BMW is one of the most recognizable brands in the world. It stands for wealth and desirability, however it’s history is not as desirable as one would expect.
Günther Quandt (28 July 1881 – 30 December 1954) was a German industrialist who founded an industrial empire that today includes BMW and Altana (chemicals).
Eight of the hundred currently richest Germans are among his descendants.
During World War I, with Günther in charge, the Quandts supplied the German army with uniforms, building up a larger fortune that Günther would use after the war to acquire Accumulatorenfabrik AG (AFA), a battery manufacturer in Hagen that would become VARTA, a potash-mining company, metal-working companies (including IWKA) and stakes in BMW and Daimler-Benz.
Günther Quandt first married Antonie ‘Toni’ Ewald. They had two sons Helmut Quandt (1908–1927) and Herbert Quandt. Antonie died of the Spanish flu in 1918 and Helmut died of complications from appendicitis in 1927.
His second marriage on 4 January 1921 in Bad Godesberg to Magda Ritschel produced another son, Harald Quandt. Magda was half Günther’s age. The marriage ended in divorce in 1929. Although the couple divorced in 1929, they remained on friendly terms. Magda later married Goebbels at a property owned by Günther Quandt. Adolf Hitler was Goebbels’ best man.
After Hitler’s election in 1933 Quandt joined the Nazi Party. In 1937 Hitler gave him the title of a Wehrwirtschaftsführer, (Leader in the Defence Economy), like other industrialists who played a leading role in the war economy. Quandt’s businesses supplied ammunition, rifles, artillery and batteries, using slave labourers from concentration camps in at least three factories. Hundreds of these labourers died. An execution area was set up in the grounds of AFA’s Hanover factory. Quandt also appropriated factories throughout Europe after German invasions.
The AFA Hannover plant was basically a Concentration Camp where inmates were forced to work with highly toxic chemicals without any protective clothing. Many of them died. Today is is still a highly polluted abandoned industrial area.
AFA’s factory in Viennese borough of Schwechat was one of the sub-camps of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp.
The factory was destroyed by an RAF Bomber Command air raid on 2 December 1944 . It provided batteries for, among others, the German U-Boats and Panzer tanks.
At the end of World War II, the US Senate held hearings on the operations of the German economy during the war. They found that Quandt was an important director in German industry, with a number of inter-locking companies, syndicates and corporations. He had interest in such areas as insurance, banking, automobiles, ammunition, textiles, electricity, batteries and other areas. They found that he was given a title, “Leader in the War Economy” (Wehrwirtschaftsführer) by the Nazi government.
In 1946, Quandt was arrested because of the Goebbels connection, and interned. To the surprise of many, he was judged to be a Mitläufer (fellow traveller), namely someone who accepted the Nazi ideology but did not take an active part in crimes. In January 1948, Quandt was released.
In an interview with Hans-Oskar Baron Löwenstein de Witt in the documentary”The Silence of the Quandts” he said that they were forced to work in the armement factory in toxic fumes and were the first one to wear the yellow David star before anyone else.
One of the prosecutors in the Nuremberg trials, Benjamin Ferencz, now says that if today’s evidence against Quandt had been presented to the court at the time, “Quandt would have been charged with the same offences as the directors of IG Farben.
” The directors served up to eight years in jail. Instead Quandt was able to re-install himself in the supervisory boards of various German firms, e.g. Deutsche Bank. He also became honorary citizen of the University in Frankfurt in 1951. He died on vacation in Cairo on 30 December 1954.
His two surviving sons, Herbert and Harald, administered their inheritance together, though Harald Quandt concentrated on the industrial plants Karlsruhe Augsburg AG (IWKA) which were involved in mechanical engineering and arms manufacture, while Herbert Quandt managed the investments in AFA/VARTA, Daimler-Benz and BMW.
He gained greater responsibility for companies which his father had acquired and after 1945, he rebuilt them. He developed a business philosophy of decentralised organisation which gave executives wide powers for decision-making and allowed employees to participate in their company’s success.
When Günther died in 1954, the Quandt group was a conglomerate of about 200 businesses including the battery manufacturer, several metal fabrication companies, textile companies and chemical companies (including Altana AG). It also owned about 10% of car company Daimler-Benz and about 30% of BMW. After Günther’s death, the conglomerate was divided between his two surviving sons: Herbert and Harald Quandt, who was Herbert’s half brother.
BMW was an ailing company and in 1959 its management suggested selling the whole concern to Daimler-Benz. Herbert Quandt was close to agreeing to such a deal, but changed his mind at the last minute because of opposition from the workforce and trade unions. Instead he increased his share in BMW to 50% against the advice of his bankers, risking much of his wealth. He was instrumental in reversing the company’s fortunes.
BMW was already planning its BMW 1500 model when Quandt took control.
It was launched in 1962 and established a new segment in the car market: the quality production saloon. It occupied a position between the mass production car and the craftsman-built output of the luxury producers. BMW’s sophisticated technical skills put it in a strong position to fill this niche. It was this model that put BMW on the path to success.
When Harald died in 1967 in an air crash, Herbert received more shares in BMW, VARTA and IWKA. In 1974, Herbert, and Harald’s widow, Inge, sold their stake in Daimler-Benz to the Government of Kuwait.
Herbert Quandt died 2 June 1982 in Kiel.
Today the Quandts are multi-billionaires, although it is difficult to put an exact figure on their wealth. They do not give interviews and are very publicity shy.
After his mother’s remarriage, Quandt remained with his father, who became a prominent business leader in the Third Reich. Nevertheless, he paid regular visits to his mother, who had become “the First Lady of the Third Reich”, and to his stepfather, who was minister of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda from 1933. After 1934, he returned to his mother and lived with the Goebbels family until passing his school-leaving examination in 1940. Residing with his adopted family, he raised several eyebrows by supporting the sloganeering of the Indian politician Subhash Chandra Bose.
For this reason he was sent away to the front in Italy.
He served as a lieutenant in the Luftwaffe during World War II. He took part in the Battle of Crete in 1941 and later fought in Russia and Italy, where he was injured. In 1944, he was captured by Allied troops in Italy; he was released in 1947. Magda and Joseph Goebbels committed suicide after killing their six children on 1 May 1945.
Harald was the only one of Magda’s children to survive.
After returning to Germany, he first assisted his half-brother in re-building the family firms, and then from 1949 to 1953 studied mechanical engineering in Hanover and Stuttgart, where his family owned large firms (AFA/VARTA in Hanover, a private equity firm in Stuttgart).
He survived an aviation accident at Zürich International Airport but died in 1967 when another of his aircraft crashed in Cuneo, Italy.
Susanne Klatten (born Susanne Hanna Ursula Quandt on 28 April 1962) is the daughter of Herbert and Johanna Quandt. As of August 2015, her net worth is US$19.6 billion, and she is the richest woman in Germany and the 38th richest person in the world. The basis of this wealth is on the deaths of slave labourers and concentration camp inmates.
It is estimated that the Quandt family used 50,000 slave labourers during WWII many of whom did not survive.