During the years after the Second World War, the nations of the victors and the vanquished concentrated on rebuilding their economic and political infrastructures. They did too little to bring the Nazi perpetrators of the Holocaust and their accomplices to account. In large part, regrets for the murder of some six million Jews were crocodile tears. Europe continues to suffer today from this failure to rebuild the moral foundations of our civilisation.
This failure is a tragedy for the survivors, who now are in the final years of their lives and see a world and a European continent in which anti-Semitism is very much alive. According to a poll published in March 2011 by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, 49 per cent of respondents in Germany agreed with the statement that “Jews try to take advantage of having been victims during the Nazi era.” In Hungary, Poland and Portugal, the percentage was even higher.
All the peoples of the Continent, especially the communities of the perpetrators, are the losers from such feelings. Without justice for the victims of the Holocaust there is little hope for a sustainable ethical and legal order. Declarations such as the European Convention on Human Rights will mean very little if they are a facade for the reality that political, economic and religious leaders of the European Continent connived at allowing most of the mass murderers of the Jews to escape scot free.
On May 5, 1949, the British authorities put their signatures to the Statute of the Council of Europe with its public commitment to justice and the rule of law. At that very time, they were privately protecting high-level Nazis because they were useful as anti-Soviet spies.
The price for bringing West Germany into the family of democratic nations was to grant an early release to those convicted of butchery. The election of Konrad Adenauer as Chancellor depended on his success in persuading the US and the UK to agree to the large-scale rehabilitation of generals, senior functionaries, businessmen, bankers, academics and doctors who had been active in the service of Hitler.
So the war crimes trials of Nazis were effectively abandoned under the pressures of the Cold War. Tom Bower has documented this in his devastating book Blind Eye to Murder.
Moreover, the German Federal Republic remained defiant in its refusal to accept the right of wartime slave labourers to back pay or compensation. When Germany finally offered insultingly small amounts of money to them as a “goodwill” gesture in the late 1990s, it was on condition that they sign away all their legal rights. When I accompanied Auschwitz survivors Rudi Kennedy and Roman Halter to the German embassy in London during the slave labour compensation negotiations, the then ambassador told us that “strictly speaking” there had been nothing illegal in the unspeakable conditions at the I.G. Farben works at Auschwitz which Kennedy had just described to him. To this day, German companies and banks as well as German governments persist in variations of this intolerable argument and refuse to accept legal liability to compensate the inmates of the ghettoes and concentration camps for their toil and suffering. The legal rights of former members of the SS and their families are far better protected.
Germany even resorted in 1989 to the legal fiction that the Second World War had not yet ended in a peace treaty as a device to protect the interests of Holocaust-mired German corporations. For it had been agreed in the London Debt Settlement of February 27, 1953, that claims against them would await such a peace treaty. The West German negotiators were led in the negotiations held in London in 1952 by Hermann Abs, the Deutsche Bank director who had escaped prosecution for war crimes only because the United States brought the Nuremberg trials to a close.
In view of the failure of legal processes to bring the perpetrators of the Holocaust and their minions to account, and in view of the non-admission of legal responsibility for compensation by the slave-driving German corporations and by the German government, the court of history becomes vital. A determination to preserve memory and publish unadulterated truth is all that is left for us now that the surviving perpetrators and their victims are so elderly.
Yet here too the position is far more gloomy than most people realise. Certainly, there are museums, memorials, a Holocaust Remembrance Day on the official calendar in Britain, and even a Foreign & Commonwealth Office Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues. Certainly, a 28-nation Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education was created in Stockholm in 2000. Certainly, also in 2000, David Irving lost his libel action against the American historian Deborah Lipstadt, who had accused him of Holocaust denial.
These welcome developments conceal concerted, albeit more subtle, assaults on Holocaust truth. Some of the most persistent have emanated from prominent German historians, from corporations with dubious wartime records to defend, and from successive German governments.
Germany has spared almost no expense in a prolonged campaign of cultural diplomacy. Its aim has been to demonstrate that it has come to terms with its Nazi past while, at the same time, promoting a relatively sympathetic view of that terrible period. Among the most common themes are that pre-World War II Germany was not especially anti-Semitic, that ordinary Germans were as much victims as aggressors, that relatively few of them knew about the Holocaust, that the destruction of European Jewry was not intended but happened as part of a process of wartime brutalisation, and that the Holocaust was not unique but is just one example of man’s inhumanity to man. A further common argument is that German scholars — unlike Jewish historians — are able to analyse the Nazi record in a dispassionate, “scientific” manner.
