Fresh doubts have been cast over Alfred Toepfer, the controversial German multi-millionaire whose foundation provides prizes for Oxford students.
An investigation carried out by Dr. Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, Britain’s leading expert on the funding of political parties and elections, has exposed evidence that Toepfer supported the Third Reich.
According to the investigation, Toepfer took known Nazi war criminals into his employment, and assisted a high-ranking SS officer to flee justice.
Toepfer set up the prestigious Shakespeare Prize in 1937, which has been awarded to numerous high profile British personalities, including Tom Stoppard, Simon Rattle and, more recently, Richard Dawkins. The Prize was discontinued in 2006.
The Alfred Toepfer foundation also works in cooperation with Oxford University on the Hanseatic Scholarship programme, an annual prize worth €15,000 for graduates or final-year undergraduates of Oxford or Cambridge. The prize was originally set up through a collaboration between German officials, and senior figures at the Taylorian institute, in an effort to promote Anglo-German relations.
The impact that these findings will have on Oxford University’s link to the Alfred Toepfer Foundation is as yet unclear.
A statement from the University says that Pinto-Duschinsky’s material “will be reviewed by a special sub-committee of Oxford University’s Committee to Review Donations comprising representatives from the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. The sub-committee will also consider the response of the Toepfer Foundation to these representations.”
The sub-committee will meet on June 14 with Pinto-Duschinsky and with the chief executive of the Alfred Toepfer foundation.
In 1993, 1996 and 1999, protests led to the abandonment of annual prizes awarded by the Universities of Vienna and Strasbourg.
No such decision was made at Oxford. The competition for the Hanseatic Prize was held last term, despite the ongoing review of Oxford’s position.
Among the findings published in the April issue of Standpoint magazine, Dr. Pinto-Duschinsky reveals that Toepfer was closely associated with numerous convicted Nazis, notably SS Brigadier Edmund Veesenmeyer, the German diplomat in Budapest during the Holocaust overseeing the deportation of Jews to Auschwitz.
Toepfer employed Barbara Hacke, the personal secretary to Veesenmayer from 1940-1945, as his own secretary, and Veesenmayer too was employed by Toepfer after his release from Landesberg castle, where he had been imprisoned for war crimes.
Pinto-Duschinsky’s investigations also describe the case of Hartmann Lauterbacher, a former SS Major-General and former head of the Hitler Youth. Lauterbacher was in hiding having escaped from Italian custody. A request was made that Toepfer contact an associate in Buenos Aires asking him to help Lauterbacher set up a new life in Argentina. A copy of Toepfer’s letter of recommendation, dated 2 October 1950, survives in the Alfred Toepfer Foundation.
The Foundation accepts the truth of all of these findings. Ansgar Wimmer, its CEO, told Cherwell, “for more than ten years this foundation has been actively trying to promote transparency and to face its past in a responsible manner. No one at our foundation today trivialises any aspect of Alfred Toepfer’s biography.”
In a letter to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Newspaper, Dr. Pinto-Duschinsky calls for the foundation to recognize the “unvarnished truth” about their founder. Arguing that “truth and apology are among the essentials of reconciliation”.
An apology on the part of the Foundation and Toepfer’s family has been refused, since, says Wimmer, “no public apology can undo Alfred Toepfer’s individual responsibility or lessen his moral guilt. I find the concept of ‘apologizing’ for someone else’s guilt erroneous and not helpful […] it is likely to present a quick and hollow escape from a far more profound responsibility to learn the lessons from the past for the future.”
In a letter to Pinto-Duschinsky published on its website, the foundation states that “as far as we know today, he did not participate directly or indirectly in the Holocaust, nor did he deny its existence.”
Toepfer was never a member of the Nazi Party, and reportedly did not profit from wartime activities, which included the supplying of slaked lime to cover bodies in the Lodz ghetto in occupied Poland.
Writing in the Standpoint, Pinto-Duschinsky warned of the danger of “greywashing” the Holocaust. He argued that “as long as the past is explained away, the moral basis for a new Europe cannot yet exist and British universities should not accept money tainted by denial”.
Some, however, question the significance of the findings. Tom Kuhn, a fellow of St. Hugh’s and member of the Selection committee for the Hanseatic Scholarships, says that “the long and the short is that there is nothing new in the Standpoint article. Most of what has been published before has been the product of research funded by the Foundation itself. In my view the Foundation has, in recent years, been exemplary in confronting the history of its founder and putting the facts in the public domain[…] I don’t think an apology is either here or there.” Most of the details on Toepfer in Pinto-Duschinsky’s article had already been published in 2000 in a biography of Toepfer.
“A boycott, of work aimed at international exchange and mutual understanding, does not seem a sensible way forward” said Kuhn.
When questioned about this, Pinto-Duschinsky replied that “to say that an apology for Toepfer’s odious acts is ‘neither here nor there’ is morally flippant. It is incorrect that there is nothing new in my publication. It reveals vital findings. And the case against the University’s involvement with the Toepfer foundation has nothing to do with an academic boycott.”
Many former students of Oxford are now having to come to terms with the fact that the source of funds from which they benefited are “severely tainted” by the history of their founding donor.
Daniel Johnson, Editor of Standpoint and former recipient of the Hanseatic Scholarship, said “Those who administered [Toepfer’s] legacy have a duty to offer an apology to all those who were misled” adding that “Oxford…can continue to endorse the Hanseatic Scholarships only if their problematic provenance is fully and openly acknowledged”.Toepfer died in 1993, aged 99.