Hitler Steals the Beetle

DATELINE: Ganz & Losses 

 Photo of Hitler by Ganz.

Joseph Ganz never received the credit he deserved: as a Jew in Hitler’s 1930s Germany, he had his ideas stolen and barely escaped with his life.

Born in Vienna at the turn of the century, he likely walked the same streets in pre-World War I as Hitler. Both served in the German army, and Jew Ganz believed in his homeland, perhaps he was naïve.

By the 1920s he was a happy, creative engineer. As this documentary gathers together two young researchers: one a German journalist and the other a Ganz descendant. They share a love of the Beetle auto and a fascination with Ganz’s genius.

By 1923, Ganz became editor of an automobile magazine and advocated cars for the people. IN Europe of the age, cars were Mercedes, BMW, and Porsche, made for the elite. He wanted an economical car for the people.

Ganz studied car accidents, chasing them down, concluding where they tipped over, what broke or was inadequate. He incorporated all his findings into creating a small, lightweight car. He wanted an economical and streamlined.

His design and prototype model is clearly recognizable as a Volkswagen. It impressed Mercedes and BMW to hire him as a technical consultant. By 1932 his star was rising, but it may have been a fool’s world of success. He took on the rising Nazi who has libeled him in one of their magazines. He sued and won: it did not endear him after he won the lawsuit.

Hitler took power in 1933 and ordered a German car show in Berlin. He admired Ganz’s people’s car, and in fact, Ganz took photos of Hitler looking at the prototype. By March of 1934, he was fired by BMW, under government orders, and his name was erased from documents.

Hitler gave the ideas to Porsche who suddenly was designing Ganz’s Volkswagen. Ganz was arrested and held for a month. Upon release, he left for Switzerland and never returned to Germany.

How he ended up living in Australia after 1951 is both sad and infuriating. He saw his car start to become an icon of the hippie generation—and help Germany recover its post-war economy.  This documentary by Suzanne Raes is impressive.