During that time I.G. had become the leading industrial-financial backer of the Nazi party; it cleansed itself of identifiable Jewish directors and executives; and the Aryan officials who remained joined the Nazi party and some the dreaded S.S. I.G. proclaimed the inviolability of Nazi doctrine as corporate policy. But I.G. had not even begun to plumb the depths of Nazi depravity.
Essentially, the “new order” plan was a request for government permission for I.G. to take over Skoda Werke Wetzler, the largest chemical concern in Austria. I.G. made sure to clothe its plea with the rhetoric of German national interests.
The erstwhile Jewish company was now ready to goose-step with Hitler. The absorption of the Austrian concern, I.G. promised, would aid in the pursuit of the aims of the four-year plan as well as promote the elimination of Jewish influence in Austrian industry. Skoda Werke Wetzler was dominated by the Jewish Rothschild, and I.G. made the most of this fact. The Rothschilds were not naive. Even before the Anschluss, they had recognized I.G.’s intentions. Through the general manager of Skoda, Isador Pollack, they tried to thwart I.G.’s acquisitive plans. 2
To this end, Pollack explored the possibility of merger
with two other European chemical organizations, Montecatini of Italy
and Aussiger Vereign of Czechoslovakia. But I.G. proved too
formidable, and the mergers were never seriously entertained by
either the Czech or the Italian company.
Joham, also a Jew and therefore personally vulnerable, was hardly in a position to oppose I.G.’s demands. These kept enlarging as the so-called negotiations proceeded. When necessary, I.G. was not reluctant to use the anti-Semitic threat to squeeze out the terms it considered suitable. After a series of annoying difficulties posed by the Nazi bureaucracy in Austria, I.G. finally in the fall of 1938 claimed Skoda as its own. 5
By that time Joham had fled the country 6 but Pollack, not so fortunate, was literally stomped to death by Nazi Storm Troopers before he could make his escape. 7 Czechoslovakia was next on Hitler’s schedule. Anticipating another industrial meal, I.G. prepared a special study of the chemical plants of the Czech Sudetenland. 8
Particularly coveted by I.G. were two plants owned by Aussiger Verein, the largest chemical company in Czechoslovakia, a participant in the European dyestuff cartel dominated by I.G., and a respected member of the world’s chemical community. 9 Once again I.G. looked forward to exploiting a special advantage in dealing with Aussiger Verein. Under the formula applied by the Nuremberg laws, Aussiger could be classified as a Jewish company. 10
Twenty-five percent of its directors were non-Aryan. By the summer of 1938, the demands of Hitler upon Czechoslovakia with regard to the Sudetenland were becoming so outrageous that a general war seemed imminent. A terrified British prime minister, Neville Chamberlain, with the assistance of Edouard Daladier of France, forced Czechoslovakia to capitulate to Hitler’s terms.
The humiliation of the democracies was certified on September 29 with the signing of the Munich agreement and the immediate occupation of the Sudetenland by German troops. To soften the blow, Hitler declared that this was his last territorial demand in Europe.
The next day, in a telegram of congratulations, Hermann Schmitz, now the head of I.G., let Hitler know of I.G.’s interest in the Sudetenland:
Before long I.G. was engaged in negotiations with Aussiger Verein for the “purchase” of the Sudetenland plants. 12
Just about the only defense left to the Aussiger directors was to stall the so-called negotiations as long as possible in the hope that something would turn up to rescue them. Finally, Schnitzler proclaimed to the Aussiger representatives that as the result of their inflexible attitudes and unwillingness to negotiate in good faith, he was planning to send a complaint to the German government that “unrest and a breakdown of social peace” in the Sudetenland appeared inevitable.
However, it made little difference to the future of their country. A few months later, in March, Hitler’s troops marched into Prague and soon occupied all of Czechoslovakia. Poland was next on Hitler’s timetable of conquest. Once again, I.G. made plans to be in on the kill. It compiled a list of prospective booty: “The Most Important Chemical Plants in Poland.” 15
Three dyestuff companies in particular interested I.G.: Boruta, the largest; Wola, a small company owned by three Jews 16 ; and Winnica (of which Joseph Frossard was chairman), jointly owned by I.G.’s Swiss affiliate, I.G. Chemie, and Kuhlmann of France.
Schnitzler, who personally followed right behind the troops, wired the I.G. agent in Berlin to stay close to the Reich Ministry of Economics and keep informed as to the status of the Polish chemical industry.
When Schnitzler returned to Berlin from Poland a week later, he called on the Ministry of Economics to make it clear that only I.G. was capable of operating the Polish plants. 18
The ministry, through General Hermann von Hanneken, agreed to I.G.’s provisional management of the three Polish companies. He was not, however, pleased with I.G.’s greed or methods. Undoubtedly aware of I.G.’s activities in Austria and Czechoslovakia, Hanneken warned I.G. not to expect to take over the Polish plants permanently.
His words were as stern as they were unmistakable:
Hanneken’s attitude shocked Schnitzler. I.G. particularly wanted to control and operate the large Boruta plants with “a certain permanence.” 20
Schnitzler thereupon went over Hanneken’s head to I.G.’s friend Hermann Goering, who had just set up an organization to confiscate and dispose of Polish property in accordance with the needs of the four-year plan. 21
But Goering’s power in Poland was under challenge by a rising star in the Nazi firmament, Heinrich Himmler, head of the S.S., who had his own ideas about the disposal of Polish property. When Goering’s representative proved unable to help I.G., the reason soon emerged. I.G. discovered that Himmler’s deputy in Poland, S.S. Brigadefuehrer Ulrich Greifelt, was vested with the power to veto any sale of confiscated Polish property authorized by Goering’s office.
