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Emil Kirdorf and the Nazi Party

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  16 December 2008

Henry Ashby Turner Jr
Yale University


The extent to which German big business aided Hitler in his rise to power is still a matter of controversy. For Marxists, or at least those who follow the Moscow line, there is no problem, since they regard Nazism as a manifestation of the monopoly stage of capitalism. Non-Marxists, however, are widely divided. Some have reached conclusions similar to those of the Marxists; others have exonerated the capitalists. Most have concluded that big business gave some support to the Nazis but have not specified its extent or significance. In part, this wide range of opinion is the result of ideological differences. But just as importantly, the evidence on which existing studies of the subject rest is scanty, sometimes ambiguous, and often of questionable validity. Few aspects of National Socialism have been so inadequately researched. Even the most basic facts remain in doubt, and before any further general interpretations can usefully be put forward toward a resolution of the controversy, it is necessary to return to the fundamental task of setting the record straight. A great deal more evidence is available for this purpose than is generally recognized, enough, in fact, to clear up many disputed issues and produce more than a few surprises. A case in point is that of Emil Kirdorf, long universally regarded as an early and loyal backer of Hitler and National Socialism in the camp of big business.

Copyright © Conference Group for Central European History of the American Historical Association 1968

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1. See, for example: Bracher, Karl Dietrich, Die Auflōsung der Weimarer Republik (2nd ed., Stuttgart and Düsseldorf, 1957), pp. 292, 334;Google ScholarBullock, Alan, Hitler. A Study in Tyranny (London, 1952), p. 133;Google ScholarHallgarten, George W.F., Hitler, Reichswehr und Industrie (2nd ed., Frankfurt am Main, 1962), passim;Google ScholarLochner, P. Louis, Tycoons and Tyrant (Chicago, 1954), pp. 97f.;Google ScholarSchulz, Gerhard in Bracher, K. D., Sauer, W., Schulz, G., Die National-sozialistische Machtergreifung (Cologne and Opladen, 1960), p. 394.Google Scholar

2. Pinner, Felix, Deutsche Wirtschaftsführer (Charlottenburg, 1925), p. 84Google Scholar. Kirdorf's own reminiscences of his business career are recorded in a 237-page memoir, “Erinnerungen, 1847–1930,” which he had printed for private distribution in 1930 (a copy is in the Kirdorf Papers held by the Gelsenkirchener Bergwerks-A.G. of Essen). An informative, if eulogistic, biography is Bacmeister, Walter, Emil Kirdorf. Der Mann. Sein Werk (2nd ed., Essen, n.d. [1936])Google Scholar. Although Bacmeister used the “Erinnerungen” as his main source of information, and thus knew the facts, he adhered to the Nazi mythology on Kirdorf's relations with the Party. The same is true of a much briefer publication: Debus, W., Emil Kirdorf, ein deutsches Kämpferleben (Essen, 1938)Google Scholar. Less informative are two earlier eulogies by Freundt, F. A.: Emil Kirdorf. Ein Lebensbild (Essen, n.d. [1921]);Google Scholar and Kapital und Arbeit (Berlin, n.d. [1929]).Google Scholar There is also a fictional treatment of Kirdorf in the novel Union der festen Hand (Berlin, 1931), by Erik Reger (pseudonym for Hermann Dannenberger). Kirdorf appears, thinly disguised, as “Chiristian Felgenhauer.”Google Scholar

3. Kaelble, Hartmut, Industrielle Interessenpolitik in der Wilhelminischen Gesellschaft (Berlin, 1967), passim.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

4. His views are best set forth in a speech he delivered in a guest appearance before the Verein für Socialpolitik on September 27, 1905: Schriften des Vereins…, cxvi (1906), 272–93. See also Jaeger, Hans, Unternehmer in der deutschen Politik, 1890–1918 (Bonn, 1967), passim.Google Scholar Also, Fürstenberg, Hans, Carl Fürstenberg. Die Lebensgeschichte eines deutschen Bankiers, 1870–1914 (Berlin, 1931), pp. 372ff., 412ff.Google Scholar

5. Bacmeister, , Kirdorf, pp. 137fGoogle Scholar. Pinner, , Wirtschaftsführer, pp. 90fGoogle Scholar. Bernhard, Ludwig, Der “Hugenberg-Konzern” (Berlin, 1928), p. 53.CrossRefGoogle Scholar Many years later, Hitler recalled that in the 1920' Kirdorf was still seething with anger at William II: Picker, Henry, ed., Hitlers Tischgespräche (Bonn, 1951), p. 120.Google Scholar

6. Schriften des Vereins für Socialpolitik, cxvi (1906), 289. Freundt, Kirdorf, p. 74. Kirdorf, “Erinnerungen,” pp. 211ff. Kirdorf's father was Catholic but died before the boy was a year old. He was raised in the Prussian Evangelical Church by his mother, but later joined a Mennonite sect to which his first wife belonged: ibid., p. 211. In the post-war period he espoused the Teutonic cult of the Ludendorffs, : Fritz Thyssen, I Paid Hitler (New York, 1941), p. 99.Google Scholar

7. Schriften des Vereins für Socialpolitik, CXVI (1906), 277.

8. Müller, Fritz F., Deutschland, Zanzibar, Ostafrika (East Berlin, 1959), p. 52.Google ScholarKehr, Eckart, “Soziale und finanzielle Grundlagen der Tirpitzschen Flottenpropaganda,” in Kehr, , Primat der Innenpolitik, ed. Hans-Ulrich Wehler (Berlin, 1965), p. 140CrossRefGoogle Scholar. Keim, August, Erlebtes und Erstrebtes (Hanover, 1925), p. 142.Google Scholar

9. Class, Heinrich, Wider den Strom (Leipzig, 1932), p. 247.Google Scholar Deutsches Zentralarchiv, Potsdam (DZAP), Alldeutscher Verband, file 211/I, letter, Class to Reventlow, Count Ernst zu, May 7, 1910.Google Scholar

10. Kruck, Alfred, Geschichte des Alldeutschen Verbandes, 1890–1939 (Wiesbaden, 1954), p. 84.Google ScholarGatzke, Hans W., Germany's Drive to the West (Baltimore, 1950), p. 43.Google ScholarFisher, Fritz, Griff nach der Weltmacht (Düsseldorf, 1961), passim.Google Scholar

11. Weber, Hellmuth, Ludendorff und die Monopole (East Berlin, 1966), pp. 103f.Google ScholarBreucker, Wilhelm, Die Tragik Ludendorffs (Stollhamm, 1953), p. 31.Google Scholar

12. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/9, letter to Schüssler, Waldemar, Oct. 25, 1926.Google Scholar

13. Bacmeister, , Kirdorf, p. 166.Google Scholar

14. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/2, letter to Dauerfriedenskomitee, Oct. 10, 1919.

15. Ibid. On the Republic as Pöbelherrschaft: DZAP, Alldeutscher Verband, 211/1, Kirdorf to Class, Aug. 28, 1922.

16. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/4, letter to Dix, Arthur, Aug. 13, 1924.Google Scholar

17. Ibid., 2 00 01/2, letter to Ludendorff, Aug. 7, 1919.

18. Ibid., letter to Reinhold Wulle, Mar. 12, 1920. Also, 2 00 01/4, letter to Arthur Dix, Aug. 13, 1924.

19. DZAP, Alldeutscher Verband, 211/1, interview printed in Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger Jan. 21, 1923.

20. Gengler, Ludwig Franz, Die deutschen Monarchisten 1919 bis 1925 (Kulmbach, 1932), p. 32.Google Scholar

21. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” pp. 210ff.Google Scholar

22. Ibid., p. 175: letter from Count Westarp, on the occasion of Kirdorf's eightieth birthday, reprinted from Berliner Börsen-Zeitung of Apr. 9, 1927. Kirdorf was a member of the Arbeitsausschuss Deutschnationaler Industrieller; see Dörr, Manfred, “Die Deutschnationale Volkspartei, 1925 bis 1928” (unpub. diss., Marburg, 1964), p. 593.Google Scholar

23. Bernhard, , “Hugenberg-Konzern,” pp. 64f. See also his correspondence with Hugenberg in Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/7.Google Scholar

24. Bacmeister, , Kirdorf, pp. 145f.Google Scholar

25. For Kirdorf's unsuccessful effort to mobilize the industrial wing of the DNVP against the unemployment insurance bill, see Paul Reusch Papers, Historisches Archiv, Gute Hoffnungshütte, Oberhausen, file 30019390/20, Kirdorf to Reusch, Mar. 14, 1927. For his opposition to the workday law, see Kirdorf to Westarp, Feb. 26, 1927: Westarp Papers, Gaertringen.

