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I.G. Farben Employees as Witnesses in the Wollheim Suit

I.G. Farben in Liquidation, the defendant in the lawsuit brought by Norbert Wollheim before a civil chamber of the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court (Landgericht), called witnesses on its behalf: the former I.G. Farben employees Rolf Brüstle (head of plant security and in charge of the investigation office and detention cells for I.G. Auschwitz), Max Faust (chief engineer), Heinz Savelsberg (head of the clerical department at I.G. Auschwitz), Kurt Eisfeld (a chemist in the Buna division), Heinz Frank (head of the plant trade school of I.G. Auschwitz), and Erich Orlamünde (low-pressure department, I.G. Auschwitz). The I.G. witnesses testified unanimously that the fate of the prisoners working on the plant grounds for the firm and its subcontractors was near and dear to I.G. Farben’s heart. As the witnesses saw it, various phases of the prisoners’ deployment had to be taken into account, and distinctions absolutely had to be drawn between them in view of the consistently limited potential of the I.G. plant management to influence the working and living conditions of the concentration camp inmates.


In the period April 1941–summer 1942, when the so-called Buna detachment was still housed in the Auschwitz main camp and the work detachments were escorted and guarded by SS sentries, I.G. Farben, the witnesses asserted, had no opportunity to protect prisoners from abuse by the omnipotent SS and its stooges (Kapos). In the opinion of the employees, however, the firm took major steps to improve the prisoners’ situation by building Camp IV after late October 1942, putting up a fence around the plant grounds (“enclosure”), taking on the duty of supplying food for the camp kitchen, and providing the “Buna soup” during working hours. By living in the firm’s own camp, the inmates were spared the grueling trip from the main camp to the construction site. The fencing in of the plant grounds meant that the SS was no longer right on the scene during the performance of the work; its function was restricted to a “headquarters” in the I.G. plant staffed with only a few SS men and to the so-called cordon of sentries that was posted outside the “enclosure” of the plant to guard the prisoners. By taking over the feeding of the prisoners and the distribution of the “Buna soup,” I.G. Farben ostensibly was attempting to ensure that the prisoners were adequately nourished and to boost their productivity.


In their statements, the I.G. Farben employees frequently claimed ignorance. In I.G. Auschwitz, they had never heard anything about selections, they asserted, and they had never noticed any exceptional mortality rate among the prisoners. If they happened to see a frequent turnover of prisoner personnel in the work detachments, they consistently attributed it to the prisoners’ deployment at other tasks at the orders of the SS. It never occurred to them to see the fluctuation in the forced-laborer population as a sign that prisoners had fallen victim to selections of those no longer “fit for work.” The I.G. Farben witnesses emphasized unanimously that equal treatment of everyone working for I.G. Auschwitz was the ruling principle of the plant management, especially of plant director Walther Dürrfeld. Indisputably, there were bottlenecks in the food supply and a lack of protective clothing on various occasions, but this regrettable circumstance was attributable to the general wartime shortages, they added.

(WR; transl. KL)


Rolf Brüstle, hearing of witness, February 19, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 271–278R.

Kurt Eisfeld, hearing of witness, January 29, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 248R–252R.

Max Faust, hearing of witness, December 4, 1952. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. I, pp. 164R–172R.

Heinz Frank, hearing of witness, January 29, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 252R–256.

Erich Orlamünde, hearing of witness, January 15, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 225–226R.

Heinz Savelsberg, hearing of witness, January 15, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. II, pp. 221–225.