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Questioning history

Transparency as a guiding principle

The Hamburg businessman Alfred Toepfer established the F.V.S. Foundation in 1931; after his death in 1993, it was named after its founder. The inclusion of the founder's name in the name of the foundation, as requested by the family, is not understood today as an undifferentiated show of respect, but as an act of transparency regarding the origin of the foundation's assets. Due to its long history, the Foundation feels a special responsibility to research its work and the cultural, political and business activities of Alfred Toepfer and to make them transparent to the public. For scientific research on the history of Alfred Toepfer, his foundations and enterprises, the Toepfer Foundation makes resources available upon request, the allocation of which is subject to independent review.

Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S. - Geschichte

The state of research as well as the reflection on the evaluation and the consequences of the research results is not a completed process. Those working for the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. today and many of its companions are in continuous reflection on this. Individual third parties also ask the Foundation questions about Alfred Toepfer's biography, about the history of the Foundation and - occasionally - about the independence of the process of historical reappraisal. The Foundation meets these questions with openness, supports research interests with access to historical sources, and strives to establish a high degree of transparency regarding open questions and controversial assessments. It is our urgent concern to neither relativize nor downplay the activities of the founder and to enable all interested parties to learn about the history and make their own assessments.

As a starting point for the further work of the Toepfer Foundation, it first sees the need to explicitly and transparently acknowledge various facts ascertained in the course of scientific research and to point them out to potential cooperation partners. These include irritating facts about Toepfer's support for individual objectives, persons and organizations of the National Socialist regime as well as about personnel continuities in the post-war period.

In this context, particular mention should be made of:

  • his sympathy and active support for the "Volkstumspolitik" of the "Third Reich", especially with regard to the German minorities "at the borders of the Reich", as well as his support for German-national activities in Alsace

  • his intensive efforts to establish contacts with individual leading representatives of the Nazi regime, including Rudolf Hess, Joseph Goebbels, Heinrich Himmler, and various other functionaries

  • his cooperation with - and support for - cultural activities and priorities of the Nazi regime, in particular by organizing cultural award activities in conformity with the regime, as well as scholarships related thereto

  • his support for organizations that were either closely associated with the Nazi regime or even integral to it, such as the VDA, to which Toepfer made the Kalkhorst estate of the F.V.S. Foundation available as a "Reichsführer school

  • his role as a Wehrmacht officer in the Abwehr from 1940 to 1945, here in particular his economic efforts to mobilize war-essential funds for Germany in France in 1943/1944

  • individual transactions of subsidiaries of the Toepfer Group in occupied Poland during the Second World War, which supplied food and building materials to the Lodz ghetto administration. The assumption published by the historian Dr. Christian Gerlach in the course of the historical reappraisal of the foundation's history, that "slaked lime" delivered in this context was used to cover mass graves of people murdered in the ghetto, has in the meantime been proven incorrect by further research

  • the hiring - and thus support - of some high-ranking former functionaries or supporters of the Nazi regime in its undertakings after the end of the war, some of whom bore significant responsibility for the organization and implementation of the Holocaust in Eastern or Southeastern Europe, including Edmund Veesenmayer, Kurt Haller, Hans Joachim Riecke

  • a long-standing cooperation and working relationship in his foundation's work with other officials and scholars who in various forms or through various activities supported or justified the Nazi regime, its military aggressions as well as its cruel racism during the time of the "Third Reich," such as Konrad Henlein, Gustav Adolf Rein, Friedrich Metz, Johann Friedrich Blunck or Georg Rauschning

  • his support for or toleration of awards made by his foundations after World War II to people who either actively supported or justified the Nazi regime during the time of the "Third Reich."

Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S. - Geschichte

These scientific findings are all the more irritating for the Foundation and those working there today because after the Second World War, Toepfer, like many of his generation, never publicly addressed his own entanglements during this period or the post-war period or even admitted his own guilt or personal mistakes. Rather, Toepfer on various occasions denied his own involvement and presented aspects of his biography, even to his closest companions, as if he had been an opponent of the regime, or at least with a critical personal distance.

An unrestricted acknowledgement of the aforementioned facts and an openness to new scientific research findings are therefore particularly important prerequisites for the Foundation's work today.

References to Toepfer's numerous and comprehensive merits as a benefactor and patron in the post-war period as well as the fact that, according to the findings of the commission, Toepfer was neither a member of the National Socialist party nor involved in war crimes or the active persecution of individual sections of the population should not and cannot relativize these facts. At the same time, it remains the task of the Foundation to promote a qualified and differentiated approach to history.

