Paul von Hindenburg (10/2/1847 – 8/2/1934) was a general who commanded the Imperial German Army during World War I. He would go on to become the President of Germany in 1925 during the time of the Weimar Republic (1919 – 1933), an office that he held until his death. On November 19, 1932, a letter known as the “Industrielleneingabe” was signed by more than a dozen representatives of industry, finance, and agriculture urging President Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler (4/20/1889 – 4/30/1945) Chancellor of Germany. One of the notable signatories on that letter was Fritz Beindorff, Sr (4/29/1860 – 6/2/1944), then owner of Pelikan. Mr. Beindorff was incredibly influential in Hannover at the time, holding many honorary, appointed, and elected positions. Few companies have shaped the face of Hannover more than Pelikan thanks in no small part to his leadership. Hindenburg did not immediately comply with the request but, under pressure from several advisers, he would appoint Hitler to the position of Chancellor in January 1933, a pivotal moment in the Nazi rise to power.
Sir Horace Rumbold (2/5/1869 – 5/24/1941), the British Ambassador to Berlin at the time wrote in February of that year; “Hitler may be no statesman but he is an uncommonly clever and audacious demagogue and fully alive to every popular instinct.” Hitler would use his new position to suppress opposition and to consolidate and strengthen his power. In 1933, the German cabinet enacted a law which stated that upon Hindenburg’s death, the office of the president would be abolished and its powers merged with those of the Chancellor. This allowed Hitler’s government to become a legal dictatorship. In that role, he would spend the next five years forging new alliances and rebuilding the German war machine. This culminated on September 1, 1939 when Germany invaded Poland effectively kicking off World War II. The United Kingdom and France would declare war on Germany two days later. Pelikan had just celebrated its 100th anniversary the year prior and had only entered the fountain pen market ten years earlier. Much of the company’s manufacturing apparatus at the time was contained within Germany and therefore was subject to many wartime regulations that would come to be handed down over the course of the conflict. Read on to find out just how the war and its aftermath would affect Pelikan’s domestic and international operations. As the text is heavily laden with dates, I have included a timeline at the end so that you may better visualize how the events unfolded.
Even before the hostilities of WWII officially began, the effects of rationing were able to be felt across Germany. In February 1937, the IBIS fountain pen would no longer come equipped with gold nibs but rather those made of palladium, marked “Pd.” During that same year, gold nibs that were already in stores were bought up from retailers. By February 5, 1938, the production of gold nibs for the German market was forbidden altogether. Models such as the 100 and 100N intended for sale domestically had to be fitted with palladium nibs as of May 1938. Due to material shortages, the manufacture of pens made with precious metals for the German market was halted in March 1939. By October of that same year, the use of palladium would also be forbidden. It was at this time that Pelikan switched to using chromium nickel steel nibs, marked “CN.” The March 1940 installment of the “Pelikan-Blätter,” a company newsletter of sorts, contained a lengthy sales pitch aimed at making this new nib material more palatable to retailers and consumers. The shortages endured by Pelikan weren’t just restricted to the company’s fountain pen lines. As the war began, Pelikan curtailed the production of its pens and devoted most of its facilities to the production of paints, coatings, and other chemicals for the military. It is also likely that they were involved in making ammunition cases and other metal goods for the armaments industry. Pelikan’s involvement in the war economy was perhaps more extensive than most people realize. Ink production, which had been largely stable until World War II, took a major hit. Circa 1941, ink had to be supplied in recycled bottles (e.g. wine bottles) and by the end of the war, the variety of available inks being produced was significantly less than pre-war levels. Ink recipes had to be adjusted to account for ingredients which were scarce or no longer available. Packaging that included aluminum had to be revised and the production of erasers was significantly decreased. Of course this was all done for the provision of Germany’s troops which was the number one priority of the war effort.
