In the time of National Socialism

Between 1933 and 1945, Wintershall and DEA profited profoundly from the wartime economy of the National Socialist regime and from the use of forced labour. This gives rise to a special responsibility for Wintershall Dea.

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Wintershall Dea in the NS times
Wintershall Dea in the NS times
Credit
Deutsches Erdölmuseum Wietze

DEA directors Karl Große (3rd from left) and Günther Schlicht (4th from left) were in charge of DEA's oil activities during the Nazi period. In their black miners' uniforms, they took part in the parade to mark the National Day of the German People in Wietze in 1936.

Two German companies steeped in tradition – Wintershall Holding GmbH (founded in 1894) and DEA – Deutsche Erdoel AG (founded in 1899) – merged in 2019 to create one of the leading independent gas and oil companies in Europe. Together, we can look back on a more than 125-year history in the natural resources and energy industry: on economic successes, the art of engineering and pioneering spirit. However, the two predecessor companies were also deeply embroiled with the National Socialist regime in Germany in the 1930s and 1940s. Thus we asked professional historians to reappraise this troubling phase of the company’s history critically, comprehensibly and independently. We see this as an important part of our social  responsibility to stand up for democratic values.

All about Wintershall
NS History Book
NS History Book

Manfred Grieger, Rainer Karlsch und Ingo Köhler, "Expansion at all costs. Studies on the Wintershall AG between crisis and war, 1929-1945", Frankfurt 2020.  
ISBN: 978-3-95542-378-0

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Wintershall Dea

The Reappraisal

In 2017, we began searching our in-house archives for detailed information about our past. To mark the 125th anniversary of Wintershall in 2019, we also commissioned the Business History Society (Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte/GUG) to conduct independent, scientific research into the company’s history during the National Socialist period. The renowned economic historians Professor Dr Manfred Grieger, Dr Rainer Karlsch and Adjunct Professor Dr Ingo Köhler presented their results to the public in 2020 in a book entitled “Expansion at All Costs. Studies on Wintershall AG between Crisis and War, 1929–1945”.

You will find the most important results in the following.

Corporate social welfare policy and forced labour

During the historical conference in September 2019, Prof Dr Manfred Grieger (Georg-August-Universität Göttingen) presented his research on everyday life at various Wintershall sites between 1933 and 1945. Grieger used many examples to illustrate the coexistence of company social welfare policy in the interests of the Nazi state and the exploitation of forced labourers.

Wintershall Dea History NS Times Forced Labour
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Forced Labour

As early as 1 May 1933, a rally with Nazi propaganda was held on the site of the Wintershall plant in Merkers.

Credit
Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum, Heringen
Wintershall Dea History NS Potash Company
Wintershall Dea History NS Potash Company

In 1938, Miners from the Merkers potash plant pose at a decorated float, which elevates potash production to a national task.

Credit
Werra-Kalibergbau-Museum, Heringen

From Potash company to mayor player of the war economy

Dr Rainer Karlsch (Institute of Contemporary History Munich/Berlin) explored how the Wintershall potash company expanded its business activities to include the oil sector and participated in the "economy of destruction" in National Socialist Germany. He traced how the company placed itself entirely at the service of the war economy.

The involvement of the board members

The management of Wintershall AG was the key focus of Adjunct Prof. Dr Ingo Koehler’s conference presentation: He showed how early Wintershall General Director August Rosterg supported the National Socialists out of opportunistic motives, became deeply involved in the structures of robbery and persecution and made good business by exploiting predicaments.

Wintershall Dea History NS Times Involvement Board Members
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Involvement Board Members

Historical drawing of Wintershall's Managing Director August Rosterg (1870-1945), no date. 

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Wintershall Dea

The results of this study are painful: our company used forced labourers and participated in the Nazi war economy. We are learning from this: As a company with a long tradition, we not only want to come to terms with our responsibility historically, but also take responsibility in the here and now - for a strong, democratic society."

Mario Mehren
CEO

Video: Book presentation

In 2020, Wintershall Dea published studies on the company's role in the Nazi era. The book was presented in Kassel and followed by a panel discussion that focussed on the question of which responsibilities for the present result from our own past.

Credit
Wintershall Dea
Presentation of the studies on Wintershall's role in the Nazi era

Video: Book presentation

In 2020, Wintershall Dea published studies on the company's role in the Nazi era. The book was presented in Kassel and followed by a panel discussion that focussed on the question of which responsibilities for the present result from our own past.

Credit
Wintershall Dea
All about DEA

Our responsibility remains, research continues

The scientific results of “Expansion at all costs” not only contribute to the reappraisal of Wintershall’s history under National Socialism, but also allow closer scrutiny of the behaviour of the entire oil and gas industry during the Nazi period, serving as a reminder today that economic action is always political action. As a consequence we also put the history of our second predecessor company under scrutiny: the history of DEA between 1933 and 1945.

DEA in the time of National Socialism

Unlike Wintershall, there were already a few individual publications on certain aspects of DEA’s history during the Nazi era: Rainer Karlsch included parts of it in his industry study “Faktor Öl: Die Mineralölwirtschaft in Deutschland 1859-1974” (The Factor Oil: The Mineral Oil industry in Germany from 1859 to 1974 (German Only)). He also published an essay on Karpaten Öl AG, a joint venture of German oil companies in which DEA had a significant stake in terms of finance and personnel.  Karpaten Öl AG was to exploit the oil deposits in what is now Poland and used tens of thousands of forced labourers to do so. 

Other historians provided insights into the fate of a number of Jewish DEA board members and supervisory board members in collective studies and source books: for example, Georg Solmssen, Chairman of the Management of Deutsche Bank AG and Chairman of the Supervisory Board of DEA, was forced out of office in 1938 due to his Jewish origin, as was DEA board member Fritz Haußmann.

Yet, we’re lacking a concise view on the whole history of DEA during the time of National Socialism. This is why Wintershall Dea has asked the Gesellschaft für Unternehmensgeschichte (“Business History Society”) to start a follow-up project. To this end, Prof Dr Manfred Grieger and Dr Rainer Karlsch have been researching archives across Europe and opening up new sources since February 2022. Wintershall Dea is making its own archive available without restriction. A book publication on the history of DEA during the National Socialist period will follow suit.

On 8 November 2023, Rainer Karlsch and Manfred Grieger presented new findings to the public for the first time at a historical conference in Hamburg. Scientists from other institutions also presented their research here, broadening the view of the German petroleum industry between 1933 and 1945. In the following, you will find abstracts of the presentations held at the symposium.

Historische Tagung DEA im Nationalsozialismus
Historische Tagung DEA im Nationalsozialismus

First findings on the history of DEA between 1933 and 1945 were presented at a historical conference in November 2023.

Credit
Wintershall Dea/Guido Rottmann

Below you will find abstracts of the presentations given at the historical conference of 2023.

Wintershall Dea History NS Times Rositz
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Rositz

Aerial view of the DEA site in Rositz. The photo was taken around 1925.

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Wintershall Dea

The DEA site in Rositz

Prof Dr Manfred Grieger used the example of the DEA site in Rositz to show how the Nazi economic policy of expansion and war led to a significant increase in production capacity. More than 3200 forced labourers were deployed there to ensure the production of heating oil and fuel for the navy.

The Annexation of Austria as an opportunity for DEA

In his presentation, Dr Rainer Karlsch explained DEA's activities in Austria after the annexation by the German Reich in 1938, which have hardly been researched to date. He showed how DEA's wartime economy also made it possible for DEA to return to the oil business.

Wintershall Dea History NS Annexation of Austria
Wintershall Dea History NS Annexation of Austria

In 1938, DEA also entered the oil business in Austria through its subsidiary Deutsche Petroleum AG - for instance near Neusiedl an der Zaya.

Credit
Deutsches Erdölmuseum Wietze

Close ties between business and politics 

How closely did German politics and oil companies co-operate during the Nazi era? Dr Karsten Linne (Hamburg Foundation for the Promotion of Science and Culture) explored this question in his contribution using the example of the founding of Kontinentale Öl AG.

Wintershall Dea History NS Times Close Ties V2
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Close Ties V2

DEA managers as functionaries: Karl Große (l.) was head of Karpaten Öl AG, Günther Schlicht (centre) was part of the Technical Brigade for Mineral Oil. Karl Schirner (r.), was on the supervisory board of Kontinentale Öl AG.

Credit
Deutsches Erdölmuseum Wietze/ Wintershall Dea
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Petroleum Industry
Wintershall Dea History NS Times Petroleum Industry

The shaft and central office at the DEA site in Wietze (Celle district) in 1938.

Credit
Deutsches Erdölmuseum Wietze

The Petroleum Industry in the district of Celle

A spotlight was shed on the district of Celle, one of the most important DEA locations by Dr Christian Hellwig, Dr Jana Stoklasa and Dr Rita Seidel (Institute for the Didactics of Democracy, Leibniz University of Hanover). They presented their research findings on the petroleum industry in Lower Saxony, focusing on topics such as the Nazi integration of the workforce, the use of forced labour and research and teaching on the subject of petroleum at Hanover University of Applied Sciences and Arts.