Konrad H. Jarausch: Porsche facts clear in lectures

January 25, 2014 

I am writing to correct the mistaken impression of insensitivity created by my colleague Peter Coclanis’ Jan. 19 Point of View piece on the Porsche exhibition in which his moral outrage appears to have trumped his respect for the facts.

Since the museum was well aware of the Nazi connection of the firm’s founder, it asked me as a 20th century German historian to address the subject in three public lectures at the museum itself, in Smithfield and in Fayetteville, attended altogether by about 350 people.

In my presentation, I called Ferdinand Porsche “a Nazi accomplice” and criticized his war-time use of slave labor in the Volkswagen factory in Wolfsburg in no uncertain terms. At the same time, I made it clear that the Porsche sports cars were designed by his son Ferry and built after the war in the small Austrian mountain town Gmund before the company moved back to Zuffenhausen in Germany, having therefore only an indirect relationship to the defunct Third Reich. Moreover, their classic modern style, which one art critic has hailed as one of the “icons of the 20th century,” was inspired by the modernism of the Bauhaus in the Weimar Republic.

While the terrible crimes of the Holocaust remain a reprehensible example of human evil, they should not prevent an appreciation of exceptional design.

Konrad H. Jarausch

Lurcy Professor of European Civilization, UNC

Chapel Hill

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