75 years ago, on April 11, 1945, US troops liberated the Volkswagen plant and the “City of the KdF car”, which would later become Wolfsburg. Around 7,700 forced laborers experience their liberation at the Volkswagen plant. In the eight weeks that followed, the Americans made groundbreaking decisions for the future of people, the city and the factory. The brief and formative intermezzo of the US military lays the foundation for democracy, freedom and reconstruction in the region. Vehicles will be built again in May at the Volkswagen plant – the Kübelwagen for the US military, now called “Volkswagen Jeeps”. The American occupation ended in early June 1945 when the region became part of the British occupation zone.
On April 10, the last 50 Kübelwagen (Type 82) intended for the German Wehrmacht will be completed in the Volkswagenwerk. Tank alarm announces the approaching US troops. In the factory, which was largely destroyed by air raids in 1944, war production ends after 66,285 vehicles.
Liberation and occupation in two stages
On April 11, 1945, US troops liberated the plant and the city on the Mittelland Canal. The combat group rolls from Fallersleben along the canal and through the city to the bridge in Heßlingen without encountering military resistance. On the same day, the Americans move on towards Salzwedel to the Elbe, which they want to reach before the Soviet Red Army. They leave the factory and the city behind. They are not listed on their cards at all.
A temporary vacuum of power develops on the Mitteland Canal: After the SS and the security guards have withdrawn or fled from the US troops and the Volkssturm has dissolved, forced laborers and prisoners of war see the end of their suffering. They are hungry and their anger at the suffering and injustice done to them is discharged. The first looting, destruction and violence occur. An orderly service is formed from the ranks of the forced laborers, including French prisoners of war and Dutch students forced to work. They steal weapons and vehicles from the factory and use the fire station as their headquarters.
The head of the power plant, Fritz Kuntze, has opposed the Gauleiter’s order to blow up bridges and the power plant. Now the German-American wants to prevent the power plant, which is vital for energy supply, from being damaged by sabotage. Kuntze drives with two engineers who are also English speakers and the Catholic prelate Antonius Holling to the US units that remained in Fallersleben. They convince the GIs to show their military strength: on April 15, the Americans occupy the plant and city, disarm the self-appointed security service and take over the administration. Gradually, the staff of the 9th US Army arrive.
Around 20,000 men and women perform forced labor at Volkswagenwerk GmbH during the Nazi dictatorship, including around 5,000 concentration camp prisoners. In 1944, two thirds of the workers worked against their will, under duress and racist arbitrariness, including Jewish women and men, prisoners of war, persons on duty, deportees and deportees from European countries occupied by the German Wehrmacht.
On the day of the liberation, around 9,100 women and men work in the Volkswagen plant. Of these, more than 7,700 are foreign forced laborers. The 3,000 Eastern workers from the Soviet Union, especially Ukrainians, form the largest group.
The Americans set up Wolfsburg as a collection point for all “displaced persons” in the Gifhorn district and organize their repatriation. In April and May 1945, for example, the first trains started at the station, mostly with open freight cars, to the home countries of the former forced laborers. For some, humiliation and persecution continue in their homeland, where they are often hostile to suspected deserters or collaborators of the Germans.
With the establishment of a magistrate and a city council, the US military gave the “city of the KdF car” the first democratic structures. At their first meeting on May 25, 1945, the city council decided to rename their city in Wolfsburg. You are following the suggestion of the magistrate. The castle in the northeast, first mentioned in 1302, now gives the young city its new, traditional name.
The American liberators set up a repair shop for their own military vehicles at the Volkswagen plant. You will encounter components and stocks in the factory and the surrounding area and recognize the potential of the factory for vehicle production. In May 1945, the headquarters of the 9th US Army announced the start of assembly of “Volkswagen Jeeps” in the Volkswagen plant with around 200 employees. The Americans use Rudolf Brörmann, previously head of the inspection, as plant manager. 133 post-war Kübelwagen are manufactured under provisional conditions for the mobility of US troops. They stand for the resumption of production and initiate the conversion of the armaments factory into a civil vehicle factory.