It has been estimated that 70 to 85 million people, military and civilian, lost their lives in the Second World War. That accounted for approximately 3% of the world’s population as of 1940 (estimated at 2.3 billion). Included in that count are the lives lost in the Holocaust, a state sponsored mass murder of predominantly Eastern European Jews and other people deemed undesirable. Much of the genocide perpetrated by the Nazi government would occur at Auschwitz which opened its doors to prisoners in May 1940 and resided in occupied Poland. Actually a conglomeration of approximately 40 different concentration and extermination camps, Auschwitz would become a center piece in the Nazis’ “Final Solution of the Jewish Question,” a horrific euphemism for human extermination. This particular concentration camp employed a unique system of serial numbers involuntarily applied as a tattoo, usually upon the left arm for civilian prisoners. It should not come as a surprise than to learn that the Nazi regime would use resources that were readily available to accomplish that task. This included the use of Pelikan branded inks (amongst others) in carrying out the tattooing. While that may seem shocking, in the context of the time, almost all German companies were part of the war effort, willingly or not, and I in no way mean to imply that Pelikan marketed their product for this purpose. In addition, many German companies such as IG Farben, Krupp, Siemens, AEG, and Daimler Benz would accept slave labor from the concentration camps to fill their factories. Pelikan too it seems can be counted amongst these.
In 2014, the city of Hannover established an advisory board (Scientific Consideration of Eponymous Personalities in Hannover) made up of historians and researchers tasked with investigating whether or not there was active participation in the Nazi regime or serious personal acts against humanity by people who had streets named after them, in this case Fritz Beindorff Allee which was dedicated in 1931. I have already alluded that Fritz Beindorff, Sr was a staunch admirer of Adolph Hitler, at least with regards to his economic policies. At Pelikan’s 100th anniversary celebration in 1938 over which he presided, the flags of the Reich were on prominent display and the ceremony ended with a pledge of allegiance to Hitler. In 1943, a year before his passing, he would write a “Lebensbericht” or life report for his family. In it, he wrote that Hitler was a “genius to whom the German people owe the rescue from decay and misery.” There is no available evidence to establish his own membership in the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP a.k.a. Nazi Party) but his sons who also worked at the company were affiliated. While his statements seemed to align with and support much of the NSDAP agenda, his actions were often contradictory to their beliefs making the case against Pelikan’s patriarch not so clear cut. For instance, it is known that Mr. Beindorff assisted the grandson of a Jewish industrialist in getting a job in Buenos Aires. In addition, he was a patron of art forms that the Nazis would ban and he was involved in Freemasonry which was also outlawed by the Reich. These contradictions muddy the waters and have prevented historians from drawing definitive conclusions about Mr. Beindorff’s involvement with the Nazi regime.
The advisory board’s research did discover that in February of 1937, “Günther Wagner Verwaltungs-GmbH” benefited from a forced auction of Jewish jewels by the city of Hannover. Furthermore, from 1940 onwards, forced laborers were employed to the benefit of the company. Several of Pelikan’s facilities utilized prisoners of war when there were not enough free citizens to fill the positions on the factory floor. Estimates indicate that up to 2,000 laborers, mostly Polish and Ukrainian women, were employed at the company’s packaging plants which focused on the production of tinware and other metal goods. Pelikan’s facilities would also come to house two labor education camps established in 1942 and later in 1944 where workers were severely punished for inappropriate behavior. While a great many companies of the era can be indicted for the use of slave labor, Pelikan is the only company in Hannover documented to house the more brutal labor education camps on their grounds. These camps were traditionally operated by the Gestapo, Germany’s secret state police, but records indicate that the company also utilized employees as guards. Statements from some of the former forced laborers have confirmed terror measures and inhumane conditions in the camps. Rozalia Ciesielska was one such laborer who later recalled that, “The conditions were terrible… There was hunger, dirt and lice everywhere.” After the war, the company’s management insisted that the foreign workers had been treated well and taken care of properly but all of the evidence available would point to the contrary. As such, the board concluded that Mr. Beindorff tolerated forced labor and labor education camps on the company’s premises and benefited from it. Appalling as that may be, by 1944 slave labor made up approximately one quarter of Germany’s entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners. One final anecdote that has been brought to light is the company’s possible participation in Aryanization, a reference to the forced expulsion of Jews from business life in Nazi Germany and their occupied territories. There is some evidence to suggest Pelikan’s direct takeover and/or benefit from the Aryanization of previously owned Jewish companies not only in Hannover but within occupied territories such as the Netherlands and Poland. It is difficult to be more precise as the historical record regarding these events is incomplete.
