It’s got all the hallmarks of a Jackie Collins bestselling novel – love, fortune and tragedy, with the added ingredient of Nazi war crimes thrown into the plot.
In fact, when you read the story of the Goebbels family and their huge fortune surviving over a string of divorces, suicides and deaths, one cannot help but wonder if the story is real or a creatively fictitious plot written by a highly imaginative author.
The first tear-jerking part of the tale that was followed by a string of tragedy and heartache, began in the spring of 1945, when 23-year-old Harald Quandt, an officer in the German Luftwaffe, who was being held as a prisoner of war in the city of Benghazi, received a hand-written note from his mother, Magda Goebbels, wife of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi propaganda minister.
The letter confirmed that Magda, her husband and their six children had all taken cyanide tablets in Adolf Hitler’s air raid shelter in Berlin. (1)
Two years later Harald Quandt was released from the war camp and in 1954, Harald, the only remaining child from Magna Goebbels’ first marriage, and his half-brother Herbert, went on to inherit the industrial empire their father, Guenther Quandt, had built up.
The empire included a plethora of assets, most notably the production of Mauser firearms and missiles used for the Third Reich’s war machine and a stake in the car manufacturer, Daimler AG. (DAI) and, several years later, buying a stake in BMW, which of course remains one of the most luxurious and sought-after car manufacturers in the world today.
Similar to many family fortunes, the Quandt legacy endured and when the two half-brothers passed away the fortunes got passed down to Herbert’s widow and their two children, and the four daughters of Harald Quandt.
$760 Million Inheritance
According to the family’s biography, “Die Quandts”, when their mother Inge Quandt died in 1978, Harald’s four daughters inherited approximately $760 million. The biography states that the women manage their fortunes through a family investment company and trust based in Germany, named Harald Quandt Holding GmbH.
Talking to Bloomberg News, Firtz Becker, the chief executive of the family’s wealth and various entities, said that the sisters have received average earnings of between 7 and 7.6 percent since the investment company was founded in 1981.
“We invest our money globally,” Becker told Bloomberg News, “And if it’s $1 billion, $500 million or $3 billion, who cares.” (1)
Interestingly, although the four sisters and two children of a deceased sibling collectively share a fortune of at least $6 billion, they have never appeared individually on wealth ranking lists.
So how exactly did the family manage to generate such prolific wealth during a time when the world was fraught with war, misery and death, when Germany was seeking global domination?
In an account of the spellbinding story in the British newspaper the Daily Mail, it is stated that the family’s wealth can be traced to Nazi industrialist Guenther Quandt, whose former wife went on to marry Joseph Goebbels, Hitler’s propaganda minister. (2)
In 1883, Emil Quandt inherited a textile company that was owned by his later father-in-law. In the early twentieth century, Emil handed the business over to his eldest son, Guenther.
Showing similar entrepreneurial spirit as his father, when war broke out in 1914 Guenther saw an opportunity for commercial growth and began producing uniforms for the army, which resulted in his factories quadrupling in size. (2)
The Bloomberg report continues that Guenther invested his wartime profits and in 1922 bought a stake in a manufacturer of sewing machines and silverware known as Karlsruher Industrienwerken AG (BKIW). In an interview with Bloomberg News, Rudiger Jungbuth, author of the family biography “Die Quandts” spoke about the business:
“The Quandts’ business grew in the Kaiserreich, it grew during the Weimar Republic, it grew during the Second World War and it grew strongly after the war.” (1)
The Poison Dwarf
In 1921, Guenther married Magda Ritschel and a year later the couple had their only son, Harald. The marriage did not last long and the couple divorced in 1929. A couple of years later, Magna married Joseph Goebbels.
The Daily Mail describes Goebbels as being referred to as the “Poison Dwarf”, a name given on him because of his well-known limp and poison tongue. (2)
Goebbels became one of the most influential people of Nazi Germany, with Hitler promoting him to the party’s propaganda minister in 1929, a role which saw him play an influential part in implementing the Nazi’s dictatorship regime.
From 1940 to 1945, the Quandt family factories were, according to the Daily Mail report, staffed by more than 50,000 prisoners of war, concentration camp workers and forced civilian laborers. (2)
After Goebbels and Magda committed suicide in Hitler’s Berlin bunker in 1945, the two half-brothers Harald and Herbert maintained the family’s seemingly natural ability to make money by increasing stakes in industrial companies. In 1960, Herbert saved BMW from collapse by becoming the largest stakeholder in the company. (1)
In 1967, Harald died in a plane crash and according to the family biography, at the time of his death, Harald Quandt’s most valuable asset was a 14 percent stake in Daimler.
The siblings who inherited the massive fortune have all moved on into their own ventures, with Katarina Geller-Herr, owning an equestrian center, Colleen-Bettina Rosenblat-Mo becoming a jewellery designer, and Annette-Angelika May-Thies married to a Goldman Sachs international adviser.
The family’s wealth is now managed by trustees for the two children of the youngest of the Quandt siblings, Patricia Halterman, who died suddenly in 2005.
According to “Die Quandts”, the siblings met up together a few times a year to discuss their investments. Talking about the family’s history connection to Nazi dictatorship, Stefan Quandt said in an interview:
“It’s a sad truth that forced labourers died in Quandt companies. They have to live with that. It’s part of history. It’s part of the history. It will be a constant reminder of dictatorship and the challenges that families have to face.” (2)