This time I.G.’s choice of ally would have more than an ordinary effect on its future. A fateful step in the alliance with Himmler was already taking place in the small community of Auschwitz in Polish Silesia.
As I.G. and Hitler became more indispensable for each other’s goals, Bosch’s physical and mental decline became more noticeable. His recurrent depressions deepened as he brooded over the thought that the war itself was the direct result of his great achievements, the creation of the vital synthetics of nitrates, oil, and rubber. He refused to see anyone from I.G. except Krauch; alcohol became his only solace.
By February 1940, Bosch could no longer bear living in Hitler’s Germany. He decided to move to Sicily and took with him as his only companion an ant colony from the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute, where his name was still revered. The change gave Bosch no relief and his physical condition worsened. In April he returned to Germany with no hope of recovery.
As he lay dying, he predicted the coming defeat of France. But this he told his doctor would only be an interlude.
Ultimately, Hitler’s lunacy would result in the destruction of Germany and the end of I.G., which for him were equal disasters. Bosch did not live to witness the accuracy of his prediction. On April 26, 1940, two weeks before the Wehrmacht launched its attack on France, Bosch, not quite sixty-six years old, died. 23
Without Bosch’s towering reputation and personality hovering over the company, Hermann Schmitz assumed in fact a position he already held in name, the head of I.G. At the same time Krauch was elected to succeed Bosch as chairman of the supervisory board, 24 giving up all managerial duties to spend more time as a plenipotentiary of the four-year plan. Hereafter, Schmitz would call the I.G. tune. On May 9 Hitler mounted his assault on France, and on June 22 it was all over.
Except for England and the Soviet Union, all of Europe was firmly in Hitler’s grip. I.G. was ready to share in the booty. It had already prepared a “new order” plan for the chemical industry of the world that would provide for the “recovery and securing of world respect for the German chemical industry.” 25
I.G. spelled out in its detailed, written plans the absorption of the chemical industries of France, Norway, Holland, Denmark, Luxembourg, and Belgium. 26
But its appetite did not end there. I.G. also included in its scheme the Soviet Union, at the moment a friendly neutral; Switzerland, certainly not an unfriendly neutral; England, not yet conquered; and finally Italy, an ally. After only a brief interlude, the chemical industry of the United States, which was an unfriendly neutral, was added.
This offered “the best solution to bring about a uniform regulation of French production and marketing for all time to come [emphasis added] .” 27
I.G.’s plan for France was delivered to Gustav Schlotterer of the Ministry of Economics in early August. Schlotterer completely agreed with the necessity of restoring I.G.’s position of leadership under the so-called new order and said that in his opinion I.G.’s proposal for France was not at all excessive and would probably fit into the coming peace plans. 28 While I.G.’s “new order” plan was under consideration, a shortage of coal and electric power brought the French dyestuff plants to a standstill. 29
The executives of the French industry realized quite early that I.G. held the key not only to the resumption of production but also to the future of the French industry. They began to press for a meeting with the I.G. officials to be arranged through the armistice commission in Wiesbaden. 30 Mistakenly, the French anticipated favorable treatment from their former cartel partner.
Schlotterer, a high official in the Ministry of Economics, who agreed in principle to a meeting between I.G. and French industry officials, nevertheless suggested to I.G. that delay was in their best interests. Actual negotiations, he advised, should not begin until the French realized that they were not coming to bargain for a favorable ownership status but rather to cede “first place” to the German dyestuff industry. 31
A period of uncertainty, coupled with despair, would soften the French. Hans Hemmen, chief of the economic delegation of the German armistice commission, echoed this advice. He also counseled a policy of delay rather than premature action, specifically suggesting that I.G. should stall at least until late fall or early winter, when the situation in France would be more desperate. 32
I.G. agreed. In the meantime, I.G. gathered intelligence from its employees in Paris about the leaders of the French industry with whom it would eventually have to deal. The most intriguing information concerned Joseph Frossard, Bosch’s “trump card” at Versailles. He was now the leading figure in Kuhlmann, along with René Duchemin.
Frossard, who was then in unoccupied France, with the rest of the directors of Kuhlmann told the I.G. people that he could not enter the German occupied zone because he would have to expect trouble as “a German deserter.” 33
It was a strange fear for the acknowledged leader of the French chemical industry. As a Frenchman, how could Frossard be a German deserter? But neither the Germans nor the French have ever supplied an explanation for this unusual remark, which may be the clue as to why Bosch had referred to Frossard as a secret trump card.
Hemmen, acting out his role in accordance with I.G.’s scheme, informed the French armistice delegation that these negotiations would have to await the final settlement of the demarcation line between occupied and unoccupied France. 35
planned, the French chemical situation continued to deteriorate. In
early October Frossard sought out Hans Kramer, head of the I.G.
sales agency in France.
Now Frossard suggested a secret collaboration with the French industry under I.G. leadership - a clandestine “marriage” in the dyestuff and chemical fields. 37
Frantically, Frossard pleaded with Kramer to find out whether I.G. would enter negotiations. I.G. could depend on him for anything it wished. If I.G. objected to any Kuhlmann executive, he would be dismissed. 38 All Frossard needed was a sign and he would become a trump card ready to be played again.
