Book Review: Corporate Morality in the Third Reich

IG Farben factory at Auschwitz

IG Farben factory at Auschwitz, ca. 1941-1944 (German Federal Archive).

Stephan H. Lindner. Inside IG Farben: Hoechst During the Third Reich. New York: Cambridge University Press, 424 pp, $60.

In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Hitler’s Third Reich, the victorious Allies dissolved the notorious German chemical monopoly, IG Farbenindustrie AG, and tried many of its surviving executives at Nuremberg. despite complicity in crimes, including plunder and the enslavement and murder of camp prisoners, the executives were either acquitted or received relatively light sentences (up to eight years, all eventually commuted). Many later returned to serve with Farben’s successor corporations (chief among them were the “big three,” BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst AG), which remained intact through the 1990s. The parent corporation remained a taboo subject— its successors reluctant to open their archives to historians—until 1987, when Peter Hayes’s Industry and Ideology: IG Farben in the Nazi Era inaugurated a new era of more objective analysis.

One of the most interesting products of the new era to date is Stephan H. Lindner’s Inside IG Farben: Hoechst during the Third Reich, to which Hayes (who also chaired the research advisory committee for the book) has provided a useful foreword. Both in its sources and in its focus, Lindner’s work sets itself apart from other analyses of the subject and demonstrates how National Socialism shaped the conduct of iddle and upper management in a division of one of the most significant corporations of its time.

The increased openness of IG Farben’s successor corporations toward professional historians has made possible the work of Lindner and other historians (including this reviewer). This shift came about with the passing of the older generation of leaders and with continued changes in the political-economic landscape, including the fundamental restructuring of the chemical industry itself. Although Hoechst has effectively disappeared (the name perseveres as an internal subdivision of Sanofi-Aventis, formed in 2004), its archives remain intact. To make full use of these and other corporate documents, Lindner obtained “unwavering support” (p. xix) from Jürgen Dormann, the last board chairman of Hoechst AG (and subsequently of Aventis SA before its merger into Sanofi-Aventis).