No house community with companies with a Nazi past

Hamburg’s culture of remembrance cannot be privatized – public-private partnership is not a solution!

After the ongoing scandal about the former Hamburg Gestapo headquarters in the town hall, here’s the next one: the Hamburg documentation center for the victims of deportations in ghettos, concentration and extermination camps is said to be in a building in which a Nazi perpetrator company is supposed to have its headquarters, which is majority owned by the IG Farben successor group BASF.

“Whenever there is talk of mental wounds and vulnerability, violence, injustice and helplessness are always discussed, as well as social and state responsibility.” (José Brunner, The Politics of Trauma, 2014)

For 15 years, Hamburg victims’ organizations and the Jewish communities have been accompanying the development of a memorial site for the more than 8,000 Hamburg residents who were deported from the Hanover train station to the concentration and extermination camps between 1940 and 1945. [i] The Hamburg Memorials Foundation and Places of learning, the cultural authority and the HafenCity Hamburg GmbH a place of remembrance here, which is supposed to commemorate the deportation of Jews, Roma and Sinti and other politically persecuted persons.

The Auschwitz Committee and groups of friends have been supporting the project of a place of remembrance for almost twenty years: since 2003 we have been dealing with the space of Hannoverscher Bahnhof and have tracked down the forgotten train tracks. With actions [ii] such as the vigil at Hamburg Central Station in December 2006, the Path of Remembrance in October 2007 and the Train of Remembrance in Spring 2008, we made the Hamburg public aware of the need for a memorial site.

We now had to learn from the newspaper that the oil and gas producer Wintershall Dea wants to move into an office building at Lohsepark in Hafencity with 500 employees from summer 2022. Years ago, a user contract (200 years) for the documentation center at Hannoverscher Bahnhof was signed for the ground floor of this new company headquarters. The CEO of Wintershall Dea, Mario Mehren, is quoted as follows: “With the new office building, which can be rented long-term, we have found offices that match Wintershall Dea”.

Esther Bejarano, survivor of the Auschwitz and Ravensbrück concentration camps, chairwoman of the Auschwitz Committee, on the other hand, says: “This is a company that doesn’t suit us! No memorial site under one roof with a company with this Nazi past! In our perception, this is not a suitable partner in this place.” We find it unacceptable that a Nazi successor group now wants to take its headquarters directly in the building in which the victims of the deportations are to be remembered. Because we have listened to the few survivors of these deportations. We know how their families have suffered with them. We know about their nightmares. We know about the intergenerational transmission of these traumas. We, the generations to come, have pledged to uphold the legacy of the victims and the persecuted: to be vigilant so that what happened then is never to be repeated.

The Wintershall Dea company does not fit into the Hannoverscher Bahnhof documentation center: During the Nazi era, the Wintershall company was not only part of the aggressive rearmament and warfare policy of the Nazi regime, but also, through its chairman of the board, Rosterg, was also a direct supporter of well-known NS before 1933 – Representatives such as Wilhelm Keppler and Heinrich Himmler (Freundeskreis Keppler / Freundeskreis Himmler). The Wintershall company profited from the “Aryanization”, took part in the looting policy of the countries occupied by the National Socialists and exploited thousands of prisoners of war and forced laborers in their factories. Wintershall Dea is now 67% owned by BASF, a successor to IG Farben AG, which built the first company-owned Auschwitz-Monowitz concentration camp and delivered Zyklon B to the extermination camps.

Wintershall AG dealt with its Nazi history late. The first, preliminary studies were published last year shortly before going public (Grieger, Köhler, Karlsch 2020 [iii]). Further investigations, including those on the fusion partner Dea, are to follow. Wintershall Dea GmbH is also involved in regional and local socio-political activities against the right. This engagement in the present is not to be criticized. But does that qualify this company to live in good neighborhood with a memorial dedicated to the victims and survivors of the Nazi tyranny?

After the town hall, the next public-private partnership (PPP) project is about to fail. Simply by the fact that investors freely ignore the interests of the public sector and interpret contractual regulations as required. The private interest usually outweighs the public one. Business people do business for the purpose of making money, corporate culture and image cultivation are often a means to an end, the pursuit of profit remains. That must be clear to everyone who leaves public and social tasks such as memorial work and remembering the victims of the Nazi tyranny to projects of the Public Private Partnership.

Completely incomprehensible is the behavior of the leasing investor, who ignorantly violated the agreement with the memorial and the Hanseatic City of Hamburg from 2019 without consultation. In this, the agreed right of permanent use between the investor and the authority for culture and media regulates that no user is in the building moves in, “which in the perception of the victims of National Socialism and their interest organizations (…) (1) conflicts with the purpose of the Documentation Center (…) or (2) is detrimental to the appearance of a memorial site” (§ 14.1).

We say NO to the rental to Wintershall Dea GmbH and demand the cancellation of the contracts. Do we have the courage and the decency and consider the perception of the survivors, their relatives and friends. The Hanseatic city simply cannot afford another scandal in which a memorial project that has been demanded for years is sinking into the swamp of the Hamburg public-private partnership!

Auschwitz Committee in the Federal Republic of Germany e.V.

The board of directors: Esther Bejarano (Chair) | Susanne Kondoch-Klockow | Helga Obens

[iii] Manfred Grieger, Ingo Köhler, Rainer Karlsch (2020): Expansion um jeden Preis Studien zur Wintershall AG zwischen Krise und Krieg, 1929-1945, Frankfurt am Main: Societäts-Verlag. Published: September 2020