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Krupp in Greifswald

On the perils of forgetting about the Holocaust.

June 18, 2019 - Tomasz Kamusella - Articles and Commentary

The Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg in Griefswald Photo: Axt (cc) wikimedia.org

My God, look at how [Alfried] Krupp was allowed to start all over again and given back his millions of dollars when his slave workers were still dying in hospitals!

Ernst Landau, Holocaust Survivor, Munich, 1967.[1]

I believed then and I believe now that political expediency dictated [t]his decision [of pardoning Alfried Krupp in 1951]. The Russian blockade and Berlin air lift had been on. East Germany was in Communist hands. Czechoslovakia had been overrun. And the wall was being built in Berlin.

Krupp Tribunal Judge William J. Wilkins, 1981.[2]


For the last decade I have taught a specialist one-year long module on ethnic cleansing and genocide. In mid-May 2019, I left the windy shores of eastern Scotland, and flew for a conference across the length of the Northern Sea to the charming University and Hanseatic town of Greifswald, located on Germany’s Baltic littoral of long sandy beaches. I walked the enchanted streets marveling how during the last thirty years the previously drab Eastern German locality has been transformed into this veritable mouth-watering touristy box of chocolates under democracy in reunited Germany. Most historic buildings were renovated to the glory of their heyday, and the reconstruction of the small town’s three imposing huge gothic churches was completed. The historic port on the Ryck River was turned into a popular outing place, while the ugly communist blocs of apartments were upgraded and beautified, so that now next to no one can guess their true origin. In Marell café I enjoyed an excellent cup of schwarzer Kaffee (black coffee), alongside a piece of Mohnkuchen (yeast dough cake with poppy seed filling) – a treat impossible to find in Britain. Weather was excellent, sunny, the sky blue, and no wind. It was not exactly warm, but in sunshine, at long last, I could shed my British waterproof coat.

During this moment of pleasure, I was stopped in the tracks of an easygoing flâneur by sighting a tasteful modern shape of a Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald (Institute for Advanced Study in Greifswald), which merges well with the medieval architecture of the Old Town. I thought that I must have been mistaken – was this institution named after Krupp? I stepped back. Indeed, the name emblazoned on the ochre brick wall proudly announced that the Institute of Advanced Study was named after none other than Alfried Krupp, the convicted criminal against humanity, a notorious genocidaire. I could not believe my eyes. I was stunned. It was a sudden blow which brutally shook me out of reverie, and brought down to the unsavory reality of authoritarianism and totalitarian tendencies, which have been creeping back into the political mainstream across (central) Europe during the latter half of the 2010s. Greifswald looks like a fairy tale, an epitome of stability, prosperity and tolerance; long yearned for and finally painstakingly regained in the wake of the horrors of the dark 20th century and the fall of communism. However, if the past is forgotten and the principles of human rights and democracy are observed in breach, the town and its country may yet again turn into a hell for a bureaucratically singled out group of the population, when all take care to turn their backs at the victims and look away, as if nothing has happened.

This, however, already happened in 1933 when the Nazis took over Germany, and inaugurated their rule with the burning of ‘degenerate and inappropriate’ books. Two years later, the Reichstag adopted the racist Nuremberg Laws. Subsequently, it was a mere short stroll to the state-approved and -enabled pogrom of Kristallnacht in 1938, when synagogues, Jewish houses and businesses were ransacked and destroyed. The nazi rule commenced with the burning of books and reached its climax in 1941-1944 when the Hitler regime burnt, murdered and worked to death millions during the Holocaust of Jews and Roma; the mass killing also extended to other Untermenschen (‘subhumans’), that is, Slavs and Soviet POWs. In this empire of industrialised death, extending from France to the Soviet Union and from Norway to Libya, the nazis (or in other words, Germans, Austrians, alongside their followers of other ethnicities) turned innumerable villages, towns and cities into the unmarked cemeteries of mass graves. But the hygiene of everyday life was also of import, apart from the racial hygiene of the ‘pure Aryan race,’ which necessitated making Europe Judenrein (‘freed and cleansed of Jews’). Hence in the Czechoslovak, Polish and Soviet territories incorporated into the Greater German Empire (Großdeutsches Reich, since 1943), the death camps stored their industrially slaughtered victims directly in ‘heavens.’ Through the factory stacks their earthly remains were pumped from the furnaces into thin air. As the Rhineland-Prussian poet of Jewish origin, Heinrich Heine, prophesised in 1821, ‘Where they burn books, they will also ultimately burn people’ (Dort, wo man Bücher verbrennt, verbrennt man am Ende auch Menschen).

