’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules, VW could potentially be penalized with $18 billion in fines. The controversy stems from the VW’s emissions controls that were supposedly developed to intentionally cheat the system. You know what else didn’t have emissions controls? The Nazi gas chambers. The Nazi regime created what everyone now knows as the modern day “punch-buggy”, but your local VW dealer probably won’t tell you this, that is, if they even know the true history of their product.
How exactly was Volkswagen tied to Hitler and the Nazi Regime? Der Spiegel reported in 2009 that: “When Hitler asked the German automobile industry to develop a ‘suitable small car’ in 1934, Porsche submitted the best design — and was awarded the contract. At the 1935 German auto show, Hitler was full of praise for Porsche. He said that he was pleased that, thanks to ‘the abilities of the brilliant design engineer Porsche,’ it had been possible to ‘complete the preliminary designs for the German Volkswagen (people’s car).'”
The designer of the Volkswagen, Ferdinand Porsche, joined the Nazi Party in 1937. Hans Mormensen, author of “Das Volkswagenwerk und seine Arbeiter im Dritten Reich” (Volkswagen and its workers during the Third Reich) accuses Porsche of being “morally indifferent” to slave labor and said that “[h]e walked through the crimes like a sleepwalker.”
If you think that there’s no reason to be concerned over a product that was developed decades ago, during World War II, then consider this excerpt from Annie Jacobson’s new book “Operation Paperclip.” This excerpt reveals the United States’ complicity in harboring Nazi scientists for their own scientific research following the end of the war:
“Although some of these men had been Nazi Party members, SS officers and war criminals, they were valued as vital to American national security. Thus it was O.K., American government officials reasoned, to ignore these scientists’ roles in developing biological and chemical weapons, in designing the V-2 rockets that shattered London and Antwerp and in the countless deaths of concentration camp inmates who fell victim to medical experiments at Dachau and Ravensbrück.”
Are we really going to ignore past war crimes and extraordinarily questionable histories in the name of “security” and “consumerism”?