Thursday, May 13, 2010

Greywashed (Alfred Toepfer Foundation in Oxford)

Newsletter 2010/05/07 - Greywashed

(Own report) - 65 years after Europe's liberation from Nazi fascism, the debate around one of the influential supporters of German expansion still continues: the businessman from Hamburg, Alfred Toepfer who died in 1993 and the foundation he created, the Alfred Toepfer Foundation FVS. In the 1930s, this foundation sought to enhance Nazi Germany's influence with cultural policy throughout Europe. Protests are growing louder in Great Britain against this foundation and its activities. Oxford University is discussing whether, in light of new information about Toepfer's post-war activities, the Toepfer sponsored scholarships for British students going to Germany, should continue to be accepted. According to new research by the historian Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, in the aftermath of World War II, Toepfer had supported Nazi war criminals to a much larger extent than had been previously known. The Foundation and the German media are taking Toepfer's defense against Pinto-Duschinsky’s accusations. Since the 1990s, critics have been complaining that it is unacceptable that a foundation whose founder supported Nazi expansion is again in his name engaged in cultural lobbying in those countries that were invaded by Germany.
The current dispute around Alfred Toepfer and the Alfred Toepfer Foundation FVS [1] was provoked by the historian Michael Pinto-Duschinsky's long cover story article, published in April by the British “Standpoint” magazine. The article describes important episodes in Toepfer’s Nazi past and his post-war support for Nazi criminals. Pinto-Duschinsky also describes how, already back in the 1930s, Toepfer began awarding prizes and scholarships to recipients in Great Britain - with the objective of reinforcing the influence of those who were cooperative with the Nazi Reich. He also reported how Toepfer again awarded prizes and scholarships to recipients in Great Britain in the aftermath of World War II to promote European unity. Prominent personalities in the British cultural scene were honored with Toepfer's "Shakespeare Prize", including Graham Greene, Harold Pinter and Doris Lessing. The exclusive prominence of the laureates, of whom "Standpoint" says, they had been fooled about Toepfer's Nazi past, lends particular brisance to Pinto-Duschinsky's research into the sponsor of the award.
Deportation of Hungarian Jews
Pinto-Duschinsky especially provides new information concerning Toepfer's post-war support for Nazi criminals. According to his research Toepfer's intervention on behalf of the former assistant of Edmund Veesenmayer, who had also organized with Adolf Eichmann, the deportation of Hungarian Jews, was much more engaged than had been previously known. In his enterprise, alongside Veesenmayers earlier advisor, Kurt Haller, who had helped the Arrow Cross Party come to power in Hungary, Toepfer had also employed Veesenmayer's former secretary, Barbara Hacke. Hacke was also involved when, in 1951, Toepfer's daughter, Gerda, sought to establish contact for a British historian, known to be an open anti-Semite, to Veesenmayer, who at the time was in prison. Veesenmayer himself, who, soon afterwards, was released from prison, came to realize that he too was back on Toepfer's payroll. Toepfer had also helped the former member of the SS, Hermann Bickler, while he was fleeing. Bickler had been condemned to death in France. Toepfer also aided the former SS officer, Hartmann Lauterbacher, to flee to South America.[2]
Pinto-Duschinsky considers that the Toepfer foundation must take the practical consequences of its founding father's Nazi involvement and support for Nazi criminals in the aftermath of World War II. At least his heirs and his foundation should make an unconditional apology.[3] But the foundation feels this is unnecessary. They insist that they have nothing to do with their founder's earlier denial, concealment and justification of Nazi activities and in the meantime have accepted "the necessity of a comprehensive confrontation with the past" as well as "the responsibility for their sponsor's involvement during the Nazi period."[4] Whereas critics have been saying, for years, that this responsibility can only be recognized when the Toepfer Foundation ends its cultural influence work in the European countries that had been attacked by Germany, the representatives of the foundation maintain that it suffices to inform each of the award laureates of the foundation's founding father's earlier involvement with the Nazis.[5] The idea of using the foundation's resources, not in the name of the sponsor of German overseas cultural influence, but rather to use the finances to support victims of the Nazi expansion promoted by Toepfer, does not figure among the plans of the foundation.
The dispute is currently being accentuated. Pinto-Duschinsky accuses the foundation of portraying Alfred Toepfer as "ambivalent", someone who had not participated in the Nazi crimes against humanity and whose Nazi "ties" had been redeemed though his European engagement. Pinto-Duschinsky calls this counter-balancing of the Nazi past with a later, positive activity, a "greywashing" and finds it much more dangerous than plain "whitewashing" and the denial of Nazi involvement. Not only the press [6] but also the prominent historian, Hans Mommsen, have been repeatedly taking the foundation's defense. For years, Mommsen has been defending this organization from criticism from elsewhere in Europe. Mommsen claims that, to judge Topfer's activities, including the supplying of slaked lime to the "Litzmannstadt" Ghetto to cover cadavers, Pinto-Duschinsky makes "generalized accusations and condemnations of guilt that span generations"[7].
Research Financiers
The constellation of those engaged in the conflict on the evaluation of German history is not new. They are known exponents of the German historian profession. In a sensational newspaper article back in 1999, Michael Pinto-Duschinsky sharply criticized the common practice in Germany, of companies financing scholars to do research into their Nazi pasts. The British historian simply expressed the opinion that finances create dependency, which impedes objectivity. This was refuted at the time, as it still is today, by Hans Mommsen. Mommsen had previously been financed by the Volkswagen Corp. to research the company's history. Critics saw his work as a very conciliatory handling of the carmaker's Nazi past. Mommsen complained that Pinto-Duschinsky's thesis of financial dependence engendering a content-related dependence, places the scholarly quality of his work on the history of Volkswagen into question.
Scholarship Program
Persisting in his thesis, Pinto-Duschinsky is apprehensive about research at Oxford University that benefits from the Alfred Toepfer Foundation scholarship program. At the moment, a committee has been formed at Oxford to decide whether scholarships should continue to be accepted, in light of Toepfer's Nazi past and Pinto-Duschinsky's research into Toepfer's post-war support for Nazi criminals. A meeting is scheduled for June 14, where a representative of the foundation has been invited to appear along with Pinto-Duschinsky. Oxford University media reminds that since the 1990s, Toepfer Foundation awards have had to be cancelled on various occasions in other European countries because of strong objections to the sponsor's Nazi activities.[8]