Forced laborers at the construction of the Krupp munitions factory (Weichsel Union Metallwerke) in the Auschwitz death camp. Source: Jewish Virtual Library.

Alfried Krupp was one of the leading captains of industry in the Third Reich, tasked with running the factories of death during the Holocaust. With meticulous precision, and in line with the requested targets, his plants ceaselessly produced for the sake of the fatherland, simultaneously turning out corpses and tanks. I wonder what was the exact blood price? How many corpses per a howitzer, submarine or a warplane? During the Nuremburg Trials, the defense claimed that industrialist Krupp was not interested in politics. He was in his beloved business of engineering and making money. It was the nazi state, which forced on his companies unrealistic targets, for meeting which slave laborers were supplied in due course. Purportedly, Krupp wanted to protect his vast gratis workforce of estimated 100,000 slaves, because losing them to early grave constituted a loss in productivity and profit. Bur Berlin was adamant, the quota for weapons to be produced had to match the corresponding quota of corpses for the sake of Judenfrei (‘free of Jews) Europe. Nothing doing.

Certainly, Alfried Krupp did not murder anyone with his own hands. His noble background and genteel upbringing would never let him lower himself to committing such a vile crime. But from the safe distance of their CEO offices, ‘[i]ndividuals and big business were happy to grow rich off the charred bodies in the furnaces.’[3] In 1948, the judges in Nuremberg had no doubts that Krupp’s decisions taken in the company’s cozy boardroom and coordinated with Hitler’s government, led to death, disability and mental illness of tens of thousands, while weapons produced cost the lives and livelihood of further millions. Another bureaucrat who comfortably planned and carried enslavement and mass murder, enjoying his after-lunch cigar and a tumbler of the best (though rather unpatriotic) Scottish whisky as a fitting conclusion to sumptuous dinner. But did the judgement sentence him to thousands of capital punishments or life terms in prison? No, that would be impractical, each human being has just a single life, even the distinguished and monied Alfried Krupp. It was impossible to make him pay for his crimes in the regular manner. What to do then with a genocidaire? As a criminal against humanity, he was sentenced to a mere 12 years in prison. But what pained him most was the loss of the love of his life, namely, wealth. The court ordered the forfeiture of all Krupp’s property.

However, courtesy of the outbreak of the Cold War, three years later, in 1951, the United States occupation authorities pardoned Krupp, and his factories were returned to Krupp’s ownership. No, Krupp was not acquitted of his crimes. His industrial empire was tasked with increasing production for countering the Soviet threat and for kick-starting the economy of West Germany. Thus, the Wirtschaftswunder was born, also thanks to criminal profits back in the hands of the criminal against humanity. None other than Alfried Krupp. His star began to shine bright again. Both Washington and Bonn lionised him as an exemplary industrialist of the new democratic times, while the survivors of Krupp’s crimes looked on helplessly, sick, destitute, with no families, who perished in the Holocaust. Money, even blood-stained money, trumps justice and morality for political ends. Pecunia non olet. Some ethical discomfort caused by genocide is easily dismissed, when the unpalatable reality of slavery and the industrialised slaughter of humans is carefully kept safely out of sight. People forget so quickly and obediently. Obedience and punctuality being the stereotypical qualities of a typical German.

In 1957, the portrait of West Germany’s Alfried Krupp the industrialist adorned the cover of the United States weekly Time. At long last the past became the past. What counted was here and now. Perhaps, informally his crimes were forgiven. In high society people were cautious not to bring up this subject, such as belching is deemed out of place at the high table. However, some pesky survivors and Jewish organizations, which failed to comprehend the demands of the new times of the Cold War, kept reminding Krupp of his genocidaire past. Finally, in a generous gesture becoming of an understanding aristocrat, on the Christmas Eve of 1959, Krupp promised to pay 1,190 US dollars in compensation to each surviving Jewish slave worker who used to toil in one of his plants during World War II. The sum of 2,380,000 US dollars (DM10,000,000) was earmarked for this purpose. Hence, around 2,000 forced workers were included in this scheme, or a mere 2 per cent of his original slave workforce. In 2018, ThysenKrupp’s assets, net income and equity added up to over 72 billion euros. In the 2018 money, the aforementioned 1959 payout equates to 20,537,000 US dollars, that is, 18,401,000 euros. The sum equates to a mere 0.02 per cent of the company’s present-day wealth. The 100,000 wartime slave workers reduced to a negligible number, a cipher of no value, which may be eventually crossed out from the ledger, as a bookkeeping error, a mere margin of error.

