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Summation of Otto Küster in the Appellate Court

 a  “As has been proven, what the defendant’s people inflicted on the prisoners through positive activity is more than enough, in terms of the cause of action. In the exercise of their managerial authority, the defendant's master craftsmen made prisoners do welding without goggles and drag heavy cables without shoulder guards. They forced them to climb icy pillars in wooden clogs and made them work there, at a dizzying height, without safety harnesses [...] In this way, without laying a hand on them, they caused the prisoners to fall, to die of untreated pneumonia, to collapse in cardiac arrest. They used the fear of death as an effective means by threatening them with the gas chambers, to which they could send them merely by reporting unsatisfactory performance.”

(Otto Küster, summation, March 1, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. IG Farben), Exhibits, Vol. II, 26 pp., here p. 5. (Transl. KL))
 b  “1. Anyone who, not called to resist, must run a business of a state not under the rule of law, anyone who in particular must put up with having frightened people driven to him so that he can manage their fear-lashed efforts, owes these fellow creatures, as a legal minimum, a display of humanity—unless he wants to be regarded as a compliant abetter of inhumaneness—in deeds, where there still is room for them, in words, where action no longer is possible, mutely, where even words are prohibited. He owes this, in the academic sense, ex facto: from the fact that he was the one called to take part in it.
2. Anyone who uses his power over a group in which collective fear resides to do harm to one person or another has abused every member of that group, because each one must expect that he will be next.
3. Inflicting fear on others as such is, within the meaning of the law, an injury to health. It is superfluous to ask about manifest effects on the organism in addition.”
(Otto Küster, summation, March 1, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. IG Farben), Exhibits, Vol. II, 26 pp., here p. 12. (Transl. KL))
 c  “The influential gentlemen of the defendant, in the momentum of their service to total war, in the luster of their civilian martial glory, and in the warm glow of their indispensability, devoted not a single thought to imagining the fate of those who labored for them until their extermination.”
(Otto Küster, summation, March 1, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. IG Farben), Exhibits, Vol. II, 26 pp., here p. 16. (Transl. KL))

Otto Küster’s summation differs considerably from those of the previous speakers: His remarks have to do with the philosophy of law. In a thought experiment, he first tests the hypothesis that I.G. Farben could not have acted otherwise with regard to the employment and treatment of prisoners in Monowitz, had not mistreated Norbert Wollheim personally, and besides had had no knowledge of the goings-on in the camp, in short: “It therefore had not made […] an intentional contribution to the principal offense.”[1] Proceeding on this basis, Küster used the decision of the lower court to prove that the accused participated directly in injurious action, “for under civil law, the actions of its [the firm’s] people are imputed to it.”[2]  a 


Reasoning along moral and ethical lines, Küster drew this conclusion: “If a constitutional representative of the accused had known what was happening at Auschwitz, then the accused would have had no choice but to shut down the construction site thenceforth […].”[3] As the employees of I.G. Farben could not have remained unaware, Küster argued, of what the conditions in Auschwitz were like, it would have been the firm’s duty “to improve […] the fate of the prisoners.”[4]


With regard to Norbert Wollheim’s suit, Küster further explained that it was the “original and cardinal damage of fear”[5] that formed the core of Wollheim’s complaint  b : They were dealing with “the employer to whom slaves are driven day after day, so that he can, as the accused puts it, give them work, and who knows in the person of his master craftsmen and does not know in the person of his board members, thanks only to their horrible lack of interest, what fear is breathing down the necks of this herd of slaves.”[6]


Addressing I.G. Farben i.L., Küster then engaged in formulating the failures to improve the prisoners’ fate of which I.G. Farben was guilty  c : “When did the powerful defendant try, as many an incomparably smaller firm dared, to suggest to the Reichsführer SS that mobilized Jews would serve it better than enslaved ones […]? If the camp had known that such an effort was being made and that the defendant was sticking to its guns—what forces of hope would have sprung from that alone, what that would have done to arrest the ‘decline of these people’!”[7]


Küster’s line of argument culminated in the rebuttal of the objection raised by I.G. Farben’s lawyers, who claimed that Wollheim himself had weathered the imprisonment without any impairment of his health and thus could not aver a duty to compensate for damages: “[T]his legal relationship is determined by considerably more circumstances than the mere issue of whether the plaintiff was dealt blows and received physical injuries. I[t] is determined by the hell of Auschwitz as such, from whose background the chimneys cannot be removed by magic. It is determined by the unmistakable duty to act humanely, which is incurred by the one who toils along in this hell without being one of the damned, belonging instead on the other side.”[8]


Instead of directing further reproaches at I.G. Farben, Küster expressed near the end of his summation his disappointment that I.G. Farben had betrayed the values for which it rightly had been esteemed for decades: “For it is true, the old IG was ‘our’ IG, it was adorned with the dual glory of science and social accomplishment. […P]eople assuredly blundered into things without much malice on their own part, without more malice than is inherent in human hearts on average and by nature—but this sense of one’s own inoffensiveness alters in no way the fact that the most atrocious injustice was committed in the name of Germany, and in the case of this defendant alters in no way the fact that an I.G. Farben plant bore the name of the place that—unless history as we know it reaches an end—will be known for centuries to come as the site of hell on earth. The defendant has not been able to pluck up the courage to bear the consequences of that, the consequences by which injustice is atoned among human beings.”[9]

(SP; transl. KL)


[pdf] Plaedoyer Otto Kuester OLG Ffm_01.03.1955 (in German; Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute)



Proceedings, 3rd Civil Chamber of the Frankfurt am Main Regional Court, May 11, 1953. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Vol. III, p. 422.

Otto Küster, summation, March 1, 1955. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Exhibits, Vol. II, 26 pp.



Rumpf, Joachim R.: “Der Fall Wollheim gegen die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG in Liquidation.” Unpublished dissertation, Leibniz University, Hanover, 2007.

[1] Otto Küster, summation, March 1, 1955. HHStAW, Sec. 460, No. 1424 (Wollheim v. I.G. Farben), Exhibits, Vol. II, 26 pp., p. 2. (Translated by KL)

[2] Küster, summation, p. 4.

[3] Küster, summation, p. 8 (original emphasis).

[4] Küster, summation, p. 10.

[5] Küster, summation, p. 11.

[6] Küster, summation, p. 15 (original emphasis).

[7] Küster, summation, p. 18.

[8] Küster, summation, p. 25.

[9] Küster, summation, pp. 25–26.