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.
- Allner, Kathleen. “Pelikan – Ein Unternehmen Schreibt Geschichte (A Company Makes History). 1906-1945 Der Pelikan erobert die Welt.” Pages 17-22. 2008.
- Anschütz, Janet & Heike, Irmtraud. “Feinde im eigenen Land. Zwangsarbeit in Hannover im Zweiten Weltkrieg. 2.” Bielefeld. 2nd edition. Pages 167, 228. 2000.
- Bauch, Susanna. “Ehrung für Fritz Beindorff soll bleiben.” Hannoverschen Allgemeinen. November 12, 2018. Last accessed 3/15/2020.
- Benne, Simon. “‘… da ich von Hitler begeistert war’.” Göttinger Tageblatt/Eichsfelder Tageblatt. February 4, 2018. Last accessed 4/1/2020.
- Bleyl, Henning. “Hakenkreuze retuschiert.” Taz.de. February 13, 2018. Last accessed 4/1/2020.
- Christians, Annemone. “Tinte Und Blech: Eine Pilotstudie zu Fritz Beindorff (1860 -1944) und den Günther Wagner Pelikan-Werken im Nationalsozialismus.” Leuenhagen + Paris. 2018.
- Dittmer, Jürgen & Lehmann, Martin. “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 1997.” Art Forum beim Baumhaus Verlag. Pages 36-41. 1998.
- Dittmer, Jürgen & Lehmann, Martin. “Pelikan Schreibgeräte 1929 – 2004.” A.H.F. Dunkmann GmbH & Co KG. Pages 55-63. 2004.
- Fultz, L. Michael. “The History of Pelikan Pens.” Pendbid.com. 2003.
- Kaplan, Michael. “This man was the savior tattoo artist of the Holocaust.” New York Post. September 8, 2018. Last accessed 4/19/2020.
- Meding, Conrad. “Diese zehn Straßen sollen umbenannt warden.” Hannoverschen Allgemeinen. June 10, 2015. Last accessed 4/9/2020.
- Meding, Conrad. “Kommission prüft Straßennamen Hat Pelikan-Chef Beindorff Nazi-Gräuel unterstützt?” Hannoverschen Allgemeinen. October 6, 2015. Last accessed 4/9/2020.
- Projekt Straßennamen: Die Empfehlung des Beirates “Namensgebende Persönlichkeiten.” Tischvorlage zur GOK am 1. October 2015 (PDF).
- Propas, Rick. “A History of Pelikan.” 2003. Last accessed 4/19/2020.
- Rösler, Jens and Wallrafen, Stefan. “Collectible Stars I: 1908-1947.” 2014. Last accessed 4/22/2020.
- Seite “Fritz Beindorff.” In: Wikipedia, Die freie Enzyklopädie. Bearbeitungsstand: June 27, 2019. Last accessed 3/28/2020.
- Seite “Industrielleneingabe.” In: Wikipedia, Die freie Enzyklopädie. Bearbeitungsstand: January 13, 2020. Last accessed 3/28/2020.
- Seite “Pelikan Holding.” In: Wikipedia, Die freie Enzyklopädie. Bearbeitungsstand: February 18, 2020. Last accessed 3/28/2020.
- Thomson, Ian. “Horror of horrors.” The Guardian. 1/28/2005. Last accessed 4/1/2020.
- Wikipedia contributors. “Economy of Nazi Germany.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. April 23, 2020. Last accessed 4/28/2020.
Great information. Many publications that show the history of the Pelikan company during the war never talk about the dark side of its operations. Thanks for your enlightenment.
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I agree. That was the motivation behind this piece. Just seemed like all the official histories glossed over this period or dealt with only the manufacturing aspects. It was an incredibly interesting bit of research.
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I’ve often wondered about Pelikan’s history during the war years. The use of Pelikan ink in tattooing concentration camp prisoners is the fact that really drives the horror home. Thank you for publishing this.
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Thanks for reading. It was a fascinating piece to research. The ink surprised me less than the use of forced laborers.
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Thank you Joshua, a very balanced and informative article. I was born at the very end of the war and lived in North London. The effects were felt for a vey long time.
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I’m glad to read that you enjoyed it. I can’t even imaging what those post-war years were like.
I saw a Pelikan ink bottle at Dachau in a display by a tattoo photograph of tattooing as I was traveling through Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, following my graduation from law school in 1984.