1957 Time cover lauding Krupp’s contribution to the West German Wirtschaftswunder.

In 1957 Time lauded Alfried Krupp for his contribution to West Germany’s Wirtschaftswunder, his genocidal past conveniently left unmentioned. But one reader raised his concerns in the letter to the Editor, namely, ‘Sir: Your article sounds as if I should have been proud to have labored and almost died in one of Mr Krupp’s slave-labor camps during the war.’ George Tesar of Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Can this ‘progress’ in overcoming the ‘difficult past’ explain and justify the founding of the Alfried Krupp Institute of Advanced Study in 2000 in Greifswald, with the participation of the Land of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and the University of Greifswald? The purpose of this endeavor is laudable, namely, ‘the promotion of science and research at the University of Greifswald in particular by maintaining and operating the Alfried Krupp Wissenschaftskolleg Greifswald.’ The Institute’s website is discreetly – or curiously – silent about the patron. One needs to refer to the German-language website of the Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach Foundation, or the bureaucratic holding vehicle that owns the Krupp leg of today’s ThyssenKrupp corporation. It comments very succinctly on the wartime and the immediate postwar period, by saying that ‘in 1943 Alfried Krupp took over the management and became the sole owner of the company. […] At the end of the Second World War he was arrested by the American troops. Three years later, an American military court sentenced him to 12 years in prison and confiscated all his property. In 1951 he was pardoned, and rebuilt his company during the 1950s.’

The bust of Alfried Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, after whom the foundation was named, in the Kolleg’s foyer. Source: The Alfried Krupp Kolleg Greifswald Foundation.

This glowing biography of corporate progress and hard-earned success contains no mention of such unsavory subjects as slave labor, genocide, crimes against humanity, or the nazi government’s intimate links with industrialists and their companies. These are brushed away from the public domain and accepted discourse. Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania’s Minister of Education, Science and Culture, Birgit Hesse; and Rector of the University of Greifswald, Professor Dr. Johanna Eleonore Weber acting as distinguished Trustees of the Alfried Krupp Kolleg Greifswald Foundation simultaneously enable this erasure of the past and justify this state-approved forgetting.

During the conference held at the University of Greifswald, which I happened to attend in May 2019, I asked some local scholars how they might feel about this situation. I posed this question in the context of the nearly-concluded heated debate on the university’s own patron. In 1933, the freshly established nazi authorities named the University of Greifswald after the Prussian poet Ernst Moritz Arndt, who in 1812, invented ethnolinguistic nationalism by proposing that the German nation equates all the speakers of the German language. It is the ideology of ethnolinguistic nationalism which has been employed for the majority of state building and destruction projects across central Europe since the mid-19th century. However, this contribution of Arndt into hands-on politics hardly featured in the discussion. What irked opponents of using the poet as the university’s official patron most was the fact it was a nazi imposition. Only as a far second consideration was Arndt’s rabidly anti-Semitic and anti-Slav attitudes expressed in his writings.

I could say that Arndt only wrote against Jews and Slavs, while Alfried Krupp built and ran an industry that enslaved and mass murdered Jews and Slavs. Hence, if on the former account, it does not become to link Arndt’s tarnished name with the democratic, liberal and tolerant University of Greifswald, how on earth then is it possible to approve of an intimate collaborative and institutional link between this university and the Kolleg named after the convicted criminal against humanity and genocidaire? How does it square? Or maybe the intensive and emotional discussion on dropping ‘Arndt’ from the university’s name conveniently concealed the unsavory reality of Greifswald’s Institute for Advanced Study named after Alfried Krupp the criminal against humanity and genocidaire? I believe that this is the genuine and burning issue of responsibility for the Holocaust, which the town’s university community must face up to, unless in the future they do not want to be seen as passive onlookers and enablers of the sanitisation of the unsavory nazi past as ‘normal and democratic.’ Although, I guess, some may yet hope that the future will eventually turn out to be brown, so they are pleased with the ongoing cover-up. Latter day nazi sympathizers want to forget that Germany was both the perpetrator and the scene of the unprecedented crime of the Holocaust. Should such neo-nazis-turned-concerned-democrats-and-liberals-working-hard-for-the-future-of-Europe-without-‘culturally-alien’-immigrants turn out to be successful, and if the remembrance of the Holocaust has been forsaken, then obviously forgetting about Alfried Krupp’s crimes against humanity is nothing in comparison.

