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July 26: Josef Ganz and the Volkswagen

July 25, 2015
Standard_Superior_1933Joseph Ganz, the Jewish car designer who created a prototype vehicle that helped inspire the Hitler-endorsed “Volkswagen” — a small, affordable “people’s car” — died at 69 on this date in 1967. Ganz, who had a Hungarian Jewish mother and a German Jewish father, became a fervent car designer in his early twenties and created the “May Beetle,” 1931, a lightweight car that broke with the heavy-chassis models of its day, and the “Standard Superior,” 1933, featuring a VW-like chassis, which the new German chancellor Adolf Hitler admired for its design and its selling price of only 1,590 Reichsmark. Within weeks of its unveiling at the Berlin auto show, however, Ganz was arrested by the Gestapo, and then fled Germany, whereupon Hitler assigned Ferdinand Porsche to design a “Volkswagon” for 1,000 Reichsmark. Ganz spent some years working for General Motors in Australia, where he died in obscurity. “[T]he Beetle was more than a collection of technical innovations. To build cars for a whole people, as Henry Ford showed, required the creation of a huge manufacturing, sales and distribution enterprise. In a country as economically desperate as Germany was between the wars, only an ego-driven tyrant would have undertaken such an enterprise. But as history proved, the sound principles underlying the Beetle’s design enabled it to outlive the reign of the murderous dictator who made the project possible.” —Phil Patton, New York Times