"In Auschwitz there weren’t devils and human beings; there were human beings and human beings," the Polish former inmate of Auschwitz and Buchenwald Józef Szajna once said. The human beings who desired, established and operated the camp, and the human beings – ultimately more than a million – who were killed there. In the crematoria for the genocide of the European Jews and Sinti and Roma gypsies, the engineers of J. A. Topf & Sons constructed the ventilation systems for the gas chambers and the ovens for the incineration of the corpses. In no other civilian setting were the practical questions revolving around the industrial annihilation of human life as strongly present as in this Erfurt company – in the form of orders, work, and technical challenges. On 27 January 1945, Auschwitz was liberated by Soviet troops. On 27 January 2011, the Topf & Sons – Builders of the Auschwitz Ovens Place of Remembrance was opened on the former company grounds. Erfurt, the capital of the State of Thuringia, thus acknowledges its responsibility towards history and preserves a historical place of learning along with the unique potential offered by this site for reflection on ethical aspects of work and economic activity.
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- Text: Henny van Loenen
- Photos: Henny van Loenen