Within Germany, the minority of historians who condemn this orthodoxy tend to be isolated and reviled by their academic peers. They often find it hard to obtain university appointments.
Of course, there is a major difference between this mainstream German interpretation and the views of hard-core Holocaust deniers. Yet, the distinctions between hard-core denial of the existence of the gas chambers at Auschwitz and what Deborah Lipstadt (borrowing from Michael Burleigh and myself) calls “soft-core” denial are not always as definite as one might wish.
In my article in the April 2010 issue of Standpoint on the case of the millionaire Hamburg businessman Alfred Toepfer, I used the term “greywashing” to describe a technique of moderating and partially excusing German responsibility without resorting to outright denial. This derived from an artwork at the Hamburg headquarters of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation in the form of a chess set with pieces on each side painted in grey. This, so the chief executive of the foundation excitedly told me, represented Toepfer’s morality under the Nazis.
The heavy dependence of British and American universities on German sources of funding for the study of modern German history makes this moral relativism unduly influential.
The extensive campaign waged against my Standpoint article on Toepfer illustrates the character of current political warfare over the history of the Holocaust. Though he was a significant figure during and after the period of Nazi rule, Toepfer was not a person of the highest rank. That my study attracted such widespread attention and venom is significant.
My case was moderate. I asked for a South African-style truth and reconciliation process and for the Alfred Toepfer Foundation and the Toepfer family to acknowledge the full history of his misdeeds and offer an apology for them. On this basis, I felt it would be acceptable for Oxford University to continue its association with the Hanseatic Scholarships funded annually by the Toepfer Foundation.
At a meeting with the chair of the foundation, Toepfer’s daughter-in-law, Birte Toepfer, held at her request during my research visit to Hamburg in November 2009, Birte showed considerable sympathy with this suggestion.
She wished me luck with my research into Toepfer and even with my representations against the foundation to Oxford University. But she warned that her husband’s family considered her a “naughty girl” for her wish to come to terms with the past of the paterfamilias. She was not optimistic that her in-laws would accept the idea of an apology. She would do her best.
Evidently, she failed. In January 2010, I received a flood of personal accusations from an official of the foundation. At the same time, he copied earlier charges to the Oxford authorities. In lieu of the hoped-for apology, he accused me of being not truthful, not proper, not fair, not decent, clandestine, not professional and much more.
Soon afterwards, I approached the chair of the Oxford Committee to Review Donations, Sir Ivor Roberts, to request the opportunity to meet with the committee to express my concerns about this deluge of accusations. Unless I had a full chance to rebut them, it would be impossible for the sub-committee it had set up to consider the Toepfer matter to adjudicate the historical merits fairly in the few minutes I would be permitted to meet with its members.
I also faced the delicate decision of whether or not to make a formal objection against the selection of Professor Richard Evans (Regius Professor of History at Cambridge) as the sole historian on Oxford’s sub-committee. Evans had been the main expert witness for the defence in David Irving’s libel case against Lipstadt. He was justifiably admired for his systematic and successful criticisms of Irving as well as for his wider work on the Nazi era. At the same time, he had been one of the first post-war beneficiaries of Toepfer’s largesse. As a former “Hanseatic Scholar”, he had a clear conflict of interest.
A description of the twists and turns in my dealings with the Oxford authorities, of the tangle of personal relationships between some of the players, and of the sheer miscommunications, would be worthy of a C.P. Snow novel. Suffice to report that I refused to meet with the sub-committee while Evans was its historian and submitted my full memorandum to the Oxford Committee to Review Donations only in October 2010, after the sub-committee had disbanded and several months after the publication of my article in Standpoint. Evans never saw, let alone commented on, my formal case presented to Oxford at that time.
The most salient feature of the reaction to my Standpoint article was the heavy artillery deployed to discredit it. The attackers had a difficult task because, as the Toepfer Foundation was obliged to admit to the university in June 2010, “the facts as presented by Dr Pinto-Duschinsky should and will not be disputed.”
There were two parallel sets of responses. The one consisted of misleading statements and private threats, the other of critical publications and rebuttals.
