JF Ptak Science Books Post 1745
The firm that produced crematroia for numerous Nazi death camps managed to stay in business in Wiesbaden until 1963.
What happened to the firm J.A. Topf & Sohn (of Erfurt), the company that supplied the mass incineration devices, the crematoria, used by the Nazis at concentration and extermination camps (from 1939-1945) including Auschwitz-Birkenau, Buchenwald, Belzec, Dachau, Mauthausen and Gusen ?
Well, in general, most of it dissolved, and the company's CEO, Ludwig Topf, committed suicide in May 1945.
Ludwig's brother--Ernst-Wolfgang, 1905-1979--however, escaped prosecution and re-started the company in the late 1940's, operating a crematorium business in Germany until the new Topf business went into bankruptcy in 1962. It sold mostly refuse/garbage grade incinerators, but, still, there it was.
[Circular for Topf describing the crematoria they constructed for the Nazis; of particular interest in this page is the entry for May 11, 1942, for a crematorium for "“continuousoperation corpse cremation oven for mass use". Source: here.]
The leaders of Topf firm would argue after the end of the war that they did not know what the crematoria were really being used for, despite numerous visits for site inspection and repair to Auschqitz and Dachau. Karl Pruefer, the original designer of teh ovens, revealed on interrogation by Soviet officials just after the war that "I have known since spring 1943 that innocent human beings were being liquidated in Auschwitz gas chambers and that their corpses were subsequently incinerated..." There can be little doubt that Topf knew exactly what was going on with their crematoria--in fact, at one point, Kurt Pruefer (pictured at left, in Soviet custody, undated, from Der Spiegel, Archiv) suggested that the use of his crematoria at the extermination camps actually saved lives by disposing of diseased corpses and preventing the spread of fatal diseases and epidemics.(The exact early reference was to preventing the spread of typhus in Buchenwald in 1939. The Nazis adopted a practice in some of the mostly-Russian camps in the East of introducing typhus-laden prisoners into general population so that the disease would spread and aid in the extermination of the camp inhabitants.)
The two Topf brothers claimed innocence for themselves and for their company; Ludwig committed suicide because he and his firm had done nothing wrong, and had felt beaten by lawless countries and did not intend to be taken captive by them; feeling that justifying his actions would be impossible, he killed himself on 30 May 1945. The text from his suicide note is below.1
The evidence against the firm was exceptional and substantial, an example of which (from the Nuremberg Trials, is seen below2), and their culpability overwhelming. I'm not sure how Ernst -Wolfgang was able to survive the various net that he managed to wiggle through (unlike a number of other of the firm's officials who wound up being captured by the Soviets and whisked away to cold justice far from Moscow), but he did; and not only that, but was able to start over in the business that he knew best, keeping it running until 1963, well into a time when it was recognized that the shell of buildings from his old business be kept intact as a memory to horror.
1) Farewell letter by Ludwig Topf, May 30, 1945 (excerpt, underlining in original) (from Topf und Sohne website)
"If I have made the decision to evade arrest it is for the following reason: I have lost all belief in any law in this world now that my family has also done me so much wrong and harm. If I am arrested, the greatest of all wrongs will be done to me. I never consciously or intentionally did anything bad; instead it has been done to me.
I was never cowardly – but I was proud. Handing myself over to the mercy or mercilessness of a foreign country is something I cannot do, because I have learnt the bitter lesson that there is no law and no decency left in this world. That is why I, as a decent person, today have one remaining opportunity to determine my fate as I see fit. And that means immediate departure from a world that in general has become unbearable, and in particular has persecuted and wronged me."
"If I ever believed that my innocence as far as the crematoria are concerned (and my brother is just as innocent) would be recognized and honoured, I would continue to fight for justification, as I always have until now – but I think people need a sacrifice. In which case the least I can do is provide it myself. I was always decent – the opposite of a Nazi – the whole world knows that. If I were still able to feel at peace in the heart of a family, the struggle would be worthwhile – but the Topf family that showed composure, integrity and self-confidence has ceased to exist. I was its sole representative as far as that was concerned. Indeed I am so alone that I have no need to ask anyone's forgiveness, not even for a suicide."
2) From the Nuremberg Trials, Day 193, 2 August 1946 [Source, Yale University, Project Avalon]:
"In the office records of the Auschwitz Camp there was discovered a voluminous correspondence between the administration of the camp and the firm of Topf and Sons. Among them the following letters:
" 'I. A. Topf and Sons, Erfurt; 12 February 1943.
" 'To Central Construction Of lice of SS and Police, Auschwitz.
" 'Subject: Crematoria 2 and 3 for the camp for prisoners of war.
" 'We acknowledge receipt of your wire of 10 February, as follows:
" 'We again acknowledge receipt of your order for five triple furnaces, including two electric lifts for raising the corpses and one emergency lift. A practical installation for stoking coal WAS also ordered and one for transporting the ashes. You are to deliver the complete installation for Crematorium Number 3. You are expected to take steps to ensure the immediate dispatch of all the machines complete with parts.' "
"I omit the next document which deals with "bath-houses for special purposes" (gas chambers), and present to the Tribunal as Exhibit Number USSR-64 (Document Number USSR-64), a document which is appended to the report of the Yugoslav Government. This is a certified photostat of a document externally having all the official character of a business document from a "sound business firm." The name of the firm is Didier-Werke. The subject of the correspondence-the construction of crematoria "designed for a large camp in Belgrade." The document presented by me characterized the firm Didier as a firm with considerable experience in construction of crematoria for concentration camps and which advertised itself as a firm that understood the demands of its clients. For placing the bodies. into the furnace, the firm designed a special conveyer with a two-wheeled shaft. The firm claimed that it could fill this order much better than any other firms, and asked for a small advance, to draw up draft plans for the construction of a crematorium in the camp.