Hitler, Josef Ganz and the People’s Car

18 February 2022

Josef Ganz was born in Hungary to a Jewish family which then moved to Vienna. He then moved to Germany, where he took up German citizenship fought in the German Navy during WWI.

Engineer Josef Ganz shocked the people of Frankfurt by racing his revolutionary May Bug prototype on the city streets and pavements. This lightweight, rear-engined car was part of his dream for the German people: a Volkswagen that anyone could afford.

Ganz presented his German Volkswagen before Chancellor Adolf Hitler at the 1933 Berlin Motor Show. However, as a Jew, he was soon arrested by the Gestapo. Any connection between him and what became ‘Hitler’s Volkswagen Project’ was thought to have been erased from the pages of history. The Nazis stole his patents, and Ferdinand Porsche received the credit for Josef’s intellectual property.

Josef developed the idea of the Volkswagen, ‘the people’s car’, sold for the price of a motorbike; he collaborated with Zündapp, Ardie, Standard, DKW and Adler, all well-known motorcycle manufacturers. His designs included placing an air-cooled engine at the vehicle’s rear and fitted independent suspension. He was a great friend of Paul Jaray, an aeronautical pioneer who designed the streamlined body very closely resembling what is now known as the Beetle.

It was clear that Josef’s life was in danger in Germany, so he moved to Switzerland and later died in obscurity in Australia in 1967.

The story of Josef Ganz reflects one of the acts of persecution that befell victims of the fascist Nazi regime.