26. See Kirdorf Papers, file 9/21/01. Only one person, Heinrich Class of the All-deutscher Verband, was indicated in connection with the alleged plot, and the charges against him were eventually dropped for lack of evidence: Kruck, , Alldeutschen, pp. 174f.Google Scholar The Social Democratic Interior Minister of Prussia, Albert Grzesinski, later apologized to the others involved from the floor of Landtag, in December 1926: Sitzungsberichte des Preussischen Landtages, 2. Wahlperiode, vols. 10–11, 15670f.Google Scholar

27. For information on these appearances see Heiber, Helmut, ed., Das Tagebuch von Joseph Goebbels, 1925/26 (Stuttgart, n.d. [1961]), p. 84;Google ScholarWeinberg, Gerhard L., “National Socialist Organization and Foreign Policy Aims in 1927,” Journal of Modern History, xxxvi (1964), 430f.Google Scholar Also, Hauptstaatsarchiv Düsseldorf, Akten der Regierung Düsseldorf, 16738: Polizeipräsident, Essen, to Regierungspräsident, Düsseldorf, Feb. 5, 1927. Also Berlin Document Center, Reichsschatzmeister der NSDAP, Ordner 155 (Gau Ruhr): Polizeiprāsident, Essen, to NSDAP, Essen, May 28, 1926.

28. In his “Erinnerungen,” p. 180, Kirdorf wrote in 1930 that he first heard Hitler on April 27, 1927. In his interviews with the press during the Third Reich (see n. 29 below), he dated the occasion variously as 1925, 1926, or 1927. According to a later report by the deputy Gauleiter of the Gau Essen-Ruhr, the encounter took place in September 1926: Berlin Document Center, NSDAP Hauptarchiv, Mappe 136, Schlessmann to Reichspressestelle, Munich, May 17, 1943.

29. Kirdorf told of his encounters with Hitler in at least three interviews with the press during the Third Reich; there are minor discrepancies, but on the essential facts all three accounts coincide closely. Clippings of two of these were found in the Reichsnährstand-archiv, Museum für Deutsche Geschichte, East Berlin: “Meine Begegnungen mit dem Führer,” Preussische Zeitung (Königsberg), 01 3, 1937;Google Scholar “Kirdorf über Vierjahresplan,” Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Oct. 28, 1936. The third was located in DZAP, Alldeutscher Verband, 211/I: “Begegnungen mit Adolf Hitler. Eine Unterredung mit Geheimrat Kirdorf,” Rheinisch-Westfālische Zeitung, July 28, 1935. A paraphrase, not, as indicated, a verbatim text, of part of the interview with the Preussische Zeitung is printed in Norden, Albert, Lehren deutscher Geschichte (East Berlin, 1947), pp. 157f.Google Scholar

30. On Frau Bruckmann, who was allegedly born a Princess Cantacuzène, see Hanfstaengel, Putzi, Hitler, the Missing Years (London, 1957), pp. 42f.Google Scholar Also Müller, Karl Alexander von, Im Wandel einer Welt (Munich, 1966), pp. 299f.Google Scholar Also Schirach, Baldur von, Ich glaubte an Hitler (Hamburg, 1967), passim.Google Scholar

31. Kirdorf, in Preussische Zeitung (see n. 29 above).Google Scholar

32. This date was given by Kirdorf, in Rheinisch-Westfälische Zeitung (see n. 29 above)Google Scholar. There is no documentary basis for the oft-repeated assertion of the journalist Konrad Heiden that Kirdorf and Hitler were brought together through the intermediacy of Otto Dietrich and Theodor Reismann-Grone: Heiden, , Adolf Hitler (2 vols., Zurichs, 19361937), I, 260.Google Scholar

33. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 181. See also Kirdorf in Rheinish-Westfälische Zeitung (n. 29 above).Google Scholar

34. According to the master membership file of the NSDAP, located now in the Berlin Document Center, Kirdorf became a member of the NSDAP on Aug. 1, 1927, receiving membership number 71032.

