Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy Sigmar Gabriel, commemorating the 70th anniversary of Eduard Hamm’s death, has named his Ministry’s library after Eduard Hamm, Reich Minister for Economic Affairs in the Weimar Republic and opponent of National Socialism from the very beginning. He lost his life while under arrest by the Gestapo in Berlin.
Speech of thanks
by Christine Beßner, Hamburg,
at the commemorative event held in the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy
on 23 September 2014
Dear Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy,
Dear State Secretary,
Dear Mr. Kuhne,
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is very touching that you, dear Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, are commemorating Eduard Hamm on the 70th anniversary of his death and keep the memory of him alive by naming your Ministry’s library after him.
The last time Eduard Hamm was honoured in his lifetime was when he was awarded the honorary degree of doctor iuris causa in November 1927. He was proud of the award until the end of his life, since in the statement of reasons his commitment to the principles of a democratic state was summarized as follows:
“… appreciating the many merits that Your Honour has gained in difficult times, holding several top positions in the federal state of Bavaria and the German Reich and while acting as Senior Executive Director of the Board of Deutscher Industrie- und Handelstag.”
As Minister of Commerce, Trade and Industry of the free state of Bavaria Eduard Hamm’s term in office was characterized by his efforts to get over the centrally planned economy resulting from the First World War; as State Secretary of the Reich Chancellery in Berlin he stood up for preserving the unity of the Republic and protecting it against occupation and separation as well as radical movements to subvert the Republic; as Reich Minister for Economic Affairs he committed himself to stabilize the new currency and strive for international competitiveness and reputation; and in his function as Senior Executive Director of the Board of Deutscher Industrie- und Handelstag (DIHT) he advocated the association’s orientation toward the requirements of a democratic state, “toward the common goal that is welfare of the German economic life”, as Franz von Mendelssohn put it in 1927 in Hamburg. This comprised the drafting of political programmes in the areas of economic and fiscal policy including social policy and dual professional education. The goal seemed reachable, as the speeches given by Curtius and Hamm at the plenary meeting of DIHT in Hamburg reflect.
However, “When, after an alleged upswing, in 1929 the economy suffered a setback the Nazi movement quickly regained importance. For it combined hostility towards capital with a highly developed sense of national identity”, Hamm wrote in “Deutsche Wirtschafts-Zeitung” in 1932. As in the years between 1921 and 1924, he warned against the dangers of this movement once more. In the three months preceding the elections of November 1932, Hamm started a series of articles on the national socialists’ economic and socio-political views in “Deutsche Wirtschafts-Zeitung” published by him. Everyone reading these analyses should have known what was to come.
After the Nazi seizure of power Hamm started to openly defy the regime. His resistance was for the benefit of the associations involved in foreign trade and aimed to preserve autonomy of the German economy. Hamm’s opposition was about “Whether one allows people to freely exercise their natural power, with the law counterbalancing these ambitions”, as he said himself, whether a party’s will can generate an autarchic state, whether living conditions can be created by rationalizing work in an international association, or living space can be secured by transforming Germany into an agricultural state and intensifying arms build-up. At that time Hamm could still pin Minister for Economic Affairs Hugenberg down to an open economic policy. Asking the new Reich Chancellor for such commitment was pointless. Hamm was clear about that beforehand.
Hamm has never been honoured for his resolute open opposition to the Nazi movement right from the start or his resistance against the regime, both in the early stages and later on until his arrest on 2 September 1944. People were only interested in the circumstances of his death. But we know nothing about how he lost his life. No one heard from him after he had been arrested.
The wording of the death certificate is as follows:
“Reich Minister (ret.), honorary Doctor of Laws, Eduard Hamm, Roman Catholic, resident in Munich, Friedrichstraße 17, currently residing in Berlin, Lehrter Straße 3, died on 23 September 1944 around 11:15 a.m. in Berlin while on his way to the State Hospital of the Security Police.
Berlin, 16 March 1945.”
The file went missing. On 25 July 1945 Hamm’s widow Maria Hamm, my grandmother, filed a complaint for crime against humanity. After several years of investigation the Director of Public Prosecutions of Berlin discontinued the proceedings on 18 November 1950. The investigations had not led to a clarification of the matter. This second file disappeared, too. The lasting uncertainty cannot be eliminated through assumptions or convictions. Rather, the question of “what for” remains important. Maria Hamm chose the following headstone inscription:
“He died for his beliefs.”
It is these beliefs that I wanted to share with you today. On the 70th anniversary of his death you, dear Federal Minister Gabriel, have honoured Eduard Hamm in a sensitive and ingenious manner.
This is a cause of joy for me.
[Handover of a painting]
(The painting shows the reception of Sir Arthur Balfour at the DIHT after the Hoover moratorium of 1931. It is a meeting of the Republic’s economic and financial experts, four finance ministers, four ministers for economic affairs, six state secretaries, representatives of German banks and industries as well as DIHT representatives. Eduard Hamm recorded the names of the personalities by hand. Details may be found in the attached Comments. The attendance of Dr. Carl Melchior, Warburg Bank & Co., Reparation Conference expert (cf. Comments, No. 46) allows conclusions regarding the topics of the debates.
Translation by Alexandra Christiansen, Graduate Translator (English and French) email@example.com
With my sincere gratitude to my favourite teacher and dear friend Christine Beßner!