Topf & Shne company: the engineers of the death ovens

Company Topf & Sons
:The engineers of the death ovens

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  • Anetta Kahane

Survivors of the former concentration camp Auschwitz attend a memorial service.

Survivors of the former Auschwitz concentration camp participate in a commemoration ceremony on January 27, 2019, on the occasion of the 74th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. (Symbol image).


dpa / Damian Klamka

I never met my grandfather. He was an engineer. Actually a respectable profession. His family, of course, had expected more from him. His uncle all had doctorates, some were even professors. My grandfather did not succeed in such a career. Why that was so, I do not know exactly.

History work in the GDR

He did not have a good start in life because his mother, who was so beloved by the family, died shortly after birth. Somehow, something of the child’s unhappiness remained. There was no reproach in the eyes of his family, more of a sense of lostness with which the boy grew up.

On the day when the big ceremony took place on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Weimar constitution, I went to Erfurt to hold a seminar there for students. It was about history. Because the fact that work-up in West Germany was too late and little done distracts the view that the GDR did not want to know much about it.

With the declaration, from now on to be an anti-fascist country, has left, which constitutes work-up. The difficult and painful memory, complicity or tolerance of crimes in their own environment was not spoken. In the East of Germany, we explained to the students, as many cheered the downfall of the Weimar Republic as in the West and just as many put Hitler after their arm. War of annihilation and destruction, the systematic mass murder of the Jews formed the legacy of the postwar period, even in the East.

Death ovens for the engineers consisted only of technical data

The seminar took place at the place of remembrance pot and sons, which was set up only in 1993. Visible from afar, on the corner of the house is the quote “Always busy for you …”. From the outside, the writing marks the jobs of those engineers who worked to construct the best possible industrial combustion technology for burning the victims of the genocide in Auschwitz. Topf & Shne played a key role in the construction of the death factories in Auschwitz-Birkenau. And how self-confidently she faced the SS is shown in the spirit of the servility of this sentence.

The inscription irritated me. That should be her too. She looks cynical. Precisely because all cynicism was alien to the engineers back then. The death ovens passed for them from technical data. Not for a moment did they care about the people who were to be burned there. They were not for her.

The company Topf & sons did their part

The guided tour through the exhibition after the seminar also took my breath away and made me angry. Every document, every photograph, bears witness to the coldness of the people in this industrial machine of annihilation. It also shows that everyone, including the workforce, was absolutely clear about what they were doing.

I do not know how my grandfather really was, certainly a complicated person. I would have liked him in any case, because children love their grandfathers. In 1943 the family was dragged out of their apartment in Berlin-Charlottenburg, he, his second wife and the children. The date of the deportation, the arrival in Auschwitz and her death are meticulously recorded on a list. The zealous, callous engineers of Topf and Sons from Erfurt did in the end theirs.