35. Even as a new convert to Nazism, Kirdorf apparently could not repress his congenital pessimism: Hitler later complained that the industrialist had promised his support only with the proviso that he not be required to believe in a successful outcome of the struggle. “A people which had tolerated an emperor like William II,” Kirdorf told Hitler, “was in his opinion too decadent in its leading circles ever to experience a rebirth.” (Picker, , Tischgespräche, p. 120.)Google Scholar

36. See Turner, Henry Ashby Jr., “Hitler's Secret Pamphlet for Industrialists, 1927,” Journal of Modern History, XL (1968), 348–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

37. According to the postwar testimony of one of Kirdorf's acquaintances, the old industrialist attached special importance to this aspect of National Socialism: National Archives of the United States, Record Group 238 (Nuremberg Documents), NI-635, statement written by Tengelmann, Wilhelm, 1945 (now available in U. S. National Archives Microfilm Publications, Microcopy No. T-301, Records of the U. S. Chief Counsel for War Crimes, Nuremberg, Military Tribunals, Relating to Nazi Industrialists, Roll 7).Google Scholar

38. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 198Google Scholar. See also the speech which Paul Silverberg gave in tribute to Kirdorf on the occasion of the latter's eightieth birthday: Silverberg, Paul, Reden und Schriften (Cologne, 1951), pp. 231–33.Google Scholar

39. Turner, , “Pamphlet,” p. 358.Google Scholar

40. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 196, letter of Jan. 3, 1928, to “Dr. S.” This is clearly Dr. Arthur Salomonsohn, long-time head of the Disconto-Gesellschaft, Berlin, and former chairman of the board of overseers of GBAG. See Kirdorf's other correspondence with Salomonsohn: Kirdorf Papers, 200 01/1/8.Google Scholar

41. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 182 (the participants are not named).Google Scholar

42. See for example “Vertrauen und Verbundenheit,” Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Aug. 19, 1934 (Reichsnährstandarchiv); also, statement in Der Ruhrarbeiter, May 1, 1936, quoted in Guerin, Daniel, Fascism and Big Business (New York, 1939), p. 24.Google Scholar

43. See “Emil Kirdorf,” Berliner Börsen-Zeitung, Apr. 8, 1936, clipping in Reichsnährstandarchiv.

44. “Adlerschild des Reiches für Geheimrat Kirdorf,” Völkischer Beobachter, Berlin, 04 8, 1937. Also “Adolf Hitler im Ruhrgebiet,”Google Scholaribid., Berlin, Apr. 15, 1935.

45. “Der Führer an der Bahre Emil Kirdorfs,” Vōlkischer Beobachter, North German edition, 07 17, 1938.Google Scholar See also Emil Kirdorf zum Gedāchtnis. Trauerfeier am 16. Juli 1938 (Essen, 1938).Google Scholar

46. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/1/10, letter to NSDAP Munich, Aug. 12, 1928; printed in Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” pp. 200f.Google Scholar

47. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 200.Google Scholar

48. See Kühnl, Reinhard, Die nationalsozialistische Linke, 1925–1930 (Meisenheim am Glan, 1966).Google Scholar

49. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/1/10, letter to NSDAP, Munich, Aug. 12, 1928; printed in Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” pp. 200f. He gave the date of the offending issue of Die neue Front as Aug. 10, 1928. The author was not mentioned.Google Scholar

50. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/1/10, Hugenberg to Kirdorf, Oct. 29, 1928; Kirdorf to Hugenberg, Dec. 6, 1929.

51. “Eine Erklärung Kirdorfs,” in Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Aug. 23, 1930, and Berliner Tageblatt, Aug. 24. 1930. Unaccountably, this statement has gone unnoticed by historians.

