In the week marking the liberation of Auschwitz Peter Frost reminds us of the shameful part played by German capitalist firms in the nazi death camps
In all the coverage marking the liberation of Auschwitz by the Red Army 70 years ago one important aspect of the story has been notable by its absence.
That is the role in building, owning and running the slave labour and death camps played by giants of German big business — the capitalist class so important to the success of nazi Germany.
Companies such as IG Farben, Krupp Steel and Siemens supported Adolf Hitler and in return reaped huge profits from slave labour organised by the nazis. All three had huge works attached to Auschwitz. All used slave labour from the camps.
German industrialists from many of Germany’s biggest businesses met with Heinrich Himmler once a month to discuss how they could best work with those running the camps.
Himmler was one of the most powerful men in nazi Germany and one of the chief architects of the Holocaust. Head of the hated SS, he set up and ran the concentration camps.
The Red Army liberators discovered a number of large industrial factories in and around Auschwitz. One was a synthetic rubber and chemical factory of the gigantic IG Farben company just a few miles from the main camp.
In fact IG Farben had built the camp at Auschwitz and were its legal owners. It was Farben that developed and sold the poison gas — Zyklon B — used in the gas chambers.
At Auschwitz Farben company representatives toured the camp to select the 10,000 fit slave workers needed for their works.
Farben also funded and helped with Josef Mengele’s appalling so-called medical experiments on Auschwitz child prisoners.
Its directors and managers were tried at Nuremberg.
The company promised to pay huge reparations to its former slave workers but, although profitable, never paid up in any significant measure.
Today German chemical and pharmaceutical giants like Bayer and Hoechst can still trace their origins back to IG Farben.
Krupp was another of the largest industrial combines in Germany that also used slave labour from Auschwitz. It made armaments, tanks and super guns for the nazis and employed more than 10,000 slaves from the camps.
Nine Krupp directors were convicted at Nuremberg. Boss Alfried Krupp was sentenced to 12 years for war crimes but was freed by the US in 1951.
The third large industrial complex at Auschwitz was owned by electrical and engineering giant Siemens. They built the gas chambers and ovens that would kill so many concentration camp victims and their families. Some of that machinery for mass murder even proudly bore the Siemens nameplate.
Bosch-Siemens are still in business and in 2001 almost unbelievably tried to trademark the word Zyklon — the name of the poison gas used during the Holocaust. The name was to be used for, of all things, a range of gas ovens. After huge protests the company withdrew the plan and apologised.
Many other German capitalist concerns have skeletons in their cupboards. Daimler-Benz, for example, was a strong supporter of the nazis and in return grew to win huge arms contracts. By 1940 they were eight times the size they had been in 1932. During the war the company used thousands of slaves.
What is now Volkswagen built buzz bombs and army staff-cars.
German historians believe that as much as one in eight of VW’s wartime workforce of 16,000 was slave labour.
Professor Hans Mommsen of Bochum University says of wartime head of Volkswagen Ferdinand Porsche “It is quite clear that he was responsible for hiring concentration camp inmates for the factory’s labour camp. Porsche contacted SS leader Heinrich Himmler directly to request slaves from Auschwitz.”
Global fashion giant founder Hugo Boss was an enthusiastic member of the nazi Party. He manufactured Hitler Youth, storm trooper and SS uniforms using slave labour.
What is clear is that the nazi war machine could not have existed without unquestioning and enthusiastic support from some of Germany’s biggest and richest capitalist concerns.
Many of those companies are still in business today and many have never made meaningful apologies or paid adequate compensation to the concentration camp slaves, prisoners and their families.
Rather they have done what capitalists always do — concentrate on making enormous profits whatever the real cost in human misery.
First published Morning Star 29 January 2015