Book review: Jeffreys, Diarmuid, “Hell’s Cartel. IG Farben and the making of Hitler’s war machine.” Metropolitan Books, New York, 2008
The biggest corporation in Europe solidly backed the Nazis during the time they were taking power. During the ensuing war, the big chemical company was more and more deeply involved in Nazi warmaking and ethnic cleansing.
The book begins and ends with the trial of several top company officials. In between, it details the history of the conglomerate from the time that it supplied poison gas during World War I through the trials that ended in 1948. In both wars, they provided much of the vital expertise and materials.
IG Farben established and ran its own slave labor camp as part of the Auschwitz complex. The abuse and murder of tens of thousands of slave laborers was carried out in Farben facilities just as in the other death camps. One of their small but very successful product lines was Zyklon-B, the death gas.
Working people usually say that we do the bidding of “whoever signs our checks.” Have you ever wondered who signed the checks for Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, who killed hundreds of people with torture and outrageous medical experiments? IG Farben.
The company executives received light sentences and early parole. They went on to continued successful careers in European industry.
Books and movies about Nazi Germany have poured out in an endless stream since the end of WWII. We are fascinated with the horror of it and with the questions that are never quite satisfactorily answered, “How could this have happened? Why didn’t somebody do something?”
This book supplies part of the answer, if readers are ready to accept it. Hitler came to power essentially because wealthy Germans, like the officials at IG Farben, preferred the Nazis to the Communists. Even after the war, even during the trials at Nuremberg 1947-48, the main distraction from justice was fear of rising communism.