At the level of misleading statements, the Toepfer Foundation posted a statement on its website that “it is […] to be regretted that the respective editors have withdrawn a publication of his academic article previously announced with the DeGruyter publishers.” The article in question was a slightly shortened German language version of the Standpoint piece together with detailed sources and notes. The implication was that the article had been unworthy of publication and that the editors of the projected volume, Dr Michael Fahlbusch and Dr Ingo Haar, had rejected it. In fact, they had merely moved to another German publishing house, Ferdinand Schoeningh. The Toepfer Foundation has continued to include the above statement on its website at the time of Standpoint going to print even though the Fahlbusch/Haar book appeared in September 2010 with my contribution included.
The foundation’s stated regrets about the alleged non-publication of the German- language version need to be seen against the background of its private approach to Ferdinand Schoeningh Verlag in June 2010 with warnings about the Standpoint article, the purpose of which may be seen as an effort to dissuade the publishing house from including it in the Fahlbusch/Haar volume.
A few weeks later, the same publisher reported that he had received verbal threats from an academic associated with the foundation: he would take legal action if it published a translated version of my article and the firm would be ruined. Whether the scholar was acting on his own initiative is unclear. When his protests proved unproductive, a second academic wrote to one of the editors of the volume, Dr Ingo Haar, objecting to the inclusion of my offending piece. The senior German historian who wrote to Haar had a leading position in a German research group financed by a major funding body, the DFG, from which Haar was in receipt of a grant. The historian raised “the question — which concerns me personally — whether you want to include in the volume a contribution of Pinto-Duschinsky”. In part, his concern was technical. My Standpoint article did not fall within the remit of the research group and had not been delivered at a conference for which funding had been assigned. The historian in charge of the DFG funding protested too about the content of what I had written in Standpoint.
“At least according to my knowledge of how things stand and after the previous debate about the matter, I would regard it as problematic to find in a volume, which apart from this you have certainly compiled with care […] an article of this author that will probably again be full of unsustainable comments […] Please consider your intention again in this light, and I hope that our relationship, which has so far been cooperative, will be taken into account.”
While Haar came under financial pressure to cut my chapter, Professor Christian Gerlach, the historian who informed me that he had been in conflict with the Toepfer Foundation’s “Independent Academic Commission”, received a financial proposal of another kind. When the chief executive of the foundation heard about Gerlach’s criticisms of the lack of independence of its sponsored “independent” historians, he wrote to Gerlach:
“Should you consider it useful in your work at the University of Berne to enlarge upon certain aspects of your previous work, which you think have not been sufficiently attended to — be it in form of Diploma, MA, or PhD dissertations, be it as your own research — we will be happy to provide support for the realisation (of this work).”
The chief executive justified the offer on the ground that the foundation faced “the dilemma that the support by our foundation is often considered an attack on the independence of scholarship. At the same time, caution is often interpreted as a lack of initiative or even an attempt at concealing something. Unfortunately, my experience of the last five years has shown that, unless we here take the initiative, there is barely any independent scholarly interest in Toepfer.”
The main public riposte to my Standpoint article was that the foundation itself had revealed the “overwhelming number” of facts about Toepfer’s life which I claimed to have brought to light. Thus, my charge that the foundation and its official history, published by Hans Mommsen and others in 2000, had skirted over Toepfer’s record were unfounded. This argument was at the core of a 42-page analysis sponsored by the foundation, posted on its website in April 2010, and of a critique by Gina Thomas in Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (April 7, 2010). The foundation expanded the same theme in a dossier of more than 300 pages and 57 annexes submitted to Oxford in June 2010. Professor Pogge von Strandmann, the retired Oxford historian who had been the foundation’s main link with the university for decades, backed this interpretation in Oxford Magazine (June 2010). Richard Evans wrote a long attack on me in Times Higher Education (March 10, 2011).
On June 2, 2011, the German Historical Institute in London organised a panel, including Evans and the head of the Volkswagen Foundation, to discuss the ramifications of the Toepfer affair for German industrial foundations whose endowments derive from Holocaust-related activities.
Evans and I had never met until our friendly conversation after the meeting at the German Historical Institute during which it turned out that many of our underlying views are not as far apart as his article in THE suggests. This response is not intended to undermine his high reputation or to cast doubt on his moral stances. However, his THE article was well below his normal high standards.
