I.G. Farben’s Choice of Auschwitz as a Plant Site
The question of why I.G. Farben decided on Auschwitz as the location for its new chemical plant is a vexed issue among scholars of history.
Because the production of Buna rubber was intended primarily for military use, there is agreement that, along with economic reasons—availability of a workforce and raw materials, a suitable building site, access roads, cost-effectiveness—political and military considerations also played a part. There are differing views on how close the cooperation between I.G. Farben and the Third Reich was, and how independently I.G. Farben pursued its own goals. Was I.G. Farben primarily concernded with research and profit, or did the company want to make its own contribution to the success of the German Reich? The two aspects cannot be separated completely; the relative weight assigned them, however, varies widely.
In 1940, Buna rubber was being made at three plants in the German Reich: in Schkopau, Ludwigshafen, and Hüls. These sites were near the outer border of the Reich and tended to be viewed as threatened. After the initial successes of the German Wehrmacht (occupation of Poland and France within a few short months), work on building an additional Buna plant in Rattwitz near Breslau was abandoned because a need for additional Buna rubber was no longer envisaged. Only when the loss of the air war against England made it clear that the war would last a long while, and hence create a continued demand for large quantities of matériel, were the plans for another Buna plant taken up once again. In addition, these plans called for the plant to produce other synthetics, even after the war’s end.
In negotiations with the Reich Ministry of Economics, I.G. Farben was requested in 1940 to build this plant in Silesia, as the better protection against airstrikes afforded it there made this solution preferable to expansion of one of the three existing production sites. Peter Hayes and Bernd C. Wagner argue that I.G. Farben was unwilling to give up its monopoly on Buna production, and they see the siting choice of Auschwitz-Monowitz as a concession to the interests of the Reich Ministry of Economics, which wished to be supplied punctually and reliably with material it deemed of critical importance. Karl Heinz Roth and Florian Schmaltz interpret the choice of site as an expression of long-term economic interests of I.G. Farben: The company’s own production goals (hydrogenation, acetylene, and polymer chemistry) were readily compatible with the requirements of the Wehrmacht (petroleum, Buna rubber, and explosives), as making the former would yield the latter as “by-products.” Moreover, the site in Upper Silesia would enable I.G. Farben to extend its reach far to the east—even beyond the immediate needs of the war industry.
Also controversial is the issue of which of the criteria argued decisively in favor of Auschwitz and against other possible sites in Silesia. Thus I.G. Farben decided against resuming work at the construction site in Rattwitz, though the costs ultimately would have been lower. The travel connections to Auschwitz-Monowitz were good; there were coal mines and lime deposits nearby; and the Weichsel and Sola ensured an adequate supply of water. The need for a workforce during the construction phase was met by the manpower available at the Auschwitz concentration camp.
Schmaltz and Roth assign a key role to the proximity of the Auschwitz concentration camp even in the planning phase, and Gottfried Plumpe holds a like opinion. Wagner, however, rates this criterion as only one of many, and Hayes assigns no relevance at all to it: Workers are mobile, but geographic conditions are not; Raymond Stokes argues in similar fashion. The dispute between Plumpe and Hayes was criticized by Thomas Sandkühler and Hans Walter Schmuhl. All agree, however, that I.G. Farben at the very least agreed willingly to the use of forced labor, and that the top management was aware of the use of forced laborers from the very outset. This was confirmed also by Hans Deichmann, who worked in a managerial capacity at I.G. Farben at that time.
(SD; transl. KL)