“Love is meant for husbands, but my love for Hitler is stronger, I would give my life for it.”
—Magda Goebbels (née Ritschel, formerly Quandt)
I am fascinated by 1930’s Germany. My father Max was born in Hamburg in September of 1932—a short four months before Hitler seized control of Germany in January 1933. Max grew up in the Third Reich and his family suffered greatly during the entire Nazi era. Their Mercedes-Benz was appropriated by the local Hamburg Nazi Gauleiter and their real estate holdings and businesses were ravaged by the war. Most of all, they lost many friends and family members as a result of Hitler’s evil regime. My father’s cousin died fighting a hopeless war on the cold Russian front in March of 1945—hardly a month before the spectacular collapse of Hitler’s “Thousand Year Reich.” Largely a result of my personal family history, I have always been fascinated by this complex and tragic era. I studied German history in college and spent summers in Germany learning to speak the language fluently. I wrote my honors thesis at Boston College about Hitler’s personal architect, Albert Speer.
My father used to tell me stories about growing up in Germany both before and after the war. Some of these stories were horrific, others were wonderful. I remember him telling me about riding his old Zundapp motorcycle around Hamburg shortly after the war. Once he got caught in the rain and hit a wet trolley track and lost control of the bike. For young Max living in post-war Germany, motorcycles were a necessary form of transportation—they were not a fun pleasure hobby. Through osmosis, I naturally inherited my father’s interest in motorcycles. A passion for motorcycles ultimately intersected with my family roots—my overall interest in Germany history continues to this day. I suppose this background explains why I now have a burgeoning collection of rare pre-war German bikes. Over the last two decades, I have collected some of the finest examples of BMW motorcycles from the 1930’s. We have spent hours researching and restoring these motorcycles to their exact factory specifications. Down to the correct nut and bolts and cad plating, my BMW’s are correctly and fastidiously restored. These rare and beautiful machines are artifacts from a very dark era of modern history and they represent one of the few bright spots from this very troubled period.
Much has been written about the infamous Quandt family—descendants still control a major stake of BMW (as well as several other large other German industrial businesses). What is less well known, however, is the complex Quandt family history and their various ties to Hitler’s Germany. The family is also inextricably linked to BMW’s post-war survival and spectacular rise from the ashes. Many of the facts surrounding the Quandt’s involvement with Nazi Germany are unclear and the subject of debate. Since the end of World War II, the history of the Quandt family has been shrouded in secrecy. The family has remained largely silent about their historical involvement with Nazi Germany. Today questions are still being asked about the wartime profits their family received during the Third Reich. In October 2007, a one-hour award-winning film called The Silence of the Quandts was quietly aired in Germany. The documentary uncovered various associations and benefits that Quandt-related businesses enjoyed under Hitler’s regime. The film spurred the family to perform a formal research investigation into the behavior of Quandt family businesses during the Third Reich. Published in 2011, the study uncovered, among other things, the use of slave labor and the appropriation of Jewish assets. Some of the more aggressive claims against the family are speculation and conjecture—eighty years later many of the facts are hard to prove without reliable documentation. However, there is one interesting family fact that is not in dispute—and not widely known by modern BMW enthusiasts. Günther Quandt’s second wife (and mother of their son Harald) ultimately married the notorious Joseph Goebbels—one of the most powerful and prominent Nazis of the Third Reich.
The Quandt dynasty began in 1883 when Emil Quandt took over a textile company from his father-in-law. Günther Quandt was Emil’s son and became a wealthy German industrialist who built up his father’s businesses and assembled an even larger industrial business empire. His first wife was Antonie ‘Toni’ Ewald. They had two sons, Helmut Quandt and Herbert Quandt. Antonie died of the Spanish flu in 1918 and their young son Helmut died in 1927. Following the death of his first wife, Günther re-married to Magda Behrend Ritschel in 1921. His new wife was almost half Günthers age. Their marriage produced another son, Harald Quandt. Günther and Magda ultimately divorced in 1929. Two years later, in 1931, Magda married again—to Joseph Goebbels. Curiously, their wedding took place on a grand property that belonged to Günther Quandt. A rising political activist named Adolf Hitler served as the best man.