According to their secret agreement,
In return, France was to be given the place in the new Europe “to which she is entitled.” 40
The “collaboration” principle now was presumably to be extended to the entire private economic sphere. Hitler and Pétain agreed in essence to what Frossard had privately urged for I.G. and the French industry two weeks earlier. The German government should not confiscate French industries but rather permit German and French companies to deal with each other on a private, voluntary basis. The change in direction was welcomed by I.G. It would be free to act without entering a partnership with the Reich in the exploitation of French industry.
Since I.G.’s partners would now be private French firms, it could truly assert its claim to leadership and demand a controlling ownership in the French dyestuff industry. 41
I.G. was now ready to “negotiate” with the French. Within a week after the Montoire agreement was reached, Hemmen, with I.G.’s consent, informed the French armistice delegation that the time had come for the conference sought by the French chemical industry. In anticipation, I.G. engaged in preliminary meetings in Paris with Frossard and René Duchemin, both of whom were becoming openly known collaborationists.
dyestuff companies would be merged into a company to be called Francolor, in which
I.G. would own fifty-one percent and the French forty-nine percent.
Francolor would be
confined to the French market and prohibited from exporting to the
rest of Europe. 43
As planned, the meeting was held at Wiesbaden on November 21, 1940. Schnitzler and Ter Meer led the I.G. delegation; Duchemin represented the French. Frossard was missing; his French colleagues were informed that he was home sick in bed. 45 Schnitzler miscalculated. Matters did not run as smoothly as the preliminary meetings in Paris with Frossard and Duchemin had promised.
An I.G. official noted,
The French delegation proposed that the parties revive the Franco-German dyestuff cartel of 1927. French legal experts, they said, had advised them that the cartel agreement had not been abrogated by the outbreak of war in 1939 but was merely in temporary abeyance. With peace restored, the agreement could be put back in force.
The industrialists, they pointed out, should follow the direction of the collaboration agreed to by Pétain and Hitler at Montoire. After all, they were now allies and collaborators, not victor and vanquished. 47
The French were stunned by the German response to their proposal. Hemmen interrupted the French with a violent tirade. Pounding the table, he shouted that it was an insult to insist that the 1927 cartel agreement still was valid after the German victory in 1940: the cartel was merely the product of the Versailles treaty. Hemmen forbade any discussion of such an amazing proposal. The French must come to their senses and recognize that they had lost the war and that the time had come to accept the leadership of I.G. in the chemical field. Hemmen left no doubt in the minds of the Frenchmen that I.G.’s demands were fully backed by the Reich. 48
Schnitzler then spoke in a modulated voice but in equally hard terms. The French suggestions, he said, ignored political and economic realities. After all, France had declared war on Germany and now French industry would have to pay the price of defeat and accept I.G.’s leadership. It was, in truth, a relationship of victor and vanquished. 49 One of the French representatives mustered the courage to ask a final question.
That evening Schnitzler wrote to Hermann Schmitz.
At the scheduled meeting the next day Schnitzler pressed I.G.’s ultimatum.
I.G. was to own fifty-one percent of a new Franco-German dye-stuff company; the French were to abandon the export market and accept I.G.’s control of all elements of production and sales. 53 The French vigorously protested. I.G.’s terms were too severe. However, they realized that the entire French chemical industry could cease to exist at the whim of German authorities under I.G. influence. The hard attitude of Hemmen and Schnitzler underscored the reality of this alternative. 54
The French, hoping to salvage what they could, stalled, saying they would have to go home and get the advice of their government.
As Kramer later reported to I.G.,
Apparently Frossard was ready to come to an agreement.
The French hesitated to accept a joint manufacturing company under I.G. control, he said, since it would mean officially abandoning the character of a “national” dyestuff industry headed by a Frenchman. Frossard suggested that an exclusive sales company jointly owned but under I.G. control would accomplish the same thing and still preserve French pride.
The French industry representatives realized that care must be taken, however, to avoid too brusque a rejection of I.G. demands. They feared that if the negotiations were broken off, I.G. would see to it that their plants, already in a precarious state, would be compelled to close down permanently for lack of raw materials, coal, and power.
Duchemin met with Kramer and others at the headquarters of the German occupation forces. He tentatively presented the French counterproposal. The Germans stated that it was absolutely unacceptable. 60 Duchemin, with a surprising show of backbone, replied that so long as negotiations between the German and French industries continued on a free, voluntary basis, the French would never consent to a fifty-one percent participation by the Germans: “I would rather see my hand cut off than sign such an agreement.” 61
Under these circumstances, Kramer said, there was no point to further negotiations. He pointed out, however, that breaking off negotiations could have “detrimental” consequences. Then, changing his tune, Kramer introduced a new element into the discussion. He would use the carrot rather than the stick. Would the French industrialists change their mind if I.G. offered some sort of compensation?