During his speech at the German Historical Institute, Evans commented that some of the prominent historians employed by German corporations to write about their wartime behaviour were too busy to do the research themselves or even to check the work of their junior co-authors and research assistants. A similar problem seems to apply to Evans himself. Some of the statements in his attack on me reflect an admitted failure to check sources and documents or a reliance on memory. His error in stating that Toepfer’s senior post-war employee Hans-Joachim Riecke had been convicted at Nuremberg stemmed from the fact that he was relying on his memory of a conversation held in the 1970s and had not taken the simple precaution of a check on the internet. His statement in defence of the official Toepfer history that Christian Gerlach’s draft chapter had “of course” been published as submitted by the author, as he told me, was not based on an examination of Gerlach’s drafts.
According to Evans, the official history of Alfred Toepfer published in 2000 had been “devastating”. The historical commission which had produced it included Hans Mommsen, “the leading German specialist on the Third Reich”. Apart from a few discoveries of my own, I had merely brought to the attention of a British audience facts that the foundation’s sponsored historians had previously revealed.
These are untenable points.
The official history of which Mommsen was one of the listed authors, far from being a devastating critique of the Hamburg millionaire, made relatively minimal concessions. The foundation’s “Independent Academic Commission” had been obliged to make them by previous revelations, mainly published in 1995 by a group of scholars based in Alsace and Lorraine.
The function of the official history was to put as favourable as possible a gloss on the uncomfortable facts revealed by Toepfer’s critics, while claiming virtue for admitting that most of the revelations had been correct. What Evans reports as a “devastating” verdict reads as follows:
“Alfred Toepfer was neither a promoter of the National Socialists before 1933 nor an enthusiastic adherent of the National Socialist regime in the 12 years that followed. He was never moved to become a member of the NSDAP or any of its affiliates. And he never shared the central objectives of the leading National Socialists; he was far from being a racist or anti-Semite. Demonstrative endorsement of the German Reich’s policy towards Jews or even individual joint responsibility for the ‘Holocaust’ cannot be imputed to him; he did not enrich himself with ‘Aryanised’ Jewish property. This explains why his de-Nazification process ended in the categorisation of ‘not incriminated’, particularly since he was released as a blameless, free man in 1947.”
In his laudatio for Toepfer at the 75th anniversary celebration of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation, Mommsen characterised him as one of the “great Europeans”.
Far from showing that my revelations were old hat, the 42-page, paragraph by paragraph analysis of my Standpoint article produced by Dr Jan Zimmermann showed the very opposite. On fact after important fact, Zimmermann admitted that the foundation’s researchers had been aware of them but had chosen not to publish them. Thus, not only was it wrong to argue that Standpoint merely republished material already revealed or acknowledged by the foundation, it was equally wrong for Evans to suggest in THE that the official history of 2000 and Zimmermann’s biography of Toepfer published in 2008 had not been bowdlerised.
Zimmermann provided a variety of excuses. Toepfer’s status as a sponsoring member of the SS had not been mentioned because it was a mere “detail” unconfirmed in German archives (though proven in British ones). Toepfer’s actions after the war to help SS Major General Lauterbacher to establish a clandestine life in Argentina had been left out for lack of space, as had been Toepfer’s assistance to SS Colonel Bickler while he was on the run from a French death sentence for war crimes. Far from exonerating the official history, which was its intention, Zimmermann’s analysis for the foundation shows that Mommsen had presented a misleading and incomplete version of the events concerning Toepfer’s application form for membership of the Nazi Party submitted in 1937. Other highly damaging matters omitted from the official history include documentation from 1937 published in 1999 by Professor Karl-Heinz Roth, which Mommsen dismisses in a footnote and does not reveal to the reader. There are at least 14 damaging pieces of evidence about which the foundation’s historians apparently were aware but which they did not reveal. In other cases, adverse facts were included only in footnotes or in obscure parts of the text.
Therefore Evans is mistaken in his claim in THE that the official Toepfer history was not bowdlerised, though it is not clear in all cases whether the omissions were made under pressure from the foundation or came from the foundation’s selected historians themselves.
