Blog: Graeme RobertsBMW acknowledges a dark history cloud

Graeme Roberts | 8 March 2016

Amid all the expected ra-ra over its 100th birthday BMW has tacitly acknowledged its use of slave labour to build aero engines during World War Two. The company should be commended for being up-front and, of course, it addresses any awkward questions before they are asked.

"BMW Group: Facing up to the past.

As well as its many successes, the BMW Group has faced several major crises and challenges during its history.

1930s and 1940s.

Under the National Socialist regime of the 1930s and 40s, BMW AG operated exclusively as a supplier to the German arms industry. As demand for BMW aero engines increased, forced labourers, convicts and prisoners from concentration camps were recruited to assist with manufacturing them. To this day, the enormous suffering this caused and the fate of many forced labourers remains a matter of the most profound regret. In 1983, BMW AG became the first industrial corporation to initiate a public debate about this chapter of its history with the publication of a book entitled BMW – Eine Deutsche Geschichte (BMW – A German History). Several more publications on the subject followed. The BMW Group is explicitly facing up to this dark chapter of its past and in 1999, it became a founding member of the foundation Erinnerung, Verantwortung, Zukunft (Remembrance, Responsibility and Future) for the compensation of former forced labourers."

Seventy-one years on from the end of World War Two, there's a surprising amount from the Third Reich era still left in BMW's home town of Munich, Hauptstadt der Bewegung - the Capital of the Movement - the birthplace of the Nazi Party and it's not hidden away, airbrushed from history as in Japan. Visiting the city for the automaker's AGMs in March, I have enjoyed a discreet poke-about; in some places, display boards detail the dark past. It's quite amazing to see the building British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain was filmed entering to secure the notorious 1938 Munich Agreement, the vast square where grainy black and white movie clips show books being burned and so on. If, like me, you're a bit of a history buff, this website is a great starting point.

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