Trends in history
Everyone knows about the Beetle, and almost all of those people also know that the idea of the Beetle has been credited to none other than Adolf Hitler. However, what many don’t know, isd that just may not be the case. A very convincing and factual argument can be made that it was Jewish Engineer Josef Ganz who is behind the idea of ‘Hitler’s Volkswagen’.
If I were asked, I would credit the idea of the Beetle to Josef Ganz but Adolf Hitler’s power made it a reality. It was Josef Ganz who popularized the idea and technology of the Beetle in Germany, but as can be seen by the struggles associated with his life, it took Adolf Hitler to drive the Beetle that last mile into production.
Josef Ganz was born in Budapest in 1898. Growing up in Vienna he started displaying his engineering abilities. At the age of 12, itself he had acquired his first patent for a safety device for electric streetcars. Ganz moved on to serve in the WW1 and then to Germany to study Mechanical Engineering. As a student, Ganz started the development of an innovative little car with a mid- mounted engine, independent wheel suspension and a streamlined body. After a motorcycle accident in which he almost lost his right leg, developments for his Ganz- Klein-Wagen came to a halt.[1: Book Review: The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz: The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen – The Truth About Cars]
MOTOR – KRITIK
Ganz was a freelance writer for a while when he heavily criticized the cars of the 1920’s which he believed to be ‘devils carts’. He thought of their solid axles, inefficient drive trains and high ventres of gravity to be old fashioned. Through his writings he urged the automotive industry to adopt more state of the art technology. this resulted in his being appointed as the editor in chief of the motoring magazine Klein – Motor – Sport. He then used this as a platform to promote innovative design and specially that of his Volkswagen. His magazine went to become very influential, which he then went ahead to name Motor – Kritik.[2: Patton, “In Beetle’s Creation Story, a Plot Twist”]
THE VERY FIRST OF THE BEETLE FAMILY: THE MAY BUG
In 1930, the motoring company Ardie gave Ganz the opportunity to build his Volkswagen. The prototype featured a central backbone chassis with a mid mounted engine, independent all round suspension with swing axles and simple beetle shaped open body work. However, the production had to be cancelled. The remarkable construction attracted the motoring giant Adler, which took on Ganz as a consultant and offered him services to build a new improved prototype. The May Bug hence came to be in 1931. Even though industrial forces blocked further production of the car Ganz was allowed to keep the prototype with which he then used as a technology demonstrator.[3: Josef-Ganz.com :: The engineering father of the Volkswagen Beetle]
Ganz had also been in extensive discussions with motorcycle manufacturer Zundapp about them building a car on his designs, during which they has unlimited access to them. The talks later broke down, and they hired Ferdinand Porsche, who had also driven Ganz’s May Bug. Zundapp then came out with a vehicle much like the one in Ganz’s designs. In the summer of 1931, Ganz took his May Bug to Stuttgart, where it was widely driven and tested by the directors at Mercedes – Benz, who then took Ganz on board as a consultant. Under him they developed a Beetle like car with a rear mounted 4 – cylinder box engine. They also came out with their concepts the 120h and the 130h with his assistance which are said to have influenced the Beetle.
THE BUG GOES SUPERIOR
The May Bug set off a revolution in the industry. The people who had criticized and doubted Josef Ganz for his ideas now started adopting his revolutionary ideas. It was then in 1933 that he came out with his own Volkswagen, backed by the motorcycle company Standard Fabrik. With his many patents they came out with their car the Standard Superior, which was a production version of the may bug with enclosed Beetle like bodywork and was introduced at the Berlin motor show in February 1933.
Adolf Hitler, the then chancellor of Germany, showed serious interest in the car. One of the new laws introduced by his office was that holders of a motorcycle driving license could operate small cars like the Superior. A Standard Superior was even tested by the National Socialist Motor Corps and a report also appeared in the army magazine.
