Hans Mommsen's name was not widely known in the English-speaking world, but the German historian exhaustively chronicled a sordid chapter in automotive history: Volkswagen's use of slave labor during Hitler's Third Reich.
Mommsen, who died Nov. 5 on his 85th birthday, wrote a 1,000-page study, "Volkswagen and Its Workers During the Third Reich," published in 1996. The study was commissioned by Carl Hahn, VW chairman from 1982 to 1993, at a cost of about $2 million, according to Mommsen's obituary in The New York Times.
The study, which took eight years, detailed VW's use of slave laborers including Soviet prisoners of war and Jews from the Auschwitz, Dachau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps.
The report was particularly critical of VW founder Ferdinand Porsche, who "walked through these crimes like a sleepwalker," wrote Mommsen and his co-author, Manfred Grieger.
The study angered Ferdinand Piech, who had replaced Hahn as CEO by the time the study was published, according to The Times obituary. Piech, a grandson of Porsche, charged that the report was a deliberate attack on his family. Mommsen dismissed Piech's charge, according to The Telegraph, countering that the VW chairman was "the kind of man who sees conspiracies."