I have seen pictures of that display online so am familiar with what you describe. I had heard that such displays have since been removed from Holocaust museums due to legal issues but have never been able to confirm that. There was reportedly some issue about not being able to prove the link between the ink and the tattoos definitively which could therefore cause the museum to run into some legal trouble.
What a great research. Thank you.
“Funny” that You mentioned the 3% death rate of that time, because that is about the rate we would have to expect on account of the pandemic if no vaccines are made available in time.
It’s amazing how the population has exploded since that time. 3% of today’s population is around 228 million people.
That is a really great article.
“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.” ”
It could be written today.
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Thanks! When I was researching the background for the article, I was amazed at just how many aspects of that time could be applied to today’s situation. Sir Rumbold’s words struck me which is why I included them.
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Good, honorable work, Josh—thanks for that.
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As a German born some time after the war, it’s always very interesting for me to read about that time. Almost every German company profited from the Nazis and that ist known to those who want to know it.
So thank you Joshua for adding this story about Pelikan!
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Yes, my research revealed that this scenario was not just restricted to Pelikan by any means. Whether they want to admit it or not, most German companies were complicit in some way. I’m amazed that so many were able to get back to business as usual after the war.
Why where You amazed? In every country the economy has to follow the rule of the war if any serious war is going on. Many have to rearrange their production from civil to military purposes. And after the war they go back to “normal”. Women return to their “home” and the remaining and homecoming men fill their old space in economy. It is the same for winners and losers.
Funny thing here: In China the state owned production for military garments had to switch to protective clothing immediately after the outbreak. It depends on the enemy You face 😉
Just given the sentiments surrounding the Holocaust. I guess I only have today’s attitudes and opinions to judge it by. I certainly don’t know how it was viewed back then or how widely it was even known. You’re certainly not wrong about the post-war economy and return to normal.
In every war crimes are committed. The war is a crime in itself. It is nothing short of mass murder. Therefore I would not know why any specific event would turn any company that was ordered to make products serving the soldiers into a “bad” company which would not have any right to turn to “normal” production after the war. If any specific event turns the whole economy of any country into “bad” companies, then what about Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Are Ford and GE and the like now “bad” companies because of that? Can a world war really have good and bad parties? I think a war can have winners and losers. But in the end, all are losers, because people die.
The good thing about Corona is, that Defender 2020 war slowly withdrawn. Soldiers are needed at home. People rethink their priorities. It was about time.
You’re not wrong but the company need not be inherently “bad” to be perceived that way. Right or wrong, a negative public perception has killed companies before. Again, I think it’s all relative to the world at the time. Would these companies have been allowed a return to normalcy if social media existed then like it does today? Such scenarios require only a vocal minority to create a lot of problems for a company, rightfully or wrongly. All abstract musings of course.
Lest we forget, Henry Ford also supported the Nazi movement. Troubling times indeed.
As a side note, my father who was a US Army war veteran met a German army veteran at a flea market food court. They had the longest conversation and apparently fought in battles near one another. Neither man held any grudge toward the other, and parted as friends. This dosen’t negate the horrors WW2 produced but offers a ray of hope and forgiveness.
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Thank you for sharing the anecdote. Nice to see that neither held any animosity for their one time enemy.
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Thank you for a very interesting article. I have long been interested to know how Pelikan, a famous German manufacturing company, operated under the Nazi regime. These were dark times indeed.
I would be very interested in more detail about the WWII production models: were there pens issued for the Wehrmacht (in a similar way that Parker produced a “Trench Pen” for WWI troops)? Also what was the course of development of Pelikan pen designs in the immediate post-war period? To which countries were they were exported? Were Pelikan pens already renowned outside Germany in the pre-war period or is their world-wide success a post-war phenomenon?
Perhaps you could do a follow-up article?
I do not believe that there were any pens produced for the Wehrmacht, at least none that my research turned up. There were Pelikan pens made for local government officials that I’ve seen. The immediate post-war period saw the continuation of mostly the pre-war models. It wasn’t until 1950 that something new was introduced. Pelikan pens were already well regarded outside of Germany. The company operated in Hannover, Vienna, Danzig, Milan, Barcelona, Bucharest, Sofia, Warsaw, Budapest, Zagreb, Buenos Aires, Rio de Janeiro, and Santiago de Chile as of 1938 which gave them a far reach outside of Germany.