GANZ AND THE GESTAPO
It was right at the peak of his career when the Gestapo falsely accused Ganz of blackmailing the automotive industry and took him into custody in Berlin in May 1933. He was imprisoned for a month and released thanks to influential friends. The gestapo then forced the Motor Kritik to fire him and he was let out of his position at Mercedes as well as at BMW. All this while the Standard Superior was gaining new heights at races and trials and a new version was introduced in September 1933.[4: COOKE, “What a Long Strange Trip”]
The Nazis made sure that all traces of Jewish lineage were removed from the Volkswagen’s history. Ganz was banned from publishing and people were banned from publishing about him. Just like that, Josef Ganz was wiped out from history.
ADOLF HITLER AND THE LAST MILE
Adolf Hitler always wanted to build a ‘car of the people: The Volkswagen’. He wanted to bring into production a small car for a family of four at a low selling rate, something that is often considered to be his only good idea. Since the time he had been appointed as chancellor he had been passing patents in favor of the production of small cars. As the dictator, Hitler wanted to build the “KDf Wagen”, which we know as the Volkswagen KDf Wagen. KDf was abbreviation for “Kraft durch Freude” (strength through joy), a subsidiary of the German labor front headed by Doctor Robert Ley.[5: Hitler and the Volkswagen]
Not being able to find funding for his pet project, Hitler assigned Ferdinand Porsche as the head of an independent development consortium to head this project. As a Jew, Josef Ganz was an impossible choice. And as Josef Ganz was pushed into obscurity by the Nazis, Porsche went ahead to design a people’s car for 1,000 Reichmarks, a maximum selling price that was propagated by Ganz.
A separate factory was said to be built for the production of the Kdf Wagen. The building of the factory started in the summer of 1938. It was built by early 1939, however, only a handful of Volkswagens were built when the war hit. The factory was then used to produce war weapons and military vehicles. Hence came the first ever volume produced versions of the car’s chassis in the form of military vehicles. 52000 of the Type 82 Kublewagen’s were produced along with 14000 Type 166 Schwimmwagen.
AFTER THE WAR
The re -opening of the factory can be largely credited to Major Ivan Hirst. Hirst had been ordered to take charge of the heavily bombed factory which had been captured by the Americans. Having seen Hitler’s sturdy Military vehicles in the war, Hirst knew that the small Kdf Wagen that he found in the factory had potential. Knowing that British Army needed cars and Germany needed jobs, Hirst persuaded the British army to order 20,000 cars, and by March 1946, the factory was producing 1,000 cars a month. By then, the car was being called the Volkswagen Type 1, or commonly, the Beetle. Being the best in its kind, it went ahead to be crowned the car of the century in 1990, and rest, as they say, is history.[6: Hitler and the Volkswagen]
GANZ AND HITLER
Destiny plays its own truants, as is obvious from Josef Ganz’s history, destiny got a Jew and an Aryan together and helped both realize their dream. The Volkswagen for Adolf Hitler and Josef Ganz. However, whilst Hitler got into history books , Josef Ganz was pushed into obscurity. The fact still remains that none of them could have done without the other. Adolf Hitler needed the technology from Josef Ganz who in turn needed the power of Adolf Hitler to secure his car’s future. Destiny sure plays its own truants.
Book Review: The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz: The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen – The Truth About Cars.” The Truth About Cars. January 4, 2012. Accessed November 2, 2014.
COOKE, PATRICK. “What a Long Strange Trip.” The Wall Street Journal. January 14, 2012. Accessed November 2, 2014.
“Hitler and the Volkswagen.” Hitler and the Volkswagen. Accessed November 2, 2014.
Josef-Ganz.com :: The Engineering Father of the Volkswagen Beetle.”
Josef-Ganz.com :: The Engineering Father of the Volkswagen Beetle. Accessed November 2, 2014.
Patton, Phil. “In Beetle’s Creation Story, a Plot Twist.” The New York Times. January 21, 2012. Accessed November 2, 2014.