Nazi Business—and American
The Devil’s Chemists.
by Josiah E. DuBois, Jr. In collaboration with Edward Johnson.
Beacon Press. 369 pp. $3.75.
Normally, business is business, but in Hitler’s abnormal Reich, business was murder. Five years ago the directors of the I. G. Farben-Industrie, the huge vertical trust that dominated the chemical industry of Europe between the wars, were arraigned before an American military tribunal at Nuremberg as the first industrial war-criminals in history. Now the chief prosecutor at their trial has written a report of the case that offers an astonishing picture of the deadly operations during the Nazi era of this greatest of all German cartels. The relevant volumes of the official Nuremberg proceedings have yet to appear, and Mr. DuBois’ revelations are consequently both new and shocking; unfortunately, they are something less than objective.
“I had good reason to know,” writes Mr. DuBois, “that Farben was the Machiavellian planner for all institutions in the world that had allied themselves with military aggression.” And throughout his book, his presumption of the defendants’ responsibility, not only for the offenses in the indictment, but for every major political ill of the last twenty years, is much in evidence.
The Nuremberg court acquitted I. G. Farben of the charge of planning and waging aggressive war; to Mr. DuBois, this smacks of political naivety and opportunism, but the issue is not quite that clear-cut. That Hitler and his immediate advisors were barefaced international bandits, no sane man can doubt. That the men who were under their orders to plan and produce for war were equally responsible, is not so indisputable. Some rather important practical consequences are involved. If the manufacture of war materials per se were to be treated as a punishable crime we could hardly expect our own arms-makers to put their hearts in their work. Mr. DuBois would draw a simple distinction: armament in the service of aggression is criminal; in the service of the state only, patriotic.
Very probably, as the author shows, the Farben directorate well knew that the weapons they made were to be used for unprovoked attack. But their excuse lies in the paranoid patriotism of the German nationalist, to whom attack has always equaled self-defense. In this sense they are no more guilty than the average German who worked in a war industry after September 1939. And, like that average German, they might ask of their judges what else they were to do. Refuse to produce? In a police state?
On the other hand, the I. G. Farben directors not only did not refuse to produce, but insisted, against strenuous official opposition, on producing far more than they were asked for. Before 1939 they continually raised their own production quotas on the plea of Germany’s future war needs. And when the war did come, they welcomed it as a golden opportunity to bring the chemical industry of a whole continent under their corporate thumb. If Farben’s leaders did not start World War II, they certainly made a colossal fortune out of it.
Yet this book’s evidence just does not show that Hitler made war simply for Farben’s profit. Hitler made war for his own “good” reasons, like the megalomaniac he was. On another point, however, DuBois’ facts are damning. Farben built a huge ersatz rubber and gasoline factory at Auschwitz. Hundreds of thousands of prisoners, including children no more than eight years old, were bought from the SS by Farben to labor in the construction of this plant; they were worked up to twenty hours a day, fed hardly at all, beaten with a ferocity which led even the SS officers to protest to Berlin, and then, when exhausted or sick, consigned to Birkenau to be asphyxiated with Farben-made Zyklon-B gas, and cremated in ovens fired by Farben-made methanol. Other prisoners at Auschwitz were subjected to experiments with untested Farben-made drugs; these experiments, often fatal, were demonstrably ordered by Farben director Hoerlein. The responsibility of other directors, who visited Auschwitz on tours of inspection, is clear as a summer’s day.
The judges of American Military Tribunal VI saw fit to deal lightly with these men; the highest sentence meted out was eight years, and Dr. Hoerlein, among others, went scot-free. Here one can only agree with the author that injustice was done at Nuremberg. Injustice was done to the innocent, to the victims—to whom we grow more unjust daily. We are quick to forgive in our eagerness to forget. But such lessons are ill forgotten, particularly before they are well understood. For the victims of “I.G. Auschwitz” were not only the victims of hatred, but also of greed.
Business is business, which implies that business is not morality. To I. G. Farben, the single-minded pursuit of getting and spending meant an economic syllogism whose conclusion lay in the ovens of Birkenau. To the Krupp trust, and other German firms that had slave factories at Auschwitz, it meant substantially the same thing. To the Ford Motor Company, to come closer to home, it meant that the Ford plant in France was encouraged by headquarters at Dearborn to keep on producing trucks for the Wehrmacht when Germany and America were already at war (DuBois, pp. 248-251). One might now jump to some sort of general conclusion about capitalism and morality—but one would be quite wrong. Ford is not Farben, and America is not Germany. In this country the shady deal is not exactly unknown, but the purchase and murder of slaves is. How are we to explain this?
The purest business ideal is the attainment, not merely of a profit, but of the highest profit for the lowest investment, whether in America or Germany. Such an ideal, carried out to its logical inhumanity, is essentially amoral. To be sure, in the pursuit of this aim, the businessman is restrained by the law, by his position in society, and by his individual conscience. But none of these considerations is intrinsic to the business conscience per se; how, then, are we justified in saying there is significantly more conscience in the American businessman than in the German? Moreover, is it not known that, in America, businessmen are the lords of creation, whereas in Germany they were very humble hangers-on in a military aristocracy? This being the case, in America, business amorality should run hog-wild. But this is to miss the point, which is historical and not economic.
German industry was created by the fiat of the Bismarckian state, made to order for the diplomatic and military uses of the Reich, and, accordingly, the German businessman has always been the conscious subordinate of his military and political leaders. American industry was created by the competitive efforts of American businessmen; the state had precious little to do with the industrialization of America. For this reason, business in America has always been more independent, and indeed it has often been antagonistic to government, now trying to dictate to it, now only grudgingly accepting supervision in the public interest. The state, in the American democracy, represents the public interest. In Germany the state has, except for fifteen years in her modern history, been the authoritarian representative of the military interest, and business has been the business of preparing for war. Thus German law encouraged cartels, and the public be damned. Thyssen and his associates, who included the I. G. Farben board, hoped to rescue the good old authoritarian state from the evils of democracy by supporting Hitler, and the “Fuehrer” obliged them by establishing an economy which was military both in organization and in aim.
Once Nazism had removed all moral restraints in the political sphere, the wav was clear for the abandonment of every vestige of moral restraint in the economic one. Under the Nazis no moral prescription could be allowed to interfere with the titanic task of building for war, and, in the ancient German game of follow-the-leader, business became as amoral as the state. German rearmament and Jewish slave labor alike, contrary to Mr. DuBois’ belief, were the result of the domination of business by the state, and not of the state by business. It is true that business is business, but it is more to the point, in the case of Germany, that absolute power corrupts absolutely.