As you might expect, the board’s findings created significant controversy and did not sit well with Mr. Beindorff’s relatives or Pelikan. To start, he was not living in Hannover at the time of these events and was therefore disconnected from the goings-on at the factory. After a bomb had destroyed his home, he moved in with family in the town of Celle. Due to advanced age, health issues, and remoteness, he had largely withdrawn from the business by this point. According to accounts from family, in his last several years, Mr. Beindorff became increasingly demented raising some to call into question his capacity and whether or not he really even knew what was happening on the company’s premises. Others have argued that it’s inconceivable that Mr. Beindorff knew nothing of the poor circumstances under which the forced laborers on his properties worked and lived. In defense of their patriarch and in an effort to better clarify Fritz Beindorff’s role in Germany’s National Socialist period, Pelikan commissioned a research project which was undertaken by Dr. Annemone Christians of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History. She systematically investigated Mr. Beindorff’s involvement with the Reich which culminated in the publication “Tinte Und Blech” in 2018. After extensive investigation, it was the author’s conclusion that there simply existed too many gaps in the available primary source documents to make for a promising and definitive exposé which would ultimately leave too many questions unanswered. Still, there is certainly enough circumstantial evidence to at least blacken Mr. Beindorff’s reputation. Interestingly, there has been some speculation that the evidence in question may even have been deliberately destroyed at one point. While such a notion likely could never be proven, there certainly would have been a strong motivation for the company to cover up its past involvement with the Reich. In support of that argument is the existence of a duplicate photo of the 100th anniversary party depicted above where the flags bearing swastikas have been painstakingly retouched suggesting at least some fledgling attempt at revisionist history.
As the war ground on, all aspects of German life would be affected and manufacturing would be one of the segments most impacted. Supplies of pens and pencils would become limited as early as January 1940. In June 1941, Pelikan’s pen repair service was discontinued due to a lack of staff. By mid-1942, the only pen that the company could make for the German market was the 100. By August 13, 1942, the decorative circular rings that adorned the caps were discontinued. Instead, two knurled bands were placed on the cap where the golden rings would have been. Even more rarely seen is a lack of adornment on the cap altogether. The war wasn’t just about shortages and rationing. Some innovation and refinement would continue under the direction of Mr. Kovacs, the Hungarian engineer who had developed Pelikan’s differential piston filling mechanism. In October 1942, cork seals would no longer be used in favor of a synthetic option and the piston mechanism was improved upon. Effective May 1, 1943, a complete ban on the production of fountain pens and spare parts was enacted within the country. Despite that, Pelikan was directed by the government to continue production both for the domestic and foreign markets but their quotas were heavily skewed in favor of the export market. Less than a year later, in March 1944, the company would only be allowed to produce pens for the export market. On June 2, 1944 Fritz Beindorff, Sr died at the age of 84. Management of the company would fall to his son, Dr. Günther Beindorff (2/23/1890 – 2/2/1952). Berlin fell to the Allies around May 2, 1945, effectively signaling the military defeat of Nazi Germany. World War II would officially conclude on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri on September 2, 1945 with the surrender of Japan following the atomic devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki wrought by “Little Boy” and “Fat Man.” Despite the war concluding, it would be some time before Pelikan’s operations would resume in earnest.
