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The Crimes and Punishment of I.G. Farben

[I lifted this digitization, complete with typos, from]


"Without I.G.'s immense productive facilities, its far-reaching research, varied technical experience and overall concentration of economic power, Germany would not have been in the position to start its aggressive war in September 1939." 1 Such was the judgment rendered by a team of civilian and military experts assigned by General Eisenhower at the close of World War II to make an exhaustive investigation of I.G.'s contribution to the Nazi war effort. Extravagant as this conclusion may have sounded, the record sustains its accuracy.

I.G. truly was a mighty industrial colossus. So huge were its assets admitted and concealed, so superior its technological know-how, and so formidable its array of patents that it dominated the chemical business of the world. I.G. fortified its commercial leadership by constructing a maze of cartels whose members included such industrial giants as Kuhlmann of France, Imperial Chemical Industries of Great Britain, Montecatini of Italy, Aussiger Verein of Czechoslovakia, Boruta of Poland, Mitsui of Japan and Standard Oil (New Jersey), Du Pont, and Dow Chemical of the United States.

But I.G. was more than a corporate empire. Through the uncanny talents of its scientists and engineers, it secured the vital self-sufficiency that enabled Germany to maneuver in the world of power politics. From that enabled Germany to maneuver in the world of power politics. From its laboratories and factories flowed the strategic raw materials that Germany's own territory could not supply, the synthetics of oil, rubber, nitrates, and fibers. So, too, I.G. produced vaccines, sera, and drugs such as Salvarsan, aspirin, Atabrine, and Novocain, along with sulfa drugs, as well as poison gases and rocket fuels. Few universities could match the profusion of Nobel Prizes earned by its scientists: Paul Ehrlich for Salvarsan, Fritz Haber for the fixation of nitrogen, Carl Bosch for synthesizing saltpeter and gasoline, and Gerhard Domagk for the sulfa drugs.

Gustave Stresemann, chancellor and foreign minister during the Weimar Republic, once said "Without I.G. and coal, I can have no foreign policy." But it was for the Nazis that I.G. performed the greatest service. With I.G. and coal Adolf Hitler almost conquered the world.

Hitler was an apt student of the weaknesses that brought Germany to its knees during World War I. Defeat had drilled into him the doleful fact that Germany's impoverished land, devoid of the strategic raw materials with which modern wars are fought, had made the British blockade a decisive weapon. In planning for World War II he vowed to correct nature's imbalance with science and technology.

The result was a strange alliance between Hitler and I.G. Hitler despised I.G. for its international complexion and for its unusually large number of Jewish directors and scientists. Carl Bosch, the head of I.G. when Hitler came to power, was the most vocal anti-Nazi in the industrial community. In the light of succeeding events, it is ironic that the Nazis legally stigmatized I.G. as non-Aryan in the early years of the Third Reich. But Hitler needed I.G.'s genius and I.G. needed Hitler's support. I.G.'s first and major task for Hitler was to free German diplomacy from the bonds that shackled it to the oil wells and rubber groves of its enemies. How well it succeeded its written in the history of the of the world's most violent and mechanized war. For five and a half years, Hitler's tanks, trucks, and planes were propelled by I.G.'s gasoline, their wheels made of I.G.'s rubbers. Success had rendered I.G. indefensible.

Mere indispensability, however, was not enough. As the war progressed, I.G.'s embrace of Hitler became more passionate. With the help of the Wehrmacht and of the Nazi bureaucracy, I.G. looted the chemical properties of the defeated nations (Austria, Czechoslovakia, Poland, Norway, and France). Moreover, it had similar plans to bring England, the United States, and the Soviet Union into its orbit.

I.G.'s moral descent did not end there. Before long it joined the Nazis in a vast forced labor program in which millions of victims from the conquered countries were enslaved in the service of German war production. But slavery was only a step in the dehumanization of victor and vanquished. I.G. found itself in the role of an industrial Faust, unable and unwilling to extricate itself from the compact it had made with Hitler to help prepare the Nazis for war. The depth of the partnership was reached at Auschwitz, the extermination center, where four million human beings were destroyed in accordance with the "Final Solution of the Jewish Question," Hitler's plan to destroy an entire people. Drawn by the almost limitless reservoir of death camp labor, I.G. close to build a great industrial complex at Auschwitz for the production of synthetic rubber and oil. So enormous was this installation that it used as much electricity as did the entire city of Berlin. More than 25,000 camp inmates paid with their lives to construct it.

