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The Novel Bei I.G. Farben, by Karl Aloys Schenzinger (1953)

After numerous novels that had great commercial success in the Nazi era (including Hitlerjunge Quex [Hitler Youth Quex], 1932, and Anilin [Aniline], 1937), in 1953 Karl Aloys Schenzinger published the novel Bei I.G. Farben [At I.G. Farben]. In association with five products, the chronology of the genesis of the global concern I.G. Farben is stretched over the novel’s five chapters: “Natural Rubber,” “Nitrogen,” “Buna Rubber,” “Hydrogenation of Coal,” and “Isooctane.”


The novel begins by depicting the extraction of rubber latex, or caoutchouc, in the nineteenth century: From the harsh world of the European rubber plantation workers, the “gomeros,” in South America, the natural rubber makes its way to Europe. The scheming Englishman Henry Wickham leads the reader into the Amazon, where he allegedly wants to tap rubber trees for latex. In fact, he intends to export large quantities of the trees’ seeds illegally, on behalf of the British government, with the aim of producing his own plantation rubber and thus being able to “abruptly descend on, inundate, and drown the market!”[1] In this effort, the experienced jungle hunter Henry is assisted by the beloved indigenous Indian woman Squann and her tribe. While the smuggling adventure is successful, the “unspoiled”[2] woman meets a tragic death just when her desire for a relationship with Henry is threatening to endanger his mission.


While Wickham’s rubber trees are growing in Ceylon, the novel’s storyline follows the European chemists who—in the service of mankind—develop the field of agricultural chemistry, because “There was a need for natural rubber. There was a greater need for bread,”[3] and “all life, however, requires nitrogen.”[4] A dashing young researcher and an experienced older scientist, Fritz Haber und Carl Bosch, work together, ultimately finding the ammonia synthesis in unctuously described alliance: “Two men looked at each other. Two men gripped hands.”[5] Each invention is presented as an unavoidable step on the ladder of progress, and at the same time the research process acts as a unifying element on various levels: Men of different backgrounds and disciplines, industry and lone wolves, inspired by an idea, work together in a great cause. They serve the state and the nation, and inevitably also—as described in the chapter “Buna Rubber”—the wartime economy. The researchers, however, cannot satisfy the army’s requirements for methyl rubber in World War I: “The half-done […] was prematurely moved into the place of the fully fledged, and failed,”[6] and the production of synthetic rubber is discontinued.


In the following chapter, “Hydrogenation of Coal,” fuel research is the focal point: While the chemists from Ludwigshafen save the most important assets from the French occupation of the Rhineland and start afresh in Leuna, Friedrich Bergius succeeds in producing synthetic gasoline. He sells the patents to BASF. For synthetic rubber, on the other hand, another failure lies in store: The men of I.G. Farben, founded in 1925, resume their research, but with the worldwide economic crisis comes a drop in the price of natural rubber, particularly as the English plantation rubber reaches the market. Thus Buna rubber is no longer competitive. A new opportunity for the hydrogenation of coal looms with the efforts of the National Socialist government to achieve economic self-sufficiency, and research on synthetic rubber and fuel is feverishly pursued in Leuna and Ludwigshafen at the outbreak of war, for “gas wasvictory.”[7] The novel does not treat the subject of the results, however.


The last chapter, “Isooctane,” breaks with the pattern of the preceding ones by depicting, instead of a research adventure, a wartime episode described as a humanitarian mission: Soldiers from the Western Front, infected with typhus, are to be brought by train to a sanatorium by a bacteriologist. Besides the adversities of train travel in the midst of war, Dr. Horn has to battle most notably with the overflowing toilets and ultimately resorts to the use of metal canisters, which he has someone steal from a platform. As the original contents emptied out of them happened to have been aviation fuel, Horn is charged with sabotage. In the concluding trial, his defense counsel makes an impassioned plea for the importance of medical progress for mankind relative to a handicap—and a minor one at that—for the military. The text ends with the physician’s reflective debating (in 1944!) of the perception that every invention can serve peace as well as war: “People misuse inventions to gain power.”[8] The novel’s conclusion emphasizes the innocence of the research and the researchers of any responsibility for the consequences of their inventions.


Running through all five chapters is the assumption that the end justifies the means, in particular, that individual or collective sacrifices must be made for the so-called common good (the nation, a self-sufficient economy, progress). In terms of both style and content, Schenzinger makes use here of grand linguistic flourishes. For example, the text contains a large number of elliptical passages that are arranged like verses to lend special emphasis:


“A quiet struggle began,

a task at the peril of health and life,

a heroism with no public,

no arena holding 80,000,

no reporters, no headlines,

no decorations,

no official military communiqué.”[9]


This rhythmization of the narrative flow is intended to be closely attuned to the drums from the chapter on natural rubber, “bóngtamtam… bóngtamtam… bóngtám…,”[10] and it gives the impression of linguistic military march music and a military review. Occasional hackneyed phrases and quotes from the literary canon of the middle-school level (“Hofmann quoted Goethe, Götz in muted tones, and Tasso loudly: ‘Though it may strike me, it does not strike me deep’.”[11]) serve to heighten the recognition effect; the readers are meant to be engrossed in the adventures of the research pioneers, who are inspired by the cause and not by baser interests, without having the flow of reading interrupted. Overall, the author wants to create the impression that chemistry, propelled by individual outstanding protagonists, is fighting for the salvation of mankind: the history of I.G. Farben as a dime novel of adventure.

(SP; transl. KL)


Schenzinger, Karl Aloys: Bei I.G. Farben. Munich/Vienna: Andermann, 1953.

[1] Karl Aloys Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben (Munich/Vienna: Andermann, 1953), p. 95. (Translated by KL)

[2] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 78.

[3] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 98.

[4] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 110.

[5] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 159.

[6] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 259.

[7] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 337.

[8] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 379.

[9] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 198.

[10] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 36.

[11] Schenzinger: Bei I.G. Farben, p. 219.