Saturday, February 15, 2020

A Key Figure in Mercedes-Benz and Nazi History: Jakob Werlin

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Certainly one of the most important individuals in the history of Mercedes-Benz has to be Jakob Werlin. And now that I have begun to learn about his story, I feel a strong urge to go the the Mercedes-Benz archives and read the autobiography that is there.  And also travel to Austria and interview his family. His connections with Adolf Hitler, the Third Reich, and the Holocaust are so significant historically, and yet so clouded. I happen to think where there is shadow there is also considerable light, but that remains to be explicated.

While a major figure in the history of the Third Reich and Mercedes-Benz, like Hitler he was Austrian by birth. Born on 10 May, 1886 in Andritz, he was educated in Graz before finding employment in 1903 at the Puchwerke AG Automobilfabrik. Later he moved with the firm to guide the operations in Budapest. It wassail in on source that he "as a well-known motorcycle racer." In 1914 he voluntarily joined the Austrian army and served until 1917, when he was assigned to the Hansa-Lloyd automobile plant in Verel and Bremen, then heading operations in Essen. Internet sources do not agree on Werlin's WWI service, one suggesting that he served in a Bavarian Air and Motor Vehicle Battalion and then an automobile engineer in the German Army Engineer Corps, wheel a German language source states that he was in the Austrian forces. It is the first of a number of differing biographical details.

Whatever the case, in 1921 Jakob joined Benz & Cie in Munich, and after the merger of Daimler and Benz in 1926 her was named Director of the company for all of upper Bavaria. It was while he was in Bavaria that he met Adolf Hitler, and was down into the latter's circle. More disparities now begin to appear among the sources I have used so far. One states that he joined the Nazi Party and the SS in 1923 ( I don't think the SS existed in 1923!), while my German language source puts Werlin's affiliations to be with the NSDAP as 1932 (#3.208.977) and 1934 SS# as (266.883.) 

 In appears that Hitler knew of Werlin going back to 1923, however, as the Volkischen Beobachter's print shop shared the same building with the Benz company's offices. And in 1923 Werlin sold Hitler a Benz, the first of many other cars sold to the leader and the party in future years. Many years later, in 1942, Hitler reminisced that I went to the Benz works, and thus made WErlin's acquaintance....I told him I wanted to buy a 16hp. "You'll decide for yourself in the end" he said. "I'd advise you to try a 10hp to begin with, to get your hand in: it odes only 80 km an hour, but it's better to arrive at our destination at 80 that to smash up at 110! THESE WERE SO MANY DAGGER THRUSTS AT MY PRIDE."

Whether it was Werlin or someone. else who picked up Hitler upon his release from Landsburg Prison in 1924 is certainly open to question. However, by the mid-1930s Werlin became lead advisor to Hitler on the matter of automobiles, In. 1941 letter in the M-B archives it is stated that "More Director Werlin is known to be a trusted confidant father Fuhrer and was commissioned to answer any questions pertaining to motorization and to inform our Fuhrer in any important occurrences in this area. In this capacity, he was able tell the Fuhrer of many important questions and the positions of business, trade, and industry. Mr. Werlin, except for his employment as head of the Daimler-Benz Company, played an important role in the war in the of building motor vehicles.."

Werlin was both a part oft management at M-B during WWII and also responsible for automobile production within the Third Reich between 1942 and 1945. In January 1942 he was appointed Generalinspecteur des Berater in Kraftffahrwesen and  an SS-Oberfuhrer.

But there also is light in this story. Just perhaps it was Werlin, who through contact Eduard Schelte in Switzerland, who passed on to the Allies information related to the Holocaust as it unfolded. And we do know that he intervened on behalf of the 1942-52 Head of Daimler-Benz Wilhelm Haspel to secure the safety of his Jewish wife, Bimbo. For that he would gain a dealership in Austria after his release from a U.S. Internment Camp in 1948. In 1951 J. Werlin & Sohne was established in Rosenheim and Traunstein, still in business and lead by family.

Werlin died at age 79 in 1965. He certainly ranks alone of the most interesting automotive industry personalities of any era.

Sources include both English and German Wikipedia articles, and "Jakob Werlin in the Second World War," 2-17, International Historic Films, Inc., accessed 2/13/2020

Werlin to left of Hitler

Werlin with the 1886 Benzwagen.

Werlin at right of Hitler

Werlin at right of Hitler

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