The current state of research is not a closed book. Nor is the consideration of how its findings are to be evaluated and what their implications are. The Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S.’s current employees and many of those associated with it continue to reflect on these matters. Individual external parties also approach the Foundation with questions about Alfred Toepfer’s biography, the Foundation’s history, and – occasionally – also the independence of this process of historical reassessment. The Trust meets these questions openly, supports research interests by providing access to historical source material, and does its best to establish a high degree of transparency when dealing with open questions and controversial evaluations. We are determined to neither relativise nor whitewash the founder’s activities, and we aim to allow all interested parties to find out about our history and come to their own conclusions.
The Foundation sees the starting point for its future work in the necessity of explicitly and openly acknowledging various facts which have been established by academic research, and to point out these facts to potential collaboration partners. These include difficult facts about Toepfer’s support of individual goals, persons, and organisations of the National Socialist regime, as well as continuities among individuals holding public office after the war. Especially important in this context are the following:
- Toepfer’s favouring and active support of the völkisch politics of the Third Reich, especially with a view to the German minorities ‘on the borders of the Reich’, as well as his intense support of German-nationalistic activities in Alsace.
- His intensive pursuit of contacts with individual leading representatives of the Nazi regime, among them Rudolf Heß, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and several other functionaries.
- His collaboration with, and support for, cultural activities and priorities of the Nazi regime, especially through cultural awards and related scholarships whose nature was compliant with the regime.
- His support for organisations which were either closely connected to the Nazi regime or even an integral part of it, for instance the VDA (Commission for Germans Abroad), for which Toepfer provided the Foundation’s Kalkhorst Estate as a school for regime-conform leadership training.
- His role as an officer in the Wehrmacht in 1940-45, especially his commercial efforts in France in 1943/44 to mobilise resources for the German war effort.
- Individual transactions by subsidiaries of the Toepfer firm in occupied Poland during the Second World War which delivered comestible goods and construction material to the ghetto administration of Lodz. In coming to terms with the Trust’s history, the historian Dr Christian Gerlach published the hypothesis that deliveries of slaked lime in this context had been used to cover mass graves of people murdered in this ghetto. However, further research has shown that this was not the case.
- Toepfer’s support for and employment of often high-ranking ex-functionaries or supporters of the Nazi regime in his enterprises in the post-war period, several of whom bore significant responsibility for the organisation and execution of the Holocaust in eastern and southeastern Europe, among them Edmund Veesenmayer, Kurt Haller, and Hans Joachim Riecke.
- In the context of his work with the Foundation, his long-time collaboration and professional relationships with other functionaries and scholars who supported or justified, in various ways and forms of activities, the Nazi regime, its military aggression, and its cruel racism during the period of the Third Reich, among them Konrad Henlein, Gustav Adolf Rein, Friedrich Metz, Johann Friedrich Blunck, and Georg Rauschning.
- His support for, or acquiescence in, a number of awards given by his Foundation after the end of the war to people who had either actively supported or justified the Nazi regime during the period of the Third Reich.
These findings of scholarly research are all the more challenging today for the Foundation and its employees because Toepfer, like many of his generation, never publicly broached the issue of his involvement in this or the post-war period, let alone admitted to personal guilt or mistakes. In fact, he dismissed his involvement on several occasions and presented certain aspects of his biography, even to close companions, as if he had been opposed to the regime or had at least adopted a personal critical distance.
An unqualified acknowledgement of these facts, as well as openness to new results of scholarly research, are therefore characteristic prerequisites of the Foundation’s work today. There is no question that the Trust distances itself from Alfred Toepfer’s involvement in the Nazi regime and his support for its representatives in the post-war period, and thoroughly deplores this.
References to Toepfer’s numerous merits as founder and patron in the post-war period cannot and will not relativise these facts. The same goes for the committee’s assessment that Toepfer was neither a member of the National Socialist party nor involved in war crimes or in the persecution of individual groups within the population. At the same time, it remains the task of the Trust to enable qualified and careful research into its history.
Today, the Foundation takes responsibility for its past mainly through the work of its programmes, in addition to its efforts to research and acknowledge historical facts. For example, the Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S. has detached itself from award programmes based on the notion of ‘cultural areas’, and has instead concentrated its resources for many years in support of artists, creatives, and scholars who stand for transnational exchange, intercultural encounters, and mutual understanding in Europe and beyond. The core concerns of the Foundation’s work today are supporting dialogue, encouraging exchange about and across differences, and affirming tolerance and understanding. This applies to the pan-European scholarship activities of the Trust, to the work of its programmes in culture and research, and to the granting of its awards, which in recent years have again and again recognised people who have engaged with history, questions of tolerance and understanding, and cultural diversity with persistence, courage, imagination, and academic excellence.
The family’s request to include the founder’s name in the name of the Foundation after his death is understood today not as an undifferentiated mark of respect but as an act of transparency with regard to the source of the Foundation’s assets.