What were the Jewish beginnings of Hitler's Nazi war machine?

Behind the Nazis' wartime successes lay the well-developed and innovative German automotive and aircraft industries, with their many Jewish inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

 Josef Ganz in the Ardie-Ganz prototype, 1930 (photo credit: Josef Ganz Archives/Wikipedia)
Josef Ganz in the Ardie-Ganz prototype, 1930
(photo credit: Josef Ganz Archives/Wikipedia)

Rapid deployment of combat forces into battle, named Blitzkrieg by the Nazi German army, was the invasion tactic employed by Adolf Hitler’s armies. This tactic accounted for the German victories during the initial battles of World War II. Combat aircraft and armored vehicles, including tanks, personnel carriers and mobile artillery employed in rapid advances on a limited front, resulted in rapid incursions into enemy territory. 

Stunning victories were recorded against Poland, France, and British forces in the North African desert by rapidly moving German Panzer Divisions. Similar tactics were initially very effective after Germany abrogated the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and attacked Russia in 1941. 

Behind these successes lay the well-developed and innovative German automotive and aircraft industries, with their many Jewish inventors, engineers, and entrepreneurs.

Hitler had no qualms about murdering millions of Jews, even though Nazi Germany was the beneficiary of the many Jewish inventions that provided the basis for the early German automobile and aircraft industries. The same zeal shown in exterminating Jews was used to expunge all records of the significant Jewish role in the founding of the German automobile and other industries from the history books. Nazism was dedicated not only to destroying the future of Jewry but also to the obliteration of its past. 

The German automotive and aircraft industries provided the platform that enabled the manufacture of military hardware, including offensive ground vehicles such as armored cars, armored personnel carriers and tanks, as well as military aircraft of all descriptions. The automotive industry that powered Hitler’s armies resonated with the names of prominent Jews – Siegfried Marcus, Josef Ganz, Adolf Rosenberger, Edward Rumpler and Emil Jellinek – from its very beginnings. Many of these automotive pioneers were forgotten as a result of deliberate action by the Nazis to expunge their names from German history, simply because they were Jews.

 Scaled model of the second Marcus car of 1875. (credit: The Science Museum/Wikipedia)
Scaled model of the second Marcus car of 1875. (credit: The Science Museum/Wikipedia)

Siegfried Samuel Marcus (1831-1898) 

Siegfried Marcus was born on September 18, 1831, to Jewish parents, Liepmann and Rosa Marcus. The birth is recorded to have taken place in Malchin, in the region of the Grand Duchy of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, then part of Northern Germany, becoming a part of the German Empire in 1871. Marcus started working as an apprentice mechanic at the age of 12, qualifying as a technician four years later. He was employed by the Siemens and Halske engineering company as a 17-year-old . This company was the forerunner of the modern multinational Siemens conglomerate. Siemens was just one of the many German companies that would later derive great benefit from the use of Jewish and other slave labor during the Nazi era. 

After four years of gaining practical experience with Siemens and Halske, Marcus moved to Vienna in Austria, where he was employed as a technician at the Physical Institute of the University of Vienna Medical School, progressing to become an assistant to physiology professor Carl Ludwig. He left the university to open his own workshop in 1860, making mechanical and electrical equipment. While the relevant records were all destroyed by the Nazis, there is compelling evidence that between 1864 and 1875, Marcus made the first petrol-powered engine, which he fitted to a handcart, making his machine the very first prototype petrol-powered automobile. The Encyclopedia Britannica cites 1864 as the year that Marcus made the first automobile, which was followed by a second one in 1870. The unforeseen tragic reality is that in the early stages of the Holocaust, carbon monoxide gas emitted by the petrol engines invented by Marcus was used to kill Jews in the back of so-called Nazi gas vans or trucks. Estimates are that about 700,000 Jews were killed by using this method. Carbon monoxide gassing was followed by the construction of specialized gas chambers using Zyklon b gas to speed up the rate at which Jews could be murdered en masse. 

During 1864, Marcus also invented and patented the Wiener Zünder, an electric blasting machine plunger which was used to trigger an explosion. While the original application was for blasting of rock in the mining and similar industries, the same principle was applied to military use for triggering land mines. The first extensive use of land mines as defensive and offensive weapons was during the Second World War. 

