Toepfer (right) opposite Hitler's deputy Rudolf Hess in 1939.
Alfred Toepfer was one of postwar Germany’s leading businessmen and philanthropists. His fortune stemmed from his Hamburg-based grain and shipping company, which was a powerful engine of his country’s economic boom in the 1950s and ’60s. Through a series of foundations (the principal one now bears his name), he ploughed his money back into a host of prizes, scholarships and grants, many of them celebrating the idea of a united Europe. “Alfred Toepfer was one of the most successful German entrepreneurs of all time,” noted the historian Professor Hans Mommsen at the Alfred Toepfer Foundation’s 75th birthday celebration.
Throughout the post-war period Toepfer was refererred to as a "man of freedom".
However the reality is quite different.
In the years leading to the Second World War, Alfred Toepfer was a “sponsoring member” of the SS who was enormously helpful to Hitler. He channelled money via his foundations to influence public opinion in Britain and elsewhere in Europe in favour of the Third Reich and played an important role in Nazi subversion in Austria, the Czech Sudetenland, Alsace-Lorraine and elsewhere. During the war, his company supplied slaked lime to the German ghetto administration in the Polish city of Lodz.
Toepfer published a financial report showing he was in lockstep with Nazi foreign policy: “For Britons, the world; for the Germans, the leadership of the Continent.” By courting and lulling British opinion-formers, Germany would be freer to carry out its aggressive aims against Austria, Czechoslovakia and France. In 1936, Goebbels praised Toepfer in his diary as a clever, generous and enthusiastic patron.
Toepfer’s cryptically named FVS and JWG Foundations existed to award lucrative prizes to leading European intellectuals. In Britain, a newly-created “Shakespeare Prize” was awarded in 1937 to Ralph Vaughan Williams. On the Continent, most members of the prize juries and most of the prize-winners were Nazis. They included prominent intellectual godparents of the Holocaust as well as pro-Nazi activists in countries across and beyond Germany’s existing borders. Prize-giving ceremonies were swastika-clad gatherings of Hitler’s elite supporters. Joachim von Ribbentrop, Hitler’s Foreign Minister, was a patron of Toepfer’s Hanseatic Scholarships for Britons.
With the takeover of Austria and the Sudetenland successfully completed before the end of 1938, Toepfer busied himself with subversion in Alsace-Lorraine and elsewhere. He ran this operation using money parked in Liechtenstein, with a board headquartered in Basle, Switzerland, and a foundation based at Freiburg-im-Breisgau, in close reach of Alsace-Lorraine.
By this time, Toepfer’s younger brother Ernst was living in Switzerland, having previously gained US citizenship after spending several years running a New York branch of the business. This made it easier to transfer money across international borders. Ernst Toepfer ( died of natural causes in 1941) had been secretary of the pro-Nazi “Wehrwolf” organisation in New York City in the late 1920s. In the 1930s, he had acted as chauffeur and bodyguard for Sepp Schuster, leader of the New York City Nazis. The Toepfer brothers’ main agent in Switzerland was Eugen Wildi, a lawyer and member of the Swiss fascist “National Front” who had transmitted Nazi funds to Alsace-Lorraine since the 1920s.
Hitler’s triumph at Munich heightened alarm among Swiss politicians about German subversion in their own country. Within weeks, the Swiss police arrested Wildi. Their worst suspicions were confirmed when they found papers showing that he was on the board of the Toepfers’ JWG Foundation alongside Henlein and senior Austrian Nazis. Ernst Toepfer’s US passport was confiscated and his bank account blocked. The Swiss Federal Attorney General approached the US legation in Berne, which sent a series of communications to Washington in November 1938 outlining Swiss suspicions about the subversive character of the Toepfer foundations. Charges were then brought against the two Toepfer brothers and several suspected Nazi agents operating from German territory. The Swiss authorities alleged too that an Austrian associate of the Wildi-Toepfer circle, the former head of the VDA Dr Hans Steinacher, had previously been involved in smuggling bombs into Austria before the Anschluss.
In France, the security services were observing the Toepfers’ grantees. On 28 April 1939, a senior official in the Bas-Rhin department identified two Toepfer board members, Danish pastor Johannes Schmidt-Wodder and Wildi, as “very active agents of the German special services”.
The French had good reason for concern. Toepfer board member Hermann Bickler headed an autonomist political party in Alsace. After the Nazis overran France, he became an SS colonel, Nazi Kreisleiter (district leader) in Strasbourg and then one of the heads of the Sicherheitsdienst (the SS intelligence service) in Paris. He headed the division responsible for protecting and promoting Nazi double agents within the French resistance.
At the outbreak of war, Alfred Toepfer’s skills in deception made him a good candidate for the Abwehr (military intelligence). He was stationed mainly in Paris in a section responsible for subversion and sabotage.
