No Future without Remembrance
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As a responsible company, Bayer wants to foster resilience against antisemitism and other totalitarian ideologies to prevent history from repeating – today and tomorrow. That is why we are driving extensive initiatives for research and remembrance work around the time of I.G. Farben. By consciously reflecting on our role in history, we are working on our ethical framework as a global societal actor and aim to strengthen a corporate culture that lives up to our values and principles.
In 1925, six German companies took the decision to form a community of interests – Interessengemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG, or I.G. Farben for short. Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co was one of the founding members. Today’s Bayer AG emerged from I.G. Farben in 1952.
The question of how to deal responsibly with one’s own past – in particular the legacy of I.G. Farben during the Third Reich – is always relevant. Bayer therefore contributes to a new culture of remembrance within the company – and beyond. Several initiatives have started to drive research and remembrance work around the legacy of I.G. Farben during the Second World War.
Remembrance, Research and Resistance
To lead Bayer’s work on remembrance, research and resistance, the company has established the Hans and Berthold Finkelstein Foundation in 2023.
The Hans and Berthold Finkelstein Foundation is based on three inter-related pillars:
The foundation wants to come to terms with the legacy of I.G. Farben, including how Bayer dealt with its past after the Second World War.
The foundation wants to support addressing research gaps concerning the role of businesses within the Nazi regime and tell histories of victims.
The foundation wants to strengthen resilience against hate ideologies, totalitarianism, tyranny and other human rights violations – today and in the future.
It will drive the work on remembrance and research on the injustices committed during the Nazi regime on behalf of Bayer, in particular forced labor at I.G. Farben. It will fund independent research, foster a Bayer corporate culture guided by remembrance, develop programs for responsible leadership and promote dialogue-oriented projects to strengthen resilience against hate ideologies, totalitarianism, and tyranny.
Annette Schavan, former Federal Minister of Education and Research and long-standing member of the German Bundestag, was appointed Chairwoman of the advisory council. Since 2019, Schavan also serves as Chair of the Board of Trustees of the EVZ Foundation.
The new foundation is named after Hans and Berthold Finkelstein, whose lives exemplify the innumerable dreadful consequences of the Third Reich. Their story was discovered during research activities in the Bayer archives. Dr. Hans Finkelstein, inventor of the so-called Finkelstein reaction, was head of research at the formerly independent company “Chemische Fabriken vorm. Weiler – ter Meer” in Uerdingen, later absorbed into I.G. Farben. After the National Socialists came to power and the Nuremberg Race Laws came into force, he had to leave the company in 1938 and then took his own life. Later, his son Berthold was a forced laborer in the same plant.
Further information on the Foundation will be published in due course.
Memorial for the victims of forced labor at the Lower Rhine sites of I.G. Farben
To promote a company culture guided by remembrance and reflection, Bayer has built a memorial for the victims of forced labor at I.G. Farben during the Second World War next to its Headquarters in Leverkusen. The memorial honors the approximately 16,000 forced laborers from numerous occupied countries in Europe who were deployed at the Lower Rhine sites to expand production from 1940 to 1945. According to available documents, approximately one-third of these forced laborers were women. Most were between 17-23 years old when they arrived, and there were also children among them.
The memorial was designed and built by an interdisciplinary group of artists and designers led by Professor Jussi Ängeslevä from ART+COM Studios. The intent was to create a physical and artistic interpretation of an original dataset containing information from the Bayer archives about the approximately 16,000 people. Located at the very heart of the company in Leverkusen, the place is also designed to enable an individual engagement with the past.
The computationally designed sculpture of wood, steel and living plants will intentionally transform over time due to the forces of nature, reminding employees and visitors that remembering the past is imperative when thinking of the future. The physical installation is augmented by a site-specific mobile app that helps visitors decipher its unique form and obtain impressions of various data: from spatial references to demographic details and personnel documents of 26 forced laborers of I.G. Farben who are quoted verbatim. The examples reveal the fates of the forced laborers and make the perspective of those responsible explicitly clear.
Open doors to the company archive
The Heritage Communications department – Bayer's historical archive – has been accessible for interested scientists since the 1960s. The first study on the role of industrial companies during National Socialism and the Second World War, in which files from the archive were used, was published in 1972. Since then, several scientific papers have been created based on documents from the archive, which deal with a wide variety of aspects of the company's history - and in particular with the era of I.G. Farbenindustrie AG.
Bayer is one of the founding members of the German “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” (EVZ) Foundation initiated by the federal government. The primary motive behind its founding in 2000 was the payment of humanitarian compensation to former forced laborers of the Nazi regime. After the end of the payment programs, the foundation’s mission is “to keep the memory of National Socialist persecution alive and to work for human rights and international understanding”.