Although no German dictionary contains the word “Mutausbruch” (“outburst of courage”), it might one day become a commonly used expression among young people. That’s because Evonik has recently started to devote entire “Mutausbruch” days to its youngest employees. The trainees come together once a year to study the history of Evonik’s predecessor companies during the Nazi era. They do not do this as an academic exercise but in order to reflect on what happened in the past in order to discover what they themselves can and must do against antisemitism, racism, and populism today. “A culture of remembrance shouldn’t be cultivated only by politicians and in schools,” says Thomas Wessel, Evonik’s Chief Human Resources Officer and Industrial Relations Director. “It’s a task that all of civil society has to take on. We are also part of this society— as individuals and as a company.”
Culture of remembrance
Because Evonik shares this concern with Borussia Dortmund, the soccer club and its main sponsor have since 2017 been offering their employees the chance to take part in an educational field trip once a year to Oświęcim, a town that under its German name Auschwitz has become a synonym for the genocide of Europe’s Jews. There is considerable interest in this tour, and the 40 slots are always quickly filled. The participants spend four days exploring the main camp in Auschwitz, the extermination camp in Birkenau, and the subcamp in Monowitz. When they return to Germany, they tell their friends and colleagues what they saw, heard, and learned in Auschwitz.
Take stand, break silence
Evonik tries to counter the new populism, which downplays the crimes of the Nazis, through partnerships with the Jewish museums in Berlin and Frankfurt and by means of scholarly findings. The company supports the students at the Holocaust Chair of the Goethe University in Frankfurt by opening its archives to them and helping to finance an annual tour of various memorials. One of the most important historical lessons was once formulated by Theresienstadt survivor Michaela Vidláková: “The biggest danger isn’t the screaming minority, but the silent majority.” This is precisely what Evonik wants to change, says Markus Langer, Head of Brand Communications: “We want to encourage the majority to break their silence and take an unmistakable stance.”
“It’s not possible to truly understand what the people had to suffer and endure back then. However, I feel myself compelled to remind people of the victims and to devote myself to preventing something like that from ever happening again!” Amelie Gorden, BVB
“The images will always remain with me. As often as I can, I will tell people of the experiences and sad feelings that I had there. Something like that must NEVER happen again. My family and I can live in an age in which there is peace and democracy is extremely important. That’s why we can’t allow extreme right-wing parties to take hold.” Michele Agusta, Evonik