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Development and Production of Synthetic Rubber

In their dealings with the Reich’s planning and acquisitions agencies during the armaments boom, I.G. Farben managers always placed the interests of their production divisions above all. This was obvious most in matters in which I.G. was intensively engaged. In the debate over synthetic rubber production, I.G. was protective of its interest in keeping a monopoly over supply. The Reich agencies put the I.G. managers under increased pressure to deliver synthetic rubber starting in 1933–34, but I.G. nevertheless delayed construction on the first major Buna plant at Schkopau until April 1936. Along with their U.S. partners in Buna development, I.G. wanted first to achieve a product quality that would make Buna competitive with natural rubber. The four-stage production process (mixed polymerization of butadiene with styrene) did not yet yield a synthetic rubber that could compete on the world market. The Reich finally had to guarantee operating costs, amortization, and interest payments on the plant, before the I.G. Farben board gave the green light to proceed with a mass production test facility to the manager of the relevant production division, Fritz ter Meer.


Production of Buna at the Schkopau test facility commenced in March 1937. I.G. Farben and the Reich signed their first “Buna Contract” in September 1937. With sales to the state guaranteed at a set price, and after securing a Reich investment credit for 90 million RM, I.G. Farben agreed to expand the Schkopau facility to an annual capacity of 30,000 tons. The factory was booking profits by the spring of 1939.


In late April 1938, the parties agreed to build a “Buna II” factory with an annual capacity of 15,000 tons. This second location took up production in August 1940, about a year after the war began. A third plant was built at the BASF complex in Ludwigshafen and began to produce Buna in 1942. In the course of the war, the share of synthetic rubber in the German Reich’s overall rubber consumption rose constantly. By 1944, only two percent of the rubber used was natural.


The location for a fourth Buna production plant was the subject of a long-running controversy between I.G. Farben and the Reich government. The goal was to bring together and perfect all of the developments in catalytic high-pressure chemistry until that time. As a location for the plant that would fulfill their technological vision, the I.G. Farben leaders chose Auschwitz in Silesia. As Otto Ambros said at the sixth meeting of the rubber commission, I.G. thus adopted as its own the “Reich planning’s” endeavor to achieve “a stronger industrial opening of the East.” With major synthetics production more dependent than ever on coal, the technocrats found it well-advised to locate the plant near to the coal mines of Upper Silesia. Other resources were also plentiful in the southwestern regions of the annexed Polish territories: water, lime pits, electrical power and, most significantly, the reservoir of forced laborers at the nearby Auschwitz concentration camp.

(GK; transl. NL; based on: Karl Heinz Roth: Die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG im Zweiten Weltkrieg)


[pdf] Karl Heinz Roth_IG Farbenindustrie AG in World War II



Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, PDB 28.

Auszug aus dem Protokoll der 6. Sitzung der Kommission K über die Entwicklung von Buna IV, Hüls, October 23, 1941, NI-7288. Archive of the Fritz Bauer Institute, Subsequent Nuremberg Trials, Case VI, PDB 29 (g), pp. 104–113.



Plumpe, Gottfried: Die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG. Wirtschaft, Technik und Politik 1904–1945. Berlin: Duncker & Humblot, 1990.