Head Of Bayer Apologizes To Elie Wiesel For Holocaust
PITTSBURGH (AP) _ It may have been one of the most unusual lecture introductions offered.
When Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke in Pittsburgh last week, the head of Bayer Corp. introduced him.
And instead of giving the usual spiel, Helge Wehmeier, a native of Germany, apologized to Wiesel for the brutal actions of his corporation’s predecessor during World War II.
``I have sorrow and regret and apologize for the inhumanity in my country and for what I.G. Farben did to your people,″ he said as the audience of 1,800 sat in rapt silence.
Bayer’s parent company, Bayer AG, was part of the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben, which ran slave-labor factories during the Holocaust _ including one at which Wiesel worked as a teen-ager.
IGF also had a decisive share in a company that made Zyklon B gas, used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews at Auschwitz, where Wiesel’s mother and sister died.
When Wiesel found out months ago that Pittsburgh-based Bayer was a sponsor of the Three Rivers Lecture Series, he canceled the engagement.
Dennis Ciccone, director of the lecture series, told Wehmeier what had happened. Wehmeier then visited Wiesel at his New York apartment.
``I was very moved by the man,″ Wiesel said. ``I explained to him the situation. And I said to him, `Look, Bayer never apologized.′ I said it straight out.
``And he said, `What if I apologize?′
``Right then, I knew he would do it, and do it well,″ Wiesel said.
Wehmeier spoke last Wednesday of his ``shock and shame″ at learning of the Nazis’ actions and said he felt ``the obligation, but also the opportunity, to shape a different future, a better understanding and a better world.″
About 6 million Jews and 5 million members of other races died in the Holocaust, the result of Adolf Hitler’s widespread campaigns of genocide.
Wiesel, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986, noted that Wehmeier _ who was born in 1943 _ was hardly responsible for the actions of his forefathers.
``It’s not your fault that I.G. Farben was guilty,″ he said in his lecture.
Wehmeier declined to comment on the apology, Bayer spokesman Greg Coffey said.
``He’d like the remarks to speak for themselves,″ he said.