75 years: Hans Walz and the Feuerbach address
On July 17, 1943, Hans Walz, the so-called Bosch “factory leader” (Betriebsführer), gave a courageous speech condemning National Socialist dirigisme in the affairs of Germany’s industrial enterprises.
He called for free and self-determined enterprise, declaring that this was the sole reason Bosch had become so big, and that it was essential if Bosch was to remain successful. This was a blatant affront at a critical juncture, as the tide was turning against Germany in the war. The German Army’s swift victories had evaporated, and around 150,000 German soldiers had perished after being encircled in the battle for Stalingrad. The German people were demoralized by the war, which had led the German propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels to call for “total war” at the Berlin Sportpalast on February 18, 1943. His aim was the complete mobilization of all human and material resources.
Against this backdrop, the government of the Third Reich selected journalists to visit Germany’s industrial companies. It wanted them to publish impassioned newspaper articles to revive flagging morale. A tour of the plant and a number of speeches were scheduled at Bosch for July 17. But right from his welcome address, Hans Walz angered the regime. In no uncertain terms, he condemned the National Socialists’ economic policy, and with it the war, saying: “If we were inclined to leniency, we might say that our plant is characterized today by a forced growth in manufacturing that is attributable to the central planning and armaments boom that have been with us since 1935 or 1936. However, this economic growth and its consequences for our company have been altogether of a more negative, rather than positive, nature. Without rearmament and without a war, we would, as far as anyone can judge, have developed perhaps not at breakneck speed, as has been the case, but better and more soundly.” In response to this blatant display of defiance, Walter Reihle, the Nazi party’s advisor on economic policy, stormed out of the hall.
A threat and its repercussions
Reihle swore he would ensure Walz would be one of the next to “climb the scaffold...” Indeed, what Walz had said would normally have warranted immediate arrest, particularly as he was already under observation by the National Socialist regime as a result of the SS disciplinary proceedings that had been launched against him in October 1942. Walz had become a member of the “Reichsführer SS [i.e. Himmler’s] Friendship Circle” as a precaution to prevent a dyed-in-the-wool Nazi from being placed at the helm of Bosch. The group was meant to provide Hitler with advice on economic matters. However, Walz failed to attend most of the meetings and, for the rest, appears to have kept a low profile. In spring 1943, the organization delivered a scathing assessment of his conduct: “Walz is no SS leader. […] Even admitting W. to the SS was a mistake. By rights, Walz should be discharged from the SS.”
Fortunately, however, SS-Obergruppenführer Gottlob Berger, whose father had been a friend of Robert Bosch, prevented the worst by repeatedly vouching for Walz. And in addition to that, Walz also played on the rivalry between the different arms of the party.
But it was ultimately the need to leave processes in place in a company so crucial to the war effort that led the National Socialists to leave him be: “Walz is currently the director of the Bosch plants. Ejecting Walz from the SS at this moment in time would significantly harm the Bosch plants, which have done a lot for the movement and the SS in particular.”
We can no longer say what moved Walz to make such a courageous statement. A likely explanation is that, as a committed Christian and opponent of the National Socialists, he simply could no longer bear the system’s inhumanity, and was therefore willing to risk his life with this address.
I am the head of Historical Communications at Robert Bosch GmbH, and I work on preserving and communicating our company’s long and multifaceted history. Before joining Bosch in 2007, I was employed for over ten years in various museums in an academic capacity. I also worked freelance in the same field. As a historian and specialist in cultural studies, I want to show that history is far from dusty and lifeless, but rather relevant and exciting.