While working in cooperation with Captain E von Wohlgemuth of the Imperial German Navy, Marcus invented, developed, and patented a remote electrical firing ignition for ships’ cannons. The system made it possible to fire salvos from all the ships’ cannons simultaneously or in selected patterns by a single operator on the bridge of the ship, without each cannon having to be fired manually by an attendant crew. 

During his lifetime, Siegfried Marcus was the recipient of various honors for his inventions. Foremost among them was the Austrian Golden Cross of Merit, awarded by Emperor Franz Josef in recognition of his scientific achievements. During 1937, he was honored by the issue of a series of stamps commemorating the Marcus car, while at the same time a monument in his honor was erected on the grounds of the Vienna Technical Museum.

Following the German Nazi occupation and annexation of Austria in March 1938, all traces of Marcus’ contribution to automotive history were removed from Austrian records as part of the Nazi policy of deliberately erasing all Jewish influence across a wide spectrum of activities. Gottlieb Daimler and Karl Benz were to be credited as the people to have made the first automobile, replacing Marcus, the actual Jewish inventor. 

Edmund Elias Rumpler (1872 - 1940)

Edmund Elias Rumpler was born on January 4, 1872, in Vienna, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. His parents were Adolf Aron Löbl Rumpler and Regine Rumpler, both with a long distinguished Jewish lineage in the Czech Republic. Rumpler was trained as an automobile engineer, a field of engineering in its infancy at that time. He moved to Koprivnice in the Czech Republic in 1897, where he was employed as an engineer by the Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriks Gesellschaft, a company specializing in the building of railway carriages. The director of the company had purchased a Benz automobile and decided to branch out into automobile manufacture. Rumpler worked together with another engineer, Hans Ledwinka, designing and building the Wagenbau company’s first automobile, the Präsident. The long and unwieldy Nesselsdorfer Wagenbau-Fabriks Gesellschaft name was dropped in 1918, becoming the Tatra company, which is currently the third-oldest European automobile manufacturer

Following the infamous 1938 Munich Agreement, in which Britain and France agreed that Germany would annex the Sudenland, the town of Kopřivnice, home of Tatra, was occupied by Nazi Germany, Tatra’s vehicle production was subsequently dedicated to the production of military vehicles for the German army. Tatra trucks played a significant role in the Nazi military machine, transporting troops and materiel. After the Second World War had ended, Rumpler’s former partner, Ledwinka, was accused of collaborating with the Nazi Germans, found guilty, and jailed for five years. 

Back to Edmund Rumpler, who joined the Adler company as its technical director in 1902. At that time, Adler manufactured a range of products including bicycles and motorcycles, as well as automobiles, which were fitted with De Dion engines. Following Rumpler’s arrival, the company started manufacturing and installing its own engines, becoming a highly successful automobile manufacturer. During his tenure at Adler, the company became the first manufacturer to produce automobiles with the engine and gearbox as a single unit, a Rumpler innovation. Rumpler also soon patented the swing axle rear suspension system, later to be used used by Ferdinand Porsche in the Kdf Wagen, forerunner of the famous Volkswagen. Rumpler left the Adler Company after becoming enthused with the exploits of the Wright Brothers and powered flight. By early 1909, Rumpler had become the first German aircraft manufacturer, with the Rumpler Taube aircraft extensively used by the Imperial German Army Air Service during WW I. Rumpler was followed as a military aircraft manufacturer by Enno Walther Huth, who established the Albatross Aircraft Company in Berlin at the end of 1909. The Albatross biplane was found to be far more suitable for military use and soon superseded the Rumpler Taube, but the Jewish Rumpler had been the pacesetter in military aircraft manufacture in Germany. 

After WW I, Rumpler once again made his mark in the automotive industry, with the design and construction of the Rumpler Tropfenwagen, which was produced between 1921 and 1925. The Tropfenwagen had an extremely advanced aerodynamic design, with Rumpler having applied his knowledge of aircraft design in crafting the shape of the vehicle. It was also the first automobile to have a curved glass windscreen. Despite the innovative design, production was limited to only 100 automobiles, for which orders had been placed. 