Toepfer was interned by the British for two years after the war but released. His business skills were needed by the new West Germany and he skilfully remodelled himself as an anti-Nazi interested only in building a new Europe. In reality, his closest henchmen were unrepentant Nazis who had been key figures in murdering hundreds of thousands of Jews and in starving to death countless numbers of Russian prisoners of war.
Toepfer retained his wartime profits and rapidly expanded his grain business, building a considerable fleet of ships for the purpose. From the late 1940s, he used his wealth to run a double life. On the surface, he was politically correct, announcing his conversion to the idea of a united Europe. He restarted his highly funded prizes, now taking care to include a smattering of Jews in the winners’ roster.
He was extraordinarily generous and close to some of the most senior and most rabidly anti-Semitic members of the old political order. By giving prizes mainly to famous writers, architects and artists, Toepfer made it respectable to bestow other awards on Nazi associates and a series of anti-Semitic, völkisch (racist) writers and scholars.
Kurt Haller, Toepfer’s in-house legal counsel from 1947 until his death in 1961, had been one of the main players in the Nazi intrigues that brought the Arrow Cross to power, the party of Hungary’s Nazis.
Once in control, Arrow Cross hooligans inflicted unspeakable cruelties on Budapest’s Jews. Many thousands of the last surviving Jews perished in the weeks before the Russians liberated the capital. After the war, Haller bamboozled his British interrogators, trading information about his earlier Abwehr operations with the IRA for silence on his Holocaust activities.
In 1951, Toepfer recruited SS Major-General Hans-Joachim Riecke. He held senior positions in Toepfer’s company and his main foundation until 1976. A Nazi state secretary in the Food Ministry, Reichstag deputy and a senior member of the staff in occupied Eastern Europe of Alfred Rosenberg (Reich Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories), he had been one of those mainly responsible for plans to starve the local population. The deaths of hundreds of thousands of Russian POWs were on his hands. The truth is that all three of Toepfer’s closest staffers-his senior executive, his legal counsel and his personal secretary-were parties to mass murder.
In September 1950, Toepfer received a coded request for a private meeting with the brother of Hartmann Lauterbacher, a former SS Major-General, former deputy head of the Hitler Youth and gauleiter. Toepfer had known him since the mid-1930s. In 1950, Lauterbacher was in hiding, having escaped from Italian custody. His brother evidently requested that Toepfer contact an associate in Buenos Aires requesting him to help Lauterbacher and his “large circle of friends” to set up a new life in Argentina. A copy of Toepfer’s letter of recommendation, dated 2 October 1950, survives in the Alfred Toepfer Archive.
Lauterbacher boarded a ship to Buenos Aires a few weeks later, following the same route taken by Adolf Eichmann during the same year. Subsequent reports identify Lauterbacher as one of the main organisers, together with Otto Skorzeny, of Die Spinne (The Spider), the escape organisation for members of the SS. Evidently, Lauterbacher was more concerned to develop the Argentina ratline for other wanted Nazi officers than for himself. He was soon in Egypt where he was reportedly part of a group of Nazis sent, with the connivance of West German intelligence, to train anti-Israel guerrillas (read Islamic Terrorists).
Toepfer gave financial help and support to many other Nazis, whom he considered as victims of Allied — especially British — brutality. He complained repeatedly about his own prewar internment by the British and about the fact that he had been questioned by a “Jewish officer”, though there is no evidence that he was in any way ill treated. He helped to fund SS Lieutenant-General Werner Lorenz’s defence before the US military tribunal in Nuremberg. He entertained and assisted SS Lieutenant-General Werner Best. Apart from his senior role in the Gestapo, Best had participated in thousands of murders in Poland and had been Germany’s plenipotentiary in occupied Denmark. Soon after his release, Best was implicated, along with Veesenmayer, in a neo-Nazi plot uncovered in 1953 by the British occupying authorities.
In 1972, the then British Prime Minister, Edward Heath, received the first Toepfer European Prize for Statesmanship, accompanied by a cheque for 300,000 Deutschmarks (more than £300,000 in today’s money). Toepfer, in turn, was made an honorary Commander of the Order of the British Empire. When Toepfer died in 1993 aged 99, Heath and the former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt — another Toepfer prizewinner — delivered two of the funeral orations.
Whether or not you are Euro-sceptic, history itself proves that Heath knowingly lied to the British electorate about the EEC, calling it merely a 'trade agreement'. Documents have since come to light proving that the EEC was planned since its very conception as a european superstate, with one currency and one foreign policy.
Toepfer with Edward Heath receiving his Toepfer prize
Heath even arranged pro-EEC propaganda versions of popular British TV programs before putting his deceptive proposition to the electorate.
Bearing in mind Toepfer's past subversive efforts, and Heath's Toepfer prize, do we need to state the obvious?
Thanks to Michael Pinto-Duschinsky for his exhaustive research.