Place of Remembrance

Hero Erinnerungsstätte Startseite
Plan der Ausstellung
Plan of the exhibition

In the late 1920s, the vision of mass motorisation along American lines gains momentum in Germany. Many designers and engineers are working to make real the idea of a car for personal use that is available to broad swathes of the population. The National Socialists take up this idea and turn mass motorisation into a propaganda tool for their social utopian programme of government. In June 1934, Ferdinand Porsche is commissioned by the Reich Association of the German Automotive Industry (Reichsverband der Automobilindustrie) to develop a “Volkswagen”, a “people’s car”.

On 28 May 1937, the German Labour Front (Deutsche Arbeitsfront) founds the “Gesellschaft zur Vorbereitung des Deutschen Volkswagen mbH” (company for the preparation of the German people’s car). The opening of the Midland Canal in 1938, the existing rail connection and the central location at the heart of the then German Reich all feed into the decision to go ahead with the ambitious project of building the largest automobile factory in the world at this location. Construction begins in February 1938 and the laying of the corner stone takes place on 26 May 1938. The company, renamed Volkswagenwerk GmbH on 16 September 1938, builds its main plant in what is now Wolfsburg, while the outlying plant is established in Braunschweig. Vehicle production is scheduled to start in autumn 1939. But with the outbreak of World War II on 1 September 1939, the then Volkswagenwerk GmbH becomes part of the German armaments industry, and series production of the civilian version remains a dream. Instead, workers, mainly foreign forced labourers, are tasked with producing military vehicles and other armaments.

During the construction of the plant, shelters are provided in accordance with the provisions of the Air Raid Protection Act. In these air raid shelters, German employees as well as forced laborers find protection during bombing raids during World War II. This measure serves less to provide welfare than to preserve their ability to work.

In one of these air-raid shelters, where former forced laborers survived bombing raids on the newly built factory, an exhibition is set up in 1995 on the initiative of the works council of Volkswagen trainees. At this historic site in Hall 1, the revised permanent exhibition "Memorial to Forced Labor on the Volkswagen Factory Site" opens on December 17, 1999.

Beschädigte Bunkerwand in der Erinnerungsstätte
Bunker wall in the shelter damaged by an American bomber crash

The Exhibition Rooms

Room 1 – The “Volkswagen” Project

Transportband zum Symbolisieren der modernen Fabrik
The conveyor belt is the symbol of the modern factory.

Ferdinand Porsche submits a “memorandum concerning the construction of a German People’s Car” to the Reich Ministry of Transport on 17 January 1934. The “fully-fledged utility car” is said to offer space for four adults, have “normal dimensions but a relatively low weight” and allow a “motorway-proof” continuous speed of 100 km/h. The Reich Ministry of Transport demands a purchase price of no more than 1000 reichsmarks.

To produce the car, a “Nazi model plant” is built on the Midland Canal near Fallersleben for the mass production of up to 1.5 million vehicles a year. Shortages of resources and labour make it difficult to build the factory, so foreign workers are drafted in from mid-1938. The newly founded company of the German Labour Front also lacks a core workforce to start up the plant.

With the outbreak of the Second World War, the ambitious plans to build the world's largest and most modern automobile factory, and with it the "Volkswagen" project, are threatened with failure. The mass motorization of the German people propagated by the National Socialists through the series production of the KdF car remains an illusion. Following the demands of the war economy and armaments interests, the company carries out orders from outside the industry. The Volkswagen factory takes on the repair of aircraft components and produces, among other things, wooden drop containers as well as anti-tank mines and bazookas.

With 300 Polish women assigned by the Lower Saxony Labor Office in June 1940 and deployed in the construction of wooden drop containers, which are classified as essential to the war effort, the first forced laborers from the countries occupied by the German Wehrmacht arrive at the plant.

Fotos zur Aufbauphase vom Werk
Photos and documents show the construction phase of the plant and production.

Room 2 – The Expansion of Armaments Production and the Systematic Development of Forced Labour

Ausstellung Tür Kübelwagen Typ 82
Armaments production includes military vehicle variants. A door from the type 82 Kübelwagen is to be seen in the exhibition.

The forced labourers are initially temporary workers on temporary armaments projects. The start-up of production of the Kübelwagen, the military version of the Volkswagen Beetle, and the Schwimmwagen, a four-wheel drive amphibious vehicle, as well as the manufacture of bunker stoves and, above all, air armaments, contribute to the company’s development. Having accepted large orders for armaments in the summer of 1941, forced labourers, both prisoners of war and civilian workers, are increasingly used to maintain production.

Volkswagenwerk GmbH is one of the first companies to use Soviet prisoners of war, starting in October 1941. Already weak from their ordeals, they are forced to take on physically heavy and dirty work, and many perish. The largest group of foreigners are the “Eastern workers” from Poland and the Soviet Union. The civilians, most of whom were deported with massive use of force, are subjected to numerous acts of racial discrimination. 

