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History: Robert Bosch

Liberal politics and social responsibility

Robert Bosch and politics

Reading time: 8 minutes

Robert Bosch’s liberal upbringing, his years as an apprentice and the journeyman’s travels all played their part in shaping the socially-minded businessman he later became. A pacifist and pan-European, he was particularly committed to reconciliation between Germany and France following the first world war. The final years of his life, when he was an opponent of National Socialism, were overshadowed by the Bosch Group’s entanglement in the Third Reich’s rearmament and warmon- gering policies. Bosch and his company directors supported resistance to the Nazi regime and helped to rescue Jewish associates and others facing persecution.

 

1920

 

The time of the Weimar Republic

In the politically turbulent era of the Weimar Republic, Robert Bosch wanted more than ever to play his part in promoting a basic understanding of democracy. This is what led him to donate funds to the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik shortly after it was established in 1920. The university’s aim was to offer people from all walks of life a scientifically based, historical-political education in the best democratic tradition, independent from the state and political parties. Theodor Heuss, who later became the president of the Federal Republic of Germany and also wrote Robert Bosch’s biography, was a key figure at the university. Robert Bosch was never a member of any political party. Even though his beliefs lay close to those of the Social Democrats, he can best be described as a left-of-center libertarian.

In 1918, Friedrich Naumann founded the Staatsbürgerschule (citizens’ academy) in Berlin, the predecessor of the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik (a private university for the study of politics). © ullsteinbild
In 1918, Friedrich Naumann founded the Staatsbürgerschule (citizens’ academy) in Berlin, the predecessor of the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik (a private university for the study of politics). © ullsteinbild
Theodor Heuss (front row, second from left) with colleagues and pupils at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik (1922). © Familienarchiv Heuss, Basel
Theodor Heuss (front row, second from left) with colleagues and pupils at the Deutsche Hochschule für Politik (1922). © Familienarchiv Heuss, Basel

Robert Bosch was a deeply committed pacifist. His experiences during the first world war made him a vigorous proponent of international relations. He joined the German section of the Committee for Franco-German Relations and, in 1935, invited German and French war veterans to Stuttgart under the slogan “Pioniere des Friedens” (Pioneers of Peace). He also backed the vision of a pan-European confederation of states that was intended to prevent the renewed outbreak of war. Bosch was thoroughly convinced that imperialism and militant nationalism would harm people by standing in the way of justice and social equilibrium.

Meeting of German and French veterans in Stuttgart’s Stadtgarten park (1935). © Foto Kleiber
Meeting of German and French veterans in Stuttgart’s Stadtgarten park (1935). © Foto Kleiber
Front page of “Paneuropa” magazine, which published Robert Bosch’s 1932 essay on “The prevention of future crises in the global economy” (1932).
Front page of “Paneuropa” magazine, which published Robert Bosch’s 1932 essay on “The prevention of future crises in the global economy” (1932).
Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi (left) and Robert Bosch at the Paneuropa Conference in Berlin (1930). © Scherl / Süddeutsche Zeitung
Richard Coudenhove-Kalergi (left) and Robert Bosch at the Paneuropa Conference in Berlin (1930). © Scherl / Süddeutsche Zeitung

 

1933

 

The time of the National Socialism

Yet Robert Bosch, an opponent of the National Socialists, also faced the dilemma that he would have to demonstrate at least a nominal degree of cooperation if he wanted to save his life’s work, the company. Bosch was classified as “crucial to armaments production.” In 1934, the company signed a contract with the Reichsluftfahrtministerium (Reich Aviation Ministry) to construct a new site in Kleinmachnow near Berlin. Forced laborers were employed here and in other plants in order to meet production targets.

The Bosch Dreilinden plant in Kleinmachnow, near Berlin (1940).
The Bosch Dreilinden plant in Kleinmachnow, near Berlin (1940).
View of sleeping quarters in the “Russian camp” in Weilimdorf, near Stuttgart-Feuerbach (1944).
View of sleeping quarters in the “Russian camp” in Weilimdorf, near Stuttgart-Feuerbach (1944).

At the same time, the company was helping those persecuted by the National Socialist regime, for example by employing Jews to shield them from the clutches of the National Socialists. Robert Bosch also provided financial assistance to enable Jews to emigrate. The assistance Robert Bosch and his senior managers offered to Jews already constituted resistance to the National Socialist system. However, he went even further and aided Carl Goerdeler, the “civilian leader” of the resistance movement behind the assassination attempt on Hitler on July 20, 1944.

Left: With the support of Robert Bosch, the Bosch CEO Hans Walz helped the Jewish associate Martha Haarburger (1933). Right: By insisting that she was indispensable, Bosch kept the Jewish associate Martha Haarburger from being deported to eastern Europe. © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart
Left: With the support of Robert Bosch, the Bosch CEO Hans Walz helped the Jewish associate Martha Haarburger (1933). Right: By insisting that she was indispensable, Bosch kept the Jewish associate Martha Haarburger from being deported to eastern Europe. © Stadtarchiv Stuttgart
Carl Goerdeler (1884-1944) was appointed “economic policy advisor” at Bosch in 1937. He used this guise to travel abroad and organize resistance (1943). Willy Schloßstein (1894–1953), head of Robert Bosch's private secretariat was one of the central figures in the Stuttgart residence group (1942).
Carl Goerdeler (1884-1944) was appointed “economic policy advisor” at Bosch in 1937. He used this guise to travel abroad and organize resistance (1943). Willy Schloßstein (1894–1953), head of Robert Bosch's private secretariat was one of the central figures in the Stuttgart residence group (1942).

 

1941

 

The last year of his life

In celebration of his 80th birthday, the National Socialists proclaimed Robert Bosch a “Pioneer of Labor” on September 23, 1941. Robert Bosch’s attempt to escape any honors by celebrating his birthday in Baden-Baden did not work. Even in death, he was not left in peace, but was given a state funeral.

Robert Ley, a senior representative of the Nazi regime, presents Robert Bosch with his “Pioneer of Labor” certificate and medal (1941).
Robert Ley, a senior representative of the Nazi regime, presents Robert Bosch with his “Pioneer of Labor” certificate and medal (1941).
Funeral procession for the burial of the urn at the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Stuttgart (1942).
Funeral procession for the burial of the urn at the Waldfriedhof cemetery in Stuttgart (1942).

Supplement

Supplement 1: Robert Bosch — His life and work

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