Northwestern scholar untangles Nazi politics, German corporations

Northwestern scholar untangles Nazi politics, German corporations

Susie Skowronek

Next to a railroad junction, near a river, on a flat plain of land spanning three by five miles that once held the village Monowitz, the IG Farben plant stood, waiting for its free laborers from nearby Auschwitz.

The prime shareholder of the company, the German government told IG Farben’s corporate officials to build its new plant. They settled on Dwory, a stretch of land allied bombers could not reach on a single tank of gas.

Northwestern University’s Peter Hayes, professor of history with a concentration in Nazi culture and author of seven books, presented “German Corporate Complicity in the Holocaust” Friday morning in the Pere Marquette Room.

Hayes lectured on how Nazi politics influenced German businesses during World War II focusing on two examples in particular: IG Farben and the German Gold and Silver Separation Institute.

“Business institutions are among the most accessible for us to understand among societies,” Hayes said. “The rules that govern their existence are very much the same today as they once were.”

Because businesses must still meet the demands of the public and the demands of shareholders, the current observer can understand why a business 60 or 70 years ago fell into corruption to meet economic demand.

The production company IG Farben made leaps in science. First, the company produced a dye for jeans, when previously the blue coloring was extracted from indigo plants and therefore limited in quantity. IG Farben scientists discovered how to synthesize both oil and rubber from coal, when Germany had neither oil reserves nor rubber trees.

IG Farben also built a plant not far from the largest concentration camp of World War II, and 30,000 inmates died at the plant or were sent back to Auschwitz to the gas chambers.

The company owned part of the patent to the chamber gas known as Zyklon B.

Despite the number of inmates killed in the 15 square miles of IG Farben property, only one out of 32 company board members joined the Nazi party, and he for three months.

Hayes and his presentation were brought to campus by the Joseph Stevens Freedom Endowment Fund, established in 1990 to honor the Jewish Lithuanian, now 92, who worked as a freedom fighter in the Polish underground during the World War II. The fund provides money for a lecture series that brings human rights speakers to GVSU.

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