Joseph Goebbels joined the Nazi party in 1924 and was a rising star in the very early days of Adolph Hitler’s NSDAP (National Socialist Workers Party). Four years after marrying Magda, Joseph climbed to a position of influence and power and ultimately became propaganda minister of the Third Reich. Following the Nazi seizure of power in 1933, Joseph moved quickly to consolidate and control information and the media. Joseph Goebbels was instrumental in turning the 1936 Berlin Olympics into a Nazi spectacle. He was a master of propaganda and a manipulator of information. Within the inner circle of Hitler’s evil henchmen, Joseph Goebbels ultimately emerged as one of Hitler’s most powerful and trusted confidantes. He greatly influenced Adolf Hitler and brainwashed the German people through powerful media. His beautiful wife Magda relished power and fame and was obsessed with Adolph Hitler until the day she died. Given the fact that Hitler himself was unmarried, many Germans considered Magda the surrogate first lady of Germany.
Magda and Joseph Goebbels had six children. The young Harald Quandt was eventually adopted by Joseph Goebbels and was raised with his half-siblings. Harald ultimately grew closer to his stepfather than to his own father Günther Quandt. For many years Harald lived happily with his mother and stepfather. Harald often referred to Joseph Goebbels as “Papa.” Many years later, as the Third Reich was disintegrating and Allied and Russian troops encircled Berlin, Adolf Hitler’s fate (and that of the Goebbels family) was sealed. Hitler and his new wife, Eva Braun, committed suicide together in the Reichschancellory bunker on April 30th, 1945. Hitler’s will designated Joseph Goebbels as his successor and named him Chancellor of Germany. He served twenty-four hours in this post before also taking his own life. In an act of horrific proportions, Magda poisoned their six young children with cyanide and then committed suicide herself. She was quoted as saying that, “We will take them with us because they are too good, too lovely for the world which lies ahead.” Below are the goodbye notes that Joseph and Magda Goebbels sent to Harald Quandt only days before Adolf Hitler and the Goebbels family killed themselves. As a young adult in 1939, Harald volunteered to join the Germany army. He ultimately became a German soldier and fought in Greece, France, and Russia. He was injured by gunfire in Italy and subsequently sent to the British Army POW camp in Benghazi. The two letters below were delivered by post to Harald while he was being detained by the British in April 1945:
Letter from Dr. Joseph Goebbels to his stepson Harald Quandt
The Führerbunker on April 28, 1945.
We are locked down in the Führerbunker at the Reichschancellory, and we are fighting for our lives and honor.
How will this fight end, God only knows, But I know it will end for us with honor and glory, dead or alive. I do not think we will see each other again. These will be the last words you will receive from me. I hope, if you come out alive from this war, that you will honor both your mother and I, as is not necessary for us to survive to influence our people.
You will be the only one left to carry on with our family traditions. Always act in a way that does not shame us. Germany will survive this war, but only if our people has examples to guide them. and this is the example that we want to give.
You can be proud to have a mother like you have now. Last night the Führer gave her the golden party pin he has carried for years on his jacket, and I think she deserves it.
In the future, you will have only one mission: to be worthy of the great sacrifice we are willing to make. I know you will.
Don’t let the noise that the world is about to start to disorientate you. One day, the lies will fall under their own weight, and the truth will triumph over them. The hour will come in which we will be above all, clean and without guilt like our faith and task were.
Goodbye, dear Harald!! If we meet again, it depends on God. If it is not to be, I will always be proud of having belonged to a family, that, even in adversity, and up to the last moment, has been faithful to the Führer and his pure and holy cause.
My best wishes and dearest greetings.
Letter from Magda Goebbels to her son Harald Quandt
The Führerbunker on April 28, 1945
My beloved son!
By now we have been in the Führerbunker for six days already — daddy, your six little siblings and I, for the sake of giving our national socialistic lives the only possible honorable end.
You shall know that I stayed here against daddy’s will and that even on last Sunday the Führer wanted to help me to get out. You know your mother — we have the same blood, for me, there was no wavering.
Our glorious idea is ruined and with it everything beautiful and marvelous that I have known in my life. The world that comes after the Führer and national socialism is not any longer worth living in and therefore I took the children with me, for they are too good for the life that would follow, and a merciful God will understand me when I will give them salvation (death).
You will live and I ask only one thing from you, that you never ever forget you are a German, never do against your honor, and through your life, see that our deaths won’t be in vain.
