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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

The Carl Benz Memorial (Gedankmal) in Mannheim, Germany and the Nazification of the Past

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I have a deep connection with Mannheim because my mother's family came from that city. And thus I have returned there from time to time to visit relatives and just see the place where my mother and aunts grew up before WWII. Maybe it is no surprise I am interested in automobile history, blues my Grandparents home was not that far was from the the Mannheim Mercedes-Benz factory and the town Ladenburg where Benz ultimately lived before his death is just down the road.

So it was with great interest when years ago I spent time standing before the Carl Benz Memorial in Mannheim. I have a card commemorating the day it was dedicated in the Spring of 1933, and will scan it for this blog.

Benz died in 1929.  On the memorial his first name is spelled Carl, but with Nazification Karl became the first name given to him in publications throughout the 1930s, probably because it is a more "German" usage. Given that Benz' mother 's maiden name was Valliant. perhaps there is a French connection that again was played down. Similarly in my family history we had Alsatian connections, not surprising since the border is quite close to Mannheim, on the other side oft Rhine River.

This memorial dedication was a very big deal at a momentous time in German history.  Only a few months prior Adolf Hitler and the Nazis had come to power. The ceremony was so significant, that James D. Mooney, president of the General Motors Export Company, was in attendance as a representative off the American Automotive Manufacturers, the trade organization in the US.

But most significantly, it was Adolf Hitler and the Nzis that stole the show. the dedication was an occasion to celebrate the "National Resurgence" andn the expansion of the automotive, aircraft, and airship indsutries in Germany. They were to be symbols of a new Germany. The German minister of Transportation, Baron von Eftz-Rucenach, stressed to this in attendance that Hitler had made a promise to take special care of the automobile indsiutry, and that the automoiuble was no long er to be thought of as only a possession of the rich, but a popular article in a new economic system.

Herr Hitler sent a telegram regretting his inability to be present, adding "the German automobile industry must regain the place due twin accordance withers glorious past." And CRl Benz, a many who overcame many obstacles along the way, became an important example of this new German man living within the new Reich.
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