I hope that my suspicions are groundless and will never come true. And I kept asking Greifswald colleagues: why? One proposed that ‘you do not bite the hand that feeds you,’ namely, pecunia non olet. Certainly, Krupp would full-heartedly share this opinion. Another pondered that it would be impossible to establish such an institute named after a criminal against humanity ‘in the west,’ meaning former West Germany. Greifswald used to be located in erstwhile East Germany, where no discussion on coming to terms with the Holocaust took place. The East German government claimed that this tragic legacy was solely in the court of West Germany, posed as the sole successor of the Third Reich. But almost three full decades have elapsed since the reunification of Germany in 1990. Many of the staff at the University of Greifswald stem from ‘the west.’ The division is gone, and nowadays, any tacit and insidious disregard for nazi crimes sullies not some non-existent communist East Germany, but all reunited Germany itself.

Of course, I do not propose to disband the Alfried Krupp Institute for Advanced Study, because I am sure that during the two decades of its existence, the Kolleg’s fellows and researchers have left a laudable legacy in the form of groundbreaking events, projects, research and publications. However, the genocidaire patron is unacceptable. Why couldn’t the institution be renamed as the Greifswald Institute for Advanced Study? Would the Afried Krupp Foundation object and withhold its subsidies? I doubt, as such an act would invariably draw unwanted international attention to the unsavory past of this criminal against humanity, simultaneously sullying the good reputation of his descendants and the corporation ThyssenKrupp. An example of good practice in this regard is Harvard University’s Center for European Studies. It was established in 1969, among others, with a grant from Volkswagen. This company infamously also used slave labor during World War II. But when it makes amends for crimes against humanity, Volkswagen avoids from promoting its name and logo.

If someone necessarily needs to be commemorated in the institute’s name, it should be the victims of the Krupp’s wartime industrial empire of death. Perhaps, a permanent exhibition on these victims and Krupp’s crimes against humanity ought to be installed in the institute’s foyer. Then each employee, visitor and fellow would have to encounter and reflect on the Holocaust, lest we forget. Or each of Krupp’s 100,000 victims could be commemorated with their own brass Stolperstein (‘stumbling stone’), nowadays employed across Germany and the neighboring states to ensure the individualised remembrance of the victims of the Holocaust. Such a stone costs 120 euros a piece. The total price tag of 12m euros does not seem to be exorbitant. However, this solution may be highly impractical, as all the streets in the Old Town of Greifswald would need to be entirely cobbled with Stolpersteine, changing them literally into shiny alleys of brass. How about then establishing a museum devoted to slave labor and Holocaust victims in the Third Reich’s industry? A museum of this kind would be true to the research spirit of the Greifswald Institute for Advanced Study and would decisively turn the public’s attention away from the criminal against humanity to his victims. This line of research could be usefully extended to the continuing use of slave laborers from present-day China’s Laogai concentration camps in the totalitarian state’s booming factories. This is the ultimate frontier of the early 21st century industry, where far eastern likes of Alfried Krupp are on the make, new genocidaires, for whom profit and the communist party come first before humanity. Where imprisoning 2 million, or a fifth of all the Uyghurs living in the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, is an exciting prolonged gratis vacation of industrialised re-education for the sake of ‘peace and stability.’ Vacationers are expected to be grateful to the state for selecting them for this rare one-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Totalitarian regimes never stop ‘fighting for peace,’ while ethnic cleansing or genocide is deemed to be a small price to be borne for the bright future ‘for all,’ apart from Untermenschen, ‘culturally alien immigrants,’ ‘wreckers,’ ‘racially inferior,’ the ‘uneducated,’ ‘disabled,’ ‘ugly,’ ‘unproductive,’ ‘foreigners,’ or in other words these shiftless perfidious ‘Other’ of innumerable guises. That is, you and me, us. We are the Other.

Roll call before work: Slave laborers in a Laogai concentration camp in China. Source: Made in China, in a Labor Camp. 2017. Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation.

Tomasz Kamusella is a Reader in Modern Central and Eastern European History at the University of St Andrews in Scotland. His latest monograph Ethnic Cleansing during the Cold War: The Forgotten 1989 Expulsion of Turks from Communist Bulgaria was published by Routledge in July 2018.

[1] Leo Katcher. 1968. Post-Mortem: The Jews in Germany Today. New York: Delacorte Press, p. 76.

[2] William J Wilkins. 1981. The Sword and the Gavel: An Autobiography. Seattle WA: The Writing Works, p. 217

[3] Henry Ormond, 1967. In: Leo Katcher. 1968. Post-Mortem: The Jews in Germany Today. New York: Delacorte Press, p. 133

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