Duchemin was intrigued. In that case, he replied, the transaction might be more bearable. 62
For the moment the kind or the amount of the compensation was not specified. Kramer hardened his appearance of reasonableness with the warning that Duchemin and his associates avoid any instructions from the French government restricting their freedom to act. This would keep the negotiations within the area of “private enterprise.”
the face of pressures
that were becoming progressively uglier and more intense, the
resistance of the French
industrialists began to crumble. They reluctantly agreed in
principle to I.G.’s demand for
a joint manufacturing company, still protesting, however, I.G.’s
demand for a majority
of the stock. They declared that the French government would have to
At a “peace conference” on March 12, it was officially revealed that a new company, Francolor, was to be formed for which I.G. would compensate the French with one percent of its stock; in return, I.G. would receive a controlling interest of fifty-one percent in Francolor. To reassure the French government that this agreement would not become an example to pave the way for German takeovers of other French industries, it was agreed that the Francolor case was to be regarded as a special circumstance and not as a precedent for future German action. 68
Nevertheless, Frossard assured I.G. that as far as he was concerned, the establishment of Francolor was a reality and that he would not engage in any important transactions without the approval of I.G. 72
In at least two cases Frossard made strong protests to the Nazis on behalf of two Kuhlmann employees accused of being Jews. One was Serge de Kap-Herr, whose son had married the daughter of the French writer André Maurois (whose name, Frossard volunteered, was really Herzog). 74
Frossard’s efforts were fruitless, however, and Rhein was dismissed. 76 By mid-summer of 1941, the resistance of the French dyestuff men was broken and most of the details of a final agreement were worked out. I.G. was to assume majority control of the dyestuff plants in France and of all the French company’s foreign properties that were in German-occupied territory. 77
This included the French interest in Winnica, the Polish dyestuff plant, which Frossard headed as chairman of the board. Although I.G. agreed to surrender one percent of its own stock to the French, even this concession carried a severe condition. The stock was so restricted that it could not be sold to any buyer outside the French dyestuff group and could never be pledged as collateral. 78
One last problem remained to be resolved. I.G. objected to the French version of the preamble to the Francolor agreement because it emphasized “the fact that the French Government surrendered participation in the French dyestuff industry... under pressure.” 79 In the unlikely event that Germany failed to win the war, I.G. was concerned that “the preamble as it now stands might... prove of great disadvantage to us.” 80
It could provide the basis for the French to “annul the convention” when a “change in conditions” arose. 81
To avoid the possibility that the French might “demand the termination of the convention” sometime in the future on the ground of duress, the I.G. lawyer insisted upon wording that indicated consent by the French government.
The preamble as finally agreed upon satisfied I.G. It included the sentence:
During one of the last conferences at which the details of the agreement were being worked out, Ter Meer unconsciously expressed the atmosphere of the negotiations. On a folder titled “France, 1940-41: German-French Dyestuff Discussion,” he doodled a line from a ditty popular in Germany, “For in the woods there are robbers.” 83
On November 18, 1941, one year after the Wiesbaden conference, the Francolor agreement was signed in Paris by Schnitzler and Ter Meer for I.G. and by Duchemin, Thesmar, and Frossard for the French dyestuff industry. 84
Frossard was elected president of Francolor by agreement of both contracting parties. This was expected. Schnitzler had already proclaimed earlier:
As agreed, too, the supervisory board of Francolor was equally
divided between French and Germans: Schnitzler, Ter Meer, Ambros,
and Hermann Waibel from I.G.;
Frossard, Duchemin, and two other Pétain collaborators from the
French industry. 86
In Frossard’s opinion, the Francolor Contract could be called ideal. The annual meeting of Etablissements Kuhlmann, at which the agreement was to be ratified, took place in Vichy. When a stockholder rose to protest the surrender of the fifty-one percent stock interest in Francolor to I.G., it was explained to him that the transfer of a majority interest to the Germans was counterbalanced by the selection of a Frenchman, Frossard, as president. 88
The stockholders thereupon voted to approve the agreement, although a surprising 50 stockholders voted nay and another 406 abstained from voting. 89 The new order for the French chemical industry now had legal sanction. I.G. was at the zenith of its power. From the Barents Sea to the Mediterranean, from the Channel Islands to Auschwitz, it exercised control over an industrial empire the likes of which the world had never before seen.
To correct matters, Krauch called upon his successful experience in rebuilding the Oppau plant after the explosion of 1921.
At that time, it will be recalled, he prevailed upon companies all over Germany to send complete units of workers to help reconstruct the destroyed plant. In a letter to Schnitzler, Krauch, wearing the hats of both an I.G. official and a Nazi plenipotentiary, noted that the decision to invoke the “closed unit” system would increase the supply of workers from French factories for German industry. 91
He explained that the French workers “would remain employees of the French mother company and return to France after their work [was] completed.” 92 He was delighted that Frossard approved the new approach.
The French workers soon learned that “closed units” was a euphemism for forced labor. In a nasty bit of gallows humor, an I.G. official referred contemptuously to those Frenchmen with whom the company dealt in the recruiting of such labor battalions as “slave traders.” 95
The crime of slave labor was now being committed
refinement and efficiency and in far greater numbers than it had
been during World War
I. But that was only the beginning. This practice was soon to reach
proportions that the world could neither believe nor comprehend.
A German industrialist reported, at the risk of his life, that for the past eight months the German government had been “solving the Jewish problem” by an organized scheme of mass murder. Its goal was to exterminate the entire Jewish people. Killing centers had been erected in Poland, he said, where hundreds of thousands of Jews had been asphyxiated by a lethal gas in sealed chambers designed for the singular purpose of killing them.
It charged that Germany had deliberately exterminated 1,702,500 human beings. Incredible as the figure appeared at the time, it was a gross understatement.
