Bayer AG is a chemical and pharmaceutical giant founded in Barmen, Germany in 1863 by Friedrich Bayer and his partner, Johann Friedrich Weskott. Today it has its headquarters in Leverkusen, North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany. It trademarked acetylsalicylic acid as aspirin in 1899. It also trademarked heroin a year earlier, then marketed it world-wide for decades as a cough medicine for children "without side-effects", despite the well known dangers of addiction. During the First World War, Bayer turned its attention to the manufacture of chemical weapons including chlorine gas, which was used to horrendous effect in the trenches. It also built up a "School for Chemical Warfare".
During this time Bayer formed a close relationship with other German chemical firms, including BASF and Hoechst. This relationship was formalised in 1925 when Bayer was one of the chemical companies that merged to form the massive German conglomerate Interessengemeinschaft Farben or IG Farben, for short. It was the largest single company in Germany and it became the single largest donor to Hitler's election campaign. After Hitler came to power, IG Farben worked in close collaboration with the Nazis, becoming the largest profiteer from the Second World War.
Amongst much else, IG Farben produced all the explosives for the German military and systematically looted the chemical industries of occupied Europe. It's been described as the Nazis' "industrial jackal" following in the wake of Hitler's armies.
During the Second World War, IG Farben used slave labour in many of its factories and mines and by 1944 more than 83,000 forced labourers and death camp inmates had been put to work in the IG Farben camp at Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland. Auschwitz was a vast labour and death camp where more human beings were put to death than were killed in the whole of World War I. It was comprised by 3 main camps: Auschwitz I, a concentration camp; Auschwitz II (Birkenau), an extermination camp in which by 1944 some 6,000 people a day were being killed; and Auschwitz III, which supplied slave labour for the nearby IG Farben plant (Buna-Werke, also known as IG Auschwitz). IG Farben's Auschwitz plant was a massive industrial complex. The largest outside of Germany, it consumed as much electricity as the entire city of Berlin. Built and run by slave labour, it is thought — at a conservative estimate - to have cost at least 35,000 lives. In 1941, Otto Armbrust, the IG Farben board member responsible for IG Farben's Auschwitz project, told his colleagues, "our new friendship with the SS is a blessing. We have determined all measures integrating the concentration camps to benefit our company." But not only did thousands of slave labourers die from the conditions in which they worked for IG Farben, those camp inmates who were viewed as too sick or weak to continue to labour in the IG Auschwitz plant were selected for the gas chambers. IG Farben paid 100,000 reichsmarks each year to the SS and in return was assured a continuous supply of fresh slave labour, while being "relieved" of unfit inmates. Elie Wiesel, the writer, Nobel Laureate and Holocaust survivor, came to Auschwitz in 1944 and was sent with his father to IG Farben's Buna work camp. That same year, the Holocaust survivor and author Primo Levi was among 125 men selected at the railhead for labour at IG's Buna-Werke. One of only 3 survivors from this group, Levi later wrote about his experiences in searing detail: "A fortnight after my arrival there I already had the prescribed hunger, that chronic hunger unknown to free men... On the back of my feet I already have those numb sores that will not heal. I push wagons, I work with a shovel, I turn rotten in the rain, I shiver in the wind, already my own body is no longer mine: my belly is swollen, my limbs emaciated." In Night, Elie Wiesel's acclaimed memoir of his personal experiences of the Holocaust, he describes how veterans of IG's Buna-Werke told those who had arrived there late in the war that the brutal treatment they were experiencing was as nothing to what had previously been endured by the IG work force: "No water, no blankets, less soup and bread. At night we slept almost naked and the temperature was 30 below. "We were collecting corpses by the hundreds every day... Work was very hard... [The gangmasters] had orders to kill a certain number of prisoners every day; and every week selection [for the gas chambers] - a merciless selection." When it came to "selection", it was an IG Farben subsidiary, with IG Farben managers on its Management Committee, that manufactured and supplied Zyklon B to the SS. This poisonous cyanide-based pesticide, on which IG Farben held the patent, was used during the Holocaust to annihilate more than a million people at both the Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek extermination camps. The form of Zyklon B used in the gas chambers was deliberately made without the normal warning odorant. IG Farben also supplied the SS with the Methanol used to burn the corpses. In 1946 the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal concluded that without IG Farben the Second World War would simply not have been possible. The Chief Prosecutor, Telford Taylor, warned: "These companies, not the lunatic Nazi fanatics, are the main war criminals. If the guilt of these criminals is not brought to daylight and if they are not punished, they will pose a much greater threat to the future peace of the world than Hitler if he were still alive." Their indictment stated that due to the activities of IG Farben "the life and happiness of all peoples in the world were adversely affected. "Charges as grave as fomenting war and killing slave labourers were also added. In his opening statement the Nuremberg Chief Prosecutor pointed out that, "The indictment accuses these men of major responsibility for visiting upon mankind the most searing and catastrophic war inhuman history. It accuses them of wholesale enslavement, plunder and murder." According to the Nuremberg prosecutors: "We have seen Farben integrating itself with the Nazi tyranny, turning its technical genius to the furnishing of... commodities vital to the reconstruction of the German war machine, and emerging in Hermann Goering's entourage at the highest level of economic planning and mobilization for war. "We have seen Farben poised for the kill, and subsequently swollen by economic conquest in the helpless occupied countries. "Faced with a shortage of workers, we have seen Farben turn to Goering and Himmler, and persuading these worthies to marshal the legions of concentration-camp inmates as tools of the Farben war machine. "We have seen these wretched workers dying by the thousands, some on the Farben construction site, many more in the Auschwitz gas chambers after Farben had drained the vitality from their miserable bodies... "Literally millions of people were put to death in the very backyard of one of Farben's pet projects - a project in which Farben invested 600 million reichsmarks of its own money." Although the Nuremberg Tribunal indicted 24 IG Farben board members and executives on the basis of crimes against humanity, only 13 received prison sentences. And the sentences they received were described by the Nuremberg Chief Prosecutoras "light enough to pleasea chicken thief". Bythe early 1950sa number of those convicted of slavery, looting and mass murder were back at the helm of the very companies - Bayer, Hoechstand BASF, formed out of the assets of IG Farben in 1952. The owners of these "new" companies were alsothe shareholders of IG Farben. Thus, although the gravity of the crimes committed by IG Farben meant the company was considered too corrupt to be allowed to continue to exist, it was supplanted by its key constituents - companies like Bayer which were owned, and directed at the highest level, by the very same people as IG Farben. Those who had helped Hitler to power and provided the technical know-how for his wars of aggression and the Holocaust, were back in control of the industry. The Bayer executive Fritz ter Meer typifies the bounce back. An executive of IG for many years, the most senior scientist on its supervisory board and the chairman of its technical committee, he had become a Nazi Party member in 1937 and was the executive responsible for the construction of the IG Farben factory in Auschwitz, in which tens of thousands of slave labourers met their deaths. Ter Meer's own visits to Auschwitz and the detailed reports he received made it inconceivable that he did not have a clear picture of what was occurring. The Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal found him guilty of plunder, slavery and mass murder. As a result, Ter Meer received the longest sentence of any of the IG Farben board members. But despite being found the most culpable of the men who, in the words of Chief Prosecutor, "made war possible... the magicians who made the fantasies of Mein Kampf come true", ter Meer was already outof prisonby 1952. By 1956 he had become the chairman of the supervisory board of Bayer, a post he held until 1964. Even today Bayer continues to honour this convicted mass murderer. On All Saints Day 2006, for instance, the corporation is known to have laid a wreath on ter Meer's grave in Krefeld-Uerdingen, Germany. Yet for decades Bayer refused to pay compensation to its surviving slave labourers. Only after international protests did it eventually agree to pay damages - more than 50 years after the end of the war. Bayer continued to grow in the post-war period, eventually becoming bigger than the whole of IG Farben evenat its zenith. Even as part of IG Farben, Bayer had maintained its strength in pharmaceuticals. In fact, scientific experiments had been done specifically on behalf of Bayer in Auschwitz and other concentration camps. IG had footed the bill for the research of Josef Mengele, Auschwitz-Birkenau's infamous "Angel of Death", and some of his experiments utilised germs and pharmaceuticals provided by Bayer. Wilhelm Mann, whose father had headed Bayer's pharmaceutical department, wrote as head of IG's powerful pharmaceutical committee to an SS contact at Auschwitz: "I have enclosed the first cheque. Dr Mengele's experiments should, as we both agreed, be pursued. Heil Hitler." IG employee SS major Dr Helmuth Vetter, stationed at Auschwitz, participated in human medical experiments by order of Bayer. "Prisoners died as a result of many of these experiments. Vetter was convicted of war crimes in 1947 and was executed in 1949 but Bayer's role only emerged later. In the Auschwitz files correspondence was discovered between the camp commander and Bayer. "It dealt with the sale of 150 female prisoners for experimental purposes and involved haggling over the price. One exchange notes:
"The experiments were performed. All test persons died. We will contact you shortly about a new shipment at the same price." According to testimony by SS physician Dr Hoven during the Nuremberg War Crimes Tribunal: "It should be generally known, and especially in German scientific circles, that the SS did not have notable scientists at its disposal. "It is clear that the experiments in the concentration camps with IG preparations only took place in the interests of the IG, which strived by all means to determine the effectiveness of these preparations. "They let the SS deal with the - shall I say - dirty work in the concentration camps. "It was not the IG's intention to bring any of this out in the open, but rather to put up a smoke screen around the experiments so that... they could keep any profits to themselves. "Not the SS but the IG took the initiative for the concentration camp experiments."