52. “Kirdorfs Brief an Hitler,” Völkischer Beobachter, Berlin, 08 27, 1929.Google Scholar An English translation of most of the letter is in Heiden, Konrad, Der Fuehrer (Boston, 1944), pp. 340ff.Google Scholar

53. Kirdorf, , in Preussische Zeitung, Jan. 3, 1937 (see n. 29 above). Also, Ernst Poensgen, “Hitler und die Ruhrindustriellen. Ein Rückblick,” copy in National Archives of the United States, Record Group 238 (Nuremberg Documents), Case X, Bülow Dokumentenbuch I.Google Scholar Also ibid., NI-635, statement of Wilhelm Tengelmann, 1945 (now available in Microcopy T-301, Roll 7).

54. According to the Nazi master membership file (now at Berlin Document Center), Kirdorf's membership did not lapse until Oct. 1, 1928, six weeks after the submission of his letter of resignation. This raises the possibility of efforts to bring him to reconsider.

55. see Kirdorf's response in his “Erinnerungen,” p. 202.

56. This is made clear in Kirdorf's letter of August 1929 (n. 52 above).

57. Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/1/12, Hess, RudolfGoogle Scholar to Kirdorf, Dec. 28, 1930.

58. Hess mentioned in this letter that Hitler was at the moment unable to give an “Aufklärungsvortrag,” but Hess promised to remain in touch through Kirdorf's son-in-law, presumably to make arrangements for such a talk at a future date. This son-in-law was Hans Krueger, a retired naval officer who had been appointed one of the many members of the board of directors of United Steel, probably as a favor to Kirdorf; see Wenzel, Georg, Deutscher Wirtschaftsführer (Hamburg, 1929), column 1259,Google Scholar and Lengyel, Emil, Hitler (New York, 1932), p. 201. Kirdorf's stepson, Wilhelm Wessel, who owned a small tile factory in Bonn, also had close ties to the NSDAP: Berlin Document Center, Partei Kanzlei, Correspondence on Kirdorf.Google Scholar

59. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 202.Google Scholar

60. Völkischer Beobachter, Berlin, 08 27, 1929.Google Scholar See also Heiden, , Fuehrer, p. 342.Google Scholar

61. For his attitude toward the idea of a “national” bloc, see his “Erinnerungen,” pp. 207ff.

62. Ibid., pp. 202, 204, 207f.

63. Ibid., pp. 215ff. The statement was apparently printed in the Bergisch-Märkische Zeitung, see ibid., p. 219.

64. Ibid., pp. 216f.

65. Ibid., pp. 220f. His disillusionment with Hindenburg had been accelerated by an interview with the President on March 3, 1928, at which he sought in vain to bring Hindenburg to use his emergency powers against the peril represented by the machinations of the Center and the SPD: ibid., pp. 198ff.

66. Ibid., p. 234. Also, Autographen-Sammlung von Dr. C. Duisberg (in archive of Farbenfabrik Bayer, Leverkusen), Kirdorf to Duisberg, June 21, 1931.

67. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” pp. 234, 237.Google Scholar

68. See his New Year's statement in Berliner Lokal-Anzeiger, Jan. 1, 1933 (clipping in DZAP, Alldeutscher Verband, 211/I).

69. Ibid.

70. His last recorded contact with Hitler prior to the latter's appointment as Chancellor was in September 1932, at the house of Fritz Thyssen: Thyssen, I Paid Hitler, p. 110.

71. Lochner, , Tycoons, p. 173Google Scholar. Kirdorf apparently wrote another such letter of protest later in the year, though to whom is not clear: Kirdorf Papers, 2 00 01/1/10, Brandi, Ernst to Hermann Olfe, Dec. 15, 1933. In Thyssen, I Paid Hitler, p. 99, it is asserted that Kirdorf gave Thyssen a letter addressed to Hitler in which Kirdorf protested against the persecutions.Google Scholar

72. Krupp-Archiv, , Hügel, Villa, Essen: IV E 894, Silverberg to Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, July 22, 1933.Google Scholar

73. Berlin Document Center, Partei Kanzlei, Correspondence on Emil Kirdorf: Kirdorf to Hess, Mar. 3, 1934; Kirdorf to Reichsleitung der NSDAP, Mar. 6, 1934.