The British build on this in June 1945 when they enter their zone of occupation and assume responsibility for the city and Volkswagen plant from the Americans. Also under challenging conditions, they started civilian series production of the Volkswagen Type 1, the Beetle, right after Christmas 1945.
The liberation – eyewitnesses remember
Sara Frenkel-Bass (born 1922, lives in Antwerp), the Polish Jew works disguised as a Catholic nurse in the barrack hospital from March 1943 to April 1945:
“You have no roots. You look for what has been lost. But it doesn’t come back. Everything is no longer there. “
Henk’t Hoen (1922 – 2006), the Dutch student, was forced to work at the Volkswagen plant from May 1943 to April 1945:
“When the first American troops arrived via the neighboring Fallersleben, we students immediately contacted them. The students, along with some former French prisoners of war, had set up a security service to calm down the escalating situation. The security service had procured weapons and Kübelwagen in the factory and used the fire station as headquarters. Since the American troops […] moved on directly from Fallersleben to the Elbe and therefore initially left the ‘City of the KdF car’ unnoticed, the security officers had to bridge the gap for a while until occupation troops came. With some persuasion, some American tanks finally managed to get through the city. The security guard drove ahead with a bucket truck, thereby giving some weight to the ban on going out that he had previously imposed. Shortly afterwards, the U.S. military government established a city command post and the order was given to surrender all weapons. The security service then dissolved. A few students who had made initial contact with the American troops disappeared to the Netherlands on their own shortly thereafter. The official transports took place later. ” disappeared to the Netherlands on their own shortly thereafter. The official transports took place later. ” disappeared to the Netherlands on their own shortly thereafter. The official transports took place later. “
Jean Baudet (born 1922, lives in Nice), a French forced laborer from July 1943 to April 1945, experiences the liberation in a relocation company with the code name Kaffee in Neindorf, about 10 kilometers south of the plant:
“Sunday, April 8th – The front is getting closer. One rumor chases the next. Columns of smoke rise at Gifhorn. Probably sabotage of the oil pumps. Dogfights. A bustle of cars, trucks and soldiers on bicycles on the streets. My Tyrolean backpack is ready to go. Only the bare minimum of clothes, but supplies like canned meat, milk, fat, sugar, a few cookies. Whatever happens, I want to be ready to go home during, before, or after the fighting.
April 10 – Bright weather. The guns are heard all day. All Germans are drunk. Columns of soldiers without rifles and wounded pass by. A wild mess. When is the time?
April 10 – evening: artillery fire nearby. Impressive. Bombs continued on Braunschweig all night. Troops are constantly passing by.
April 11 – 9:00 am: American fighter-bombers over the treetops. One hears that KdF is occupied. Here they have now reached Barnstorf. It’s behind the forest. We finish packing our things singing. You can clearly hear machine gun salvos. You have to be here every moment. The grenade hits are getting closer.
April 11 – Afternoon: total silence. Bright weather. The time of peace has returned. Heavy explosions only from time to time. The highway bridges are blown up. At 2:00 p.m. we get bacon soup and a piece of bread from farmers. We don’t understand what went into it. There is a large alarm at 3 p.m. We have to evacuate. So, “off to battle”. I decide to hide in the bushes with Georges Chauvineau, but gunshots in the forest make us think. 3.30 p.m. Countercommand. General joy: we stay. The cigarettes and the soccer ball are immediately taken out. Evening and night are calm.
April 12 – The sky is overcast. All is calm. Is the war over? Where are they? What do you do? 12 p.m. 5-minute alarm, fighting flares up again from all sides. We are encircled. Cannons, bombs, bazookas, machine guns, all at the same time. They are coming! They are coming! 2 p.m. The farmers appear again and bring us potatoes by the bag, that’s the summit! 3 p.m. They are there!! They are there!!”