May Bug
Josef Ganz behind the wheel of the May Bug, his small car that became a prototype for the Voltzwagen Beetle. Photo by RVP Publishers / Forward
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Paul Schilperoord, author of “The Extraordinary Life of Josef Ganz, The Jewish Engineer Behind Hitler’s Volkswagen” (RVP Publishers, 2011), admits to having had an “intense” interest since childhood in all things VW Beetle. But the Dutch journalist and technology writer had never heard of Josef Ganz until 2004, when he came across his name in an article in Automobile Quarterly magazine suggesting that Ganz laid the foundation for the car.

Schilperoord was intrigued, and for five years researched private archives and public records in an effort to uncover the truth. He makes a convincing argument that Ganz, a German Jew, could be considered “the spiritual father” of the VW, developing and promoting the key design concepts that led to the “People’s Car.”

There is no doubt that Ganz was a brilliant engineer and a pioneer who believed strongly that Germany needed an auto that was small, cheap, safe and affordable. He pushed relentlessly for such a car, to motorize the masses, from his perch as the editor of a trade magazine and from technical consulting contracts with such established companies as BMW and Daimler-Benz.

But rather than honoring Ganz for his foresight, the author writes, the Nazis deliberately erased his name from the history books. As Hitler and his party rose to power, Ganz was called “vermin” in print. He lost his editorship and his contracts and was lucky to escape Germany with his life.

Read more at the Forward.