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I.G. Farbenindustrie AG (1925–1945)
Once the global economy has stabilized in the mid-1920s, it becomes clear that the German dyestuffs industry will be unable to regain its former position in the world market. In 1925, six German companies take the decision to form a community of interests – Interessengemeinschaft Farbenindustrie AG, or I.G. Farben for short – to remain competitive and gain access to new markets. Just like the other companies, Bayer transfers its assets to I.G. Farben and its entry as an independent company in the commercial register is deleted.
Besides the Leverkusen, Dormagen and Elberfeld sites, the I.G.’s Lower Rhine operating consortium also includes the site in Uerdingen. Leverkusen additionally becomes the headquarters of the I.G.’s pharmaceutical sales association, which uses the Bayer Cross as its trademark.
The National Socialist government has been systematically preparing for war since 1936. When the Second Word War finally breaks out in 1939, the Lower Rhine operating consortium’s sites are deemed vital to the war effort and the German economy. The economic benefits for I.G. Farben are huge. It recognizes the opportunity for a new resurgence and increased production. At the same time, however, a large part of the male workforce is being drafted into military service.
From 1940 onward, I.G. Farben makes increasing use of forced laborers from the occupied countries of Europe in order to maintain and expand production capacities within the Lower Rhine operating consortium. At times, these laborers account for up to a third of the workforce.
Around 16,000 people are deployed at the Lower Rhine sites during the war. Thousands of these, predominantly from Poland, Ukraine and further eastern European countries, are forced to work against their will under inhumane and discriminatory conditions. The youngest are 14, while the oldest are just under 50.
Workers from western and northern European countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark also make up a large proportion of the workforce.
Dr. Hans Finkelstein (1885-1938) is in charge of scientific research at the previously independent company “Chemische Fabriken vorm. Weiler-ter Meer” in Uerdingen which, like “Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co.” with its sites in Leverkusen, Elberfeld and Dormagen, becomes part of the newly founded I.G. Farbenindustrie AG in 1925. He typifies the fate of people from a Jewish background or who follow the Jewish religion.
As a young scientist, Finkelstein develops the “Finkelstein reaction”, which is recognized to this day. He joins Weiler-ter Meer as a chemist in 1911. In the compulsory questionnaire for academics, he enters “Evangelical Lutheran” under “Religion”. Finkelstein is put in charge of the scientific laboratory and becomes an authorized signatory with full power of attorney. When the National Socialists come to power and pass the Nuremberg Race Laws, he is defined as a "Jew" and a so-called “Non-Aryan”. Finkelstein comes from a liberal Jewish family and converts to Protestantism at the age of ten. Despite this, and having already experienced discrimination, he is forced by the Nazi authorities to leave the company midway through 1938 and to surrender his passport. Embittered and thoroughly disillusioned, he takes his own life in Uerdingen’s city park in late December 1938. He and his wife Annemarie have three children. As a “half-Jew”, his son Berthold is later a forced laborer at the same company.
During the Second World War, and starting in 1941, I.G. Farben has a chemical factory built in the immediate vicinity of the Auschwitz concentration camp to produce Buna, a synthetic rubber that is an important part of the war economy. In addition to German skilled workers, the company also uses thousands of prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp to build the factory. They are joined by prisoners of war and forced laborers from all over Europe. To accommodate the workers at what is the largest construction site in the Third Reich at that time, I.G. Farben starts building the company’s own Buna-Monowitz concentration camp in 1942, in collaboration with the Nazi regime. Large numbers of laborers die due to the inhumane living and working conditions or are put to death in the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers as soon as they are no longer able to work. The life expectancy of inmates is less than four months, and over 25,000 people lose their lives on the construction site alone.