Equally important are the omissions in the official history resulting from the failure of the “Independent Academic Commission” to conduct any systematic investigation into Toepfer’s activities and contacts after the war. It omitted to conduct a review of the background under the Nazis of those on Toepfer’s post-war payroll. The list of known Holocaust perpetrators employed and aided by Toepfer — already extensive and shocking — is probably incomplete. Then there are the Nazi ideologues, writers and historians whom Toepfer honoured with prizes and scholarships for many years after the fall of Hitler.
When Edward Heath, British Prime Minister at the time, received a prize in 1972 from Toepfer equivalent to eight years of his pay as a Member of Parliament, he may not have appreciated who some of Toepfer’s other prizewinners were. The Dutch historian Robert van Roosebroek was honoured while he was living in exile in Germany. A Dutch court had sentenced him to death for his wartime activities. In Austria, Alfred Quellmalz, Heinrich Zillich and Gertrud Fussenneger all received the Mozart Prize between 1969 and 1979. It is hard to decide which of these Mozart prizewinners was the most anti-Semitic or which had the most odious record. Fussenneger was a famous Austrian writer. An early Nazi, she had composed poems of hatred against the Jews of Prague. Zillich, a Transylvanian German writer, had been a prominent Nazi and anti-Semite whose associations with the far-Right continued after the war.
Evans’s statement that I had, in the main, merely recycled published material, is quite unjustified. There were some two dozen new pieces of information published in Standpoint, more in the footnoted German-language version in the Fahlbusch/Haar volume and still more in the formal memorandum to Oxford.
Evans’s assertion that there is no evidence of anti-Semitism on Toepfer’s part also follows Mommsen. When Evans writes that there is no example of an anti-Semitic statement by Toepfer, this is incorrect, incomplete and, more important, irrelevant. Toepfer’s links with Alfred Zander are not described in the official history. Zander was the Swiss Nazi who provided the main defence of the genuineness of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion in the celebrated Berne trial of 1934. Given the fact that — as admitted in the official history-Toepfer’s papers were weeded, Toepfer’s attitude toward Jews must be judged on the basis of his actions after the war, when he knew about the Holocaust, no longer had any self-interest in supporting leading Nazis and was free to distance himself from them. The fact that Toepfer went out of his way to give employment and aid after the defeat of Hitler to some of the most notorious mass murderers of Jews and to honour Nazi intellectuals is itself evidence of anti-Semitism.
It takes a considerable effort of the imagination to provide an alternative explanation of Toepfer’s courtship of top Nazis post-1945. Pogge von Strandmann writes that it is inexplicable. Evans chooses to believe a Toepfer manager who had himself held the rank of general in the SS and who wrote that Toepfer had sympathy for persons unjustly treated by Allied occupation forces. Evans is taking historical empathy too far when he writes that after the war, “Toepfer considered Nazi crimes to have been carried out by a tiny criminal clique, to which his friends did not belong. Regular Germans were not Nazis, he thought, and he was in a position to help the victims of ‘victors’ justice’.”
When such feelings result in support for the likes of SS Lieutenant General Best, SS Major General Riecke, SS Major General Lauterbacher, SS Brigadier Edmund Veesenmayer, and SS Colonel Hermann Bickler, the person who entertains them surely deserves to be called an anti-Semite.
Evans also risks descending a slippery slope when he agrees with Mommsen in suggesting that Toepfer’s apparent status as a “conservative” nationalist and racist who approved of Hitler’s rise to power clearly differentiated him from being a Nazi. This distinction leads to the further conclusion — adumbrated by Pogge von Strandmann as well as Evans — that the Toepfer brand of racialist nationalism was little different from that of such British imperialists as Cecil Rhodes.
In his attempted rebuttal of my article, Evans denies that Toepfer’s wealth after the war derived “from the supply of poison gas to Auschwitz, the employment of slave labour or anything similar”. He thereby reflects the contention of the chief executive of the foundation that “according to the current state of historical research, Toepfer overall did not benefit economically […]from WWII or the Holocaust.” The problem here is that this appears to fly in the face of the financial statistics supplied in a chapter of the official history itself, which show the wartime profits of Toepfer’s operation in Poznan (Posen). This was the city from which Toepfer’s company traded with the German administration of the Lodz ghetto.
