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Chemical Warfare Agents and Zyklon B

I.G. Farben produces toxic gas during the Second World War. For example, it manufactures the warfare agents tabun and sarin through an operating company, Anorgana GmbH headquartered in Ludwigshafen, at the Dyhernfurth factory near Breslau, Poland. It also produces the warfare agent mustard gas at Gendorf located in Bavaria.

Zyklon B is a toxic gas from hydrogen cyanide, which is used in gas chambers at Nazi concentration camps from 1941 to systematically murder far more than one million victims, most of them Jews. Originally developed as a pesticide, Zyklon B is sold by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung mbH (Degesch) founded in 1919; its sales companies take over the sale of Zyklon B from 1930/1931. After the beginning of the war (1939), the Wehrmacht and SS become major customers of Degesch and its sales companies – not only soldiers’ barracks, but also the barracks at concentration camps must undergo disinfection to avoid the proliferation of disease-carrying vermin.

From 1930, I.G. Farben maintains a 42.5 percent share in Degesch. Carl Wurster (1900-1974; 1952-1965 chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the re-established BASF) becomes a member of the Degesch equivalent of a supervisory board (Verwaltungsausschuss) in 1940. After the war (1945) and especially during the Nuremberg trials, the question is raised whether the representatives of I.G. Farben knew that Zyklon B was used for the mass murder of people from September 1941. A definitive answer has yet to be found.

In any case, the records still preserved and witness accounts give no indication that Carl Wurster knew of the misuse of pesticides for industrial mass extermination. He and the remaining members of the Degesch supervisory board, who had no insight into the day-to-day management of the business, did not recognize any irregularities in the sales figures for Zyklon B. This is because as the war progressed, more and more people were housed in camps so it was to be expected that the demand would rise for pediculicides and other special pesticides. Moreover, the actual sales of Zyklon B were not significantly higher after the mass executions at Auschwitz begin in September 1941 than they were before. Wurster is acquitted of all charges in 1948.

Furthermore, new research concludes that even after the participation of other companies (1930), Degesch “[remained] an integral part of the Degussa enterprise and not I.G. Farben, as it was falsely assumed during the trials against the board of directors for war crimes between 1947 and 1948, and is still commonly believed today.”