“Keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive” – this has become part of the corporate culture at Volkswagen over the decades. Mr Bussemer, how did this special culture of remembrance evolve?
Volkswagen has always been particularly sensitive when it comes to the past. That was and is due to the history of how the company was founded. Then, the provision of compensation for slave labourers, an example in Germany as a whole, and the commemorative projects in Auschwitz brought something good out of this guilt and established a special kind of culture of remembrance and democracy at Volkswagen.
The International Youth Meeting Centre (IYMC) in Auschwitz (Oświęcim in Polish) has a wonderful history: The eleven states of former West Germany agreed to set up the IYMC in the mid-1980s. One of the states pulled out at the last minute and Volkswagen AG took their place. You could say it turned out to be a stroke of luck.
Apprentices from every location have been meeting up there regularly ever since to help preserve the concentration camp memorials in Auschwitz and Auschwitz-Birkenau as places of remembrance. They experience the history of the Holocaust first-hand, exchange views and usually return home determined that: ‘Nothing like what happened in Auschwitz must ever happen again.’ In this respect, the date on which the IYMC was founded, 8 December 1986, is also a milestone in Volkswagen’s history.
Several years ago, the exchange programme was expanded to include foremen- and forewomen-in-training as well as managers – why?
Why not? It isn’t only up to the younger generation to campaign for democracy, pluralism and against racism. However, as the co-organiser of the management programmes at the time, I have to say that the dedication of our apprentices is the key to the success of the whole project.
Christoph Heubner, the Executive Vice President of the International Auschwitz Committee, has been organising and driving the “Auschwitz – Remembrance and the Future” for many years. Today, on the day on which the International Youth Meeting Centre was founded, he was awarded the Great Cross of Merit of the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany in Berlin.
And I would like to offer sincere congratulations to Christoph Heubner on behalf of Gunnar Kilian as well! We often spent time with him in Auschwitz and helped the project wherever we could. I will never forget the time many years ago when Gunnar Kilian and I took a donated Multivan to Auschwitz. There was meant to be a big presentation ceremony. Setting off in Wolfsburg the evening before, first we couldn’t find the car, then the number plate, then the export documents, and then the fire extinguisher that is required by law in Poland. We couldn’t find a single one anywhere on the factory premises. But somehow, we made it to Auschwitz and Christoph Heubner gave us a very warm welcome the next morning.
What do the commemorative projects in Auschwitz mean for the culture of remembrance at Volkswagen today and tomorrow?
The direct memory of Auschwitz is fading the fewer survivors there are still around to tell their stories. Which makes it all the more important to safeguard the actual facts, artefacts and traditions, and to keep them alive. The work of our trainees in Auschwitz is essential for this. But Auschwitz isn’t just a specific location, it is also the symbol of the biggest collapse of civilisation in history. To put it another way: Auschwitz is always there in the background in our commitment to the fight against today’s “hate speeches” and “fake news”.