Original picture from the Bayer archives of Dr Hans Finkelstein conversing with colleagues in a laboratory at the Uerdingen site of I.G. Farben, recorded in 1932.

Historical Background

I.G. Farben and forced labor 

The National Socialist government had been systematically preparing for war since 1936. When the Second Word War broke out in 1939, I.G. Farben's Lower Rhine sites were deemed vital to the war effort and the German economy. As a consequence, the company decided to exploit forced laborers and established a privately financed labor camp at Auschwitz-Monowitz. The Hans and Berthold Finkelstein Foundation intends to support further independent research on this chapter in history.

Further information

Bayer Corporate History

1925-1945
1945-1951

 

I.G. Farben and Buna-Monowitz (Fritz Bauer Institute, Frankfurt a.M.)

Further information 

Camp Buschweg

View of the barracks in the Buschweg forced labor camp in Cologne-Flittard, Germany. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

Forced labor

A staple of the war economy

Forced labor was a key aspect of the Nazi regime's efforts to maintain power and control in Germany and occupied Europe during the Second World War. The regime used forced labor for systematic oppression, as a tool to punish people and to exploit them for the benefit of the regime and the reinforcement of Nazi ideology.

 

Initially, forced labor had little economic relevance and was primarily intended to humiliate and degrade the victims of the Nazis. With the increasing demand for labor in different industries (armament, and other war-relevant industries) and labor shortages since late 1939 due to preparations for war, however, the deployment of workers became a staple of the Nazi war economy. By 1942, forced labor was a significant economic factor; in September 1944, 20 percent of the workforce in Germany were forced laborers.

Hierarchy among forced laborers

Origin determined the level of inhumanity

During the Second World War, forced laborers at I.G. Farben originated from different occupied countries. Nazi ideology dictated a racist hierarchy in terms of their treatment. This was aggravated by different prejudices within the German population, which led to additional insults, denunciations, and mistreatments of forced laborers depending on their origin. Worst was the fate of concentration camp prisoners, who were condemned to "extermination through labor". Non-Jewish eastern Europeans and Soviet citizens for example, were considered “subhuman” and were treated as such. Life was more tolerable, but still depriving and humiliating for western European or "Nordic race" skilled workers and engineers. 

 

All foreign laborers were continuously monitored by an elaborate system of racist bureaucratic repression by the Wehrmacht, labor office, factory security, police, and SS. They were crammed into barracks or overcrowded restaurants and banquet halls. In the camp and factory canteens, they received very inadequate food and were not given food stamps. In the rare event that they were paid a meager wage, they could not buy food and suffered constant hunger. Between the long shifts (often longer than 12 hours) and additional work, some individuals were given (women had to clean offices after hours), forced laborers tried to use the limited time remaining to ensure their survival, by trying to buy bread on the black market or offering services in exchange for food.

Bed room in the Leverkusen forced labor camp

Bed room in the Leverkusen forced labor camp. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

"Canteen" in the barracks of the Buschweg forced labor camp in Cologne-Flittard

"Canteen" in the barracks of the Buschweg forced labor camp in Cologne-Flittard, Germany. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

Kitchen in the Leverkusen forced labor camp

Kitchen in the Leverkusen forced labor camp. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

Forced labor at I.G. Farben

Profit from expropriation and exploitation

Together with BASF, Hoechst, Agfa, Chemische Fabrik Griesheim-Elektron, and Chemische Fabrik vorm. Weiler ter Meer, Farbenfabriken vorm. Friedr. Bayer & Co. was a founding member of I.G. Farben in 1925. During the Second World War, the German conglomerate of chemical and pharmaceutical companies profited from expropriation, exploitation and forced labor. As an important producer and supplier of synthetic materials, I.G. Farben was important for the Nazi war economy.

 

When the war resulted in thousands of German workers being drafted to the military, other I.G. Farben workers (voluntarily) changed profession and worked for the armaments industry. Bit by bit, I.G. Farben was confronted with a decreasing domestic labor supply. The possibility to be provided with cheap labor came in handy – from 1940 onward, I.G. Farben made increasing use of forced laborers from the occupied countries of Europe to maintain and expand production within the Lower Rhine sites. 

 

At times, these laborers accounted for up to a third of the workforce – around 16,000 people were deployed at the Lower Rhine sites during the war. They predominantly originated from Poland, Ukraine and other eastern European countries and were aged from 14 to under 50. Workers from western and northern European countries such as France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Denmark also made up a large proportion of the workforce. Over the course of the war, there was no I.G. Farben operation in Leverkusen that did not benefit from forced labor at some point in time.

How forced laborers got to the Lower Rhine sites – the example Leverkusen 

Nazi laws dictated strict separation

 

In most cases, forced laborers were first transported to Western Germany. After the transport, which sometimes took days, they arrived in Cologne. Here, representatives from the I.G. plant were allowed to pick which forced laborers they wanted. Hereinafter they were taken to Leverkusen.