Following Hitler’s rise to power, Rumpler’s Jewish background was a potential source of embarrassment to the Nazis, who already had plans to expunge Jews from German history wherever possible. Rumpler was thus arrested soon after the Nazi ascent to power in 1933. The entire record of his contribution to Germany had been erased from the Nazi history books, and his collection of blueprints relating to his inventions, which were in his personal documents, were also destroyed. His career ended, as Jews were denied the right to carry on any form of business activity, his reputation ruined as a result of his arrest, Rumpler played no further role in the automotive industry and passed away in 1940. Ferdinand Porsche later copied many of the Rumpler design features in his Volkswagen people’s car.

 Ganz was the father of the Volkswagen Beetle. (credit: Vwexport1300/Wikipedia)
Ganz was the father of the Volkswagen Beetle. (credit: Vwexport1300/Wikipedia)

Josef Ganz (1898-1967)

Josef Ganz was born in Budapest on July 1, 1898, to Jewish parents, Hugo Markus and Maria Ganz. Budapest, now in Hungary, was at that time a city in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After his birth, the family moved to Vienna, where Ganz spent his childhood fascinated by all things mechanical or technical. The family relocated to Frankfurt Am Main in Germany in early 1916, taking German citizenship. Ganz, then 18, volunteered to serve in the German military, seeing active service as a member of the German navy. Before enlisting, he had been a student at the Vienna Technical High School ( Technische Hochschule Wien), to which he returned after demobilization at the end of the war.  He left after three semesters to become a student at the Technical University of Darmstadt (Technische Universität Darmstadt), qualifying as a mechanical engineer in 1927. Throughout his student days, Ganz harbored the dream of building a small, inexpensive people’s car that could be sold for the same price as a motorcycle. 

Inspired by the Rumpler Tropfenwagen, Ganz made his first design of a people’s car as early as 1923, while still an engineering student. He applied several of the Rumpler innovations, such as the mid-mounted engine and four-wheel independent suspension, making use of the Rumpler swing axles, as well as borrowing the use of aerodynamic styling from Rumpler. Ganz did not have access to the type of capital required to build a prototype automobile, so instead he began writing articles on advanced auto design for numerous magazines. These articles paid off when he was appointed as the editor-in-chief of the Klein Motor Sport magazine, which had made its debut a year earlier. Ganz used the magazine as a platform to level criticism at the manufacturers for the lack of design flair in the established heavy, unwieldy, and unsafe old-fashioned automobiles, while promoting the concept of the inexpensive people’s car that he envisaged.

During 1929, Ganz came to the conclusion that motorcycle manufacturers might be more receptive to his ideas of the people’s car, and subsequently approached the Zundapp, Ardie and DKW motorcycle companies seeking collaboration in building a prototype of his dream car. The result of this collaboration was the Ardie-Ganz prototype, completed in 1930. This was followed a year later by a second prototype, named the Maikäfer (May Beetle) built in 1931, in collaboration with the Adler Company. The first company to actually produce vehicles for sale using Ganz’s designs was the Standard Fahrzeugfabrik (Standard Vehicle Factory). The first Standard Superior was offered for sale in 1933, with an upgraded design becoming available in 1934.

There is no doubt that Ganz was the father of the Volkswagen Beetle design concept, a design that lasted for 70 plus years, into the 21st century. The Standard Superior was offered for sale at 1,590 Reichsmark (RM) in 1934, the equivalent of $600. By comparison, the 1934 Ford V8 sold for $535 to $610, while the 1934 the 1.3-liter German Opel was priced at an expensive RM 2,650, equal to $1,000 at the time. Hitler wanted an affordable people’s car, and the Jewish Ganz was the man who gave it to him.

The gratitude of the Nazi hierarchy to Ganz was illustrated when the Gestapo arrested him in May 1933 on trumped-up charges of blackmailing the German motor industry. He fled Germany for Liechtenstein in June 1934, just as Hitler appointed Ferdinand Porsche to design a car that could be mass produced and sold for RM 1,000. By a strange “coincidence,” Porsche’s prototype looked very similar to the Ganz-designed Standard Superior, which had been discontinued.

