Weleda between 1933 and 1945
Founded in 1921, Weleda can look back on a long and successful history. Part of this history, however was overshadowed by the dictatorship of the National Socialist (Nazi) party in Germany and the Second World War. Like many other companies, we have intensively researched Weleda’s situation and how the company leadership acted during that time.
What was the situation like for Weleda during the Nazi era?
As an anthroposophically oriented company, Weleda was repeatedly on the verge of a production ban during the Nazi dictatorship, after the Anthroposophical Society was banned in Germany on 1 November 1935. Weleda was only able to continue production in Germany because it was a Swiss company, and Switzerland took a neutral stance towards Nazi Germany.
In his book Weleda from 1921 to 1945 (1), the historian Uwe Werner describes the founding of the company and its social, ecological and economic vision. Werner also describes the period from 1933 to 1945 as a time of “survival in an inhumane environment”. Although the company did not engage in active resistance, one could speak of passive resistance, explains the historian. According to his research, Weleda did not participate in the inhumane policies of the Nazi dictatorship.
Was Weleda aware of experiments using its frost protection cream on prisoners?
In 1943, Weleda made a one-time delivery of 20 kilograms of its frost protection cream to the German armed forces (1). The delivery went to the private address of Sigmund Rascher in Munich. He was a staff physician in the German air force at the time, and conducted secret experiments on prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp for the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi party. Weleda had no idea how the cream would be used. Rascher subjected prisoners in the Dachau concentration camp to hypothermia experiments and used the frost protection cream in conjunction with this. Due to the level of secrecy involved, Weleda did not know about the use of the cream. It was not until the late 1990s that this was discovered, which was also when Weleda learned about it. The company deeply regretted this and issued a written apology to the non-profit organization, Children of the Holocaust Campaign (German: Aktion Kinder des Holocaust – AKdH). In addition, Weleda opened its company archives for scholarly analysis, which was undertaken by the History Department at the University of Basel. The historians (2) conducted thorough research and concluded that Weleda had no knowledge of the experiments with the frost protection cream.
How was the gardener Franz Lippert involved with Weleda?
Franz Lippert (3), was a master gardener who established and managed the Weleda medicinal plant garden in Schwäbisch Gmünd. In the autumn of 1940, he gave up his job after 16 years working for the company in that role. Starting in September 1941, he was in charge of experimental work in biodynamic cultivation at the German Research Institute (DVA) in Dachau. The DVA “herb garden”, as it was called, was considered part of the concentration camp, but was located outside of the actual camp premises. He tried to ease the situation of the prisoners. This is evidenced by affidavits (4) by former prisoners after the end of the war. Lippert stayed at this job until March 1945, during which he only worked on biodynamic plant cultivation. According to research by historian Uwe Werner, “Lippert must also be considered a witness to years of blindness to the regime, whose inhumane nature came to his attention too late.” (5)
After the war, civilian court proceedings against Lippert, conducted as part of the denazification process in Germany, were discontinued in September 1948, on the grounds that he was “not incriminated at all” (6).
Once his employment at Weleda ended in autumn 1940, there was no further contact between Lippert and the company.
Why does Weleda support the Remembrance, Responsibility, Future Foundation (EVZ)?
The EVZ Foundation (German: Stiftung Erinnerung Verantwortung, Zukunft) supports projects that come to terms with history, campaigns for human rights, and is committed to helping the victims of the Nazi regime. It was founded in 2000, with the task of making reparation payments to people subjected to forced labour under the Nazi regime. The founding capital was provided by the German state and the German business community. Weleda also contributed to EVZ, although the company had not employed any forced labourers or engaged in culpable activities. Weleda joined the foundation in order to acknowledge the joint responsibility of the German business community for the injustices committed during the Nazi regime. The reason given by Weleda management at the time was: “Weleda AG has never employed forced labourers in its history. However, it acknowledges the Germans’ shared responsibility for the injustice suffered by forced labourers under Nazi rule in World War II. Therefore by the end of December 2000 it had joined the foundation, initiated by the German business community, with an appropriate contribution.”
Cultural diversity is one of Weleda’s core principles
Fascism, anti-Semitism, nationalism and racism have no place in our company. Our values and our corporate culture stand in opposition to such deeply unspeakable and inhumane ways of thinking and acting. Cultural diversity is important to us; it is inspiring and powerful. Weleda has subsidiaries in 22 countries. We nurture respectful relationships with all people. Our core principles, which have guided us since our founding are:
- We think, feel and act holistically.
- We take responsibility for our actions.
- We create trust through openness and sincerity.
- We operate in a healthy and efficient manner, because economic success makes many things possible.
- We inspire people for the power of nature.
(1) See Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus [Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism], p. 361.
(2) Prof. Dr. Heiko Haumann, History Department, University of Basel, letter of 15 June 1998.
(3) See Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus [Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism], p. 330ff.
(4) See Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus [Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism], p. 332.
(5) See Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus [Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism], p. 285.
(6) See Uwe Werner, Anthroposophen in der Zeit des Nationalsozialismus [Anthroposophists in the Time of National Socialism], p. 334, note 122
Werner, Uwe: Anthroposophen im Nationalsozialismus (1933–1945) [Anthroposophists in National Socialism (1933–1945)], Oldenbourg Verlag, Munich, 1999.
Werner, Uwe: Das Unternehmen Weleda 1921–1945 [The Company Weleda 1921–1945], 1st edition, Berliner Wissenschafts-Verlag, Berlin, 2014.
Selg, Peter: Rudolf Steiner, die Anthroposophie und der Rassismus-Vorwurf [Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and the Accusation of Racism], 1st edition, Verlag des Ita Wegman Instituts, Stuttgart, 2020.
Heisterkamp, Jens: Schatten der Vergangenheit [Shadow of the Past], Aktion Kinder des Holocaust [Children of the Holocaust Campaign]
Sonntags Zeitung, Arlesheim/Switzerland: Crème für KZ Weleda bedauert [Weleda Regrets Cream for Concentration Camp], in: Aktion Kinder des Holocaust, http://www.akdh.ch/ps/ps_05.html.
Anthroposophie gegen Rassismus [Anthroposophy Against Racism]
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