The Crimes of I.G. Farben: During WWII, I.G. Farben, a Synthetic-Fuels Manufacturer for the German War Machine, Was a Major Supporter of the Nazi Regime and a Willing Co-Conspirator in the Holocaust

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March 8, 1943 was the day when the Nazi S.S. came for Norbert Wollheim and his family. With his wife and his three-year-old son, Wollheim was sent to the Grasse Hamburgerstrasse "collecting camp," a way station on the blood-stained path to the Nazi's "final solution." A few days later, the family was sent to Auschwitz. Wollheim would never see his family again. "On arriving at the station at Auschwitz," Wollheim recalled at the Nuremberg Trials, "I was separated from my wife and child and have not seen them since."

Wollheim was one of the "lucky" ones. Along with about 220 other men, he was separated from the other prisoners who were condemned to immediate death in the gas chambers. Instead, he was taken by truck to the Monowitz camp, a special labor camp within the sprawling Auschwitz system of death camps. There, with the others, his head was shaved, he was disinfected, tattooed with his prison ID number, and immediately put to work. "I came to the dreaded 'murder detail 4,' whose task it was to unload cement bags or constructional steel," Wollheim recalled. He had ceased to be a private citizen. He was no longer even the property of the Nazi state. Instead the deed to his life was held by the owner and operator of the Monowitz camp, the notorious German industrial conglomerate I.G. Farben.

Created by the unification of a number of German chemical firms, including BASF, Bayer, and AGFA following World War I, I.G. Farben was famous for its innovations--including in the manufacture of synthetic fuels and synthetic rubber--and for its stature as the largest chemical manufacturer in Europe and one of the largest corporations in the world. But with the rise of the unspeakably evil Hitler and his demon-spawned followers, I.G. Farben would become infamous for its wholehearted support of, and participation in, the brutal Nazi regime.

Oil

By 1923, pioneering German chemist Carl Bosch had been managing director of the Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik (BASF) Company for four years. During those years he had seen the post-World War I German economy crumble and, more disturbingly still, had seen French forces occupy the Ruhr Valley, causing the German government to order the closing of manufacturing plants there. The shutdown was devastating for BASF and the other companies of the German chemical industry's interessen gemeinschaft (literally, "community of interest"--i.e., a cartel).

Bosch had an idea for reversing the damage. Having played a central role in the creation of technologies to manufacture synthetic indigo and synthetic ammonia, Bosch was certain that it would be possible to manufacture synthetic motor fuels on a large scale as well. The technology already existed. In 1913, chemist Friedrich Bergius had invented a method of extracting liquid fuel from coal using a process that came to be called hydrogenation. Though this process could only be used in the laboratory, Bosch believed that, given sufficient funding, he could lead an effort to make the technique useful on a large scale.

The stakes were enormous. Germany was rich in coal, but had practically no reserves of crude oil. Success would mean energy independence for Germany and vast, almost unimaginable, wealth for the German chemical industry.

The problem was that BASF, large though it was, did not have the financial resources to tackle the problem all on its own. "A broader and more substantial corporate base was needed," wrote Department of Justice official Joseph Borkin in his book The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben. Bosch had just such a plan. "He proposed that all the I.G. companies merge into a single corporation bringing all their industrial activities and financial strength into a gigantic monolithic entity." Bosch's proposal met with favor and on December 9, 1925 the companies of the I.G. cartel were merged into BASF creating a new corporate colossus: I.G. Farbenindustrie Aktiengesellschaft--I. …