After the defeat of Germany, the horror of I.G. Auschwitz made it certain that those involved would have to face the consequences of their acts. An indictment charging twenty-four of I.G.'s highest officials with war crimes was filed with the United States Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. In the opening paragraph of his statement to the court, General Telford Taylor, the chief prosecutor at Nuremberg, summarized the spirit of the prosecution's case.

The grave charges in this case have not been laid before the Tribunal casually or unreflectingly. The indictment accuses these men of major responsibility for visiting upon mankind the most searing and catastrophic war in human history, It accuses them of wholesale enslavement, plunder, and murder. These are terrible charges; no man should underwrite them frivolously or vengefully, or without deep and humble awareness of the responsibility which he thereby shoulders. There is no laughter in this case; neither is their any hate.

Yet, despite the terrible gravity of the charges, the setting was more like that for an antitrust suit than that for a trail for slavery and mass murder as the defendants took their places in the dock of the Palace of Justice at Nuremberg. The twenty-three defendants (the twenty-forth defendant, Max Brueggemann, was excused for illness) were among the industrial elite of Germany, not Hitler's black - and - brown-shirted hooligans. They represent a combination of scientific genius and commercial acumen unique in a private industrial enterprise. They were the executives who made I.G. preeminent in the works of technology and commerce. They served on the boards of directors of the most prestigious corporations in their own country and abroad, where they were treated with awe and admiration, When their government called, they accepted official posts in the spirit of public service. Like their counterparts everywhere, they were among the leading supporters of culture, charity and religion, donating their names, time and money.

How this finally arrived at the courtroom at Nuremberg, branded as the "Devil's Chemists," charged with unparalleled atrocities, is a profound lesson for the world.

Until 1856 all the dyes by which man colored clothing, homes, and art came from natural sources such as insects, barks, flowers, berries, animal organs, and eggs. In 1856 an eighteen year old chemistry student at the Royal College in London, William Henry Perkin, while experimenting with coal tar in the search for synthetic quinine, found something a deal more valuable. Instead of quinine, a bright purple solution filled Perkin's test tube. And with the first of the aniline dyes, a new industry was born.

Although Perkiness remarkable discovery may have been an accident, he had the genius to perceive its immense potential. After he applied for a patent, he opened a factory for commercial exploitation. But Perking was destined to suffer the fate of prophets. His own countrymen did not fully appreciate either the seminal nature of the industrial potential of the discovery. The Germans, however, did recognize the great future of synthetic dyes. Scientist-businessmen from Germany settled in England long enough to learn the new technology and then carted it off bodily to their homeland.

What they did with their booty was nothing less than an industrial miracle. With the German's knack for turning garbage into wealth, these talented borrowers transformed the mountains of coal tar, the costly waste of the steel production of the Ruhr, into an immensely valuable product, the raw material for a new and existing dyestuff industry.

By the turn of the twentieth century, six German companies had emerged to dominate the world's production and distribution of synthetic dyestuffs. Both in Germany and abroad, these firms were recognized as the "Big Six." There were three very large enterprises:

Not far behind were three lesser concerns:

But the very success in gaining a worldwide monopoly led the German producers into a bitter and costly competition for a larger share of the lucrative foreign and domestic markets. Price cutting, protracted patent litigation, kickbacks to customers, and bribery to gain technical secrets- in fact, every known form of cutthroat competition- afflicted in the industry. With the consequent loss of profits and reduction of growth, the leaders of the industry began casting about for a solution. It remained for Carl Duisberg, the general manager of Bayer and a dominant figure in the industry, to take the first step in bringing order out of chaos.

Duisberg, by training and ability, was well suited to this role. He was a respected, even brilliant, dyestuff scientist-a fact attested to by an array of valuable patents. His business acumen was reflected in the financial success of his company and the worldwide network of agencies he organized for distributing Bayer's products. Duisberg's personality was both domineering and flexible. He was an imperious Prussian who would not tolerate dissent in either his personal or his business life. Politically, Duisberg was an ardent Pan-German who believed passionately in Germany's mission in world affairs. Devoted to the "Fuerher principle" in the organization of political and industrial life, he specifically used the term long before Hitler was ever heard of. At the same time, Duisberg was a superb opportunist, never permitting devotion to principle to interfere with expediency. Whether under the Kaiser, the Wiemar Republic, or the Nazis, he always made the required adjustments, and he never failed to prosper.