In addition to this effort to research and acknowledge the results, the Foundation today primarily assumes responsibility for history through its programmatic work. For example, the Toepfer Foundation has moved away from the earlier award program based on the notion of "cultural spaces" and has instead focused its resources on supporting artists and scholars who stand for cross-border exchange, intercultural encounter, and understanding. Promoting dialogue, encouraging exchange, and strengthening tolerance are core concerns of the foundation's work today. This applies to the Europe-wide scholarship activities, to the program work as well as to the prizes, with which in recent years people have repeatedly been honored for their persistent, courageous, imaginative and professionally outstanding approach to history and their commitment to tolerance, understanding and cultural diversity.

History of the founder and the institution

Alfred Toepfer Stiftung F.V.S. - Geschichte

Alfred Toepfer was born in 1894. In the 1920s, he built up a trading company for agricultural products with great success, and in 1931 transferred its profits to the F. V. S., named presumably after the Prussian reformer and Baron vom Stein. His political ideas at this time were characterized in particular by the cultivation of foreign Germanism, the promotion of a youth movement close to nature, and economic liberality.

Toepfer did not become an enthusiastic supporter of National Socialism after 1933. In many details, however, Toepfer's support for individual goals, persons and organizations of the National Socialist regime can be proven, as is stated in the publications. In 1938, he withdrew from the company due to problems with the financial administration, and was also briefly imprisoned for this reason.

From 1940, Toepfer served in the Wehrmacht, initially in the Abwehr, later in foreign exchange procurement. After the war, he was initially interned, but in the subsequent denazification proceedings he was classified as "not incriminated" and resumed entrepreneurial and philanthropic work.

Toepfer founded the F.V.S. zu Hamburg Foundation on December 5, 1931, and played a key role in shaping the foundation's fortunes until his death in 1993.

Due to its history dating back to 1931, the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. has a special responsibility to research the cultural, business and political activities of Alfred Toepfer and his foundations. The reappraisal of the history of the foundations from their beginnings to 1945 by a scientific commission (published in 2000) and the reappraisal of the history of individual foundation awards since the 1950s (published in 2003) laid a foundation for this. A comprehensive examination of the debate about Toepfer's role during the Nazi period as well as the postwar period, which provides an overview of various positions and lines of discussion, can be found in the book by Richard J. Evans The Third Reich in History and Memory (Oxford University Press, 2015). In the chapter "The Fellow Traveller" (pages 206 to 238), Evans, Regius Professor of History at Cambridge, not only describes his encounters with Alfred Toepfer and his foundations, but also deals extensively with the controversy surrounding foundation history.

The debates on the history of the foundation

The history of the F.V.S. Foundation and the biographical stages of the founder Alfred Toepfer remain the subject of academic research and critical monitoring of the Foundation's activities. We make the debates on the history of the foundation public on this page. We are open to and grateful for further suggestions on how to deal responsibly with our history.

The history of the foundation and the work of Alfred Toepfer have so far been expertly researched by a manageable number of historians. The conclusions drawn from the research results remain the subject of debate among historians, as do the approaches to individual research subjects. Two levels in particular play a role in these debates: individual aspects of content, which are assessed differently by researchers. Under methodological aspects, the question of the independence of the research commission is repeatedly brought into the field. Both aspects play a role in the publications and interventions of Dr. Michael Fahlbusch, a geographer researching in the field of history of science, and Lionel Boissou, a publicist interested in history. In addition, the political scientist Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky conducted research on Alfred Toepfer and his philanthropic and entrepreneurial activities in Great Britain in 2010. Pinto-Duschinsky was particularly concerned with whether and to what extent Toepfer still maintained contact with National Socialist decision-makers after 1945 and employed such persons in his companies.

The Foundation supports research and other serious research projects to the best of its ability by providing access to archives and by arranging preliminary research. With this in mind and in order to enable further scientific research, the Carl Toepfer Foundation transferred its Alfred Toepfer Archive to the independent Hanseatic Business Archives Foundation in spring 2010.

Publications on the scientific reappraisal of the foundation's history

The history of the Alfred Toepfer Foundation F.V.S. and its founder is the subject of various scientific studies and public debate.

The following publications illuminate Alfred Toepfer's work from different perspectives. With the exception of the biography of Alfred Toepfer by Jan Zimmermann and the history of the Shakespeare Prize by Jürgen Schlaeger, they were published by Christians Verlag. Since the publishing house has meanwhile ceased its activities, they are unfortunately only available in limited numbers in bookstores, but can be consulted in many public libraries. If interested, single copies can also be obtained from the Toepfer Foundation against a prepaid envelope:


Uta Gielke Program Management Culture Head of Communication

+49 40 33 402 – 14gielke@toepfer-stiftung.de