Reckoning With The Nazi Past: Austria Plans To Rename Streets Honoring “Problematic” Figures

The Austrian city of Linz has announced plans to rename a street honouring Ferdinand Porsche, founder of luxury carmaker Porsche, after a 2019 commission tasked with investigating controversial street names in the country determined that names relating to the country’s Nazi past were “deeply problematic.” The street in question, Porscheweg, will be renamed along with three other streets within the city as a means of ceasing the veneration of those firmly entangled within the spectre of Nazism. While the plan to rename the street is imminent and authorities are keen to act as quickly as possible, no new names have yet been decided upon.

“Porsche played a central role in the National Socialist war economy and actively promoted the forced labour of prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates,” the city said in a statement after the commission’s report. Those heading the investigation duly believe that Porsche himself therefore “accepted their deaths and the deaths of their children due to the inhumane conditions of the camp.”

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Porsche as a company do not support the move. A spokesperson for the firm stated that “in our view, erasing history in public space does not lead to any social progress,” with those at the company evidently uncomfortable with the sudden moral questioning of why its hideous past had for so long been ignored.

Ferdinand Porsche, an Austro-Bohemian automotive engineer, founded his eponymous car company in 1931. The corporation went on to become an important contributor to the German war effort during World War II, retaining close links with the Nazi state apparatus in the process. Porsche was heavily involved in the production of advanced tanks such as the VK 4501, in addition to the Elefant – initially called the Ferdinand, aptly revealing just how well-regarded Porsche was amongst the senior Nazi ranks. Porsche also helped produce the Panzer VIII Maus, as well as the V-1 flying bomb.

Aside from his business interests, Ferdinand Porsche was a member of the Nazi Party, joining in 1937 and going on to become an officer of the Schutzstaffel (SS). By 1938, he was using the SS as security personnel and drivers at his factory and even set up a special unit called SS Sturmwerk Volkswagen. His deep-seated Nazism wouldn’t have always have been so obvious; born in Maffersdorf, now Vratislavice nad Nisou in the Czech Republic, Porsche was a Czechoslovak citizen. Hitler considered Czechs and anyone of Slavic origin subhuman, urging Porsche to give up his birth citizenship and file for German citizenship instead, which Porsche would be granted thanks to his Austro-German heritage and ethnicity.

Renaming streets and other public places remains a hotly contested issue in Austria, exacerbated by the fact the country is the original home of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler, born in the town of Braunau am Inn kissing the German border. Nazi Germany annexed Austria in 1938, leading Austria to paint itself as a victim and colony of commanding German rule. Whilst Germany understandably bears the brunt of the guilt-ridden baggage when it comes to instigating fascist atrocities, Austria has never truly been at ease with itself when it comes to confronting its Nazi past. Only in the past three decades has the country begun to seriously examine its role in the Nazi regime and the Holocaust, where roughly a third of Austria’s 200,000-strong Jewish population were murdered.

Relinquishing the honour of people like Porsche is both sensible and unquestionably necessary. To name a street after Porsche is to put him on a pedestal, extoling his “remarkable achievements” in creating and applauding monstrous acts of violence. These heinous crimes should in no way be welcomed, rewarded, or celebrated, and the idea that such street names are simply part of history must be unequivocally refuted. Elevating the status of those like Porsche by naming landmarks after them only serves to worship a vicious and intolerable past.