Anordnung von Tafeln in Ausstellung
The arrangement of the panels reflects the segregation of the forced labourers in production and the accommodation in the camps.
Fotos zum Umgang mit Säuglingen und Kleinkindern
Photos and eyewitness’s testimonies document the way foreign babies and small children were treated.

Room 3 – Concentration Camp Prisoners

Wand zur Verdeutlichung der Abgrenzung
The concentration camp prisoners experience isolation and intimidation. The wall clarifies the demarcation.

The massive expansion of the German war economy necessitates even greater exploitation of the labour of prisoners from concentration camps. Thus, in January 1942, the management of the Volkswagen factory and Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler agree to use prisoners to complete the construction of the light metal foundry, which had been lying dormant since October 1939. The foundry is to be used for the plant’s own production of aluminium cast parts for armaments requirements and the manufacture of components for the civilian version of the KdF saloon after the war. To this end, the “Arbeitsdorf” concentration camp is set up on the factory premises in April 1942 as the first independent company concentration camp. Prisoners from Neuengamme, Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps perform heavy construction work and are guarded by SS men and dog patrols. Due to a lack of urgency for the war economy, the “Arbeitsdorf” concentration camp is dissolved in October 1942 and the prisoners are sent to Sachsenhausen.

Bugspite und Seitenruder einer Flugbombe
The nose cone and side rudder of the Fi 103 flying bomb are work products of concentration camp prisoners.
Tellermine und Panzerfaust in Ausstellung
Exhibits such as a land mine and a bazooka bear witness to armaments production.

Forced labour, punishment and concentration camps on the factory premises and in the “city of the KdF car”.

Lageplan des Konzentrationslagers auf dem Werkgelände

Room 4 – Dispersal of the Volkswagen Plant to Underground and Decentralized Locations

Foto von Ausstellung zu Schäden von Bombenangriffen auf VW Werk
Photos and drawings show damage from bombing raids on the Volkswagen plant and the relocation of production areas.

From mid-1943, Allied bombing raids on industrial targets of the German armaments industry increase in frequency, leading to the relocation of operational areas to provisional facilities, some of which are far away. The Volkswagen plant is also involved in the early underground relocations, which served to ensure production for air armaments and to protect the irreplaceable machinery from damage.

In March 1944, the Volkswagen plant is allocated production space at the Tiercelet iron ore mine in Lorraine. Due to the urgency of armaments deliveries, it is converted into an underground factory by forced labourers in just six months. 

Sitzbänke links und rechts zur Verdeutlichung der Enge des Raums im Untertagebetrieb
The confinement of the space highlights the conditions in underground operations.
Fotos und selbstgefertigte Nationalflagge zur Befreiung
Photos and a home-made national flag document the days after the liberation.

Room 5 – Remembrance

Those affected have their say
Those affected have their say: their statements illustrate how individually the experience is processed.

The conversations with those affected and more than 200 interviews conducted with former forced labourers support the company’s historical research and are part of the comprehensive reappraisal of forced labour at the former Volkswagenwerk GmbH.

The memories of contemporary witnesses are many-voiced. The ways in which people deal with their experiences and process them are as varied and individual as the people themselves. There is a growing need to talk about their experiences and to set an example against despotism and deprivation of rights.

The “Remembrance Room” gives a voice to those affected. The testimonies of forced labourers, prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates printed on glass give an idea of the extent and intensity of what they experienced. At a listening station, contemporary witnesses speak, in part in their respective national languages, about their experiences, which accompany and shape them throughout their lives.

