Volkswagen has been struggling for a year to repair the damage caused by a scandal over its cover-up of diesel emissions, promising honesty and transparency. Now historians are accusing the company of reverting to secretive ways on a different subject: the Nazi past of German automakers.
Volkswagen, which became something of a pioneer in revealing the company’s employment of thousands of forced laborers during World War II, has abruptly parted ways with the company historian.
The historian, Manfred Grieger, and the company have declined to comment on the circumstances behind his departure, citing a mutual agreement to end his contract.
But the mystery over precisely why Grieger left – and whether he was dismissed – has complicated Volkswagen’s effort to regain public trust, and risks stirring up a dark chapter in company history.
The apparent catalyst for Grieger’s departure was his critical review almost a year ago of a 518-page study of the World War II labor practices of Audi, a VW subsidiary.
“Just this brief discussion in an academic journal then led to talk that Grieger be put on a short leash and limited in his academic freedom, which in turn led the prominent historian to leave,” according to the open letter from 75 German historians protesting his departure. It expressed doubt that the company would continue to pursue other delicate probes into its past, in particular over allegations of collaboration with the military rulers of Brazil in the 1970s.
In a statement issued Tuesday, Volkswagen strongly denied that Grieger had been dismissed, or that his separation from the company signaled a different approach to the past.
In his review of the study of Audi’s past, Grieger criticized the authors for playing down the company’s cooperation with the Nazis and its employment of thousands of forced laborers.