The Germans were put on notice that they would be held responsible for their crimes, tried in appropriate courts, and punished.
At the time of the granting of any armistice to any government which may be set up in Germany, those German officers and men and members of the Nazi party who have been responsible for, or have taken a consenting part in... atrocities, massacres, and executions, will be sent back to the countries in which their abominable deeds were done in order that they may be judged and punished according to the laws of these liberated countries and of the free governments which will be created therein.
Lists will be compiled in all possible detail from all these countries having regard especially to the invaded parts of the Soviet Union, to Poland and Czechoslovakia, to Yugoslavia and Greece, including Crete and other islands, to Norway, Denmark, the Netherlands, Belgium, Luxemburg, France and Italy. 3
The Moscow declaration proved no deterrent at all; in fact, the pace of the Reich’s program of extermination accelerated.
By November 1944, millions had been killed in Hitler’s deliberate destruction of the Jews.
John Pehle, executive director of the War Refugee Board, decided to make public the reports of two prisoners who had escaped from Auschwitz, the largest of all the killing complexes. Pehle released these reports to the newspapers, vouching for the reliability of the information.
The reports described in great detail the organization of Auschwitz, the concentration camps, the terrible conditions under which the inmates lived and died, the brutality of the German authorities, the immense gassing buildings in which victims were asphyxiated by the thousands every day, the crematoria where their bodies were disposed of - almost all the terrible facts of the Nazi program of extermination. 5
Elmer Davis, head of the Office of War Information, demanded that Pehle recall the reports, which had not yet been published because of a ten-day “hold.” Davis argued that publicizing these reports would be counterproductive. The American public, he said, would not believe them but would regard them as mere atrocity stories like those circulated during World War I.
The men who had written the reports had been inmate workers in the Buna division of this installation, and the details they supplied showed how far I.G.’s compact with Hitler had progressed.
In the American business community, especially in companies that had had prewar dealings with I.G., these disclosures met with disbelief.
Nevertheless, the reports of I.G.’s involvement were only too true. I.G. was building enormous synthetic oil and rubber factories at Auschwitz.
Pehle replied that Auschwitz was an important producer of war materiel. The War Department still refused.
The British Isles remained as an “unsinkable aircraft carrier” aimed at the heart of Germany. Hitler, ignoring Germany’s tragic experience with a two-front war, refused to let the British setback change his timetable of conquest. His plans to attack his ally, the Soviet Union, remained fixed. Certain of the invincibility of his military power and the inviolability of his military judgment, he ordered his generals to prepare for an early attack. Hitler’s generals were not so sanguine. Once again the problem was the shortage of raw materials.
They informed Hitler that the battles of Poland, France, and Britain had seriously exhausted the supply of munitions and such basic raw materials as oil and rubber. Any attack against the Soviets would be imprudent until additional facilities to produce synthetic rubber and oil were built and the reserves replenished. The size of such a conflict would demand amounts never even contemplated before.
A reluctant Hitler agreed to wait but ordered that the attack on Russia begin in the spring. With Hitler’s personal views on military raw material autarky acting as a goad, the war planners began at once to prepare for the construction of the necessary synthetic rubber facilities to fulfill the enormous requirements projected for the Soviet invasion.
The Ministry of Economics immediately summoned Fritz ter Meer and Otto Ambros to a top secret, high priority conference.
At the meeting, the I.G. officials were informed that there must be “an increase in Buna production with the greatest possible speed.” 7 To reach the projected production demanded by the ministry required the construction of two new plants. These installations, when added to the existing plants at Huels and Schkopau, would bring the Buna capacity of I.G. to a healthy 150,000 tons annually, enough to mount the Russian invasion.
This was underscored by the High Command’s promise of “all suitable assistance.” 8
Speed was crucial and Krauch, acting in his government role of plenipotentiary general for special questions of chemical production, ordered the immediate construction of one of the new plants, which was to operate in conjunction with the existing I.G. high-pressure plants at Ludwigshafen. Construction of the second plant, he noted, would begin as soon as a suitable site was chosen.
At the moment, Krauch was considering Norway and Polish Silesia. Krauch assigned Ambros, one of I.G.’s most talented Buna chemists, to survey Silesia.
Ambros had joined I.G. in 1926, at which time he was sent to Sumatra for a year to study the chemistry of natural rubber. By 1935 he was I.G.’s leading synthetic rubber expert. Ambros’s expertise was formally recognized by Bosch, who placed him in charge of the construction and operation of the first large-scale Buna plant at Schkopau. Ambros was an unusual figure. He was the I.G. expert on both Buna and poison gas.
Moreover, in 1932 he had conceived the underlying theories which ultimately led to the modern magnetic tape technology. In view of Ambros’s later fate it is worth noting that he was a protégé of Nobel laureate Richard Willstaetter, under whom he wrote his Ph.D. thesis. Even after Willstaetter was driven out of Germany to become a stateless Jew, Ambros continued to correspond with him.
