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GOVERNMENT: Criminals All?

4 minute read

When Field Marshal General Keitel was sentenced as a war criminal, General Ike Eisenhower was asked: Do you think you would have been hanged if the Nazis had won the war? Said Ike: “Such thoughts you have.”

In Nürnberg last week the U.S. posed the same question for U.S. businessmen who had armed the U.S. war machine. The U.S. indicted 24 former German industrialists, all officials of I. G. Farben Co., as war criminals, the first such indictment against businessmen in history. Among those whom it placed in the same category as Hitler and Göring were Farben’s board chairman Hermann Schmitz and Georg von Schnitzler, sales manager, who were mainly responsible for the growth of Farben into the world’s most powerful chemical giant. The U.S. charged the 24 civilians with fomenting and waging aggressive war, mass murder, plunder and “complete synchronization” with the Nazi High Command. The burden of the indictment was that, without Farben, the Nazis could not have m,ade war.

In the 20,000-word indictment that linked Farben to six U.S. corporations and to some 500 others throughout the world, the U.S. charged that “Hitler . . . and Farben found a basis for close collaboration as early as 1932. [Hitler] came to power with generous financial assistance from Farben and . . . Farben’s foreign agents formed the core of Nazi intrigue throughout the world. . . . Ostensibly acting only as businessmen, [they] carried on propaganda and espionage activities indispensable to German preparation for and waging of aggressive war.”

Most damning charge was that Farben experimented on slave labor and concentration camp inmates with “deadly gases, vaccines and related products.” To supply slave labor for its synthetic rubber plant at Oswiecim, Farben allegedly constructed a concentration camp and worked the men, women & children so hard that an estimated 100 a day died from exhaustion.

Most important, to U.S. companies was the old charge that Farben had weakened the U.S. by cartel agreements with Standard Oil Co. of New Jersey to restrict synthetic rubber development, with Aluminum Co. of America and Dow Chemical to restrict magnesium production, with a Du Pont subsidiary to prevent export of tetrazene (an explosive) to Britain in 1941.

The U.S. would have no trouble proving that the Nazis could not have made war without Farben. But it would not be so easy to prove which of Farben’s prewar activities had been respectable, if ruthless, business practice and which had been criminal warmaking. Nor would U.S. industrialists agree that Farben’s deals with U.S. companies had hampered the U.S. war potential. They have maintained that they got from Farben more industrial secrets than they gave. After years of argument, the point was still arguable.

But the moral problem which the indictment raised was plain. If Farben was proved guilty, did those who had dealt with Farben share the guilt? If wars could not be fought without the help of industrialists, then were not businessmen, in the final analysis, the real warmakers? That was what the U.S. War Crimes Commission seemed to hold in its newest Nürnberg indictment.

Standard Oil Co. (NJ.) had “no cartel agreements with Farben.” So said Robert T. Haslam, vice president, this week. He said that Standard had had “an agreement to purchase a large number of Farben’s American patents for $35,000,000, plus turning over to them some of our patents. Those patents we purchased gave the U.S. synthetic toluol for TNT . . . 100 octane gasoline . . . buna rubber.” The Dow Chemical Co.’s Willard H. Dow denied the cartel charge saying: “Those things have been very much distorted.”

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