In 1903, Duisberg made a trip to the United States to lay the cornerstone for a new Bayer factory at Rensselaer, New York, designed to produce a limited number of dyestuffs and pharmaceuticals. He was not happy about the project, mainly because it ran counter to the industry's policy of protecting its monopoly by not building plants outside of Germany. This policy protected German technical secrets and trained personnel from being pirated by foreign interests. Unfortunately, the only way to get around provisions of a new American tariff law that Duisberg believed was directed at Bayer was to construct the new Rensselaer plant. Even so, its production was limited to a few dyestuffs and aspirin.

The trip, however, had an unexpected benefit. Duisberg was snapped out of his dismal mood by a sudden awareness of the trust movement in the United States, which despite passage of the Sherman Antitrust Act some thirteen years earlier was booming. John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil trust particularly caught Duisberg's attention. He went back to Germany to persuade his colleagues and competitors that the Standard Oil formula represented their salvation.

The other members of the Big Six were all receptive to Duisberg's major goal of ending costly competition. They had reservations, however, about surrendering as much control over their own corporate affairs as contemplated in the Standard Oil trust type of organization. But the thrust of Duisberg's proposal was not wasted. Bayer, BASF, and Agfa adopted a loose-knit joint organization of the type used by a number of industries in Germany, that is, an interessen gemeinshaft (roughly a "community of interest"). Not long after that, Hoechst, Cassella, and Kalle organized a similar interessen gemeinshaft. In both cases the function of the community of interest was to reduce competition among the parties, mainly by setting up a formula for sharing profits. Each enterprise kept its identity intact and retained control over its own policies and activities interest's regulations. The parties were free to exploit and develop other products without reference to the cartel's rules or restrictions.

Historically and industrially, the omission was a matter of some moment. Although dyestuffs remained a "cash crop" of the industry, the more dominant companies developed other significant and highly profitable lines of business activity. These outside activities eventually rivaled the dyestuff production. Agfa became the largest European manufacturer and supplier of photographic materials. Its trademark, the Agfa signature, was a feature in photographic shops the world over. Bayer and Hoechst developed highly profitable pharmaceutical divisions that were giants in the field, with worldwide systems of distribution. Hoechst, for example, supported the research of Paul Ehrlich that led to his discovery of Salvarsan, the cure for syphilis. The result was everlasting fame and a Nobel prize for Ehrlich and a patent monopoly of an enormously profitable pharmaceutical product for Hoechst. Hoechst also developed Novocain, a painkiller that physicians and dentists came to rely on universally. These products gave the Hoechst trademark acceptance everywhere.

Bayer's pharmaceutical venture was even larger. Out of its laboratories emerged aspirin, the world's most famous home remedy for pain and fever. Bayer was also responsible for the introduction of heroin, which it sold as a cure for morphine addiction and as a cough suppressant, especially effective in children. Later the Bayer laboratories developed methadone, in preparation for World War II, as a synthetic substitute for morphine. It was originally named Dolophine, in honor of Adolf Hitler. Today methadone is used principally in the treatment of heroin addiction. The sulfa drugs also had their inspiration in the test tubes of Bayer's laboratories, as did Atabrine, the most effective malarial suppressant. Indeed, no hospital and no pharmacy can be found without some Bayer product.

To BASF, however, must go the credit as the most venturesome of all the I.G. companies. Unlike Bayer, Hoechst, and Afga, however, BASF did not gear its non-dyestuff products for the consuming public; hence for a long time BASF was not a household name. But in corporate board rooms and in scientific worldwide, its name and power evoked respected and admiration.

BASF's corporate personality began taking shape during the developing stages of the new dyestuff technology. The first colors to come our of this industry were reds and yellows, which were mastered quite early. But unlocking the secret of synthetic blues proved more troublesome. As a result, the world for a time was forced to rely of China, the age-old source for natural indigo dyes. Great rewards awaited the discoverer of an acceptable synthetic. And BASF's part in this race has become a legend in the industry.

Heinrich von Brunck, the chairman of the managing level of BASF and a dyestuff chemist of extraordinary talent and imagination, convinced the BASF board of directors to make the search for synthetic indigo a major effort. Long before the project had run its course, Brunck had committed the greater part of BASF's capital to this undertaking. Some of the directors demanded the abandonment of the search, charging that the enormous investment was threatening the corporate structure of the company itself. Fortunately, before this internal dispute came to a head, the technicians and scientists at BASF reached their goal. The vats of BASF began pouring our gorgeous synthetic indigos. Brunck was vindicated as the company's profits began to soar. The project rang the death knell for the natural dyestuff industry, and BASF 's industry and consequent success catapulted this company into leadership of the industry. Commercial boldness and technological excellence became the decisive elements in its corporate character.

