Topf & Soehne

Production for the german delusion for extermination

From 1878 to 1948 the company Topf & Soehne did business in the squatted industrial area. During the period of National-socialism in Germany this company produced crematories as well as parts of the gas chambers for concentration- and extermination camps. Another part of the squatted area was owned by company Linse, which produced the elevators that were used to transport the corpses from the gas chambers to the combustion furnaces where the corpses were burnt.

The company J. A. Topf Soehne was founded in 1878 in Erfurt by J.A. Topf, who researched on the improvement of industrial combustions. His sons Ludwig and Wolfgang took his position in 1935.

The main domains of the company were, besides the production of facilities for industrial combustions, the fabrication of machineries for equipping breweries, facilities for silos, building of smoke pipes, as well as attachements like gas-proof windows and doors. During the 1st World War the company had a great success with high-performance combustion, that allowed an economic burning of brown coal. A small department for development and manufacturing of furnaces for crematories became part of the company soon. Whereas Topf & Soehne had a worldwide leading position in fabrication of engines for breweries and building storages until 1940, the manufacturing of furnaces for crematories still was a marginal business.

Nevertheless Topf & Soehne was a technical precursor on this field, and worked continously on better technics for cremation. Cremation came up at the end of the 19th century again and since the 1920s it was considerable widespread, especially in the scandinavien countries but also increasingly on the middle-european continent. Since 1920 Topf & Soehne supplied local crematories in Germany and the whole world. Even 1945 a cremation furnace was delivered to the USA.

Until the 1940s there was an atmosphere in the company which was positive for innovative developments and there was a high number of pending patents in all business domains. The organisation was solid, the management was young und the company endured the years of the 2nd World War, although there were some decreases in liquidity. At these years the company employed more than 100 special-engineers and technicians and produced more than 7000 facilities all over the world, which were often assembled and optimized on the spot.

In the 1940s Topf & Soehne decided to cooperate with the SS. The company produced deaerators for the gas chambers in Auschwitz and developed capacious, effective cremation furnaces for Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau and other concentration camps of the germans. This domain earned only 3 percent of the whole business volume, which shows that by no means this production was fundamental for the survival of the company. Also there is known nothing about pressure applied from above, or about forcing the company to sign contracts - far from it: the company tried to play of the company Kori from Berlin. The management took every opportunity which opened up with state-run orders. At the same time the employees of the company knew what they were doing. All facilities were installed and repaired on the spot by engineers of Topf & Soehne. On his own initiative engineer Kurt Pruefer developed proposals to better the killing mechanics. It can be considered as assured that the employees of the company knew about the intended purpose of the orders, at the latest since January 1943. It can be assumed, that the persons in charge favoured the goals of the german government.

After the 2nd World War most of the responsible engineers and employees of Topf & Soehne were imprisoned and adjudged by soviet officers. Ludwig Topf killed himself before he could be arrested. Ernst-Wolfgang Topf fled to Wiesbaden and re-founded the company again in 1951, but it was closed 12 years later. In Erfurt the company was disseized by the soviet occupying power and continued their existance under the new name "Nagema Topfwerke Erfurt VEB" with a restricted range of products. (The production of cremation furnaces was displaced to Zwickau.)

The squatters not only drew attention to this old industrial area in Erfurt, but also took responsibility - the place calls for looking critical at national-socialism and antisemitism, at the german attitude to work and acquittal. Most of the squatters already have been active in working for antifascist, antiracist and other left-wing initiatives. Therefore versatile antifascist events (like lectures, movies, discussions) already took place during the first few weeks. Likewise, antifascist actions like the mobilization against an intended demonstration of neo-Nazis and the remembrance for the fire-assault aimed at the synagogue of Erfurt, were organized in the squat. Similarly non-commercial concerts and parties took place. Events, where not the profit, but the fun of it, is why we organize it. The area evolved into a meeting point of an alternative szene and therefore it stands symbolically against the proper german normality. We want to extend this as well as we want to reconstruct the squatted house. We plan to establish a cafe and a soup kitchen as well as rehearsal rooms for bands.