German auto giant Volkswagen said Thursday it had appointed a historian to look into the firm’s actions during Brazil’s military dictatorship, following allegations it had allowed the torture of employees critical of the regime.
The move came after former employees filed a civil lawsuit in Brazil last year which claimed 12 workers were arrested and tortured in a VW factory near Sao Paulo during the 1964-1985 dictatorship, and dozens of people there were placed on a blacklist. Volkswagen said in a statement it had commissioned Professor Christopher Kopper of Bielefeld University in Germany “to clarify the group’s role during the military dictatorship in Brazil.”
The announcement was overshadowed however by a spat brewing at home over the sudden departure last month of VW’s longtime chief historian Manfred Grieger, who led efforts to shed light on the group’s actions in Nazi Germany.
Founded in the 1930s by a Nazi trade union, VW has in the past won praise for being open about its actions during World War II, when it used concentration camp internees and prisoners of war as slave labor in its factories.
But Grieger’s departure apparently came after he criticized a study into the past of VW’s Audi subsidiary which he said downplayed its Nazi links, DPA news agency reported.
Some 75 researchers and historians wrote an open letter this week in Grieger’s defense and warned VW against trying to cover up the “dark pages” of its history.
But VW strongly denied that Grieger was dismissed or forced out.
“We are surprised by these assumptions. They are not based on anything,” it said in a reaction sent to AFP.
“Volkswagen has consistently and honestly worked through its corporate history, and will continue to do so,” it added.
In 1938, Adolf Hitler himself laid the foundation stone for a Volkswagen factory in the firm’s home town of Wolfsburg in northern Germany, with the aim to build an affordable car for all Germans — which would go on to become the iconic Beetle.