Carolyn Porter | "Marcel's Letters" is Now in the Daimler-Benz Library
I know no one working at Daimler today was personally responsible for what happened during the war. Can — should? — current employees bear the weight of blame?
Marcel's Letters, Marcel Heuzé, Marienfelde labor camp, Mariendorf labor camp, Berlin, Daimler-Benz, Forced Labor, Service du Travail Obligatoire, Carolyn Porter, WWII, epistolary, library, libraries, Stuttgart
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Marcel’s Letters is now in the Daimler-Benz Library

While working on the book, I had — I still have, to be honest — conflicted feelings about Daimler-Benz. On one hand, they, like many other people and organizations, were swept into the riptide of war and did what they needed to do to keep afloat. Yet management’s collaboration was financially self-serving, and employees were complicit in horrific human rights violations. There is no excuse for the abuse and deaths the company is responsible for.

I also know no one working at Daimler today was personally responsible for what happened then. Can — should? — current employees bear the weight of blame?

Years ago, after establishing contact with Daimler-Benz in Stuttgart, Germany, my mind wandered to dark places, as it tends to do in the middle of the night when I can not sleep. The Daimler archivist expressed a deep interest in the contents of Marcel’s letters — but why? Would Daimler demand custody of Marcel’s original letters, then hide them away? Would Daimler’s lawyers try to prevent the book from being published? Would I be buried by international red tape, or have to abandon the project because I couldn’t match the might of Daimler’s PR or legal teams?

I tried reminding myself that the archivist I was working with, Wolfgang (yes, his name really is Wolfgang), demonstrated infinite patience and diplomacy. Wolfgang seemed sincere when he told me his interest was to learn more about the conditions workers experienced while inside a Daimler work camp. Yet, I also knew he didn’t — he couldn’t — represent everyone at Daimler. I constantly weighed my desire to trust him with a caution about the company at large.

I proceeded with the book while doubts about what Daimler might do loomed on the horizon like a far-off storm. I could never quite tell, though, if the storm was headed toward me, or if the clouds would dissolve into a bright blue sky.

Six or so months ago, Daimler was given the opportunity to read a draft of the manuscript. I wanted to be sure they had the opportunity to correct any facts that might have been misstated. The only thing I heard at the time was, “Thanks for this great work!”

I received an email from Wolfgang this morning. Two copies of Marcel’s Letters had been acquired by the Daimler Library. “It is a book of great sensitiveness,” he wrote. “For me it is very remarkable, that the book covers so many topics: history of Nazi-Germany, family-history of Marcel, development of a font and your personal history. … We take it in our library, so many people can read it.”

I’ve heard war described as not just one story — but a million stories entwined into a complex cloth. But we can only see that cloth by looking at one fiber, one story, at a time.

So, how do I feel about Daimler-Benz today? First, I continue to be grateful for Wolfgang. He is a remarkable ambassador for the company. Second, I am glad other Daimler employees will be able to read Marcel’s Letters. While those employees don’t bear the blame for Marcel’s imprisonment, I hope Marcel’s story provides a deeper, more personal perspective on their employer’s war-time actions.

2 Comments
  • carolyn

    June 1, 2017 at 3:39 pm

    Hi Theresa – I have not been to Stuttgart. Someday, perhaps! I’d love to meet Wolfgang in person; it’s always interesting to put a face with a name.

  • Theresa Leffler

    June 1, 2017 at 3:32 pm

    That’s wonderful that your book is available in Germany. Where you able to go to Stuttgart? Such a neat city.