The German oil industry did not employ geologists until the 1920s. Instead, they relied on geological surveys and other resources from universities, predominantly from Jakob Stoller of the Prussian Geological Survey. After World War I, with the beginning of private motorization and the interest of the military, demand for oil began to increase. This led to the establishment of a separate department of petroleum geology and the employment of a young geologist, Alfred Bentz, as assistant to Stoller. Bentz obtained his doctorate in 1922 from the University of Tübingen, then worked briefly as an assistant in Tübingen until he became a geologist at the PGLA in Berlin. After Stoller’s death in 1930, Bentz was appointed head of the small petroleum department. He established meetings and workshops, which led to fruitful exchange between the various smaller and larger oil companies and the state geologists.
Around 1930, there was much discussion about oil genesis in Germany – about whether it was a purely stratigraphic phenomenon or if it migrated from an as-yet unknown source. August Moos and Karl Krejci-Graf supported the migration theory, and they were supported by Bentz.
Moos had studied geology and mining in Berlin and Munich, obtaining a doctorate early in 1922. The previous year he worked for a mining company in Salzgitter, and 10 years later became the only geologist for Preussag, a vast German mining, smelting and oil company.
Krejci-Graf was a citizen of Austria who studied geology and mining in Leoben, Vienna, Sweden and Berlin. In 1923, he obtained his doctorate from the University of Vienna. From 1922 to 1930, he worked as a petroleum geologist in Romania, and from 1930 to 1936, Krejci-Graf became professor of palaeontology and mining at the Chinese Sun Yat-sen University.
The Third Reich’s Thirst for Oil
Early in 1933, the National Socialist party under Adolf Hitler came into power and immediately began restructuring society to their political agenda, which included extreme nationalism, anti-Semitism, imperialistic expansion toward Eastern Europe and revenge for the Treaty of Versailles. A new law that allowed the “removal” of “undesired” personnel at German universities and other public employers for racist or political reasons reshaped the scientific landscape in Germany.
The expansionist and revanchist policy of the Nazi regime headed for a new war, which meant more motorization in the military than ever before. Thus, oil as fuel and lubricant became a crucial resource. In January 1934, a German-wide drilling program – “Reichsbohrprogramm” – was established under the supervision of Alfred Bentz and his team, systematizing the search for oil and introducing modern exploration methods like seismic investigation. In 1936, they enacted the so-called “Vierjahresplan,” or Four-Year Plan, to include these new techniques and prepare the country’s military and economy for a war, beginning at the end of the allocated timespan.
For oil, this meant that they implemented four strategies simultaneously:
- Import surplus petroleum from Iraq and Mexico and storage for the time when Britain or the United States might enter the war and block supplies.
- Gain allies who would be able to supply oil under conditions of war: Austria, Hungary and especially Romania.
- Chemically synthesize kerosene from coal and oil shale.
- Increase production within Germany.
Bentz was involved in the first strategy, and so travelled abroad and assessed the situation. He was also mainly responsible for the fourth.
In 1934, the Nazi administration opened an Institute for Petroleum Geology within the Survey with Bentz as director. In this function he became responsible for the petroleum supply of the Third Reich, working directly under Hermann Göring. Bentz, although no member of the Nazi Party, supported the Nazi regime with his work as a geologist. Nevertheless, he actively saved a number of geologists and engineers in Eastern Europe from concentration camps by claiming them for his petroleum drilling campaigns.
Krejci-Graf became one of the petroleum geologists responsible for the second strategy to gain oi-rich allies. In spring 1937, he returned to Germany, becoming chief geologist for the Preussag drilling company, as successor to Moos. Krejci-Graf soon was appointed professor for the geology of combustibles at the mining academy in Freiberg. Having worked as a petroleum geologist in Romania before, he was commissioned to conduct oil exploration in Romania and organize the supply for Germany.
Meanwhile, Moos faced increasing difficulties due to his Jewish ancestry, and in 1938 he tried desperately but unsuccessfully to emigrate to Australia. In September 1939, World War II started with the German invasion of Poland and emigration became impossible. However, help came from Bentz and his connections to the oil industry. The petroleum company Gewerkschaft Elwerath hired Moos as an oil expert, and so Moos and his family moved to Croatia.
The British naval blockade stopped the supply of oil from the Near East and Mexico, putting additional pressure on Bentz and his growing department of petroleum geologists to supply enough oil from within Germany, from the allies on Germany’s southeastern flank and from the newly invaded territories in Poland and France. Krejci-Graf became ever more deeply involved in politics as he secured much of the Romanian oil production for the German military. In May 1939, his boss Wilhelm Keppler (formerly Hitler’s economic adviser) bestowed upon him a “high honor” by making him an SS officer.
Genocide in Galicia
In the newly invaded territory, three organizations were involved in petroleum operations: the military, the petroleum specialists under Alfred Bentz and a consortium of German petroleum companies.
In 1941, at the southeastern front in Polish Galicia, the petroleum command under General Georg Thomas – which included combat engineers, technicians and military geologists supported and protected by fighting troops – followed the German Army to secure petroleum operations abandoned by retreating Soviet troops. From the first day onward, the large Jewish minority was terrorized, driven into ghettos and mass-murdered. The Polish population suffered as well, especially the intellectuals among them, Soviet prisoners of war and others suspected of communist sympathies. In Galicia alone, at least 520,000 Jews were murdered.
The team of Alfred Bentz followed after the military. Their task was to assess and repair whatever damage the retreating enemy might have done to the oil wells. It was often necessary to drill new wells. The oil companies were the last to arrive. They came in the form of the Beskiden (later Carpathians) oil consortium, who were responsible for the actual production, refining and transport logistics.
