THE CRIME AND PUNISHMENT OF I. G. FARBEN by Joseph Borkin

THE CRIME AND PUNISHMENT OF I. G. FARBEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Joseph Borkin's case study in the history of the complex relationship between business and politics takes as its subject the chemical combine, I. G. Farben, a giant which has demonstrated an uncanny ability to survive the demise of those political regimes with which it was intimately associated. Formed in 1916 out of the major German chemical companies (among them BASF, Bayer, and Agfa), I. G. Farben was able to offer its services to the German Empire in World War I and to Hitler in World War II, always in return for large government contracts and handsome profits. In the first instance, the combine developed and manufactured poison gas, but a combination of luck and shrewd business dealings left it unscathed at Versailles and in a position to support Hitler in the early 1930s in return for his interest in I. G. Farben's development of a synthetic fuel. Understandably, Borkin focuses on the evolving relationship with the Nazis, for I. G. Farben not only supplied the fuel and synthetic rubber needs of the Reich's armies, but it also shared in the regime's inhumanity. Citing evidence from the Nuremberg trials, Borkin describes the construction of a giant chemical plant near Auschwitz--called ""I. G. Auschwitz""--which was staffed by slave labor. Those prisoners too weak to work for Farben were liquidated with a Farben-supplied poison gas. Borkin avoids the simplistic notion that Hitler was a tool of chemical industry leaders. Rather, his point is that by providing the synthetic resources that made Hitler's imperial schemes possible, and through its use of slave labor, I. G. Farben shared the responsibility, and the guilt, of the regime, and should have been condemned at Nuremberg. In fact, only light sentences were meted out to Farben executives, and though the combine was broken up, its separate branches continue to flourish. This is an interesting study, but the question of whether huge companies like I. G. Farben represent a historical force on their own is never really posed. Borkin, a Washington, D.C., lawyer, prefers to let the facts speak for themselves, and he leaves no doubt of how easily the pursuit of profit co-existed with barbarism in the Third Reich.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1978
Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan