The question how it was possible that Adolf Hitler came to power and how did he succeed in a relatively short time with the largest and best equipped army in the world, continues to fascinate historians. The greatest attention was paid to date to the political, social and economic context in Germany in the first three decades of the twentieth century.
Furthermore, it also played the dissatisfaction with the parliamentary democracy, the massive unemployment following the Great Depression from the end of 1929, the appeal of Hitler, the terror and propaganda of the Nazis and the latent anti-Semitism, an important role in the rise of the National Socialists. Numerous studies also repeatedly pointed out the weak, even cowardly attitude of the Allies before May 1940. Despite numerous promises France and Britain refused to intervene when including Austria, the Sudetenland and Poland were later annexed by the Third Reich. These are all elements that made the great drama possible.
However, one aspect which was until recently neglected, is namely the financial and material support of the major industrialists to Hitler and his movement, which enabled them to spread propaganda at the beginning of the thirties and later put their sinister program into practice.
In 1979 the historians James and Susanna Pool published the sensational book, “Who Financed Hitler.” It has new and revealing facts about the secret financial backers of the Third Reich. It was the first serious study of the financial supporters of the Nazis. One of the most well known lenders, Gustav Krupp, was the reason that many weapons were produced for the German army. 100,000 forced laborers worked in the Krupp factories under the worst conditions.
During the Nuremberg Trials Krupp was summoned for his part in the war production. But because of his poor health, he was not prosecuted. Less known, but historically much more important, was the cooperation of the Nazi regime with the largest German company from that time, the IG Farben. About this’ liaison dangereuse “wrote British journalist and television producer Diarmuid Jeffreys impressive book, “The Cartel of Hell” about the IG Farben, the Nazis and the Holocaust.
This work provides a penetrating, exciting and dramatic picture of the interaction between the major businessmen in Germany and its political leaders. It reveals the outrageous attitude of some of the most important German business leaders who because of greed made an alliance with radical evil. It gives a disconcerting picture how the urge for self-enrichment could lead to the most egregious corporate actions.
The IG Farben was before and during World War II, the largest company in Germany, and the third largest in the world. It was an industrial behemoth that specialized in chemical applications, the production of fertilizers, explosives, synthetic rubber, pharmaceuticals and other products wanted in both households and in the army. The foundation was laid in the middle of the 19th century when German scientists were able to develop numerous artificial dyes, which led to the expansion of the successful company BASF.
Later they recorded progress in the field of pharmaceuticals in developing phenacitine and aspirin, two products that Bayer made a giant. And the German company Bosch managed to produce synthetic ammonia in favor of the production of fertilizer. All chemical companies that were led and facilitated by outstanding German scientists (as fine as scientists today) at that time to the top of the world belonged. But soon it would appear that some of these inventions were also particularly useful for the war industry, such as the creation of explosives. The first contacts of those companies with politics began when the workers of various factories began to defend their interests collectively through unions as an awareness grew of business leaders to work together and to influence policy in their favor.
That realization was very concrete during the First World War when the German military leadership was faced with a lack of raw materials for the war. From then began the government money in the German chemical industry, causing a deadly interaction arose between politics and science. A striking example was Fritz Haber, a German-Jewish scholar and convinced patriot, who at BASF invented the poison gas and then themselves, watched its use.
In a first application it fell alongside allied 5,000 dead and was wounded three times. It caused a reaction in which the British and French were developing their own poison gas. Yet Huber won the Nobel Prize in 1918, which says a lot about the lack of attention that when went to the devastating effects of inventions which are not directed at a greater happiness, but the destruction of the opponent. The war was lost, but the companies succeeded well in safeguarding their interests. Natural plants were confiscated and patents seized, but the correct knowledge of the production of products remained in German hands. Their interests were decided by big companies like Agfa, BASF, Bayer, Hoechst and others to merge into the IG Farben.
The most interesting part of the book deals with the period before and during the takeover of power by the Nazis. Which largely followed was the rising popularity of the cars that were in need of increasing fuel and synthetic rubber (the buna)? Germany unlike Britain has few resources and thus counted on its own chemical industry to make plastics, which all in all was well-managed. Still the company was suffering, just like any other, under the economic depression which the company was forced by the government to correct for grants to survive.
Additionally, this drove the fear of communism into the arms of fascism. “On 27 February (1933) the IG 400,000 Reichsmark went over to the Nazi party,” writes Jeffrey. It was a contribution of the company to the Nazi regime to ensure a stable social, political and economic environment, and that donations were named very quickly.
Meanwhile, the Nazis removed the Jews from all academic and scientific posts; so many important and competent scientists left the company. At the same time the fate of IG Farben increasingly became linked to the Third Reich, a situation that would lead to a complete collaboration and, worse still, the company turned to slave labor.
The Nazi regime had a huge interest in its own providence. That is precisely why there were all the supported projects for the production of synthetic fuel and rubber. That was not only a requirement of the Nazis, but also a strategic option of the leadership of the IG Farben. In any case, it lent itself perfectly to the benefit of the Fascist regime and attracted no attention to the fate of the convicts.
Moreover, the expected profits for the company were much more important than ethical concerns. IG Farben began not only to support the Nazi regime, but also suggested how the Jewish ‘subhumans’ in an advantageous way could turn for the war industry. At the outbreak of the war, IG Farben was the main partner of the Nazi war machine. In each country that was conquered, employees of IG Farben were to get to use plants on the hook.
This led to many companies and patents being under the control of the German company. In this way it increased the power of the German industry and at the end of November 1940 the decided to open a buna plant in eastern Poland with good accessibility and an inexhaustible supply of cheap labor. With the availability of accessible rail and being away from the German hinterland, it became a concentration camp. Here was the symbiosis between IG Farben and its factories in Auschwitz.
The Buna plant at Auschwitz had to care for synthetic rubber and fuel in favor of the war industry, and the IG Farben was doing everything it could to help with this. The project was funded by the company that paid for each slave laborer (3 marks per unskilled worker, 4 marks a skilled worker). The rest of the story is simply hallucinating. Because the supply of forced laborers from Birkenau (Auschwitz II) to do too much time consuming work and that most of them already were tired and working hard, the company decided to build its own concentration camp near the construction site.
Thousands died of exhaustion and malnutrition. “The IG used the prisoners up so quickly that the Nazi authorities could hardly settle the numbers,” writes Jeffrey. Meanwhile the Final Solution was in full swing through mass gassings with Zyklon B, a product massively supplied by a subsidiary of IG Farben. But in order to get the best workers the managers of IG itself assisted in the selection process of getting the best inmates from the trains.
“Up to this day no German company that used slave laborers during the Second World War has formally apologized to the survivors,” writes Jeffrey. It is a disconcerting conclusion. Who knows how the convicts were treated and we can only the see Vrba-Wetzler report or read the experiences of Primo Levi in the Buna-Werke in Auschwitz. The cartel of the Hell is an important book that gives good insight into the intertwining of politics and industry under Nazism. It places particular inhuman motives and exposes a series of important businessmen and scientists who because of power, greed and financial gain were willing to sell their souls to the devil.