Auschwitz was a huge complex that covered 40 square kilometers (25 square miles) near the town of Oswiecim, Poland. It was comprised of three sections: Auschwitz I, the base camp and central office; Auschwitz II, aka Birkenau, a concentration camp and crematorium; and Auschwitz III, aka Monowitz or Monowitz-Buna, a labor camp adjacent to a factory owned by IG Farben Industries where synthetic fuel and rubber were produced.
IG Farben Industries was a German firm formed in 1925 by the merger of six separate companies. Originally specializing in dyes, the company branched out into synthetics, chemicals, and pharmaceuticals over time. It grew along with Germany's Nazi Party, contributing heavily to it and working closely with party members throughout WWII, eventually becoming the main supplier of fuel and rubber to the Nazi war effort.
At the time IG Farben could not produce enough materials to meet demand, so in 1940 the company decided to build a new factory. They chose to locate it in the Polish town of Oswiecim due to the pre-existence of good rail transportation in the area, the availability of raw materials, and the fact that a source of cheap labor was nearby - the Auschwitz concentration camp. Land was seized for the factory, homeowners were expelled so IG Farben executives and staff would have living accommodations, and a deal was struck with the concentration camp commandant, Rudolf Höss, to pay between three and four marks per man per day for laborers from Auschwitz.
The first prisoners arrived at the factory in mid-April 1941. They were initially expected to walk the six to seven kilometers (around four miles) to and from the worksite, however this was deemed inefficient, and so in October 1941 Auschwitz III was built next to the factory. By July 1944 it contained 60 barracks with over 11,000, mostly Jewish, prisoners. Although the workers were given a little more food than their counterparts in Auschwitz I and II, it was still inadequate for survival. Between starvation and brutal beatings from their guards, the average life expectancy at Auschwitz III was three to four months. Sick or exhausted workers were sent to Birkenau to be gassed. (Perhaps not surprisingly, IG Farben held the patent for the pesticide Zyklon B, the chemical used in the concentration camp gas chambers.)
In January 1945, as Soviet forces advanced with the intention of liberating the camps, the SS evacuated approximately 60,000 prisoners from the three Auschwitz facilities and forced them to walk to Gliwice 55 kilometers (30 miles) away before being sent by train to other camps. Guards shot those who fell behind or were unable to continue; thousands were killed along the way. Among the survivors of Auschwitz III were writers Elie Wiesel and Primo Levi.
24 directors of IG Farben were tried before a US military tribunal at Nuremberg after WWII, with 13 receiving prison sentences of one to eight years each. None served their full term, and most were restored to their directorships after their release. The company was broken up and re-emerged as four separate companies, three of which are still in business today: Agfa, BASF and Bayer.
Photo credit: IG Farben factory, Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0057 / Unknown / CC-BY-SA
Photo credit: Auschwitz prisoners, Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-N0827-318 / CC-BY-SA
This article was originally published in September 2011, and has been updated for the
August 2012 paperback release.
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