Hitler’s plan for all German families to have an affordable car to travel the Autobhan
The Volkswagen was a center-piece of the National Socialists desire to benefit ordinary Germans. Hitler proposed to build a cheap car that almost anyone could afford. He gave it the name “KdF Wagen,” which we know as the Volkswagen. KdF was the abbreviation for “Kraft durch Freude” (Strength through Joy), a subsidiary of the Deutsche Arbeitsfront (German Labor Front), headed by Robert Ley.
The enormous expansion of the German high system, particularly the Reich Autobahn system, which like the growth in automobile manufacturing, came from the Fuhrer’s orders and looked far into the future. Both projects go along with each other, and today hardly anyone does not cheerfully support Adolf Hitler’s work in these areas. The Fuhrer’s will, that the entire people should benefit from their common labours has repeatedly shown itself in recent years. It was only natural that it was always close to Hitler’s heart that this also include those with limited incomes.
At the automobile exhibitions during the first years after Hitler became Chancellor, he clearly expressed his wish for a Volkswagen that the automobile industry had to consider it an order or a commission. As is known, in prior years, the German automobile industry was barely able to produce enough of its own models in a reasonably timely fashion, even when fully using all its labor, plants and machines.
It was thus no surprise that early in 1937 the Fuhrer gave the leader of the German Labor Front, the order to use all the means of his organisation of millions of workers, along with the NS Community “Kraft durch Freude,” to realise his dream. As early as 1934, he had talked with the most famous German automotive engineer, Dr. Porsche, about carrying out his thinking, and had given him the commission to undertake the construction of the German Volkswagen.
Early in May 1937, Dr. Ley carried out the Fuhrer’s commission to found the “Society for the Preparation of the German Volkswagen.” The manufacturer Dr. Porsche, the automotive expert J. Werlin, and the Reichsamtsleiter “Kraft durch Freude” Dr. Lafferentz were appointed the leaders of this organization.
The three party comrades worked hand in hand to determine the immediate tasks, and then to take up the factories, methods, and distribution of this new car. Dr. Lafferentz was responsible for a large part of the plan to construct a large factory to build the Volkswagen in Fallersleben, near Braunschweig.
After long efforts, the whole plan took final form. The whole project had been organised. For years, one had heard little about the project until the Fuhrer’s speech at the Automobile Exhibition in 1938, where he revealed the happy secret.
Among other things, Adolf Hitler said:
“Over the past four years, and with continual improvements, we have developed the Volkswagen, which we are convinced not only can be sold at the price we want, but also can be manufactured in ways that use a minimum of workers to produce the maximum amount. The model that has resulted from years of work by Dr. Porsche, will undergo testing this year. It will enable millions of new customers with limited incomes to afford a car. We owe the best cars in the world to our directors, engineers, craftsmen, workers, and salesmen. Today, I am convinced that in a short time we will also build the least expensive cars.”
In a small miracle, an attractive car made of steel, powered by a 25 horsepower engine, and with enough room for four, even five people, underwent hard testing. Hitler decreed that it should be able to carry 2 adults and 3 children, as the children should not be separated from their parents.
In 150,000 kilometers of test drives, it proved that it could easily maintain a speed of 100 kilometers per hour on the Autobahn. The test cars performed so well that it even astonished those who built them. Hardly any repairs were needed. In the mountains, the Volkswagen left larger cars behind, and also handled poor roads well. The right model had been developed. Now it was a matter of mass producing the car so that those with limited incomes could buy it, and of developing a means of financing it for them.
One condition had already been met – it needed only seven litres of fuel for 100 kilometers.
The significance of that figure is clear from this example: An adult paid 4 pfenning per kilometer for normal rail travel, which meant a fare of 12 marks for three hundred kilometers, approximately the distance between Berlin and Hannover, or Berlin and Hamburg. The new Volkswagen costs only 7 times 40 pfennig, times 3, or 8.40 marks. If, for example, four workers shared the fuel cost, each would pay only 2.10 marks. Each saving 9.90 marks, or 39.60 marks in all.
The new factory was being built on a 1.5 by 2 kilometer piece of land on the Mittelland Canal. It was also near the intersection of two of the Autobahn.The Fuhrer laid the cornerstone on 26 May 1938. Construction had begun several months earlier. The realisation of his dream seemed certain, and so everyone understood it when the Fuhrer recognised the achievements of the German free time organisation, by naming the car in his speech the “KdF Wagen,” a people’s car in the truest sense of the word. A storm of applause erupted as Adolf Hitler took a seat in a test car – a convertible model. The son of the designer took his seat behind the wheel and drove the Fuhrer through the enthusiastic crowd of people.
Next to the factory, a modern city was springing up, which would’ve initially had a population of 30,000, rising eventually to 60,000. The core population would be workers and managers at the KdF car factory. This city, which Hitler was to later give its final name, would be a National Socialist model city. The city planning took account of modern city construction, and also of Reich planning. From its beginning, it was a model of the desires of the German Labor Front and above all, the National Socialists Community “Kraft durch Freude.”
