It may have been one of the most unusual lecture introductions ever offered.
When Nobel Prize laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel spoke in Pittsburgh last week, the head of Pittsburgh-based Bayer Corp. introduced him. Helge Wehmeier, a native of Germany, apologized to Wiesel for the deaths caused by his corporation's predecessor during World War II."I have sorrow and regret and apologize for the inhumanity in my country and for what I.G. Farben did to your people," he said as the audience of 1,800 sat in rapt silence.
Bayer's parent company, Bayer AG, was part of the German chemical conglomerate I.G. Farben, which ran slave-labor factories during the Holocaust - including one where Wiesel worked as a boy.
IGF also had a significant investment in a company that made Zyklon B gas, used to kill hundreds of thousands of Jews at Auschwitz, where Wiesel's mother and sister died.
When Wiesel found out months ago that Bayer was a sponsor of the lecture, he decided to cancel the engagement.
Dennis Ciccone, director of the Three Rivers Lecture Series, told Wehmeier what had happened. Wehmeier then visited Wiesel at his New York apartment.
"I was very moved by the man," Wiesel told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Wehmeier spoke last Wednesday of his "shock and shame" at learning of the actions of the Nazi regime.