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Behind the Headlines I.g. Farben’s Grim History

August 23, 1978
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First as an economist and later as a lawyer and historian, Joseph Borkin studied and investigated the corporate greed, evil and manipulations of the I.G. Farben Company. Now after 40 years of research and documentation of this industrial demon, he has presented a source book on the German chemical combine that dominated industrial giants in the very countries that Germany had sought to conquer in two world wars.

From this book flows a lesson for those who still fail to understand the might and craft of industrial-military combinations against which Dwight Eisenhower warned in his Presidency. And during an interview with the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Borkin warned those in places of business and political authority who bend their knees to the oil and financial sheiks of Saudi Arabia, dreaming of political power through controls on technological America.

In “The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben,” published by The Free Press, a division of Macmillan Publishing Co. in New York, Borkin documents how this industrial complex produces benign products like aspirin and sulfa drugs for suffering humanity and also devastated humanity with poison gas during World War I and fueled Hitler’s Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe in World War II with synthetic oil and rubber, much of them coming from its own slave-labor establishment–“I.G. Auschwitz”–on the outskirts of the Auschwitz death camp itself.

Auschwitz supplied the labor for the construction of I.G. Auschwitz. Slave laborers were worked to death in the I.G. Auschwitz oil and rubber plants or in coal mines. When they became too weak to work they were immediately put to death with I.G. Farben-produced Zyklon B gas which Farben sold to the Nazis at a profit. Of the 300,000 death camp inmates who passed through I.G. Auschwitz, at least 25,000 were worked to death.

Borkin also describes other cruelties of I.G. Auschwitz, such as a “standing cell” in which the victim could neither stand upright, kneel or lie down. There were also gallows from which a body or two usually hung. These were examples to other inmates of what could happen for such crimes as eating bones from a garbage can, stealing wood for a fire to keep warm, or begging bread from prisoners of war.


Why wasn’t I.G. Farben destroyed by Allied air bombings? In 1944 the U.S. War Department was urged by John Pehle, the War Refugee Board’s executive director, to bomb both Auschwitzes. The Department responded that such action would be “an unwarranted diversion of planes needed elsewhere,” Borkin observed.

In Nuremberg, in 1946, a half-dozen I.G. Farben executives were convicted for slavery and mass murder. They were sentenced to jail terms of six to eight years in jail. Another half dozen were found guilty only of “plunder and spoliation” and their punishment was 18 months to five years in prison. And, to cap it all, Fritz ter Meer, the only executive convicted of mass murder, slavery, plunder and spoliation returned to a top executive position in 10 years. In 1956 he became chairman of the supervisory board of Bayer, one of I.G.’s largest components.


Despite the passing of years, the I.G. Farben saga may spout more sensations in the months ahead with the Kennedy presidency and the Carter Administration in the principal parts. Borkin points out that the I.G. main American asset was General Aniline and Film Corporation (GAF). A Swiss company, Interhandel, nominally owned it. Interhandel was originally established before World War II by I.G. Forben to conceal its foreign assets, evade German taxes and raise capital abroad. In 1942, however, the U.S. government considered GAF to be enemy property and seized it.

After the war, Interhandel sought to regain GAF but no U.S. attorney general would allow it until 1963. In that year, Borkin reports, Interhandel’s head, Alfred Schaefer, was introduced to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy through Prince Radziwill, Jacqueline Kennedy’s brother-in-law. Under an arrangement worked out with Kennedy, Borkin reports, the U.S. government released GAF and sold it through an investment banker for $329 million, of which $124 million was paid to Interhandel.

Borkin believes that Joseph P. Kennedy, the father of the President and Attorney General, had an interest in GAF and persuaded his sons to go through with the transaction. Five previous attorneys general had refused to do it, although influence on the U.S. government to restore GAF’s assets to its German and Swiss owners had been strong for years. However, the Kennedy Administration might have thought the GAF transaction might improve postwar German-American political and economic relations. West Germany had friends in both the Republican and Democratic parties.

“The strange case of General Aniline will not rest,” Borkin forecast in his closing lines after pointing out that the services of Robert Schmitz, who demanded $11,250,000 plus interest for his work in helping Interhandel get GAF back, were “worth at least as much as Prince Radziwill’s influence.”


Whether the Carter Administration will pursue the allegations of possible corruption in the Kennedy Administration and either clear the air or cloud it is uncertain. On Aug. 7, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency put the question to Presidential News Secretary Jody Powell. Borkin’s book, JTA said, “leaves a question mark with regard to the Kennedy Administration’s handling” of the Farben company. JTA asked whether the White House “will lock at the book.”

“I couldn’t answer that,” Powell replied. “I didn’t pay that much attention to that aspect, the need for investigation.” Pressed to look into it, Powell said “I can’t promise you I will come back with anything or whether we will investigate a book or anything.” On this aspect, nothing further has developed, at least not publicly.


In his interview with JTA, Borkin warned that “I.G. Farben is not a person, not a company. It is a way of life. There will be other people doing it. As long as the conditions exist, I.G. Farben will be back in spirit.”

What lessons are to be drawn from this book? “We Jews should never underestimate our adversaries,” Borkin replied. “Hitler told us what he would do and we looked on Hitler as Charlie Chaplin, eating rugs, a madman. Apart from his madness, Hitler represents something evil in Germany. He didn’t invent anti-Semitism; he articulated it.”

President Carter should learn this lesson, Borkin added. “Our foreign policy is being throttled by Arabs. We have to kow-tow to the Saudis because that two-bit, jerk-water country has oil. Tomorrow the Saudis can destroy our economy by just letting the oil price float; inflation will go crazy. Our industry will come to a halt if an embargo starts.”

What oil is to Saudi Arabia, technological genius was to I. G. Farben, Borkin explained. “All the great metallurgical and chemical companies in the world had to take a junior position to the I.G. Farben cartels. Can you imagine–Alcoa, Dow, Standard Oil had to be junior partners. I.G. Farben sat at the head of the table.”

The oil companies “take dictation from the Saudis and not from the Pentagon,” he added. “It is a disgraceful act in history. We are now in a state of war and we should set up a Manhattan project to get synthetic oil like we did to get the atomic bomb. That’s the big lesson. And we ought to enforce the Sherman act. Don’t let the conglomerates get so big and powerful that they can conduct our foreign policy.”

Borkin has impressive credentials for writing this book. In collaboration with Charles A. Welsh, he published in 1973 “Germany’s Master Plan,” exposing the hidden economic war of the German cartels. From 1938 to 1946, Borkin was chief of the patent and cartel section of the antitrust division of the Department of Justice. He was responsible for the wartime investigation and prosecution of the I.G.-dominated cartels. Now he is in private law practice in Washington and lectures at Catholic University. Now 66, Borkin, who was born in Brooklyn of Russian Jewish emigrants and brought up in the Bronx, came to Washington in 1933 as the “youngest original New Dealer” and remained here.

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