Move the mouse pointer over a red word in the main text, to view the glossary entry for this word.

Hans Deichmann (1907–2004)

Hans Deichmann, 2001'© Alfred Jungraithmayr
Hans Deichmann, 2001
© Alfred Jungraithmayr

 a  “‘Combing out’ was understood to mean interrogating individual prisoners about their civilian occupation, age, and health, and when the results looked promising, separating and shipping-out skilled workers and assistants for construction sites in Upper Silesia.”

(Hans Deichmann: Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (New York: Marsilio, 1997), p. 93.)

“After combing out the Italian camps in Mantua, Modena, and Carpi—more than two hundred construction workers in all—the colonel decided to try Fiume. On September 20th, he and H.D. were flown from Venice to Fiume in a JU 52 Luftwaffe seaplane.”

(Hans Deichmann: Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (New York: Marsilio, 1997), p. 93.)
 b  “H.D. returned home to the vicinity of Frankfurt at the beginning of September 1945. Like most returneees, he was unemployed, but also full of expectant enthusiasm for participating in the spiritual reconstruction, the attempt to remove the foundations and habits of fascism—from the right and from the left—which were so ingrained in the Germans. There were only a few people with whom he could associate, for only a few had had the strength and the good fortune to keep themselves at an uncompromising distance from National Socialism.”
(Hans Deichmann: Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (New York: Marsilio, 1997), p. 16.)
 c  “But suddenly it became the focal point of the whole journey—to see the place, after forty-seven years, which he had visited ten times—I.G. Farben had had its construction site there—between March 1942 and November 1944. In July 1943, when the murders had reached a high point and everyone was talking about them at the construction site, H.D. realized that the horrendous atrocities of the Nazi regime would end only with the loss of the war. From that point on, he had decided to do his best to help bring this about.”
(Hans Deichmann: Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy (New York: Marsilio, 1997), p. 137.)

Hans Deichmann was born on September 9, 1907, the son of Cologne banker Carl Theodor Deichmann and his wife, Ada (née von Schnitzler). He spent his childhood with his brother Carl, two years younger, and his sister Freya, three years younger, well sheltered by their parents. Freya later married Helmut James, Count von Moltke, the leader of the Kreisau Circle resistance group. The family’s banking house flourished, until it was plunged into ruin by the worldwide economic crisis of the early 1930s.


In 1923, 16-year-old Hans Deichmann was sent to a boarding school in Bad Godesberg, the Deutsches Kolleg. Then he studied law and spent a semester in Vienna in the summer of 1927. The economic situation prevented him from pursuing his profession after earning his law degree, however, and in 1931 he began a commercial apprenticeship with I.G. Farben in Frankfurt am Main. In 1933, he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Bonn, writing a dissertation on governmental supervision of foundations. For political reasons, Deichmann relinquished his original wish to become a judge after power was handed over to Hitler’s government, as he was unwilling to work for the Nazi system of justice. In July 1934, I.G. Farben sent Deichmann for one year to Paris, where he married a Dutchwoman, Senta Fayan Vlielander Hein, with whom he had four children.


In 1937, Deichmann switched to the Italian Division of I.G. Farben in Frankfurt am Main, where he was responsible for the sale of dyes. In the fall of 1940 (probably on November 12, 1940), during a private visit from his uncle, I.G. Farben management board member Georg von Schnitzler, Deichmann was witness to a conversation with Fritz ter Meer, also a member of this management board. The two managers welcomed the possible use of concentration camp prisoners to build a new Buna plant in Auschwitz, seeing this potential as an advantage of the location.[1] In March 1942, Deichmann did “compulsory service” in Rome as the representative of Carl Krauch, the “Plenipoteniary for Special Issues of Chemical Production under the Four Year Plan” (GBChem). From then on, Deichmann was responsible for recruiting Italian construction firms that were willing to provide workers for building I.G. Farben’s hydrogenation plants in Upper Silesia, and thus also for building the I.G. plant at Auschwitz. Until September 1943, the recruiting was done on a voluntary, contractual basis. After the Allied landing in southern Italy and the declaration of war against Germany by the new Italian government under Marshal Pietro Badoglio in October 1943, there was a radical change in the recruitment practices for laborers, and coercive measures were introduced in northern Italy, which was not yet liberated. In the period that followed, Deichmann made successful efforts to block the forcible recruitments of Italian workers. After October 1943, no additional Italian workers were recruited for I.G. Farben’s plant construction sites in Upper Silesia, at Auschwitz, Heydebreck, and Blechhammer. Against his will, he was employed as an interpreter during the “combing” of Italian prisoner of war camps  a . In his capacity as the agent of the GBChem, Deichmann made 10 personal visits to the I.G. Auschwitz construction site, the first of them on March 16, 1942. On these occasions, he witnessed the brutal exploitation of concentration camp prisoners and saw the smoking chimney of the crematorium at Auschwitz. While viewing the foreign workers’ camp for Italians at I.G. Auschwitz, he learned further details about the extermination camp from the Italian laborers. As a result, Deichmann decided to do everything he could to sabotage the German war effort. Back in Rome, he made contact with the Italian antifascist resistance organization Giustizia e Libertà. He supported sabotage actions and revealed strategic information about German troop movements and equipment transports to Italian partisans and to the Allies. Through his sister, Freya von Moltke, he had a connection to the Kreisau Circle.


After the war, in fall 1945, Hans Deichmann returned to Hesse, in the American occupation zone  b . There he took part in the decartelization negotiations for the I.G. Farben concern and participated in de-Nazification proceedings for the SPD, acting as chairman of the de-Nazification tribunal in Oberursel, near Frankfurt am Main. Disappointed by the steps toward political restoration in the early days of the Cold War, he returned to Italy with his wife and children after only three years. There he joined acquaintances in founding the import company SASEA, where he held an executive position until the late 1960s. His marriage to Senta Fayan Vlielander Hein broke up. From 1960 on, he lived with architect Luisa Castiglioni, whom he had met in 1956. Deichmann supported various democratic initiatives, social, cultural, and scientific projects. In addition to the Centro Educativo Italo-Svizzero (C.E.I.S.), which looked after children who were traumatized by the war or handicapped, he supported the establishment and expansion of the Scuola di Musica di Fiesole and the Mensa bambini proletari in Naples.


The memory of his time as an I.G. Farben employee stayed with Deichmann throughout his life. In the late 1980s, he started writing his autobiography. In 1991, he traveled to Auschwitz.  c  In the following years, Deichmann criticized the German economic historian Gottfried Plumpe in a public letter and engaged in a controversy, published in 1996, with the American historian Peter Hayes regarding I.G. Farben’s reasons and timetable for selecting Auschwitz as a location. In 1995, his book Oggetti (published in English as Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, 1997)was published in Milan, appearing one year later in Germany. In it, he describes episodes recalled from his life in nonchronological order, always connecting his thoughts with some object. Thus readers learn the author’s life history, from his childhood to the present. In 1996, Deichmann was awarded the Geschwister-Scholl-Preis for his book. Hans Deichmann lived in Italy until his death in Bocca di Magra on December 6, 2004.

(BG/FS; transl. KL)


Kuby, Erich: Laudatio für Hans Deichmann anlässlich der Verleihung des Geschwister-Scholl-Preises am 25. November 1996.



Cordes, Annemarie: “Nachruf Dr. Hans Deichmann (1907–2004).” In: Kreisau-Initiative Berlin e.V. – Stiftung Kreisau für europäische Verständigung: Jahresrundbrief 2004, pp. 43–44, (accessed on August 20, 2008).

Deichmann, Hans: Die Staatsaufsicht über die Stiftungen. Greifswald: Adler, 1933.

Deichmann, Hans: “Auschwitz.” In: 1999. Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 5, (1990), No. 3, pp. 110–16.

Deichmann, Hans: “Offener Brief an Gottfried Plumpe.” In: 1999. Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 8 (1993), No. 4, pp. 158–161.

Deichmann, Hans: Objects: A Chronicle of Subversion in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy. New York: Marsilio, 1997.

Deichmann, Hans / Hayes, Peter: “Standort Auschwitz: Eine Kontroverse über die Entscheidungsgründe für den Bau des I.G. Farben-Werks in Auschwitz.” In: 1999. Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 11 (1998), No. 1, pp. 79–101.

Deichmann, Hans: “Per giustizia, libertà, intesa tra popoli e razze.” In: sozial.geschichte.extra, (accessed on August 20, 2008).

Sachs, Harvey: “Der Ordinare.” In: The New Yorker, June 4, 1990, p. 47.

Schultheis, Jürgen: “November 1940, ein Tischgespräch im Familienkreis.” In: Frankfurter Rundschau, December 2, 1993, p. 3.

[1] See Hans Deichmann: “Auschwitz.” In: 1999. Zeitschrift für Sozialgeschichte des 20. und 21. Jahrhunderts 5, (1990), No. 3, pp. 110–16, here p. 114; and Jürgen Schultheis: “November 1940, ein Tischgespräch im Familienkreis.” In: Frankfurter Rundschau, December 2, 1993, p. 3.