1938: The nazis build themselves a car factory

A Volkswagen for everyone: that’s what the Nazis promised the Germans. At 26. May 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 – if you want to drive your own car!" by the end of the 1930s, this slogan was followed by more than 300.000 savers in the german empire. The financing model promised something almost unbelievable: a "volkswagen" affordable for all, the adolf hitler to his "people’s comrades had already announced in 1934.

Masses save on their own cars – in vain

and the german divisions – week after week they stuck their brands on the savings card, hoping for their own car. The problem: the advertised car did not even exist. Not even the factory where it could have been built. Hundreds of thousands of people had already taken out a savings contract when, on 26 September, the. may 1938 the foundation stone for the volkswagenwerk was laid near the small town of fallersleben in lower saxony.

After the foundation stone was laid, Adolf Hitler had a'Volkswagen' von Ferdinand Porsche zeigen © Picture-Alliance/dpa

26. May 1938: the foundation of the VW plant

But the so-called "power through joy" car was never built. With the start of the war, production was switched to armaments. Private cars remained the preserve of a small, privileged class.

Motorization of the masses?

Germany was underpowered by European standards at the time. In 1930, there were only about 500.000 registered motor vehicles. This put the country far behind neighbors such as France and Great Britain, where more than 1.5 million cars were already rolling along the roads. The difference to the USA is even starker: here, mass motorization had long since begun with a good 26 million vehicles.

Germany was to follow in the Nazis’ footsteps. Soon after taking power, Adolf Hitler announced his ambitious goal: a top speed of 100 kilometers per hour, room for four people, inexpensive to buy and economical in consumption – that was how the "volkswagen" was to be built appearance. carmaker ferdinand porsche (1875-1951) was commissioned to design it. its spherical car, developed in the mid-1930s, was not yet called" beetle", but "power-through-joy-car". It is questionable whether he could have become a worldwide sales hit with this name.

the national socialist auto mobilization

Adolf Hitler examines a prototype of the 'Volkswagen'Kafer' (undatierte Aufnahme). © dpa Foto: DB

progress, technology, speed: although he himself did not have a driver’s license, hitler knew about the fascination of the automobile and used it for propaganda purposes. As was the case with the autobahns, which were built across germany as a job-creation measure with little coherence and were dubious in view of the low level of motorization, the following also applied here: the propagandistic effect was more important than the real benefit. Because with it came the vague promise that the car would soon no longer be the privilege of the upper classes, but a pleasure for everyone. Accordingly, the motorization of the masses was staged at great expense.

The'KdF-Wagen' war der Traum von Tausenden Sparern im Deutschen Reich - fur sie blieb nur die Briefmarke von 1939 © Picture-Alliance

The national socialist mass organization “kraft durch freude” was in charge of this project (kdf): it was to promote the leisure of the german “volksgenossen The aim was to shape the travelers, to monitor them and to win them over to the regime with seemingly harmless amusements. It organized vacation trips and hiking excursions, organized bowling tournaments and sewing classes. And under the leadership of kdf, the car was also to be produced for the masses. But for this, a factory was first needed.

A new factory town

the volkswagen plant was supposed to be an exemplary project from the very beginning. Ferdinand porsche – at the same time chief executive officer of the newly founded "volkswagenwerk gmbh – during his study trips to the USA he had learned about modern production methods, especially the assembly line principle with which the ford company had revolutionized low-cost mass production. The project was financed in germany not only from the many millions of reichsmarks received from savers, but also from the assets of the trade unions that had been 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 Mittellandkanal, the railroad line and the Reichsautobahn Berlin – Hanover seemed favorable. In addition, military aspects were in favor of the location: in the event of a foreseeable war, the factory was far away from the state borders and thus reasonably protected from air attacks.

Laying of the foundation stone with a lot of pathos

On 26. may 1938 the foundation stone was laid in fallersleben. The regime did not miss the opportunity for pathetic staging. the ceremony was meticulously planned down to the last detail. from all over the reich, kdf savers made a pilgrimage to the future production site, the SA and SS sent honorary formations, members of the reichsarbeitsdienst (reich labor service), the hitlerjugend (hitler youth) and party comrades were sent to the sparsely populated "wolfsburger landchen" promoted.

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