Thank you Joshua, for a very well researched article, that truly was a pleasure to read. Great amount of historical data that must have taken quite sometime to research and authenticate. Thank you, again. Cheers.
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I’m glad to read that you enjoyed the work. I’m really proud of this one. It did take a lot of time to work on, particularly given that my free time is even less than usual these days. Still, the story seemed worth telling.
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Thank you very much, Joshua, for this well-researched and well-written article. I appreciate getting a glimpse of this part of the story.
You’re welcome. It’s amazing to me how this has been so effectively buried over the years, at least to non-German speaking foreigners. I found very little in the English print media about this topic.
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Josh, I always appreciated the depth of your research. I must admit that I am conflicted by this despite being a lifelong Pelikan fan. That 100th anniversary picture is haunting.
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I can certainly understand how you feel. What I would say is that it’s probably best to leave history in the past and resist the temptation to make it an on-going accusation against a company, particularly when those who were involved are now long gone. That’s not to say that we should forget our history or the wrongs that may have been committed. I think that there is a happy medium.
Thank you Joshua. I found this carefully researched and well-written post to be fascinating and jarring. I have collected vintage Pelikan pens for more than 25 years and was aware that, like most German companies at that time, Pelikan supported the war effort. I even have an original copy of the book Pelikan produced to commemorate its 100th anniversary, so I had seen the photos of the factory adorned with Nazi banners. But the information you have provided with respect to the political leanings of Pelikan’s owner and the degree to which Pelikan’s resources were involved in Nazi atrocities is making me think about one of my favorite pen brands in a new light. I am curious whether anyone has done a similar analysis of the role played by Montblanc and its owners during WW II.
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I’m jealous of you having that 100th anniversary book. I’ve never been able to find one for sale. That’s a great piece of history. I am not a Montblanc guy but I had heard that, unlike Pelikan, Montblanc had suffered bombing damage during the war and therefore had to rebuild. Many records were lost as a consequence so I’m not sure how much is available out there.
That is a fantastic and well-written essay and I think it took courage to write it. I was born well after that war, but am keenly aware that we lost swathes of our family in the camps and that my uncle only survived the POW camp because someone told him to lose his dog-tags and lie about his religion. It’s hard to think of how many people lost their lives with Pelikan ink in their arms.
What bothers me perhaps as much as Pelikan’s complicity during the war is the company’s refusal to acknowledge its role and to apologize. While I agree there can be, as you put it, a happy medium, it should include acceptance of responsibility and publicly shared steps to assure us, even now, that the company repudiates anti-Semitism and other biases and would choose the path of resistance rather than complicity in the future.
Thank you for the kind words Ruth and for sharing your family’s story. Given the volume of companies in Germany (and abroad) that were complicit to varying degrees, I would be interested to know just how many of them have acknowledged that past. I suspect that it may only be a minority.
It would indeed be interesting to know. It seemed as if for a while, years ago, there was the start of a reckoning, but I don’t know what become of it. I don’t really wish Pelikan ill, but I would like to see them step up and hear them say, “What our company did was wrong.” I’m not going to hold my breath though.
Not an unreasonable request, for sure. Not being from that part of the world, I don’t have any sense about what type of reckoning has or hasn’t taken place.
What a fascinating read Joshua, I certainly appreciate your efforts in enlightening us on this period in Pelikan’s history and their involvement. I also agree with you that history is what it is and should be both protected and learned from but not kept in the present due to personnel feelings or vendettas, we have enough of our own self created problems to worry about today. That being said I’m sure you have been very busy with the Covid-19 pandemic reeking havoc all over the world so thank you again for the time you spent putting this together.
Thanks James. I’m glad that you liked the post. COVID-19 has kept me very busy but finding few precious moments here and there to do something like this article helps keep me sane and allows me to focus on other things. This website has always been my therapy animal as it were.
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I was so caught up in your article that I completely forgot you’re so immersed in this pandemic. My hat’s off to you and the gratitude of my heart is yours for the lives you’re saving and the ones you’re trying to let go as comfortably as possible. If good wishes were enough to keep you safe, I’d tell you to have nothing to fear.
Thank you for your very kinds words. Your well wishes are much appreciated.
Thank you Joshua for writing this excellent piece and especially at this time when you must be extremely busy. Hope you are well and thank your for your real life work in these challenging medical times. I have always wondered about German and Japanese pen companies and their history during WWII. The mostly blank gaps in their online histories, some times followed by a phrase something like, “after the war we began work on…..(a pen or ink challenge). Someday perhaps the blanks will be filled in, not for recriminations, but as another part of the history of the fountain pen world. Again thank you for your excellent scholarship and objective writing on a dark time in our planet’s history. Stay well.