The Listening Station Interviews

Jean Baudet über den Beginn seiner Auseinandersetzung mit der Zeit als Zwangsarbeiter
“I can tell you that it was almost always on my mind. Even then, when we were there, we were already thinking about our fate. Why are we there? What for? What will happen to us? Later we dealt with it because we had memories. Family and friends urged us to tell what we had experienced. So we thought about those years again. And then, when life gradually resumed its normal course, when I went back to study and later built up my business with my father and grandfather, I was fully engaged in life, in building something new. And so, little by little, I filed those two years at Volkswagen away in a corner of my brain. I had completely forgotten about them. When people asked me about it, I could talk about it – that worked. But I didn’t talk about it anymore. I didn’t think about it anymore. It was finished, in the past. So I no longer thought about what had happened. Only later, when I retired, did I have contact with former forced labourers who had been in KdF. We talked about our memories, about the moments we shared together, about what had happened. Everyone has their memories, and those memories differ. And so we began to think again about what we had experienced. But this time deeper than before. Because we had learned some things, had learned what had really happened - not only at Volkswagen, but also throughout Germany. That led me to think about things I had repressed in my professional life.”
Jean Baudet How he started to deal with his time as a forced labourer
“The first thing I think of is: may nothing like this ever happen again! I would not want to see a second war. War is a huge calamity that can overtake a country - not just individual selected people, but the entire nation. I hope there will never be another war.”
Stanisław Latacz On the misfortune of experiencing a war
Stanisław Latacz über das Unglück, einen Krieg zu erleben
Sara Frenkel-Bass über die Entwicklung der Erinnerungskultur bei Volkswagen
“Volkswagen struggled with honest reappraisal and direct contact with former forced labourers until the 1980s. Today there is the exhibition and I and others are invited by Volkswagen to Wolfsburg. Many, many things have changed. The people here are very interested. And good companions on a difficult walk, such as to the graves.”
Sara Frenkel-Bass On the development of the culture of remembrance at Volkswagen
“Well actually little significance, I pushed that away. One example is that we lived together in Delft with five people who also lived in the room, in the same room in the barracks in the city of the KdF car, and that in the three years I was there I cannot remember that we ever talked about our time in Germany.”
Piet Wit On the significance of his time as a forced labourer in the Volkswagen factory
Piet Wit über die Bedeutung der Zeit als Zwangsarbeiter im Volkswagenwerk
Sally Perel über den Beginn seiner Auseinandersetzung mit den Erlebnissen
“I actually started when I retired. I worked for quite a while, I was self-employed afterwards, I also always had to get up early to work and came home tired late at night. There was no time to deal with this past, it had to wait. It lay dormant in the belly. Like a .... but this story that you carry in your gut like that, over time it became, I would say, something explosive that had to come out. And that happened when I retired. I retired early because I had heart surgery in Tel Aviv, and that’s when I retired early. Yes, and suddenly you get up in the morning and you are not going to work! That was a turning point, so – what do you do now? And that’s when the first compulsion came: I’m going to deal with this past. And so gradually the memories returned more and more, mostly at night, and I wrote like that until the book came into being. It took about a year and a half. And, yes, and I felt really that the book was like therapy for me.”
Sally Perel On how he started to examine his experiences
“It was not easy, because on the one hand we were very happy to have survived these hard times, this war. But on the other, we had lost so many friends and family, so that was... sweet on the one hand and... how do you say? [Interviewer: Bitter] ...bitter on the other.”
Ornan Lev Ary On his inner conflict after his arrival in Israel
Ornan Lev Ary über seine innere Zerrissenheit nach seiner Ankunft in Israel

Room 6 – Confronting the History of the Volkswagen Factory in the Third Reich

Studie zum VW Werk und seiner Rolle im Dritten Reich
In 1996, the study written by Prof. Dr. Hans Mommsen together with Dr. Manfred Grieger is published.

Some four decades after the end of the war, the topic of forced labour is attracting increased attention in the West German public sphere. In addition, the involvement of the then Volkswagenwerk GmbH in the National Socialist system requires the company to deal intensively with its early history. Awareness, engagement, remembrance and humanitarian support become key elements for the company in dealing with its history.

In 1986, on the initiative of the Works Council headed by Walter Hiller, then Chairman of the Central Works Council, the Board of Management of Volkswagen AG commissions a team of scholars under the direction of Prof. Dr. Hans Mommsen to prepare an independent research study on the history of the company. This is published in German in 1996 under the title “The Volkswagen Factory and its Workers in the Third Reich” (“Das Volkswagenwerk und seine Arbeiter im Dritten Reich”).

Volkswagen Azubis bei Restaurierungsarbeiten auf Gelände des ehemaligen KZ-Lagers
Volkswagen trainees during restoration work on the grounds of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp.
Gedenkstein mit Blumen
The memorial stone on Südstraße at the Volkswagen plant in Wolfsburg is inaugurated on 9 October 1991.
Aufgeklapptes Buch zur Geschichte der Zwangsarbeit bei VW
Publications on the history of forced labour at Volkswagen.
Gruppe ehemaliger Zwangsarbeiter
A group of former forced labourers on a guided tour of the Place of Remembrance.
Contemporary witness Sally Perel sits at a lectern in front of some people who are also sitting and listening to him.
Dealing with history: contemporary witness Sally Perel with listeners in the forum of the Corporate Archives at the Wolfsburg plant.

Visit the Place of Remembrance

Wegbeschreibung zum Werk
The specified fuel consumption and emission data are determined in accordance with the measurement procedures prescribed by law. 1 January 2022, the WLTP test cycle completely replaced the NEDC test cycle and therefore no NEDC values are available for new type approved vehicles after that date. This information does not refer to a single vehicle and is not part of the offer but is only intended for comparison between different types of vehicles. Additional equipment and accessories (additional components, tyre formats, etc.) can alter relevant vehicle parameters such as weight, rolling resistance and aerodynamics, affecting the vehicle's fuel consumption, power consumption, CO2 emissions and driving performance values in addition to weather and traffic conditions and individual driving behavior. Due to more realistic testing conditions, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions measured according to WLTP will in many cases be higher than the values measured according to NEDC. As a result, the taxation of vehicles may change accordingly as of 1 September 2018. For further information on the differences between WLTP and NEDC, please visit Further information on official fuel consumption data and official specific CO2 emissions for new passenger cars can be found in the "Guide to fuel economy, CO2 emissions and power consumption for new passenger car models", which is available free of charge from all sales dealerships and from DAT Deutsche Automobil Treuhand GmbH, Hellmuth-Hirth-Str. 1, D-73760 Ostfildern, Germany and at