BASF's willingness to make big corporate gambles further crystallized in another audacious project that followed the indigo success. This time it was the search for a synthetic nitrate to free Germany for the dependence on Chile, which monopolized the natural nitrate supply. For BASF this undertaking involved a scientific and business risk far exceeding that in the indigo breakthrough made this decision go all out.

During the latter part of the nineteenth century, a number of prominent scientists expressed the belief, supported by facts and figures, that an exploding world population clearly threatened to outrun the food supply. The ghost of Malthus had returned to haunt the world. The most promising solution was the increased use of fertilizers. But, as some of those who sounded the tocsin warned, this approach was complicated by the uneven distribution of the earth's natural resources. Chile had a monopoly of the world's supply of nitrates, the most effective of all fertilizers, and as is the custom of monopolists Chile charged what the traffic would bear. But the concerned scientists, such as the renowned Sir William Crookes, expressed the fear that Chile's natural reserves of nitrates would soon be depleted. The grimness of the prospect of a starving world underscored the opportunity for realizing great financial profits should be a synthetic nitrate be produced.

There was another opportunity that also should have spurred the effort to break Chile's monopoly. Nitrates were an essential ingredient of all explosives, including gunpowder. But for reasons not altogether clear-unless on is willing to accept the conventional wisdom that the military mind is incapable of seeing beyond the last war-the German General Staff did not appear to be concerned that Chile controlled the supply of a raw material so essential for waging war. And the military implications of Chile's monopoly did not excite the interest of the private manufacturers of explosives in finding alternatives. From a commercial point of view, it was cheaper for explosive manufacturers to import nitrates from Chile than to undertake the uncertain and expensive venture of inventing a synthetic substitute. In times of peace, gunpowder was no great source of profits.

The impending food crises was another matter. The farmers of the world represented an enormous market for fertilizers. Attracted by prospects of fame and profit, a number of scientific institutions and private concerns entered the race to synthesize nitrates. Not the least active of these was BASF. Not only did its talented scientists and engineers conduct experiments on a variety of systems to make synthetic nitrates but also the concerns made available sizable subsides to independent university researchers.

In 1909 BASF's "Project Nitrogen" struck the jackpot. Fritz Haber, a technical school instructor supported by a BASF grant, scored a major scientific breakthrough. Using enormous pressure and extremely high temperature he succeeded in combining the nitrogen of the atmosphere with the hydrogen of water to form ammonia. The fixation of nitrogen became a landmark in creative chemistry, earning for Haber the acclaim of international scientific community.

Before Haber's great discovery could be made profitable, one more step had to be completed: BASF had to turn Haber's laboratory feat into a large-scale industrial operation. Brunck, nearing the end of his active life, delegated the task to his protege, Carl Bosch, a promising, thirty-four year-old metallurgical engineer who was among the first to grasp the colossal implications of Haber's work. Technically Brunck had little doubt that Bosch was equal to the task. But the BASF board of directors questioned the proposed financial investment in a technologically unknown terrain. To place this responsibility in the hands of an untested thirty-four-year-old was not exactly a prudent business decision. But Brunck was not to be denied. He compared the venture with the earlier indigo gamble. The directors capitulated and the decision was made to go ahead.

The challenge Bosch faced was to design and to build an industrial-size installation that could contain the great pressures and high temperatures required in Haber's process. Taming these wild forces called for the discovery of catalysts to speed up the reactions and for the invention of alloys to keep the outsize equipment intact.

Bosch choose Oppau near BASF's headquarters at Ludwigshafen as the site for the new pant. Recognizing that Brunck's health was failing and that support among board members was paper-thin, Bosch worked like a man with a mission. As the technological difficulties and the costs mounted, the board became more restive. Brunck's death at the end of 1912 complicated Bosch's problems. But in the fall of 1913 he reached his goal ahead of schedule. The Oppau plant, completed and operating, began mass-producing synthetic ammonia. Bosch's feat of technical achievement was recognized throughout the world as an engineering achievement of the first rank. Before long the scientific community elevated him to near equality with Haber by referring to the "Haber-Bosch process." For an engineer this was an extraordinary accolade from the world of pure science. And twenty years later this achievement earned for Bosch a Nobel Prize, the first engineer so honored.

For BASF, immense financial returns seemed assured and Bosch emerged as one of the stars in the company's hierarchy. He was elected to the board of directors, clearly destined for future leadership of the [... cut off].