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The bell tolls

August 19, 2011

The Nazi chemicals giant IG Farben used forced labor and made poison gas. After the Nuremberg trials, companies like BASF and Bayer were formed from the splintered monolith. Now IG Farben will cease to exist.

IG Farben poison gas being dumped in the sea
IG Farben used forced labor and made poison gas for the NazisImage: picture-alliance/dpa

More than 80 years after IG Farben was founded the chemicals company once closely linked to the Nazi regime is having its stock pulled from the market. It's the final step in a liquidation process which stretched over decades.

During World War II, IG Farben used thousands of forced laborers from the Auschwitz-Monowitz camp at its factory there. One of the company's subsidiaries produced Zyklon B, which was used to kill prisoners in gas chambers. A number of Nobel-prize winning scientists also worked for the company during its history.

IG Farben was once the world's largest chemicals company, and the Allied powers ordered it dismantled after 1945. Several of IG Farben's top executives were tried in Nuremberg and imprisoned at the time.

IG Farben former headquarters
IG Farben's former headquarters are now used by Frankfurt UniversityImage: AP

Companies including BASF, Bayer and Hoechst (now part of French Sanofi) were formed from the fragments of IG Farben, leaving behind a publically-traded shell company which declared bankruptcy in 2003. That shell - called "IG Farben in Liquidation" in full - was always intended to expire and gave victims an entity against which to make reparations claims.

An 18-month lawsuit brought against IG Farben by Auschwitz-Monowitz survivor Norbert Wollheim in the early 1950's resulted in 30 million Deutsche marks being paid to victims.

Funds exhausted

According to the Frankfurt-area law office of bankruptcy administrator Angelika Wimmer-Amend, no new reparations claims have been made during the bankruptcy, and there isn't enough money left to pay into Federal reparations funds.

"No claims were made by victims of National Socialism during the bankruptcy proceedings," her office told Deutsche Welle in a statement. "This is likely because the claims of Jewish concentration camp victims addressed as part of the Wollheim settlement."

IG Farben plant at Auschwitz-Monowitz
The company had a plant at Auschwitz-MonowitzImage: picture-alliance/dpa

Non-Jewish concentration camp victims were compensated in a series of settlements which predate the company's bankruptcy, according to the statement.

Final chapter

Peter Heuss, an historian with the Jewish Claims Conference in Frankfurt, says surviving Jews who were forced to work for IG Farben received a settlement of 5,000 Deutsche marks each.

"In (the 1950's) that was a substantial sum," he told Deutsche Welle. "This now is the final transaction of a dead company. The company has been bankrupt for many years."

Part of the reason IG Farben is only now being shuttered is because legal disputes about foreign assets raged for years, according to Heuss.

"Liquidators believed they could still get money from somewhere, and in the end that failed," he said.

Peter Gingold, a Holocaust survivor
Holocaust survivors have regularly protested against IG FarbenImage: AP

Amongst other disputes, former IG Farben chemical factories in the United States were the subject of several lawsuits, Heuss added. The company had transferred them to a Swiss company before World War II ever began. Its hope was that the United States would not seize them if they were owned by a company in neutral Switzerland.

IG Farben's factories were seized anyways, Heuss said. "The liquidators filed several (unsuccessful) suits to try to claim the equity seized by the United States."

Other liquidators who worked on the IG Farben bankruptcy include Bundestag member Otto Bernhardt and attorney Volker Pollehn, who in 2003 first registered the company as insolvent. Protests against the company have taken place on a regular basis for decades.

Author: Gerhard Schneibel
Editor: Stuart Tiffen