 

After the arrival a procedure followed which sometimes took several days: First, forced laborers were disinfected, a procedure that many remember as terrifying, followed by a medical examination, which was especially feared by females because of the potential sexual assaults by the soldiers present. Next came the registration with fingerprints and photos by the police, followed by behavioral instructions. In a final step, forced laborers had to sign an agreement falsely confirming they had come to Leverkusen out of their own free will.

 

Nazi laws dictated a strict separation of the German from the foreign workforce. This was obeyed more strictly when it came to accommodation and clothing. Forced laborers from Western countries were allowed to rent private accommodation. Eastern European forced laborers, however, were only allowed to live in shared accommodation and under constant supervision. Food supply was also handled collectively, with “superior” workers being given food stamps. In the final years of the war, all I.G. Farben plants were surrounded by camps which were subdivided into different camps for different workers. By February 1943, about half of the workforce was accommodated in these camps.

Camp Buschweg

View of the barracks in the Buschweg forced labor camp in Cologne-Flittard, Germany. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

Forced laborers in the Leverkusen forced labor camp working in the garden

Forced laborers in the Leverkusen forced labor camp working in the garden. In the background: the administration barracks, 1943. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

Personalkarte

Personell card of a woman deployed at I.G. Farben's Elberfeld site. Photo: Bayer AG, Bayer Archives Leverkusen

A day in the life of forced laborers at the Lower Rhine sites

Based on the German study of Valentina Maria Stefanski: "Forced labor in Leverkusen. Polish youths at I.G. Farben"

 

Very early in the morning, depending on the season, between 4 and 6 a.m., forced laborers were woken up. Then they were given time to get ready, during which they were sometimes allowed to shower, had to make their bed, and have breakfast. After this, the workers were escorted from their accommodation to the plant. Here, they were only allowed to use one dedicated entrance to minimize potential contact with the German workforce. After identification through their batch (“Fabrik-Ausweis”), they began their work.

During work, forced laborers faced constant supervision and pressure. The majority of them neither spoke nor understood German, were led to their workplaces without briefings or instructions and had to do as they were told – even if they did not understand or know what they were supposed to do. Language barriers on both sides resulted in harsh and almost violent social interactions.

 

In the event of any violation of work discipline, such as idling, self-harm, poor work performance and breach of contact, forced laborers were punished. Sometimes, the entire group was punished for the violation of a single worker [p. 246]. Punishment meant payment of fines [p. 233], physical harm, being sent to punishment camp, extra work, or deprivation of food.

 

Lunchtime was short and was not supposed to interrupt production [p. 180]. Rules dictated the separation of German and non-German workers. Some forced laborers had lunch in the canteen, others ate it at the workplace, others only found time to eat after their shifts had ended. There are conflicting accounts of the nature of the food provided. What is certain is that food supply worsened over time and varied depending on the nature of the labor. At times, deprivation of food was a method to put forced laborers under pressure and motivate them to work harder [p. 187].

 

Random inspections also took place during the day. It was regularly checked whether forced laborers kept their lockers in order, whether they were hiding food or food stamps or anything else they could have taken from the factory [p. 237] – which was then confiscated. Sometimes workers received mail or packages from their families which were also checked and, if at all, usually arrived after a delay, which meant that any food contained in the mail was often already spoiled [p. 245].

 

After work, prohibition dominated the life of forced laborers. Especially at night, a curfew forbade forced laborers from leaving their accommodation premises, leaving the forced laborers with very limited options. Some took on extra work in exchange for food. Others simply went back to the barracks. Now and then, camp management organized activities during leisure time as a chance to improve resting which in turn would increase the efficiency of forced laborers. Foreign workers founded music and singing groups, sometimes movies were screened. Camp management used these opportunities for propaganda purposes.

I.G. Farben and the KZ Buna-Monowitz

The company’s own concentration camp

Starting in 1941, I.G. Farben built a chemical factory in the immediate vicinity of the Auschwitz concentration camp to produce Buna, a synthetic rubber that was an important part of the war economy. In addition to German workers, the company also used thousands of prisoners from the Auschwitz concentration camp to build the factory. They were joined by prisoners of war and forced laborers from all over Europe. To accommodate the workers at what was the largest construction site in the Third Reich at that time, I.G. Farben started building the company’s own Buna-Monowitz concentration camp in 1942, in collaboration with the Nazi regime. Many died due to the inhumane living and working conditions or were put to death in the nearby Auschwitz-Birkenau gas chambers as soon as they were no longer able to work. The life expectancy of inmates was less than four months, and over 25,000 people lost their lives on the construction site alone.

Overview of the construction site of the Buna synthesis plant at I.G. site Auschwitz-Monowitz

Overview of the construction site of the Buna synthesis plant at I.G. site Auschwitz-Monowitz, 1943/44 © Frankfurt a.M., Fritz Bauer Institute