Following a short stay in Liechtenstein, Ganz relocated to Switzerland, where he worked on the establishment of a plant to mass produce inexpensive autos, but the Gestapo were on his tail and he abandoned the venture, which then became a Swiss government project. Ganz initiated fruitless legal action to claim his rights to the Swiss venture but eventually gave up and moved to France in 1949. From there to Australia in 1951, where he was employed by General Motors–Holden. The Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) decided to award the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit to Ganz in recognition of his contribution to the German automotive industry. The award was not accepted, as the Australian Government regulations do not allow its citizens to accept foreign honors and awards. Josef Ganz passed away in Melbourne, Australia, in 1967, where he had spent his last years in obscurity. 

Emil Jellinek (1853-1918)

Emil Jellinek, later known as Emil Jellinek-Mercédès, was born in Leipzig, Germany on April 6, 1853. His parents were Rabbi Aaron and Rosalie Jellinek, a couple very active in Jewish communal leadership, first in Leipzig and then in Vienna. Rabbi Aaron Jellinek was considered one of the leading pulpit orators of his time, while also being the author of several books. including an authoritative one on Rabbi Abraham Abulafia, the 13th century founder of Prophetic Kabbalah and author of the prophetic book Sefer HaYashar (book of the straight path in life).

Jellinek was raised in Vienna, where he was an indifferent student and a practical joker, which resulted in him dropping out of several schools. His father eventually found employment for him with the assistance of the Austro-Hungarian consul in Morocco. This resulted in his appointment to a minor diplomatic post in Tangier and later in Tetouan, where he met his future wife, Rachel Goggmann. The couple were married in 1881, becoming the parents of two sons and a daughter, whom they named Mercédès, a Spanish name meaning “mercy.” Mercédès was born in 1889, losing her mother in 1893, when she was just four years old.

Jellinek had been conscripted for service in the Austro-Hungarian Army in 1874 but was found to be medically unfit for military duties, allowing him to return to his diplomatic career, with a new posting as the vice consul for Austria in Oran in Algeria. Jellinek’s business career began in Oran while he was the vice consul, after he joined his father-in-law in a tobacco export business. 

Prior to his marriage, Jellinek had briefly been employed by the French Agile insurance company, which he rejoined two years after receiving his posting to Oran. The family subsequently relocated to Baden Bei Wien in Austria, where his insurance office was based, and this was where Mercédès was born. With his insurance career and his commodity brokering business starting to bring in substantial profits, the family started spending their winter holidays in Nice on the French Riviera, soon relocating to Nice, where Jellinek established his family home. Using the contacts from his earlier diplomatic career, he was appointed as the Austrian consul general for Nice. 

The diplomatic posting facilitated contacts with regular visitors from the international business community, as well as with the local aristocracy. Jellinek purchased a mansion in Nice as his residence, which he named Villa Mercédès. It also served as a base for his business activities, selling mainly French manufactured automobiles to the visitors. During 1897 he sold 140 autos, with this soon outstripping his insurance business as a profit center. He gave up the insurance business and concentrated on car sales.

He visited the Daimler Motor Works near Stuttgart in Germany, where he was very impressed with the vehicles produced by Gottlieb Daimler and his designer, Wilhelm Maybach. Jellinek became the main agent for Daimler and started selling their automobiles in increasing numbers. He started a racing team using specially designed Daimler cars, naming the team the Mercédès team, with the name proudly emblazoned on the vehicles. During the 1899 French Riviera Speed Week, a popular form of early motor sport, Jellinek and his Mercédès team won all the races. He then started making design and other improvements suggestions to Daimler and Maybach. 

During 1900, Jellinek was appointed to the directorate of Daimler Motoren Gesellschaft, soon persuading Daimler and Maybach to produce a new revolutionary designed vehicle that would be named the Daimler-Mercedes. This suited Daimler, as the Daimler brand name in France was owned by Panhard Levassor, a French auto manufacturer, with the new Daimler-Benz marque independent of Panhard Levassor. The first Daimler Mercedes was sold to Baron Henri de Rothschild, who also successfully raced his new acquisition. Jellinek and his Mercedes team were unbeatable at the Riviera races in 1901, reaching a record speed of 60 kph. 

