Regional events in Germany keep memories of the Holocaust alive | Germany| News and in-depth reporting from Berlin and beyond | DW | 27.01.2011
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Regional events in Germany keep memories of the Holocaust alive

In the town of Erfurt in the eastern German state of Thuringia visitors can now learn about the history of a local company that helped the Nazis pursue the mass killing of Jews.

Facade of exhibition building with slogan reading 'Always at your service'

Thuringia has pumped over one million euros into the exhibition

After nine years of thorough research, local activists in Erfurt have now opened a permanent exhibition on the site of the former 'Topf & Söhne' company – the very firm that produced the incineration ovens for the Nazi concentration camps in nearby Buchenwald, Auschwitz and others.

While management were not, it seems, staunch supporters of Hitler's mass extermination policies, the company did cooperate with the regime, particularly with the SS guards in charge of the concentration camps, and thus helped the Nazis kill millions of people.

Former Buchenwald camp seen through barbed wire fence

56,000 inmates died at the Buchenwald camp near Erfurt

The former office building of the company, which also houses the exhibition, has the slogan "Always at your service!" written right across it, and the firm seems to have lived up to this motto throughout the dictatorship.

"We present this company slogan without any comments attached," said Annegret Schüle, who is responsible for the concept of the display. "We want to show how natural it was for that firm to cooperate with the Nazis without any pressure."

Corporate culprits

Schüle says the slogan still has relevance today, as people should always be critical about who produced what, for whom and for which purpose. Research had shown that it took quite a long time after the end of World War II for the locals to start thinking of companies as perpetrators.

"After the war, many employees at the new firm felt offended when confronted with the issue," recalled Norbert Schneider, an apprentice in the successor company after the war. "They always said it would be mad to call their fathers criminals."

According to the organizers, the exhibition in Erfurt is the only place of commemoration of its kind in Europe about corporate involvement in Nazi atrocities, documented on the premises of a former company.

Euthanasia revisited

Index card box of the Nazis with records of mentally ill people

The Nazis kept index card boxes for people selected for euthanasia

Holocaust Remembrance Day was also marked at the Center of Neurology at Rostock's University Clinic on the Baltic coast. There, a group of physicians around Ekkehardt Kumbier has for years looked into what role their medical facility played under the Nazis. They found out that at least 46 former patients were deported from the clinic, as they fell under Hitler's euthanasia laws for mentally ill people.

"Dealing with the past is necessary, if you're trying to do the right thing in the current debates about euthanasia, which we've seen in some European countries, for instance for people suffering from dementia," Kumbier told Deutsche Welle.

"We have a duty to recall the euthanasia policy of the Nazis and must never forget the responsibility we have towards our patients."

Between 1940 and 1945, about 300,000 mentally ill people were killed in Germany. Another 400,000 were sterilized against their will.

Author: Hardy Graupner
Editor: Nicole Goebel

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