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Almost 2 months into the pandemic with daily exposures to a large number of infected patients and I remain healthy if not a bit weary for the effort. I appreciate your support Alan. Researching and writing pieces like this help to keep me sane. I’m glad that I’m not the only one who had the same questions about the gap in the histories. Everything that I ever read about Pelikan walked right over this period as if nothing much happened outside of war rationing and it always just rung hollow with me. It was my discontent with that false facade that prompted the research behind this piece and I was really happy to put together what I did. I would love to see similar pieces about other companies but, alas, that is beyond my scope.
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Joshua, you have referred several times to Pelikan and other companies being “complicit”, but Nazi Germany did not tolerate any sort of opposition to the party line. Any action by company directors etc. would have resulted in almost certain death so the only option was to comply. It would take a very brave person to go against what was, probably, the most controlling regime ever. I think a lot of German companies (Japanese and Italian too) treat that period in their history as something to be ashamed of whilst knowing that, at the time, there was very little they could do about it. I always ask myself what I would have done if I had lived in those countries at the time.
Complicit simply means being involved with others in wrongdoing. I don’t mean to imply it was all voluntary but I don’t know a better word for it. Many business leaders at the time were seemingly sympathetic and collaborated with the Nazi government for ideological reasons whereas others simply saw a chance to make a profit. I totally acknowledge that the Nazi’s brutally dealt with any opposition. That doesn’t mean good people didn’t step up and try to frustrate the Nazi efforts. Of course, a good number of those did pay with their lives. I think that it is important to acknowledge the past, to remember it in an effort to never repeat the worst aspects of it, but also to not be forever apologetic for it. How much these companies could have done else wise is unclear and likely immaterial. I am reminded of Edmund Burke and his quote, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” No one knows what they would do until faced with such a situation and I would never pretend to know myself. Hopefully we will never have to find out. I can only hope that the good in us would give us the strength to resists and that our moral compass would always find true North, even if it meant paying for that defiance with our life.
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I would guess that writing about Pelikan’s role in the Nazi regime was a difficult thing for you, understandably. As a longtime customer, it was difficult for me to read. But in a way, this disturbing history is not all that different from what many of us who are investors in various markets do, all the time. Consciously or unconsciously we give tacit approval to tobacco producers, weapons manufacturers, air and water polluters, totalitarian dictators. It’s a long list of wrong values. I have no excuse for my own complicity.
Calling our attention to such uncomfortable truths, in any case, is important and I want to thank you for doing the right thing. As Chekhov would say, future generations will have much to correct.
Great post! One note, you say the war ended “with the surrender of Japan following the atomic devastation at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” However, small note, Japanese officials during the time also noted that the Soviet invasion of Manchuria as a major factor in ending the war. Source: https://amti.csis.org/the-legacy-of-the-soviet-offensives-of-august-1945/
Thank you for adding to the conversation. I wasn’t trying to provide a thorough recap of the war itself as that would take volumes to accomplish but I did feel it important to outline the broad strokes of the war in order to give some context. I appreciate the additional insight that you shared. The Soviet Union didn’t have much involvement in the Pacific campaign until the very end of the war so their contribution is often overlooked. It’s not surprising that their newly declared involvement, combined with the atomic devastation, would be an additional factor in Japan’s decision to surrender.
It is one of the most suppressed information that actually Japan was more than ready to surrender before the two atomic bombs where dropped on the two non-military targets. Diplomatic notes from Japan where already in the hands of the US-military. But the US-military insisted on testing their new weapons anyway. Also the military intended to send a clear sign to China with this. Hiroshima and Nagasaki where nothing short of mass murder and not at all the reason for the surrender of Japan. Hiroshima was merely a testing ground. Local doctors where forbidden to try to heal patients. A great number of US-military medics where observing this situation for a long time in order to assess the medium and long term impact of the weapon. It is well documented. Just most people do not want to know about it, because it is such an atrocity. Since Einstein knew, that he was part of all that, he “converted” to determinism. He could not live with the responsibility. Therefore he cheated his mind by this conversion. For him it meant, that everything is predetermined and therefore nobody could actually have a responsibility. There is no relationship between morals and intelligence. This are completely independent features.