Evans goes far out of his way in his article to minimise the implications of Toepfer’s wartime trade in Jewish suffering. He makes the improbable argument that Toepfer did not necessarily know what his manager in Poznan, Wilhelm Hochgrassl, was up to. Since Toepfer ran a family firm of which the Poznan branch was one of the most important parts during the Second World War and since the foundation’s surviving archives contain records of meetings between Toepfer and Hochgrassl, it is not credible that Toepfer was unaware of the trade with the Lodz ghetto. In reply to my questions following his THE article, Evans clarified that Toepfer “and his business certainly did profit from wartime activities, e.g. in Posen [Poznan].” I am grateful to him for this answer. It is a pity he did not write this in his THE article.
Some of the most important evidence about the Toepfer firm’s ghetto trade were supplied by a researcher at the Wannsee Institute in Berlin to Dr Christian Gerlach, then a junior academic employed by the Toepfer Foundation. It was by this route that Gerlach discovered and insisted on publishing that part of the trade consisted of the supply of caustic lime. Evans is correct in pointing out that this substance was not used exclusively to cover cadavers; it was used as well for building purposes. Similarly, Zyklon B had uses other than the gassing of Jews. However, Evans is unjustified in concluding that this uncertainty exonerates Toepfer. Assuming that the caustic lime and other materials supplied by Toepfer’s firm to the SS administration in Lodz were all of a non-lethal character, this still leaves the undisputed fact that the firm participated in a criminal enterprise which was a cruel and integral part of the Holocaust.
The attempt by the Toepfer Foundation and by Pogge von Strandmann to deny that Toepfer was a Holocaust perpetrator entails the improper argument that the “Extermination Through Work” of the Jews and gypsies in the Lodz ghetto, the second largest in Poland, was no part of the Holocaust.
As if all this were not enough, Evans resorts to euphemism, dubious interpretation, and misquotation. Verbal cleansing is a potentially dangerous feature of historical discourse on the Holocaust. When Evans refers to Toepfer’s post-war employee, SS Brigadier Edmund Veesenmayer, only as “a former senior German official in Hungary”, he thereby fails to mention that he was Nazi plenipotentiary in Budapest during the deportation of more than 430,000 Hungarian Jews, almost all to Auschwitz. He was Eichmann’s superior, though his private secretary, Barbara Hacke, attempted to deny this to the investigators at Nuremberg. Hacke then became Toepfer’s private secretary for a number of years. Evans’s bland reference to Veesenmayer in THE contrasts with the language he uses to describe Veesenmayer’s brutal record in a subsequent review article in a German academic journal.
Coming on to dubious interpretation, Evans states that the charges of tax evasion, on the basis of which Toepfer was arrested in 1937, were trumped up and were, in reality, an indication of his opposition to the Nazi regime. This conflicts with the conclusion of Zimmermann, one of the foundation’s sponsored historians and the author of the 42-page analysis of my Standpoint article which has already been mentioned. In that analysis, Zimmermann criticises me on the ground that my article presents the finding that Toepfer really was arrested mainly for tax evasion as if it were new. After the official history was published in 2000, writes Zimmermann, “it was clear that Toepfer was arrested above all for breaching currency exchange control regulations and not for political reasons. This was stressed recently in [Zimmermann’s biography of 2008] p 78f.”
Concerning misquotation, Evans writes that there is no evidence “to back Pinto-Duschinsky’s assertion that by moving currency between different countries —surely normal practice for an international businessman — Toepfer was aiding the Nazi regime.”
This is not what I wrote nor does it capture the point made in Standpoint. Under Hitler, Toepfer used his and his brother’s access to international sources of money partly for personal enrichment and partly for the benefit of the Nazi regime. It was their sources of money outside the Reich which were needed to make payments to grantees and prizewinners outside Germany. The problems of gaining permission to export money from the Reich for these purposes feature prominently in the archives relating to his foundations (including a letter in the archives of Oxford’s Taylorian Institute written by Reichsbank president Hjalmar Schacht).