These were not decisive advantages, however, over the Norwegian site. But the Silesian location had one advantage that was overwhelming: the S.S. had plans to expand enormously a concentration camp nearby. The promise of an inexhaustible supply of slave labor was an attraction that could not be resisted. 9
Krauch wholeheartedly accepted Silesia over Norway, where the population was already in ferment over the brutality of the German occupation. The historic nature of Krauch’s choice could never have crossed his mind. The name of the Polish village he selected for the Buna site was Auschwitz! 10
Once the project and site were formally approved by the Reich, the I.G. management, enthusiastic about expanding its operations, assigned the name “I.G. Auschwitz” to the new division, hereafter the official designation in I.G.’s meticulously ordered table of corporate organization.
directors selected Ambros for the rubber installation and Heinrich Buetefisch for the gasoline plant at Auschwitz. For the two youngest
members of the managing board of directors, both still under forty,
these appointments represented an important step upward in the I.G.
hierarchy. After all, it gave Ambros and Buetefisch authority over
the largest synthetic rubber and oil installation in the world. With
Hitler and I.G. marching together, the future appeared to be without
Everything about the Auschwitz project indicated that it was heaven-sent.
With almost no opposition, they committed more than 900 million Reichsmarks, over $250 million, 11 to the building of the single largest project in the I.G. system.
With such an enormous risk, officials of I.G. carefully watched over their huge investment. There were other factors supporting the risk and indicating the prudence of such an investment. The I.G. Auschwitz projects were so vital to Germany’s military plans that I.G. was able to marshal the aid of the most powerful figures in the Nazi government.
Krauch was already taking steps to insure an adequate labor supply for the construction of the I.G. Auschwitz plants.
He had arranged for Goering to write Himmler on February 18, 1941, asking that,
Between 8000 and 12,000 construction and assembly workers were needed.
Goering requested Himmler to inform him and Krauch,
Acting on this request, Himmler ordered the S.S. inspector of concentration camps and the S.S. economic and administrative main office “to get in touch immediately with the construction manager of the Buna works and to aid the... project by means of the concentration camp prisoners in every possible way.” 15
After Himmler issued this decree, Krauch wrote to Ambros, “These orders are so far-reaching that I request you to apply them to the widest extent as soon as possible.” 16
So that there would be no misunderstanding of the urgent priority of the I.G. Auschwitz project, Himmler delegated S.S. Major General Karl Wolff, chief of his personal staff, to be liaison officer between the S.S. and I.G. 17 On March 20, General Wolff met with Buetefisch to discuss “the details of the ways and means in which the concentration camp could assist in the construction of the plant.” 18
Buetefisch was chosen to deal with General Wolff not only because of his eminence as a synthetic fuel authority but also because of his rank as a lieutenant colonel in the S.S. At the meeting it was agreed that I.G. would pay the S.S. three Reichsmarks a day for each unskilled concentration camp inmate and four Reichsmarks for skilled inmates. 19 Later, the S.S. agreed to furnish children at one and a half Reichsmarks. 20
These payments were for the S.S.; the inmates, of course, received nothing. Wolff guaranteed that the payment would include “everything such as transportation, food, et cetera and [I.G.] will have no other expenses for the inmates, except if a small bonus (cigarettes, etc.) is given as an incentive.” 21
Both parties realized, in calculating the rate of payment, that a concentration camp inmate could not be as productive as a free, normal, well-fed German worker; thus, it was estimated at the meeting that a seventy-five percent efficiency was all that could be expected. 22 A week after this preliminary conference, a meeting was held at Auschwitz among various I.G. technical men, including Duerrfeld, chief engineer in charge of construction at I.G. Auschwitz, his senior engineer, Max Faust, and the Auschwitz concentration camp commandant, S.S. Major Rudolf Hoess. 23
Duerrfeld, in his summary of the conference, assured his superiors, Ambros and Buetefisch, that “the concentration camp showed its willingness to assist in the construction of the plant as far as it could.” 24
One big problem, however, troubled him. This, he reported, was the procurement of Capos, “straw bosses” with “special talents” recruited from among concentration camp inmates.
However, Commandant Hoess told Duerrfeld that I.G. would have a priority in obtaining these inmate-leaders whose special talent was sadism.
Every twenty inmates, it was estimated, would require a Capo.
Ambros wrote Ter Meer, “Our new friendship with the S.S. is proving very profitable.” 27
Soon that tune changed. With the personal blessing of such Nazi luminaries as Hitler, Himmler, Goering, and Keitel, I.G. Auschwitz should have been a tremendous success. Despite the cooperation of the Nazi hierarchy, especially the S.S., however, the project continually was disrupted by shortages, breakdowns, and delays.
As the difficulties began to pile up fears began to mount correspondingly that the rubber and gasoline works would never be completed in time to help the German war effort. Some malign influence seemed to be affecting the entire operation.
Their treatment of the concentration camp inmates, by far the largest segment of I.G. Auschwitz labor, was proving counterproductive. These complaints were detailed in the weekly I.G. Auschwitz reports sent back to I.G. headquarters in Frankfurt.
The report of August 3-9, for instance, included the following doleful note:
The delays and construction problems continued and the report ended on a note of concern for the economic consequences confronting the I.G. management. The combination of all the difficulties encountered “will increase costs considerably.” 31
A greater appreciation of S.S. methods, however, did not solve I.G.’s problems. At an I.G. Auschwitz construction conference attended by technical personnel including Ambros, Duerrfeld, and Faust, a variety of troubles were reviewed. 32
Among the problems were bottlenecks in housing, transportation, fuel, and plumbing facilities and late deliveries of all kinds of necessary supplies. The overburdened railroad station and the shortage of motor vehicles added to the delays. Faust reported that the free Poles were only half as efficient as German workers and concentration camp inmates were not even a third as efficient.