The children are wonderful … there never is a word of complaint nor crying. The explosions above are shaking the bunker. The elder kids cover the younger ones, their presence is a blessing and they are making the Führer smile once in a while.
Last night, the Führer took off his golden party pin and pinned it to me. I am proud and happy.
May God help that I have the strength to perform the last and hardest task (killing herself and her children). We only have one goal left: loyalty to the Führer even in death and to be able to end our lives with him is an honor.
Harald, my dear son — I want to give you what I learned in life: Be loyal! Loyal to yourself, loyal to the German people and loyal to your fatherland … Be proud of us and try to keep us in dear memory …
(Second page) It is difficult to start a new page, who knows if I can fill it, I would like to give you so much love and strength, and take away all the pain for our loss. Be proud of us and try to remember us with pride and happiness.
We all have to die. Isn’t it more beautiful to live less, but with honor and dignity than to have a long life in shameful conditions?
I must finish, Hanna Reitsch is taking this letter, she is leaving again, I embrace you with my most sweet, deep and maternal love.
My dear son, live for Germany!
“Günther Quandt didn’t have a Nazi-kind of thinking. He was looking for any opportunity to expand his personal empire.” —Rudiger Jungbluth, Author, Die Quandts
After the war, Günther Quandt (like many influential German business leaders) was arrested based on his business dealings and personal associations with Nazi officials. His company, AFA, manufactured batteries for U-Boat submarines and V-2 rockets. The Quandt-related business BKIW also produced Mauser firearms, ammunition, and anti-aircraft missiles. The authorities ultimately determined that while Günther was a member of the Nazi party and probably benefitted from his political relationships, he was not guilty of serious war crimes. He was released in 1948 and was free to resurrect and resume his business operations. Günther Quandt re-joined the business world and gained admission to several major corporate boards (including Deutsche Bank). He was spared the fate of many of his corporate contemporaries who served significant time for their complicit role in the criminal actions of the Nazi party. For example, management and board members of companies like IG Farben were prosecuted for turning their heads from the profitable and voluminous production of Zyklon B, the infamous toxic gas used in Himmler’s death camps.
In the late 1940’s, Harald and his older brother Herbert worked with their father to rebuild the Quandt legacy and revive the family empire. Both Daimler and BMW were key large holdings of the family. Günther died in 1954 while on vacation in Cairo and left all his assets to Herbert and Harald. This event catapulted the financial status of the two Quandt step-brothers. Overnight they were among the richest men in post-war Germany. The Quandt group ultimately amassed business interests in more than two-hundred companies. After the war, they made strategic and well-timed investments into BMW when it was struggling to survive. By 1961, BMW was firmly back on its feet. The rest is history.
“The Quandts’ business grew in the Kaiserreich, it grew during the Weimar Republic, it grew during the Second World War and it grew strongly after the war.” —Rudiger Jungbluth, Author, Die Quandts
Herbert spent his time focused on managing the automotive-related businesses and Harald took over the engineering and tooling companies. A little-known fact is that Harald was the man behind the amphibious vehicle known as the Amphicar. It was manufactured by a Quandt-owned company called IWKA from 1961 to 1965. More recently, the Amphicar has become a regular sight at many high-profile car auctions across North America. These oddball dual-purpose vehicles can fetch up to $100,000 for correct original examples.
“The family wants to stay private.” —Fritz Becker, CEO Harold Quandt Holding GmbH
Today, descendants of both Herbert and Harald are still intricately tied to BMW. Herbert’s wife, Joanna, served on BMW’s supervisory board from 1982 to 1997. She died in 2015 at the age of 89. Her children, Stefan and Susanne currently serve on BMW’s supervisory board. Four of Harald’s five daughters are still alive and are not directly involved in BMW, however, they share in the Quandt dynasty’s massive fortune. The long and complicated story behind the Quandt family is both improbable and fascinating. Even the ambitious and social climbing Magda Goebbels could not have imagined that her grandchildren and step-grandchildren would become billionaire owners of one of the largest and most successful industrial companies of the modern era.
Recommended Books about Germany:
The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer (click here)
Die Quandts (click here)
In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson (click here)
Zoo Station (click here)
Agent Zig Zag (click here)
Fatherland (click here)
Boys in the Boat (click here)