If it is accepted that Evans and others have been unduly protective of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation, the reasons and implications of this need to be discussed. Concerning Evans himself, there are several possible explanations of his stance. In my experience, scholars genuinely underestimate the effects of personal connections and interests on their interpretations. Evans finds it hard to accept that he may be affected today by the fact that he benefited from a Toepfer scholarship some 40 years ago. He had won another scholarship as well; he did not need Toepfer’s largesse. All the same, he implies in his account in THE that he feels he has some explaining to do about his years in Hamburg as a graduate student, especially in light of his discoveries at the time concerning the dubious character of the Toepfer outfit and his failure to bring them to Oxford’s attention. Another reason for his defence of the official Toepfer history also appears to be his gallant reluctance to cross swords in public with the aged historian Hans Mommsen, despite the fact that Evans is known to be a critic of basic aspects of Mommsen’s interpretation of the Holocaust.
It needs hardly be said that persons, companies and institutions did not all act in the same way in Nazi Germany. Toepfer’s record was not that of the convicted war criminal Friedrich Flick, whose grandson and heir endowed the Flick Professorship in European Thought at Oxford in the 1990s. Oxford eventually returned his money, though its Ethics Committee defended that donation just as the Committee to Review Donations (the successor to the Ethics Committee) has recently backed the university’s association with the Toepfer Foundation. Evans is justified in pointing out that (as far as we know) Toepfer, unlike Flick, did not directly employ slave labourers. Nevertheless, Toepfer’s record was appalling. The derivation of some of the endowment used for the benefit of Oxford and Cambridge graduates is dirty. The course of action I requested was different from that regarding the Flick endowment. The appropriate way ahead regarding Toepfer’s money was a “Truth and Reconciliation” process including an apology. This was rejected amid divisions of opinion among Toepfer’s children and family. Toepfer’s daughter-in-law, who seemed to favour my request, died some months later.
A reason why some in Oxford were determined to defend Toepfer’s “Hanseatic Scholarships” was the need to protect valuable grants from foundations such as the Volkswagen Foundation. As Pogge von Strandmann pointed out in the Oxford Magazine, they too would be at risk if the university decided it could not continue its (admittedly informal) links with the Toepfer Foundation. The broader issues for other German foundations whose funds derived from Holocaust-related profits prompted the recent meeting at the German Historical Institute in London at which the head of the Volkswagen Foundation was a speaker and which senior officials of several other foundations (including the Toepfer Foundation) also attended.
The Association of German Foundations, currently chaired by the head of the Volkswagen Foundation, is looking to find a means to offer protection to its members against accusations such as those against the Toepfer Foundation. One idea is to establish a board which would set collective standards that would permit universities to accept grants from German foundations using money derived from the Holocaust.
The association argues rightly that a precondition of acceptability is for the companies from whose profits the foundations derive their endowments to open their archives relating to their activities in the Nazi era. This would be a welcome and long-overdue step. It would not be sufficient. It would not resolve the controversial issue of sponsorship by corporations of their own histories. However “independent” the historians chosen to write them may appear to be, it is doubtful whether sponsorship and independence can coexist. The history of Volkswagen, whose lead author was Hans Mommsen, was the subject of a running controversy in the Times Literary Supplement in the late 1990s. The volume attracted criticism of its meagre treatment of Volkswagen’s main atrocity, the murder of several hundred infants in the company’s baby home for the children of slave labourers at Ruehen.
The issue of grants to universities from Holocaust-tainted German foundations and corporations presents at least three major problems. First, in the frequent cases where they have benefited from Holocaust-era slave labour, neither universities, museums nor Jewish educational institutions can have a moral claim to their largesse as long as legal liability to the slave labourers continues to be denied and as long as payments to them and to their families are at the insulting level offered in the negotiations in the United States in the 1990s. A total of under £6,000 offered after a delay of more than 50 years for someone who was enslaved for years in ghettoes and concentration camps does not provide a resolution, especially since most members of the SS and their families have been entitled to so much more.
Second, even if such foundations provide money for good causes, including studies of the Holocaust, this may not repair some worrying trends in public opinion and in much elite opinion in Germany. There is too much evidence of the desire — perhaps natural — to dwell on German suffering and victimhood and to regard Nazi atrocities as comparable to many others. It is this desire which leads to “greywashing” and to concerted attacks against scholars who have ventured to be too bold in their critical analyses of Nazi Germany.
Third, there has been an unwise temptation, not least on the part of some Jewish scholars and institutions, to take advantage of financial offers from German institutions. It costs less and gains greater prestige for German companies and foundations to provide significant grants to a limited number of politically and academically prominent individuals and organisations than to accept the just claims of the mass of Holocaust victims.