Moreover, although the failures of the Auschwitz project kept mounting, cordial relations between the I.G. management and the S.S. officials were not affected. Duerrfeld and the commandant went on hunting parties together and, with their wives, frequently exchanged visits.
The difficulties in building the rubber and oil facilities continued, however, and the progress at the Buna works fell further behind schedule. I.G. viewed the performance of the first year at Auschwitz as far from satisfactory - in fact, as nearly disastrous.
The lack of guards caused security problems. The result was that,
the work tempo, and sadistic S.S. guards and Capos also took their
toll. It was an unsettling sight for I.G. officials to witness work
details carrying their dead back and forth so that all inmates could
be accounted for at roll call when the work day began and when it
ended. It was a strange way to run a business.
In July 1942, just after Hitler had begun his second year of troubles in the Soviet Union, the I.G. managing board voted to solve its Auschwitz labor problems by establishing its own concentration camp: The initial appropriation was five million Reichsmarks, 35 a modest amount to protect its investment of almost a billion Reichsmarks.
For a private company to set up its own concentration camp to insure a supply of labor may have been an odd undertaking, but the problem called for imagination and audacity, especially since the size of the investment and the certain consequences of Hitler’s wrath made abandonment of the project unrealistic. The managing board of directors, without any recorded opposition, felt that economically and politically I.G. had no other choice.
On the other hand, under the circumstances, an I.G. concentration camp had obvious advantages to recommend it.
Inmates would not be drained of their already limited energy by the long marches from the main concentration camp to the construction site. Security would improve and fewer of the scarce S.S. guards would be required. Discipline and punishment would be more effective, and I.G. would also have greater and more immediate control over the use of the inmates.
Of no small consequence, costs would be reduced.
The site chosen for I.G.’s concentration camp was called Monowitz. In the operation of this unique facility I.G. was to be responsible for the housing, feeding, and health of the inmates; the S.S. was charged with the security, punishment, and supply of inmates.
Monowitz was completed in the summer of 1942. Although it belonged to I.G., Monowitz had all the equipment of the typical Nazi concentration camp - watchtowers with searchlights, warning sirens, poised machine guns, armed guards, and trained police dogs.
The entire camp was encircled with electrically charged barbed wire. There was a “standing cell” in which the victim could neither stand upright, kneel, nor lie down. 36 There was also a gallows, often with a body or two hanging from it as a grim example to the rest of the inmates. Across the arched entrance was the Auschwitz motto, “Freedom through Work.”
The complete Auschwitz installation was now comprised of four entities:
When I.G. took its place in the industrial labor complex of Auschwitz and accepted Himmler’s offer of concentration camp labor, it embarked on a road that led ultimately to participation in the most extraordinary crime in civilized history, what Winston Churchill called the crime for which there is no name, the “Final Solution of the Jewish Question.” 38
Even before the Final Solution became the official policy of the German Reich in January 1942, Heinrich Himmler had already started an S.S. program for killing Jews.
When the German armies conquered Poland, Himmler organized special S.S. squads to begin the mass slaughter. The first extermination center was set up at Chelmno, Poland, in the fall of 1939. 39 Three mobile gas vans, using the carbon monoxide from their exhausts, became the first instruments of mass murder.
Primitive and inefficient as this early extermination center was, it reached a killing rate of 1000 a day. 40 Soon the methods of mass destruction of Jews were refined and killing centers with permanent gas chambers, still using carbon monoxide, were opened. One of the most notorious was at Treblinka, near Warsaw, built in early 1941.
Hoess visited Treblinka to study the use of carbon monoxide. Hoess then set up a similar installation at the Birkenau site in Auschwitz. 41 Very soon he realized that carbon monoxide was not sufficiently lethal and was much too slow if Himmler’s goals were to be achieved. 42
In August 1941, using 500 Russian prisoners of war as an experimental group, Hoess introduced into the airtight chambers of Birkenau a new asphyxiating agent, Zyklon B. 43
Actually, Zyklon B, whose generic name is prussic acid, was new only in its application to human beings; its traditional, commercial use was as an insecticide. The result was a revelation of efficiency.
The firm and its most valuable asset, the monopoly of Zyklon B manufacture, was owned,
That I.G. dominated Degesch was general knowledge in the chemical industry.
In fact, in its official corporate pronouncements Degesch described itself as an exclusive selling agent for I.G. Moreover, I.G. dominated the Degesch supervisory board: of its eleven members five were from I.G., including the chairman, Wilhelm Mann. 45
At least one top official of Degesch, Gerhard Peters, the managing director, definitely knew about the new use of Zyklon B.
He had been specifically informed of the details of the Final Solution by Kurt Gerstein, the chief disinfection officer of the S.S., who did the purchasing of Zyklon B. 49 There was still another episode that gave the officials of Degesch more than a hint of the dread purpose to which their Zyklon B was being put by the S.S. When manufactured as a pesticide Zyklon B contained a special odor, or indicator, to warn human beings of its lethal presence.
The inclusion of such a warning odor was required by German law. When the S.S. demanded that the new, large order of Zyklon B omit the indicator, no one familiar with the workings of the S.S. could have failed to realize the purpose behind the strange request. The Degesch executives at first were unwilling to comply.
But compassion was not behind their refusal. What troubled them was the fact that the S.S. request endangered Degesch’s monopoly position. The patent on Zyklon B had long since expired.
