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The blood-drenched fortunes of Nazi heirs

Ferdinand Porsche giving Hitler a toy car for his 50th birthday. Universal History Archive/UIG/Getty

Germany is lauded for its “culture of remembrance and contrition” around the Second World War, says David de Jong in The New York Times. Yet the dark history of its powerful automotive dynasties tends to be “happily ignored”. Take Günther Quandt and his son Herbert, both members of the Nazi Party who exploited slave labour in their factories and bought companies from Jews forced to sell up at far below market value. Today, two of the family’s heirs have a net worth of roughly $38bn and control BMW, Mini and Rolls-Royce.

But BMW’s charitable foundation is still named after Herbert, and until I asked them about it, his biography on the family’s website made no mention of his Nazi-era activities. It’s a similar story with Ferdinand Porsche, who persuaded Hitler to put Volkswagen into production, and his son Ferry, who was a voluntary SS officer. The modern clan is worth around $20bn – and donates to charity generously through the Ferry Porsche Foundation.

These billionaire heirs don’t seem to mind that the fortunes which keep them in “ski chalets, impressionist paintings and cocaine” are drenched in blood, says Max Hastings in The Sunday Times. Susanne Klatten, the daughter of Herbert Quandt, says she will “never lose respect” for her father. Verena Bahlsen is heiress to a vast biscuit empire, buoyed by Nazi-era forced labour. In 2019, the 26-year-old insisted that her family firm “paid the forced labourers exactly the same as the Germans” during the war, and therefore has “nothing to feel guilty about”. “I own a quarter of Bahlsen and I am happy about it too,” she said. “It should continue to belong to me. I want to make money and buy sailing yachts from my dividend and stuff.”