In front of the former administrative building of the Topf & Söhne company of Erfurt - the Place of Remembrance today. Photo: Dirk Urban. Buchenwald Memorial

Industry and Responsibility - The crematoria ovens at Auschwitz

The seminar connects two historical places whose authentic remains link the past and present in a unique way and serve to stimulate the power of historical imagination.

Tthe former premises of Topf & Söhne in Erfurt, situated in the centre of a residential and commercial area, convey a sence of how the crimes committed under National Socialism were integrated into everyday life in German society. From the office belonging to Kurt Prüfer, chief engineer of the company's crematorium construction department, there is a view of Ettersberg hill to the north of Weimar, where the Buchenwald Concentration Camp was located.

The ovens built by Topf & Söhne are still in place at the Buchenwald crematorium, and today serve as both evidence of the crimes committed there and as a monument to the dead. Together with other vestiges of the former concentration camp, the crematorium ovens exemplify the human cost of Topf & Söhne’s work on behalf of the SS.

In the seminar, participants have access to the biographies of company managers, engineers, salesmen, and assembly workers. Through analyzing the decisions and actions of these individuals, seminar participants can examine the process by which ordinary citizens ultimately acted as collaborators with the regime. The history of Topf & Söhne thus offers participants an opportunity to reflect upon their own actions, and at the same time consider when and how they, too, might be called upon to accept responsibility for the consequences of those actions.