However, Degesch retained its monopoly by a patent on the warning odor. To remove the indicator was bad business, opening up the possibility of unwelcome competition. 50 The S.S. made short shrift of this objection and the company removed the warning odor. Now the doomed would not even know it was Degesch’s Zyklon B.
People who were considered too weak for construction work were selected for the gassing stations and crematoria of Birkenau. “Selection” was the most dreaded word in a world of dread.
However, when the transports were unloaded near the crematory ovens, the camp officials, ignoring the labor needs of I.G. Auschwitz but with punctilious devotion to the Final Solution, sent 4092 of the 5022 to the gas chambers. When objections were raised over such a high rate, the explanation offered was that the males were too frail and the females were mostly children, little girls incapable of construction work. 51
Sometime later, when the transports were reported to contain a more choice supply of skilled Jewish workers, an S.S. official in charge of labor allocation suggested a possible means of avoiding overzealous application of the selection process. He recommended that the trains be unloaded near the I.G. works instead of the “usual place” near the crematory. The improvement was noticeable.
On the next shipment of 4087 Jews, only 2398 were selected for extermination; this was a lower rate than before.
The complaints, however, continued:
From the moment the transports were unloaded at Monowitz, those fortunate enough not to be selected for gassing lived in horror of the extermination center at Birkenau.
When the construction fell behind the scheduled deadlines, I.G. officials often complained that the poor physical condition of the inmates chosen to work at I.G. Auschwitz was responsible.
“Consequently,” observed an eyewitness, the Labor Allocation Officer in Auschwitz went to Monowitz early in the morning when the squads left for work, posted himself near the gate, and picked out those people whom they considered sickly amongst the laborers who marched to their work in files of five. These people were sent to the gas chambers straight away. 53
For thousands of inmates, Monowitz thus became merely a brief stop on the way to Birkenau and extermination.
Even under the five percent rule, inmates confined to the hospital had to be returned to work within fourteen days. Those who failed the fourteen-day test were deemed unrecoverable. On the records that I.G. kept was added the final phrase “Nach Birkenau.” 55
At the end of a month, the change in the prisoner’s appearance was marked; at the end of two months, the inmates were not recognizable except as caricatures formed of skin, bones, and practically no flesh; after three months, they were either dead or so unfit for work that they were marked for release to the gas chambers at Birkenau.
Two physicians who studied the effect of the I.G. diet on the inmates noticed that,
As for shelter at Monowitz, the inmates slept in three tiers of wooden cubicles.
Each slot, barely large enough for one person to lie down, actually held three. An eyewitness reported, “As a result it was practically impossible to sleep, since if one man was in a reclining position, the others would have to sit up or lie over him.” 57
The simplest comforts were denied; even tables and chairs were almost unknown. Hygienic conditions were subhuman. In the summer the heat was oppressive, almost beyond endurance, and in the winter there was no heat at all.
Typical offenses charged by I.G. included “lazy,” “shirking,” “refusal to obey,” “slow to obey,” “working too slowly,” “eating bones from a garbage pail,” “begging bread from prisoners of war,” “smoking a cigarette,” “leaving work for ten minutes,” “sitting during working hours,” “stealing wood for a fire,” “stealing a kettle of soup,” “possession of money,” “talking to a female inmate,” and “warming hands.”
Frequently reports included the I.G. foreman’s recommendations of “severe punishment.” 58 The response of the S.S. could be forfeiture of meals, lashes by cane or whip, hanging, or “selection.” 59
To meet the construction schedule, the I.G. management worked the inmates at an almost murderous pace. It adopted, for example, the “S.S. trot” as a work tempo so that even cement and other heavy construction materials were carried to the job at “double time.” 60
I.G. plant police and foremen, as well as Capos, continuously threatened and thrashed the prisoners who did not work up to S.S. standards.
At times, the inmates were literally worked to death:
Two or three times a week those who died on the site and those from whom all useful life had been extracted were piled on open platforms for all to see and trucked to Birkenau. For the inmate laborer, it was a useful reminder employed effectively by I.G. foremen and S.S. guards.
Instead, I.G. reduced slave labor to a consumable raw material, a human ore from which the mineral of life was systematically extracted.
When no usable energy remained, the living dross was shipped to the gassing chambers and cremation furnaces of the extermination center at Birkenau, where the S.S. recycled it into the German war economy - gold teeth for the Reichsbank, hair for mattresses, and fat for soap. Even the moans of the doomed became a work incentive, exhorting the remaining inmates to greater effort.
Half a year later, in February 1944, Krauch was still actively sponsoring the Auschwitz approach to the labor problem.
In advising how to deal with a labor shortage at an I.G. plant at Heydebreck, he wrote its officials: “In order to overcome the continuous lack of labor, Heydebreck must establish a large concentration camp as quickly as possible following the example of Auschwitz [emphasis added]” 63
One can only wonder about the reason for Krauch’s enthusiasm. From the bare records available, 300,000 concentration camp workers passed through I.G. Auschwitz of whom at least 25,000 were worked to death. 64 The plants when completed were so enormous that they used more electricity than the entire city of Berlin.
But in the final tally, I.G. Auschwitz was a miserable failure.
Despite the investment of almost 900 million Reichsmarks and thousands of lives, only a modest stream of fuel and not a single pound of Buna rubber was ever produced. 65