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Ernst Hage­mei­er (1888–1966) Mana­ger in the age of the eco­no­mic miracle 

Den­azi­fi­ca­ti­on pro­cee­dings, 1947/48

In Novem­ber 1947, the seni­or public prosecutor’s office in Frank­furt drop­ped its inves­ti­ga­ti­ons into Ernst Hage­mei­er. He had often exhi­bi­ted “a huma­ni­ta­ri­an under­stan­ding of the inma­tes’ situation”.

Inde­pendent­ly of that decisi­on, den­azi­fi­ca­ti­on pro­cee­dings against him were initia­ted bare­ly two mon­ths later. His lawy­er had pre­pa­red tho­rough­ly and was able to sub­mit some 46 writ­ten tes­ti­mo­nies to the court. The wit­nes­ses for the defence inclu­ded aut­ho­ri­zed Adler­wer­ke signa­to­ries, simp­le employees, a Gesta­po offi­cer, the chair­man of the works coun­cil, and even a dean. They all unders­cored Hagemeier’s rejec­tion of Nazi ideo­lo­gy and the Nazi par­ty NSDAP, his efforts to ensu­re the good care of the for­ced labou­rers, and his loyal­ty towards Jewish employees. Incri­mi­na­ting wit­ness state­ments hard­ly play­ed a role in the ver­dict. He was clas­si­fied as a “Mit­läu­fer” (“fol­lower”).

Insti­tut für Stadt­ge­schich­te Frank­furt am Main, inv. S2, no. 2216
B/w pho­to, later colouration

Intern­ment camp (1946/47)

Ernst Hage­mei­er plan­ned to recon­struct the Adler­wer­ke. On 3 August 1945, howe­ver, he was arres­ted by the U.S. mili­ta­ry admi­nis­tra­ti­on. Fol­lowing initi­al inter­ro­ga­ti­ons he was trans­fer­red to the intern­ment camp for suspec­ted war cri­mi­nals in Dach­au in August 1946. He staun­ch­ly denied all respon­si­bi­li­ty for the mal­tre­at­ment of for­ced labours. In 1947, the U.S. mili­ta­ry admi­nis­tra­ti­on orde­red that only more major cases with clear evi­dence were to be pur­sued fur­ther. That hel­ped Hagemeier.

He was released from the intern­ment camp on 17 April 1947. In the court pro­cee­dings that would fol­low, his dischar­ge papers with the wor­d­ing “Clea­red by War Cri­mes” ser­ved him as an important docu­ment in his exo­nera­ti­on strategy.

Chair­man of the board of direc­tors after 1947

No soo­ner had he been released in 1947 than Ernst Hage­mei­er retur­ned to the Adler­wer­ke board of direc­tors. The­re he pushed for chan­ges in the company’s pro­duct ran­ge. The Adler­wer­ke aban­do­ned auto­mo­bi­le pro­duc­tion and began manu­fac­tu­ring bicy­cles, motor­cy­cles, office machi­nes, and machi­ne tools ins­tead. From the pre­sent-day per­spec­ti­ve it was a bad eco­no­mic decision.

In ear­ly 1953, Hage­mei­er was awar­ded the Order of Merit of the Federal Repu­blic of Ger­ma­ny for his achie­ve­ments in the rebuil­ding of the Hes­si­an eco­no­my. At his own request, Hage­mei­er resi­gned from his post as chair­man of the board of direc­tors in 1955. Two years later, the Adler­wer­ke was taken over by the Grun­dig company.

Man­power from abroad 

“Ali­en workers”

In the Nazi peri­od, the Ger­mans used the term “Fremdarbeiter”—“alien workers”—to refer to civi­li­an for­eign workers. In the post-war era, the term ser­ved to obscu­re the invol­un­ta­ry natu­re of many employ­ment rela­ti­ons­hips bet­ween 1939 and 1945.

“Guest workers”

The term “guest workers” was rare­ly heard in the Nazi peri­od. Star­ting in the 1960s it was used to refer to migrant workers. The Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties assu­med that they would remain in Ger­ma­ny for only a limi­ted time. “Guest worker” was con­si­de­red a friend­lier term than “ali­en worker”. The­re was also an effort to avoid any asso­cia­ti­on with the histo­ry of for­ced labour.

“For­eign civi­li­an workers”

During the Nazi peri­od, the admi­nis­tra­ti­on refer­red to for­ced labou­rers employ­ed by civi­li­an com­pa­nies or government agen­ci­es as “for­eign civi­li­an workers”. The use of this term made it unclear whe­ther the workers were employ­ed vol­un­ta­ri­ly or by for­ce. In the ear­ly pha­se of the war, for­eign civi­li­an workers were recrui­ted on a vol­un­ta­ry basis. As the figh­t­ing con­ti­nued, the con­di­ti­ons for for­eign workers worsened radically.

