Eighty years ago, an obscure, former lance corporal in the Bavarian army named Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, beginning one of the bloodiest periods of human history.
In January 1933, deep in the global economic depression, still psychologically wounded from the devastating defeat in the Great War, Germany arose as a military power to challenge the world and again thrust it into another global war.
By 1945, Hitler and his dream of global conquest were dead, along with untold millions of others.
Hitler, who reportedly married his longtime companion Eva Braun just prior to their suicide in an underground Berlin bunker, never had any children. But many of his top lieutenants did.
So, whatever became of the descendants of the top Nazi command?
More than 67 years after the fall of the Third Reich, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the people who engineered the Holocaust walk among us – some live in obscurity, some changed their surnames to avoid shame and notoriety, others renounced their parents’ ideology, and some remained loyal to Nazism, while still others have attempted to live ordinary lives.
A handful even became billionaires.
Josef Goebbels, Adolf Hitler’s propaganda chief, and his wife, Magda, killed their six children, Helga, Hildegard, Helmut, Hedwig, Holdine and Heidrun on May 1 1945, by feeding them cyanide capsules. Magda and Josef then met their maker in Der Fuhrer’s underground bunker in Berlin.
But Magda’s children from her first marriage to German Nazi industrialist Günther Quandt, did not share the tragic fate of their step-siblings.
Himself a Nazi party member, Gunther profited immensely from the war and used slave labor -- including inmates from concentration camps -- in many of his companies. Spiegel online reported that hundreds of such laborers died
Gunther himself was never charged with war crimes – he was arrested in 1946 due to his indirect connection to Goebbels and subsequently released as a mitläufer (a fellow traveler).
Gunther’s son Harald Quandt, a former officer in the German Luftwaffe, was released by the Allied authorities in 1947, when he was 26 years old.
In 1954, Harald and his elder half-brother Herbert (son of Günther and his first wife Antonie) inherited their father’s vast business empire, which comprised arms and anti-aircraft missile manufacturers, as well as a lucrative 10 percent stake in automaker Daimler AG (ETR: DAI).
The half-brothers Quandt later increased their wealth by acquiring a significant position (30 percent) in Bayerische Motoren Werke AG (ETR: BMW).
The Quandt empire comprised more than 200 companies, including battery manufacturers, metal fabrication companies, textile companies and chemical firms, including Altana AG (PINK: AANAF). They were by this time among the wealthiest people in West Germany.
Harald Quant died in an aviation accident in 1967 – he and his wife, Inge, had five daughters: Katarina, Gabriele, Anette, Colleen-Bettina and Patricia.
(Interestingly, Colleen-Bettina converted to Judaism as a young woman and married the son of a concentration camp survivor.)
Herbert Quandt, who played a crucial role in BMW’s huge success, was married thrice -- his first wife, Ursel, gave him a daughter named Silvia (now 75 years old and living as an artist in Munich.) Herbert divorced Ursel in 1940 – a decade later, he wed Lieselotte, who gave him daughters named Sonja and Sonja (now in their early 60) and a son, Sven.
Herbert and Lieselotte divorced in the late 1950s – in 1960, he married Johanna. After Herbert died in 1982, Johanna inherited his shares in BMW. Her two children with Herbert, Stefan and Susanne, are now large stakeholders in the automaker and also became members of the board.
The various Quandts are fabulously wealthy and generally lead quiet lives.
“The family wants to stay private and that is an acceptable situation for me,” Fritz Becker, the chief executive officer of the Quandt family entities, told Bloomberg.
“We invest our money globally and if it’s $1 billion, $500 million or $3 billion, who cares?”
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.