In June 1941, at the height of World War II, the German chemical giant IG Farben launched a factory to make synthetic rubber, a vital material for military purposes, at Monowitz, an Auschwitz satellite. The manpower was thousands of forced laborers, most of them Jews, who suffered from hunger and cold and died from the harsh working conditions. After the war two senior executives were tried for crimes against humanity.
At first glance this might seem like another story about one of many German companies that became rich during the war while exploiting Jewish prisoners. But inside the history of IG Farben, arguably the grease of Hitler’s armament plans, hides a story of business ties between Nazi Germany and American companies.
Nadan Feldman, who is writing a doctorate at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, says IG Farben received some of its expertise thanks to technology-sharing agreements with Delaware-based DuPont. “Some of the agreements signed by the two companies gave IG Farben critical knowledge for war production, enabling Nazi Germany to start the war,” Feldman told Haaretz.
In recent years Feldman has been burrowing in American and German archives looking for financial reports, regulatory documents and correspondence that shed light on the role of DuPont, then owned by one of the wealthiest American families, in supplying Nazi Germany. And Feldman provides a disturbing thesis — that in addition to business interests the connection between the companies was ideological.
DuPont was only one of around 150 American companies with business links to Nazi Germany. Feldman says connections “were conducted undisturbed and even with the tacit support of the U.S. administration despite the growing threat of Hitler’s regime to the welfare of Europe and the West.”
Such connections included huge loans, large investments, cartel agreements, the construction of plants in Germany as part of the Third Reich’s rearmament, and the supply of massive amounts of war matériel.
The corporations involved included Standard Oil, which provided fuel that Germany lacked, General Motors and IBM. They also included ITT, which provided communications and computer equipment, Ford, which provided vehicles, and Union Banking, which provided large loans for buying equipment.
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Feldman writes that Americans helped finance Hitler’s political career: “The alliance between American capitalism and Nazi Germany helped Hitler implement an armaments program that was unprecedented at the time, and to begin the world war in which the Holocaust took place.”
Aid to the enemy
Feldman is particularly interested in a less familiar aspect: agreements to share technological expertise and patents, which enabled Nazi Germany “to achieve technological superiority in components critical for the war” — DuPont’s synthetic rubber was one, Feldman says.
He says that “without the mobilization of corporate America for Nazi Germany, it is very doubtful whether Hitler could have started the war, doubtful whether he would have succeeded in rehabilitating the German economy” — certainly not at the speed and strength he achieved in the ‘30s.
After long efforts to conceal this connection, some of the American corporations themselves are publishing the facts, hiring professional historians.
“It’s doubtful if we’ll ever understand how corporate executives in the United States, some of them symbols of patriotism, could give so much help to such a strong, cruel and fanatic enemy that was willing to start a war against their country, to eliminate entire nations and destroy Western civilization,” he says. “It’s also doubtful whether we’ll be able to understand why every one of them avoided punishment.”
DuPont continued its ties with IG Farben even after the war began; the last agreement between the two companies was signed in 1940, after the occupation of France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg. “Amazingly, Dupont continued [ties] … even after Germany declared war on the United States in December 1941,” Feldman says, based on documents in the U.S. National Archives. The ties ended only in September 1943, when Germany confiscated the assets of DuPont and all American companies.
DuPont also had stakes in two companies responsible for making the gas Zyklon B, which was originally a pesticide but was used for mass murder in the gas chambers.
The other motive
Until now most related research focused on financial motives for ties with Nazi Germany, but in the case of DuPont, “the main motive that led to this collaboration was ideological,” Feldman says.
Feldman researched support in the DuPont family for Hitler already in the ‘20s, support for dictatorship, as well as executives’ interest in eugenics and the financing of far-right groups in the United States in the ‘30s, some of them racist and anti-Semitic.
One of the VIPs mentioned in Feldman’s research is DuPont’s president in the first half of the ‘20s, Irénée du Pont, who followed Hitler’s career enthusiastically from the start and supported racial superiority theories.
Another American warned about this involvement. William E. Dodd, the U.S. ambassador in Berlin during the rise of the Nazis, repeatedly warned the U.S. financial and political elite against Hitler and the destructive consequences of cooperating with him. His warnings fell on deaf ears.
In 1936, Dodd warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt about the possible advent of fascism in the United States caused by a clique of industrialists. Although his prophecy did not come true, the dimensions of American involvement in the Nazi economy and its armament program, and therefore in the Holocaust, are now being exposed in full.