In the aftermath of the war, the Allies occupied Germany and divided it into Western and Eastern occupation zones controlled by the Western Allies and the Soviet Union respectively. Hannover, the headquarters of Pelikan’s operations, would fall under the control of the British occupying forces. Sales could only occur with authorization from the military government which was headquartered in Minden, Germany. Pelikan’s remaining stock of ready to sell pens along with parts intended for export were frozen. Production of new products would also be slow to start up again. Amazingly, the main factory would avoid serious wartime damage though the machines used in the production process were in need of repair. Of course, the company would come to lose many of its facilities and offices outside of Germany as a consequence of expropriation. It wasn’t until 1947 that production was able to resume in a limited fashion for the German market. At that time, pens were still being equipped with chromium nickel steel nibs. Production of the 100 was no longer undertaken making 1944 the last year of manufacture though spare parts were still being produced as of 1947. By October 1948, fountain pens could again be produced with gold nibs when destined for the export market, a condition which was later expanded to include the German market as of July 1949. The following year, Pelikan would launch the now famous 400 which allowed the company to again prosper. Glass negatives in the Pelikan archives indicate that this model was likely first conceived of in 1939 and presumably had World War II to thank for its eleven years on the drawing board.
As for the fate of Fritz Beindorff Allee, the advisory board which was convened in 2014 concluded in 2015 that there was enough evidence to suggest participation in the National Socialist regime by Fritz Beindorff and Pelikan. It was the committee’s recommendation that Fritz Beindorff Allee be renamed. Pelikan’s commissioned research into the matter would be published in 2018. The district council of Vahrenwald-List where the street resides subsequently took up the matter and concluded that there was not enough concrete evidence left in existence with which to surmise with any certainty the active support of the Nazi regime by the concerned party. Because of the paucity of available evidence, it was determined that the street name would stand and that Fritz Beindorff would not be stripped of that honor.
**Please note that this post is in no way meant to place blame, cast aspersions, judge, or evaluate for potential crimes against humanity that may or may not have been perpetrated by those responsible for the daily operations of Pelikan in the 1930s and 40s. It is simply meant to look at the harsh realities of war and the atrocities perpetrated in the time of the Nazi regime. Much needed primary source evidence is lacking and likely will never come to light. I leave it to you, the reader, to form your own opinions based on an honest assessment of the available facts.**
November 9, 1918 – Germany becomes a de facto republic when Kaiser Wilhelm II abdicates the German and Prussian thrones with no agreement made on a succession.
February 1919 – The position of President of Germany is created and a new constitution is adopted on August 11, 1919 effectively establishing the Weimar Republic which would last until 1933.
April 26, 1925 – Paul von Hindenburg is elected as the second President of the Weimar Republic in a run-off election.
1931 – Fritz Beindorff Allee is dedicated to Pelikan’s owner and one of Hannover’s most prominent citizens.
November 19, 1932 – In a letter known as the ‘Industrielleneingabe,’ signatory and owner of Pelikan Fritz Beindorff, Sr urges President Hindenburg to appoint Adolf Hitler as Chancellor of Germany.
January 30, 1933 – Paul von Hindenburg appoints Hitler to the position of Chancellor.
March 23, 1933 – The Enabling Act passes in both the Reichstag and Reichsrat and was signed into law by President Paul von Hindenburg. The law gives the Chancellor the power to enact laws without the involvement of the Reichstag and to override fundamental aspects of the Weimar Constitution. Combined with the Reichstag Fire Decree which had abolished most civil liberties, Hitler’s government is effectively transformed into a legal dictatorship.
August 2, 1934 – Adolph Hitler’s rise to power culminates in his ascendancy as dictator of Germany upon the death of President Hindenburg.
February 1937 – The IBIS fountain pen must now be equipped with palladium “Pd” nibs in order to conserve gold for the war effort. Günther Wagner Verwaltungs-GmbH is reported to have benefited from a forced auction of Jewish jewels by the city of Hannover.
March 25, 1937 – The 100N is introduced, initially intended for export only.
Mid-1937 – Gold nibs already in stores are bought up from retailers for use in the war effort.
February 5, 1938 – The use of gold nibs on pens destined for the German market is forbidden.
April 28, 1938 – Pelikan celebrates its 100th anniversary. A lavish celebration is held under the flags of the Reich and ends with a pledge of allegiance to Hitler. The 100N is introduced to Germany as part of that celebration. Pelikan’s logo is also redesigned to now feature only two chicks in the nest.
May 1938 – Models of the 100 and 100N intended for sale domestically are now fitted with palladium “Pd” nibs.
1939 – Glass negatives are made as a study in design for what would later become the model 400.
September 1, 1939 – Germany invades Poland, effectively kicking off World War II. The United Kingdom and France declare war on Germany two days later.
March 1939 – The production of pens made with precious metals intended for sale within the German market is halted.
October 1939 – The use of palladium is now forbidden. Pelikan switches to using chromium nickel steel “CN” nibs.
January 1940 – The supply of pens & pencils becomes limited as these were not deemed essential to the war effort. Pelikan begins to employ forced labor in its packaging plants.
March 1940 – The “Pelikan-Blätter,” runs an ad aimed at making the new chromium nickel nib material more palatable to retailers and consumers who were used to the traditional gold.
May 20, 1940 – Auschwitz opens its doors and receives its first batch of prisoners. Pelikan inks (amongst others) would come to be used to tattoo serial numbers upon prisoners, a feature unique to the Auschwitz camps.
1941 – Ink is supplied in recycled bottles (e.g. wine bottles).
June 1941 – Pelikan’s pen repair service is discontinued due to a lack of staff.
Mid-1942 – The only pen that Pelikan is allowed to make for the German market is the basic model 100. A labor education camp is set up and run by Pelikan and perhaps the Gestapo on Pelikan’s premises.
August 13, 1942 – The decorative circular rings that adorn the caps are discontinued and replaced by two knurled bands or, in some instances, nothing at all.
October 1942 – Cork seals are discontinued in favor of a synthetic option and the piston mechanism is improved upon.
1943 – Fritz Beindorff, now living with family in Celle and largely withdrawn from the business of the company, writes a “Lebensbericht” or life report for his family.
May 1, 1943 – A complete ban on the production of fountain pens and spare parts is enacted. Pelikan is directed by the Nazi government to continue pen production for both the domestic and foreign markets but their quotas are heavily skewed in favor of the export market.
March 1944 – Pelikan is now only able to produce pens for the export market. This date will mark the end of production for the model 100 in Germany.
April 1944 – A second labor education camp is installed on Pelikan’s premises.
June 2, 1944 – Fritz Beindorff, Sr dies at the age of 84. Management of the company falls to his son, Dr. Günther Beindorff.
May 2, 1945 – Berlin falls to the Allies, effectively signaling the military defeat of Nazi Germany.
September 2, 1945 – World War II officially concludes on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri.
1947 – The production of fountain pens is able to resume in a limited fashion for the German market.
October 1948 – Fountain pens can again be produced with gold nibs when destined for the export market.
July 1949 – Fountain pens for sale in Germany can once again be equipped with gold nibs.
1950 – Pelikan launches the model 400.
2014 – The city of Hannover establishes an advisory board cumbersomely known as the Scientific Consideration of Eponymous Personalities in Hannover. It is made up of historians and researchers tasked with finding out whether or not there was active participation in the Nazi regime or serious personal acts against humanity by people who had streets named after them.
October 2015 – The advisory board concludes that there is enough evidence to suggest participation in the National Socialist regime by Fritz Beindorff and Pelikan. It is the committee’s recommendation that Fritz Beindorff Allee be renamed.
2018 – Pelikan’s commissioned research project which was undertaken by Dr. Annemone Christians of the Munich Institute for Contemporary History culminates in the publication “Tinte Und Blech.” The district council of Vahrenwald-List concludes that there is not enough concrete evidence left in existence with which to surmise with any certainty the active support of the Nazi regime by Fritz Beindorff. Because of the paucity of available evidence, it is determined that the street name would stand and that Fritz Beindorff would not be stripped of that honor.
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