74. Ibid., Reichsschatzmeister Franz Xaver Schwarz to Gauleitung, Essen, 06 28 and Dec. 4, 1934.

75. One of the earliest of these inaccurate accounts, and the source for many subsequent versions, is Heiden, Konrad, Hitler, according to which Kirdorf controlled a “Ruhrschatz,” or secret treasury of the Ruhr industry (I, 260).Google Scholar Another version, allegedly that of a participant, but actually thoroughly fictional, at least on Kirdorf, is Strasser, Otto and Stern, Michael, Flight from Terror (New York, 1943), pp. 108f., 117ff., 144.Google Scholar

76. Küster, Fritz, Die Hintermänner der Nazis. Von Papen bis Deterding (Hanover, 1946), p. 15.Google Scholar

77. Wenzel, , Wirtschaftsführer, columns 1134–36.Google Scholar

78. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” passim. Pinner, Wirtschaftsführer, pp. 85f. Bacmeister, Kirdorf, passim.Google Scholar

79. See Klass, Gert von, Hugo Stinnes (Tübingen, 1958), pp. 227ff.Google Scholar Also, Ufermann, and Hüglin, , Stinnes, pp. 20f., 34.Google Scholar

80. Bacmeister, , Kirdorf, pp. 73f., 78Google Scholar. His active role in the coal cartel came to an end in April 1925: ibid., p. 100. He was thus in no position to establish an Umlage, or assessment of 5 Pfennig per ton of mined coal for the benefit of the NSDAP in 1931; cf. Küster, , Hintermänner, p. 15.Google Scholar

81. Kirdorf, , “Erinnerungen,” p. 211.Google Scholar

82. Class, Strom, p. 247.

83. DZAP, Alldeutscher Verband, 211/I: Class to Count Ernst zu Reventlow, May 7, 1910; Kirdorf to Class, Oct. 6, 1915. For a list of personal contributions of prominent members during the period May 9–Aug. 1, 1922, see ibid., file 202. Kirdorf gave only 1000 inflated Marks, while many less well-known persons were donating 10–40,000. On July 23, 1919, he wrote to Class and turned down a request for funds on the grounds that business was bad (ibid., file 211/I).

84. Heiden, , Fuehrer, p. 356. Bullock, Hitler, p. 133.Google Scholar

85. Thyssen, , I Paid Hitler, p. 98Google Scholar. At his de-nazification trial, Thyssen explained that this money, which he estimated at 150,000 Marks, was taken from the funds of the August-Thyssen-Hütte: Spruchkammerverfahren gegen Dr. Fritz Thyssen in Königstein, Obertaunus, 1948, Hessisches Hauptstaatsarchiv, Wiesbaden, Klageschrift, p. 215.

86. Otto Dietrich, the Nazi journalist who accompanied Hitler on many of his visits to the Ruhr, expressed the opinion in his postwar memoir that no material support worthy of mention resulted from Hitler's association with Kirdorf, : Zwölf Jahre mit Hitler (Cologne, n.d. [1955]), p. 185.Google Scholar

87. At least one, Wilhelm Tengelmann, explained at Nuremberg after the war that Kirdorf's influence and a meeting with Hitler at Kirdorf's house in 1930 or 1931 had played an important part in his own decision to join the Party at that time: National Archives of the United States, Record Group 238 (Nuremberg Documents), NI- 635, statement written in 1945 (now available in Microcopy T-301, Roll 7).

88. Nuernberg Military Tribunals, Trials of War Criminals before the Nuernberg Military Tribunals under Control Council Law No. 10 (15 vols., Washington, 19491953), VII, 557.Google Scholar

89. See Silverberg, , Reden und Schriften, pp. LXXIIIff.Google Scholar

90. See Bergbau-Verein, , Jahresbericht des Vereins für die bergbaulichen Interessen, Essen, für das Jahr 1929 (Essen, 1930), p. 99.Google Scholar