German CEOs Embrace Holocaust Remembrance


From left: BMW CEO Harald Krüger, Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser, VW CEO Matthias Müller and Board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch

Flipping World War II history on its anti-Semitic head, the evidently brave chief executives of three German corporations that collaborated with the Nazis have extended something more substantive than a symbolic hand to the Jewish community.

In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day last week, these men have signed onto the World Jewish Congress’ second annual “We Remember” campaign, which means: Beyond a nod of endorsement that hardly anyone would notice or care about, they indelibly went on the record.

Each agreed to have his picture taken, individually, while holding the World Jewish Congress’ “We Remember” sign.

And their photos are circling the globe faster and more frequently than  celebrity gossip on the internet.

This is neck-straightening news, especially because of the latest cultural anti-Semitic mudstorm that again is splattering into the vulnerable faces of Germany’s 120,000 Jews.

Remember the names of the corporate chiefs:

• BMW CEO Harald Krüger

• Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser

• Volkswagen CEO Matthias Müller and VW Board Chairman Hans Dieter Pötsch

Although 1.2 million people worldwide have participated in the social media campaign — posting individual photos — what these men have done appears to border on the heroic.

Will they pay a price?

Will they or their organizations be marked?

Germany’s ugliest past of Hitler’s regime 80 years ago is sneaking back into prominence.

Not so quietly, either.

This does not appear to be merely a hiccup.

Jew-haters are marching again, boldly and fearlessly.

“It is particularly meaningful to us that the CEOs of German companies that employed slave laborers during the Nazi era are taking their historic responsibility seriously.” — Ronald Lauder

German Chancellor Angela Merkel not only admitted to a worrisome expansion of German anti-Semitism in her International Holocaust Remembrance Day address on Jan. 27, she sternly warned about its perils and urged muscular vigilance.

Can there be any doubt that the most intriguing dimension of this story would be to know what is so far the unknowable:

What are the motivations of these industrial powerhouses?

Clues abound.

Here is the one statement that was made available by the World Jewish Congress. Below it, some possibilities will be explored.

Müller, CEO of the Volkswagen Group, said:

“Remembering the crimes of World War II and the Holocaust is an established part of Volkswagen’s corporate culture.

“Given our company’s history, we have a very special responsibility for society.

“We have been fulfilling this responsibility for the last 30 years through a vibrant culture of remembrance and special education projects.

“We are committed to speaking out against intolerance, anti-Semitism and racism, and for international understanding, tolerance and humanity.

“More than 630,000 people work for the Volkswagen Group — all over the world.

“Diversity is in our DNA. It has shaped us and made us successful.”

A fair-minded critic would judge that Müller deserves to be taken at his word.

A partisan critic, if he is to be seen seriously, should reach a matching conclusion.

That is precisely the reading of Ronald Lauder, president of the World Jewish Congress:

“A powerful statement,” he said.

“We are deeply grateful for the time and effort people around the world have taken to commemorate the memory of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust.

“We have been overwhelmed by the response, and by the desire of so many to share in spreading this critical message against hate.

“It is particularly meaningful to us that the CEOs of German companies that employed slave laborers during the Nazi era are taking their historic responsibility seriously. They are acknowledging the crimes of their predecessors.”

After examining more closely Müller’s words, here is a curious fact to place on the board and study for a moment:

• Müller was born in 1953

• Pötsch was born in 1951

• Kaeser was born in 1957

It gets better.

Krüger, the youngest of the crowd by far, was born in 1965, 20 years after despondent Hitler’s suicide, long after the worst monsters had been put away and the German government machine presumably had been tamed for the foreseeable future.

So all of them were born an apparent safe interval after the war.

While cerebrally the courageous men are not to be minimized, neither is the timing of the births of all of them.

Ranging in age from 52 to 66, they have reached admirable executive conclusions at the epitome of their careers, displaying the kind of brave public thinking by influential people that German watchers have been hoping for.

While it is not known what kinds of homes and family lives influenced them on their way to wing-spreading success, this much is indisputable:

The four of them have planted their feet, impressively folded their arms across their chests and declared to the world they are the Good Germans.

They are the Good Germans whom Holocaust survivors, Jews and other moral people have been hoping would emerge from the blood- and memory-soaked German fatherland for the past 73 years.

+