The atrocious decimation of the Galician Jews, many of whom had worked in the Polish oil industry, dealt a crippling blow to the petroleum business. This is the situation in which Bentz reclaimed local petroleum experts from certain death. Similarly, but on a larger scale, the Beskiden oil consortium tried to keep as many Jewish workers as possible. The locally responsible administrator, Berthold Beitz, and his wife tried to save not only the petroleum specialists, but also their families, and even hid some of them in their own home. He and his wife were later honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem World Holocaust Remembrance Center as “Righteous Among the Nations.”
In spring 1944, the Red Army reached Galicia. By then, the oil industry’s concentration camp for a few hundred Jewish workers was the only place in Galicia where Jews still lived legally, albeit under horrible conditions.
Elsewhere, the situation was no better. In July 1944, the Moos family was arrested and transported to the concentration camp Bergen-Belsen, where in autumn 1944, August’s mother died of starvation. In December, August Moos was brought to Buchenwald and murdered in January 1945, while his wife, the paleontologist Beata Moos, and their two children, continued to suffer horribly in Bergen-Belsen from hunger and typhoid fever. When they were rescued by British and Canadian troops on April 15, 1945, they could only crawl. The 14-year-old boy died shortly afterwards. Beata and her daughter, however, survived and for many years, Beata worked as a librarian for Alfred Bentz.
Germany is Crushed
The German invasion plans in the southeast were dictated by the presence of known petroleum resources. After Galicia, the oil fields north of the Caucasus followed, and the idea was to eventually cross the Caucasus and spill into Iran and Iraq from the north. The Soviet army stopped the advance of the German troops, however.
The German vanguard included a “technical petroleum brigade” with some 6,000 men to secure the Caucasus oil fields near Maikop. They were followed by some 500 to 600 civilian experts headed by Bentz’s team. The team came too late, however. They never got the field back into production, although they continued working even under constant fire until they finally had to abandon much of their gear. The long retreat had begun, which ended in May of 1945 with Germany’s total defeat.
Rebuilding Germany’s Geological Infrastructure
In August 1944, with the retreat of German troops from Romania, Krejci-Graf was arrested as a prisoner of war. He was released to return to Vienna late in 1946 and immediately found employment in his field of expertise. Whereas Krejci-Graf worked in the Soviet Sector of Vienna, he lived in the British Sector, where he was arrested one month later and handed over to American authorities, who kept him in custody until July 1947. After his release, Krejci-Graf again worked for the Soviet Petroleum Administration in Vienna. In 1953, when de-Nazification in West Germany ended, he was appointed chair of geology and paleontology at the University of Frankfurt am Main. He retired in 1963.
After World War II, geologists possessed important expertise for rebuilding the stricken country, which now was administrated by foreign military governments in four occupation areas. There were two nuclei for the revival of a German geological survey: the former Reichsamt für Bodenforschung in the Soviet Sector of Berlin and an important off-shoot of the Reichsamt, and the Department of Petroleum Geology within the British occupation area in Celle near Hannover under department director Alfred Bentz.
They were supervised by Major Albert Everard Gunther, who had studied geology at Oxford from 1922 to 1925, and became a petroleum geologist for Shell Oil Co. He spent World War II in British military service, and from 1945 to 1947, he was supervisor of the oil industry and the geological survey in the British Occupation Area. In 1947, he returned to Shell, retiring around 1965.
Whereas the post-war situation forced the establishment of individual geological surveys for each occupation area, people working in Celle and Berlin were convinced that they still belonged to the same administrative body. Consequently, there were attempts to re-contact colleagues. In 1945-‘46, Gunther commuted several times between Celle and Berlin, buying geological maps in Berlin and bringing information on drilling profiles in return.
Cold War Breaks Out
The situation changed in September 1946 when Erich Lange, an ardent communist, became head of the Berlin Geological Survey. What Lange detested most was collaboration with the “fascist-capitalist West.”
When Gunther once again travelled to Berlin in October, Lange declined access to any more files on petroleum exploration. In November, Wilhelm Kegel, Werner Paeckelmann and Wilhelm Haack were expelled without notice as accessories to the alleged theft of information by Gunther. Other dismissals followed. Kegel immediately fled into the British Sector and eventually ended up as a geology professor in Brazil. Haack and Paeckelmann hesitated and were arrested. Both died in prison. Several other geoscientists left the Survey “voluntarily.”
Thus, the geological survey in Berlin had become a Cold War battle ground. “Cleaning up” within their own institution was one strategy; the other was denigrating former colleagues now perceived to be in league with a hostile force. The petroleum geologists, specifically Alfred Bentz, became a preferred target because of their former involvement with the war effort of Nazi Germany.
In April 1949, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) was founded and the German Democratic Republic (East Germany) followed in October. As a result of the different political systems in East and West Germany, geologists developed different methods for the assessment of mineral resources and fossil fuels. Whereas in the west, prices for exploration and extraction had to compete with an increasingly global market, the east strove for planned economy, autarky and conservation of foreign currency. Consequently, what resources western geologists deemed to be negligible were regarded by eastern geologists as valuable to meet completely different priorities. These different goals became the starting point of propagandistic feuds. East German petroleum geologists, like their colleagues in other branches of the profession, became increasingly isolated due to excessive security measures, which largely prevented them from travelling, attending meetings, publishing, and accessing foreign literature.
Petroleum was regarded as an important strategic resource, and as a consequence of Cold War politics, the community of German petroleum geologists was divided into friend and foe, whether they wanted those distinctions or not.