How the once-huge chemical/pharmaceutical company IG Farben actually profited off the Holocaust

IG Farben profited off the Holocaust

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IG Farben was originally founded in 1925 as a conglomerate of several big-name companies, including BASF, Bayer and Agfa. At its peak, it was the largest chemical company in the world, and the fourth-largest industrial concern.

However, Farben — also known as I. G. Farbenindustrie AG — would also become one of the most notorious companies in the world, as its leadership openly collaborated with the Nazi government, and was the chief producer of the Zyklon B gas used in the murder of Jews during the Holocaust.

After World War 2, many of the company executives were either imprisoned or executed as a result of the Nuremberg Trials, the company’s assets were seized by the Allies before they were completely liquidated by 1952.

As of today, the company no longer exists in any form. – AJW

A Nazi meeting at IG Farben (1940s)
A Nazi meeting at IG Farben (1940s)

Story of labor camp at Auschwitz is a sordid chapter in Farben’s history (1947)

by David M Nichol in the Corpus Christi Times (Texas) November 13, 1947

Nuernberg, Germany — There is no more sordid or cynical chapter in IG Farben’s entire ugly history than the story of the concentration camp it built and ran for itself.

It is all very well for the 24 executives of the huge German chemical trust on trial here to say now that they knew only generally of its existence and the conditions under which its thousands of inmates lived and worked and, in most cases, died. But the facts proved otherwise.

Document after document has gone into the record before the American military tribunal showing they not only knew of it, but individually and collectively approved it, voted $2 million for its construction, hired guards so brutal that even the SS objected, and probably would have built more if the war hadn’t ended.

Three of the defendants were directly connected with it: Otto Ambros, the poison gas and rubber specialist; Heinrich Buetefisch, the SS lieutenant colonel who made the deals with Himmler for the “raw materials” of slavery; Walter Duerrfeld, the ambitious engineer who actually ran the camp.

IG Farben chemical - Zyklon B

IG Farben’s role at Auschwitz

Before it is finished, the prosecution expects to show that half a dozen of the other Farben directors actually visited the camp. One of them described it as a “really excellent organization.”

Artificial rubber, or buna, was one of Farben’s two principal products. It had three giant plants either in operation or under construction, but early in 1941, it was decided that a fourth was necessary. Farben’s well-oiled machine began to move.

Ambros surveyed all of occupied Europe, weighed such considerations as possible air attacks, and recommended to the board of directors that the site should be Oswiecim in Southwestern Poland, or Auschwitz, as it was called by the Germans.

Coal, an essential material, was available nearby. Farben later acquired 51 percent of the Fuerstengruben mines. “Friends” in the Nazis’ occupation government turned over, as the directors noted, “the only big and high-quality source of calcium.”

The Vistula and its tributaries, the Sola and the Przemsa, could supply water for the plant’s ravenous boilers and intricate cooling systems. But the factor that counted most, as the directors studied the recommendations, was still another.

Labor was available in almost unlimited quantities. The biggest and most terrible of Hitler’s concentration camps had begun its murderous operations at Oswiecim six months earlier.

Goering, as economic dictator of Germany, was approached directly by Carl Krauch, Farben’s chairman and chief defendant in the trials here.

Himmler was reached through Buetefisch, a member of the so-called “circle of friends,” an unofficial shakedown through which big business contributed $400,000 annually to Himmler’s “cultural projects” in exchange for the favors of the SS.

SS head Heinrich Himmler visiting the IG Farben plant at Auschwitz III in German-occupied Poland (July 1942)
SS head Heinrich Himmler visiting the IG Farben plant at Auschwitz III in German-occupied Poland (July 1942)

It is hardly coincidence that Farben “contributed” $40,000 in 1941, and each year after that while the “circle” and its benefactor remained alive.

Things began to happen. Goering ordered the Jews cleared out of the district of Auschwitz. He directed that 8,000 to 12,000 of the miserable camp inmates be made available for construction work.

Duerrfeld wrote to Ambros of an arrangement he had made with SS General Karl Wolff, Himmler’s adjutant. Wolff would arrange, he said, to syphon off skilled workers from other concentration camps and send them to Auschwitz so they could work for Farben.

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A week later Duerrfeld was able to relate that Rudolf Hoess, perhaps the most notorious of all the camp commanders, who since has been executed, was “very willing to be of assistance.”

There was a chummy dinner party in the Polish industrial city of Katowice in April 1941, at which the plant was launched formally.

Side by side, with the charged barbed wire and the smoking crematoria chimneys of Auschwitz, the Polish countryside began to sprout an enormous factory.

What happened in the camps has been told over and over to an incredulous world, and it is not the purpose here to repeat the gory tale. But Farben supplied its own peculiar twists. In the end, it built its own camp.

Bundesarchiv Bild IG-Farbenwerke - Auschwitz (1940s)
Bundesarchiv Bild IG-Farbenwerke – Auschwitz (1940s)

The wretched prisoners often had to walk five miles in wooden shoes from their camp enclosures to the work site. Farben got only the strong and the healthy, yet the mortality was appalling. By October, Duerrfeld was complaining that efficiency was down.

“Prisoners arrive too late,” he said, “and go back too early.”

Farben’s solution was, at least, direct. Beside “Street E,” the long, straight central road through the heart of the factory site, a new camp was built and called Monowitz. Farben’s directors appropriated the $2 million required for its barbed wire and guard towers. It was built for 5,000 people. It actually housed as many as 10,000, part of the time in tents.

Men worked until they dropped from exhaustion. Then they went “up the chimney,” as the prisoners themselves referred to it. They were sent by truckloads almost daily to the burning ghats of Auschwitz, and new prisoners took their places.

ALSO SEE: Early firsthand reports of Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz (1945)

Monowitz had three hospital wards, with about 300 beds. The SS urged Farben to install more. Farben wasn’t interested. If the inmates weren’t strong enough to work, they didn’t belong in the factory grounds.

The average lifespan at Monowitz has been estimated at three months. Farben’s camp may have been a pale shadow of its neighboring monster, but in its own way it accounted for 25,000 to 30,000 deaths.

British prisoners of war who were held in the vicinity of Farben’s installation have added first-hand accounts. They tell pitiful stories of the “stripies,” or “health boys,” as they referred to the inmates who worked even on the coldest days in only the light prison clothing.

Most damning of all, perhaps, they say it was impossible to be in the neighborhood of Auschwitz without knowing what was going on. Farben’s officials have been compared by the prosecution to Hitler.

“What does it matter to us?” Hitler was reported to have said. “Look away if it makes you sick.”

A fifth buna plant was under study in 1943. Even at that late date, Krauch, as Farben’s leading policy official, could write to Himmler:

“I was particularly pleased to hear that you hinted that you may possibly aid the expansion of another synthetic factory… in a similar way as was done at Auschwitz, by making available inmates of your camps.

“I would be grateful if you would continue sponsoring and aiding us in this matter.”

Slave labor was not merely an expedient. It was an integral part of Farben’s policy.

To find out more, visit the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum

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