The First World War saw Jellinek accused of spying for Germany by the French government, so he fled to Switzerland in 1917, where he was arrested. He passed away in Geneva on January 21, 1918. Some eight years after his death, the Daimler and Benz automobile companies merged in the wake of the German financial crisis, with the jointly produced cars named the Mercedes-Benz. During the Second World War, Mercedes-Benz cars, named in part after the Jewish Mercedes Jellinek, were the official vehicles of choice for Adolf Hitler and his entourage of Nazi thugs. The company itself became a leading producer of military materiel such as trucks, aircraft engines, and armaments for the German army, air force and navy. The company also derived great benefit from the use of forced labor, including Jews imprisoned in the concentration camps. By 1944, over 30,000 of the 63,000 Daimler-Benz employees were drawn from forced labor sources. After the war, Daimler-Benz admitted its links with the Nazi regime and also became involved in the German Industry Foundation’s initiative Remembrance, Responsibility and Future, whose work included the provision of humanitarian aid for former forced laborers.

Adolf Rosenberger (1900-1967)

Adolf Rosenberger was born in Pforzheim, Baden-Württemberg, Germany, to a Jewish family which had encouraged assimilation into the German lifestyle. Rosenberger was very much an action man, becoming a WW I combat pilot in the German Army Air Service. After the war, he trained as a technician and soon began racing motorcycles, using the Rosenberger family wealth acquired from real estate and movie theatre interests, to race as a privateer. From 1923 onward, he began racing Mercedes and Benz automobiles, still as a privateer, although his excellent results were soon recognized and he started receiving backing from the Daimler-Benz factory racing team. 

He entered the 1926 German Grand Prix driving a 1924 2-Liter Mercedes M75/94, with support provided by Daimler-Benz team manager Max Sailer and designer Dr. Ferdinand Porsche. The race ended in disaster for Rosenberger when he lost control of the car and crashed into the timekeeper’s box, killing the three occupants. Rosenberger and his riding mechanic were both seriously injured. His career as a racing driver ended soon after this incident, paving the way for his venture into the automobile industry.

During 1931 he provided the financial backing to Dr. Ferdinand Porsche, his lawyer son-in-law Dr. Anton Piech and designer Karl Rabe for the establishment of Porsche Gmbh, which started out as an automotive design office. Rosenberger was also instrumental in the establishment of the Auto Union company, where his influence resulted in Porsche designing Auto Union race cars with rear mounted engines, very uncommon at the time. Porsche Gmbh was not a manufacturer, concentrating on design and consulting. 

One of the assignments the company received was from the Nazi German government to design an affordable people’s car, in German, a Volkswagen. This project led to the design and later manufacture of the Volkswagen Beetle, the car Hitler had promised the German electorate. 

The first automobile to bear the Porsche name was the 1939 Porsche 64, which borrowed much of its design and components from the Beetle. The very name Beetle (German Käfer) was “borrowed” from Josef Ganz’s 1931 Maikäfer (May Beetle), without any credit to the originator. 

The stringent anti-Jewish laws imposed on Germany by the Hitler regime made it impossible for Rosenberger to remain a principal in Porsche Gmbh, with his shares sold to Porsche and Piech for a pittance. Being a prominent personality and a Jew, Rosenberger was arrested for “Rassenschande” (racial crimes) and imprisoned at KZ Schloss Kislau near Karlsruhe, with all references to his contribution to the German auto industry removed from official records. He was released from prison through the intercession of a colleague, Hans Baron Veyder Mahlberg, who bribed Gestapo agents to free Rosenberger. 

The condition of his release was that he had to leave Germany immediately, going to France and then to Britain, before ending up in the United States, where he took the name Alan Arthur Robert after acquiring US citizenship in 1944. He spent the rest of his life in California, associated in several ways with the auto industry and motor sport, until he passed away in Los Angeles in 1967.  ■

The writer is a history researcher and the author of two books, Street Names in Israel and Men of Valor: Israel’s Latter-Day Heroes - peterbaileybooks.com.