While I don’t disagree that the U.S. military likely had ulterior motives when they dropped those bombs, I don’t believe that it is the reason Einstein was a determinist. He long held a determinist belief system which allowed him to believe that the mysteries of the universe could be worked out mathematically. This is why he was unable to come to accept quantum mechanics. Also, Einstein had no direct connection with the development of these atomic weapons. Perhaps you were thinking of Oppenheimer?
The Theory of Relativity was not the theoretical foundation for the atomic bombs? Of course, Oppenheimer was more involved in a practical manner. But involvement and responsibility have many faces. And from that point of which You mentioned, I have my reservations regarding Quantum Theory as well 😉
There is no such thing as a quantum leap. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hPyUFbKRwq0
The idea of an uncertainty in quantum physics stems from the inability of a precise measurement. The quantum is so incredibly small, that at the moment we can not make any certain assessment about any given quantum. But that does not mean, that its condition could not be defined or is undefined or unclear or any thing like that in reality. It is only our “blurred” way of looking at it. In this regard quantum physics is repeating the same mistake as the old Greeks who called the atom átomos, indivisible. They would not know then, how to break it apart. And in the same way we do not know today how to tell the exact position, spin and the like about a quantum. And from this inability to look “sharp” enough, those weak minds conclude, its condition is not sharp. Very silly indeed.
Since relativity and quantum mechanics are well beyond my understanding, I’m unable to offer an educated assessment. I do agree though that we often claim things as unknowable that are simply beyond our current level of understanding. History is full of countless examples of such.
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Thank you Joshua for a most interesting and most informative article. It is indeed a fascinating subject. I am sure you are aware of the important book “Defying Hitler” by Sebastian Haffner which gives an honest account of that horrible time in history.
I’m glad that you enjoyed. That book is a good resource for seeing just how everyday German life was affected during the Nazi rise to power. Sometimes I fear that such patterns may one day again assert themselves. Doesn’t seem so far fetched when you look at the state of affairs in the world today.
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I absolutely share your sentiment. Thanks again for the great essay.
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I know this is an older thread but your essay about Pelikan and the Beindorff’s was quite striking to me as a pen collector. I am left with a question: Is Pelikan still owned by the Beindorff family?
Hello Richard. In 1978, the company was transformed into a “limited company” the shares of which were entirely held by the Beindorff family. Bad business decisions from then on out lead to significant losses and bankruptcy was declared May 1, 1982. By 1994, Condorpart was the majority shareholder. By 1996, Goodace out of Malaysia owned the majority shares, as they do today. Ownership was realigned in 83/84 therefore I suspect that is when the Beindorff family began to exit the arena.
So Herr Beindorf moved in with family in Celle. That’s as damning as anything else so far as his knowing about Nazi atrocities. Celle is where the Bergen-Belsen death camp was located.
I was unaware of that fact Peter. Thanks for pointing that out.
This is a great article! I teach a course in WWII history, and use some vintage pens for grading papers. This piece gives me some extra tidbits that I know will engage the students.
Thanks! Glad that you enjoyed it and might be able to make some use of it in the classroom. I really enjoyed writing that one.
Can you please tell me what your source was for saying that Pelikan ink was used to tattoo the prisoners in Auschwitz. You say: “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.”
There used to be a showcase in the Auschwitz Museum where you could see Pelikan ink and a needle that was used to tattoo the prisoners. The showcase was dissolved after they realized they had no definite historic proof to say that Pelikan ink was used to tattoo the prisoners.
I would really need to know your historical sources for that for my scientific work and a film I made on that topic.
Thanks for your answer in advance and best regards,
Florian and I spoke offline about his query but I will summarize my answer here for those who my require it in the future. I first saw the instillation at the Auschwitz Museum which is where I derived the initial idea. At the time of publication and until this comment, I was unaware such an instillation may have been removed. In corroborating that instillation, however, I did come across a transcript from a lecture given by a person I would classify as a subject matter expert that suggested the same. Sadly, I lost some files in a data migration between laptops so do not have that reference available. Some other inferred references included text here and here.
Is any of this incontrovertible proof of use beyond 100% shadow of a doubt? No. There was enough circumstantial and anecdotal evidence to support my statement. I was unable to find photos of it in use that would be incontrovertible but such evidence is unlikely to exist.
If someone has any more definitive evidence to support the use of Pelikan’s inks, please feel free to comment and add your voice/source.