For years I’ve been intrigued by a wooden sign on the front fence of a suburban house, near to my place of work. I’ve walked past it hundreds of times during my lunchtime walks …

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I’ve seen the name Vacuum Oil Company before, on my typewriter safaris around the local antique shops …

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Lamps and typewriters go well together, of course …

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But my attempt to shed light on the Vacuum Oil Company, had the result, instead, of casting a shadow over it …

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Matthew Ewing and Hiram Bond Everest founded the company (which became Socony-Vacuum Oil, and then Socony-Mobil in the ’50s, and then just Mobil in the early ’60s) upon patenting a new method of distilling kerosene in a vacuum that produced a high quality lubricant.

In World War II, subcamps of Auschwitz provided forced labour for Vacuum Oil Company facilities that were captured and operated by the  Nazis in Poland.

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Photo copyright of Chronicles of the Vilna Ghetto

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Armed with this knowledge, I couldn’t walk past the house without imagining its walls harboured a Nazi war criminal living out the last few years of his life in suburban obscurity.

Should I knock on the door and confront the monster? No, I thought. That’s probably not such a good idea …

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Were the company to be blamed if their oil installations had been commandeered by the Nazis during wartime? No.

Still, it seems to me the Vacuum Oil Company has a lot to answer for …

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The coming petroleum drosscape: Socony-Vacuum Oil Company ruins as case study

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My dark fantasy about the house harbouring a war criminal, or being the headquarters of an overseas subsidiary established for reasons of tax avoidance, were recently quashed when I saw a 4WD parked on the grass verge out front, and a young couple with a toddler moving their possessions out.

I don’t know if they took the sign with them, but now it’s no longer there I think I understand why it was put there in the first place …

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cover-up!

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Let’s face it, oil companies are good at that.

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