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Inside IG Farben: Hoechst during the Third Reich

Author(s):Lindner, Stephan H.
Reviewer(s):Scherner, Jonas

Published by EH.NET (January 2009)

Stephan H. Lindner, Inside IG Farben: Hoechst during the Third Reich. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008. xx + 388 pp. $60 (hardcover), ISBN: 978-0-521-88766-3.

Reviewed for EH.NET by Jonas Scherner, German Historical Institute, Washington DC.

In 1925, one of the largest industrial companies worldwide, the chemical giant IG Farben, was founded by a merger of several founder firms. This newly created company played an important role during the Nazi period because many goods produced by the firm were directly or indirectly indispensable for reaching the main economic aims of the Nazis ? self-sufficiency and re-armament. During the war, the company was heavily involved in the use of forced labor, especially the exploitation of concentration camp inmates while constructing the new plant at Auschwitz. Though the history of the IG Farben concern is examined in two important studies by Peter Hayes and Gottfried Plumpe, our knowledge of what was underway in the individual plants of this company ? plants which were able to retain a vast degree of autonomy ? is still small.

Stefan Lindner?s work focuses on one important plant of IG Farben, the Hoechst plant in Frankfurt, and spans the period from the merge to the dissolution of IG Farben in the early 1950s ? a dissolution pushed through by the western Allies in West Germany. The work is therefore, strictly speaking, not a business history but a history of a plant itself, and Lindner?s aim is to combine the macro-history of IG Farben with the micro-history of this plant. His main questions, aside from the description and analysis of the economic performance of this plant during the examined period, are to what extent Hoechst was linked to the Nazi regime ? its representatives and organizations ? and to what extent it was entangled or even actively involved in war crimes. His focus is not only on entanglements of individuals but also on the role the institutions themselves ? IG Farben and Hoechst ? played. In other words, the attitude towards various groups of employees is examined. One crucial matter here is whether competition spurred managers to think only in business terms and to repress any moral qualms.

In the first section of the work, Lindner shows Hoechst?s path into the IG Farben during the Weimar Republic. He explains how IG Farben?s first reforms and rationalization measures implemented during the 1920s and especially during the Great Depression, weakened the plant. Hoechst?s position within IG Farben was difficult from the onset due to its outdated production facilities and to managerial inability to form coalitions. In addition, its organization was also rather inefficient. The plant lost many products and even entire product lines because its management had taken no appropriate measures in the 1920s to cut the costs of production or to compete with the other IG Farben plants.

The core part of Lindner?s study focuses mainly on individuals and their social relationships by heavily employing the plant?s personnel files. He describes and analyzes the interaction of the NSDAP, the plant management, and the personnel. On this matter, he focuses specifically on the role ? and that role?s impact ? leading representatives of the plant played regarding the treatment of Jewish workers, as well as of foreign workers, during WWII. Ludwig Hermann, who was appointed as the head of the Hoechst plant on January 1 1933, rejected the anti-Semitism of the Nazis, and as a committed Protestant, had serious reservations about the attempts to subordinate the Lutheran church to the influence of the National Socialists. In spite of his criticism of certain aspects of the Nazi ideology, Hermann was, nevertheless, not generally critical to Hitler or the Nazi regime and became a convinced supporter of Hitler and his politics. After his death in 1938, Carl Ludwig Lautenschlager was appointed as his successor. In contrast to Hermann, he was not only a convicted follower of the National Socialists and Hitler but was also strongly anti-Semitic. Under Lautenschlager, Hoechst became very compliant with the regime and its representatives. As Lindner shows convincingly, its behavior was in fact often more conformist than necessary. However, Lindner shows that the treatment of Jewish employees or employees of Jewish origin could differ considerably depending on the benefits the plant would receive from their work and if support for these employees was not to the detriment of the company. The dominance of economic goals in the plant?s behavior is also shown by the fact that Hoechst was directly involved in recruiting foreign workers by drawing up contracts with foreign companies. Thus, Hoechst was, by no means, merely a passive recipient of allocated foreign workers. Compulsion for Hoechst in foreign recruitment existed only insofar as the pursuit of its economic goals made the use of foreign workers necessary, but not in such a way that the company ? as the company?s lawyer claimed during the Nuremberg trials ? had been forced by official orders to employ them.

In the third section, Lindner examines Hoechst?s research and development as well as its production during the Nazi period. Though Hoechst was not a preeminent plant, it included important innovations during this period without forfeiting any existing ones. Hoechst worked, for instance, on drugs to diminish individual suffering. In this case, however, it took part in ghastly experiments conducted on concentration camp inmates. Interestingly enough, the person responsible for Hoechst?s involvement in this played an active role in the Catholic resistance movement against the Nazi regime. Lindner argues that it was not Hoechst?s ideological orientation that was responsible for this experimentation. Instead, economic aims were again predominant in making this decision.

The final section of the work explains how managers responsible during the first years after the war dealt with the Nazi past. Lindner argues that a highly efficient network of former IG managers existed, leading then to the rehiring of many of former IG employees, and that those, who for particular reasons could not be rehired, were at least funded financially.

In summary, Lindner?s study is an important contribution not only in understanding the undertakings of this single plant of the IG Farben concern. It is also, as a case study, a remarkably notable contribution to our knowledge of social relationships between managers and employees in German industry during the Third Reich. The work effectively portrays that, even under the conditions of the Third Reich, economic considerations predominantly shaped the decisions of the managers.

Jonas Scherner (Ph.D.) is a Research Fellow in Economic and Social History at the German Historical Institute (GHI) in Washington DC. His recent publications include ?The Beginnings of Nazi Autarky Policy: The National Pulp Programme and the Origin of Regional Staple Fibre Plants,? Economic History Review, 61: 4 (2008): 867-95 and Die Logik der Industriepolitik im Dritten Reich: Die Investitionen in die Autarkie- und R?stungsindustrie und ihre staatliche F?rderung, Franz Steiner Verlag: Stuttgart, 2008

Subject(s):Social and Cultural History, including Race, Ethnicity and Gender
Geographic Area(s):Europe
Time Period(s):20th Century: Pre WWII