“Eas­tern workers”

The Nazi admi­nis­tra­ti­on used the term “Eas­tern workers” pri­ma­ri­ly to refer to for­ced labou­rers from the coun­tries of the Soviet Uni­on. Star­ting in 1941, ent­i­re groups of per­sons born in a cer­tain year were con­scrip­ted at once and trans­por­ted to the Ger­man Reich. From 1942 onwards, “Eas­tern workers” had to wear a badge with the let­ters “OST” (east) on their clot­hing. Accord­ing to Nazi race theo­ry they made up the lowest rank. Only per­sons per­se­cu­t­ed as Jews or “Zigeu­ner” (dero­ga­to­ry term for Sin­ti and Roma) ran­ked lower. Spe­cial laws that went into for­ce in 1942 rob­bed the “Eas­tern workers” of near­ly all their rights.

Depor­ta­ti­on from Jan­ko­wo sta­ti­on in Poland to Ger­ma­ny for for­ced labour
Pro­pa­gan­da pho­to, March 1943
Ger­man Federal Archi­ves, image 183-J22099, pho­to: Krombach

Ernst Hage­mei­er (1888–1966) Com­pa­ny mana­ger during the Nazi period 

Bet­ween boy­cott and “Arya­niz­a­ti­on”

Ernst Hage­mei­er beca­me a mem­ber of the Adlerwerke’s exe­cu­ti­ve board in 1929. As gene­ral direc­tor he soon rose to beco­me the company’s main shareholder.

The Adler­wer­ke did not sup­port the Natio­nal Socia­list par­ty (NSDAP) finan­cial­ly befo­re 1933. In that year, the Nazis the­re­fo­re cal­led for a boy­cott of the Adler­wer­ke. Fol­lowing the party’s acces­si­on to power, Hage­mei­er saw to it that not all Jewish employees were dis­mis­sed. He sent many of them to work in sub­si­dia­ries abroad. The Nazis accord­in­gly accu­sed him of “friend­li­ness to Jews”.

On the other hand, when Jakob Gold­schmidt came under thre­at of being cha­sed off the super­vi­so­ry board, Hage­mei­er did not­hing to pre­vent it. Under his manage­ment, the Adler­wer­ke pro­fi­ted from “Arya­niz­a­ti­on”. It was able to purcha­se, at low pri­ces, the land of four neigh­bou­ring com­pa­nies who­se owners were per­se­cu­t­ed as Jews. The Adler­wer­ke thus expan­ded its property.

Insti­tut für Stadt­ge­schich­te Frank­furt am Main,
inv. S2, no. 2216

Mem­ber of the Nazi par­ty and the SS

In 1933, Ernst Hage­mei­er app­lied for mem­bers­hip in the Nazi par­ty NSDAP. He was not admit­ted until 1939. He moreo­ver joi­ned the Gene­ral SS, whe­re he had the rank of an SS Untersturmführer.

He worked for the SS as an expert on auto­mo­bi­li­ty. In 1934/35 he beca­me the head of the “Moto­ri­zed Vehi­cle Indus­try Eco­no­mic Group”. The­re he came into con­flict with influ­en­ti­al Natio­nal Socia­lists who wan­ted to pro­mo­te par­ty inte­rests. As a result, he gave up the post again in 1937.

In 1937, the Munich SS court exclu­ded him from the orga­niz­a­ti­on. The grounds for this decisi­on were that he had not atten­ded SS events and con­ti­nued to cul­ti­va­te busi­ness con­ta­cts with Jews.

Respon­si­bi­li­ty for arma­ment, for­ced labour, and con­cen­tra­ti­on camp

Gene­ral direc­tor Hage­mei­er was a prag­ma­tic mana­ger. He made sure his dealings with the Nazi regime would work to the company’s advan­ta­ge. Star­ting in 1939, the Adler­wer­ke incre­a­singly took on arma­ments’ orders and Hage­mei­er recei­ved the hono­ra­ry tit­le “Wehr­wirt­schafts­füh­rer” awar­ded to the heads of important arma­ments manufacturers.

Ever more com­pa­ny employees were con­scrip­ted to the Wehr­macht, and the Adler­wer­ke nee­ded repla­ce­ments. Now for­eign civi­li­an workers and pri­so­ners of war from Fran­ce and Eas­tern Euro­pe were brought in. The­se workers lived in camps in the Gal­lus and Gries­heim districts. Con­cen­tra­ti­on camp inma­tes were put to work at the Adler­wer­ke from August 1944 onwards. The “Katz­bach” con­cen­tra­ti­on camp was set up on the fac­to­ry premises.