This was a cartel formed by the leading chemical companies in Germany after the First World War. ‘IG Farben’ is the diminutive of the rather more tongue-stretching Interessen Gemeinschaft Farbenindustrie which has been translated as ‘Community of Interests of Dye Industries’. Three of the many companies which joined were BASF, Bayer and Hoechst.
It was by far the largest corporation or cartel in Germany between the two world wars, controlling five hundred companies (in ninety-two countries). Corporative arrangements were made between Farben and Standard Oil (USA), Imperial Chemical Industries (Gt. Britain), and Mitsui (Japan), which makes the period 1929 – 39 so interesting. You may have noticed that the nationality of the first two of these commercial giants formed the major part of the Allies in World War II, while the third joined Hitler’s Axis.
Farben played an increasingly important role in the nineteen thirties attempting to free Germany from her dependence on the import of raw materials. The cartel produced almost all Germany’s synthetic lubricating oils, petrol, rubber, dyes, nickel, explosives and poison gas.One hopes that someone in Britain, France or the United States took note of these last three products (nickel is largely used in the fabrication of cartridge cases)
Hoping to increase production of synthetic oil and rubber, the cartel set up IG Auschwitz in 1943, well into the Second War. It was the largest plant in the world, and one of the cheapest, because it was built and operated by slave labourers from the Auschwitz concentration camp. When the workers became too weak from starvation or illness to work for the cartel, they were gassed in the camp by a prized IG Farben product called Zyklon-B.
In 1945 the War came at last to an end and the victorious Allies set up the Nuremberg Trials: many directors of IG Farben found themselves in the dock where they were found guilty of war crimes and dealt with.
The cartel itself was broken up into three parts, given different names, and carried on with their work, a truly twentieth century concept.