It was laid out so that workers would have a short trip from their homes to the factory. It would also include every possible opportunity for recreation: swimming pools, showers, new cafeterias, beauty, of Labor, sports facilities, walking paths, educational facilities, theaters and health care, just like all workers camps in Germany and beyond. For the first time, everything would be incorporated in both factory and city. And the workers, who would themselves be able to buy a Volkswagen, would explore the beautiful, forested, and hilly region that surrounds their model city
At that time, 4,000 people were building the factory. Given the shortage of labor in Germany, 2,500 of them were Italian. They had quickly adjusted to the new conditions and won praise from all sides for their work. The number of workers were to rise to 6,000. The workers were housed in barracks belonging to the Reich Labor Service. Married men received a bonus of 1 mark per day. The food was excellent, and cost 1.16 mark per day. The workers received .16 mark a day in return when they left, so that practically all their pay, or at least most of it, was available to their families. Housing, of course, was free, as was entrance to the community building, which held about 5,000 people. In this large room, there were daily movies, a theatre and other forms of entertainment on offer.
In October 1938, Dr. Ley honoured the president of the Italian Federation of Industry, who was visiting his countrymen in Germany, by naming the large community hall the “Ciantetti Hall Kraft durch Freude.”
The KdF Wagen factory was being built in stages. Production began late in the summer of 1938. By the beginning of the last quarter of 1938, 150,000 people had already ordered the car and were waiting eagerly for delivery. They were to begin receiving their cars early in 1940.
After the first stage of construction was completed, two shifts were to build 450,000 cars per year. That was projected to rise to 1,350,000 KdF cars per year when the third stage was completed. Even in its first stage, the factory would have exceeded anything seen before in Europe. When its third stage was to finish, it would have significantly surpassed Ford as the largest car manufacturing plant in the world.
One thing about the project was entirely new: for the first time, a quality car would sell for under one thousand marks, and that almost everyone would be able to afford it. The entire world listened when it was announced that one could purchase the new car, and insurance, for 5 marks a week. In this world still ruled by liberal mercantile thinking, people did not notice that many would not be in a position to purchase the KdF car immediately, but they would still be given preference through the installment payment system.
In the beginning, it wouldn’t have been avoided that “rapid savers,” those comrades who could pay more than 5 marks per week, would receive their cars first to ensure smooth deliveries. However, as soon as those saving 5 marks a week had paid the full price, they would immediately receive their cars, and those “rapid savers” who began later would have to wait.
In Hitlers Germany, transportation was a measure of a rising standard of living. Long before, many people could not afford railway tickets, but during that same era, rail travel was something mostly everyone could afford, just as they could afford street-cars and buses. But just prior, millions with low pay could not afford the high price of a bicycle. Later, even a low-paid worker could afford a good bicycle.
Millions of people in Germany still saw a car as something only the rich could afford. Thanks to Hitler, cars were no longer the privilege of a particular class, or of well-paid people, as was proven by the large number of vehicles that emerged out of Germany’s take over post WWII, with the Conquerors profiteering from the National Socialists manufacturing plan.
Time moves quickly. But never had things happened so quickly as in National Socialist Germany. In Fallersleben, the huge factory was being built. In less than six months, a million cubic meters of soil had been moved, and each day 500 tons of concrete had been delivered by a pipe system to the appropriate place. They were at the start of a new era. In a few years, hundreds of thousands of workers and lower-level employees would own their own car, and in the foreseeable future millions of KdF cars would have travel the best roads in the world – the projected vision of the accomplishments of a new Germany.
Hundreds of thousands of comrades, above all those who lived in big cities, in drab industrial areas and who lead a joyless, colourless life, would’ve then been able to reach the beauties of nature on weekends or after work with their families. They were to find pleasure and relaxation, feel more like free and independent people. To the National Socialists, for the German people to own a car, meant to live twice as much!
Following the will of the Fuhrer, the German Labour Front and their NS Community “Kraft durch Freude” were accomplishing something only possible in Hitler’s Germany. It could never have happened without the work of all labouring people, organised in “Kraft durch Freude” reaching down to the last factory and to the last city block.
Well, that was the vision before 1939.
Then the Allies with their consistent ‘Carpet Bombing’ destroyed two thirds of the factory. Now within the British Occupation zone, Major Hurst, a British Officer, was appointed to see if he could get the factory up an running again, as the Occupiers were short of cars of their own. In an act of hypocritical irony, they were also short of labour workers and filled the work camps with expelled Germans now assigned to Slave Labour.
One doesn’t need much of an imagination to figure who benefited from German planning, organisation and ingenuity.
N. Jones is a Writer, Researcher, Historian and Literary Critic.