Jonathan Gruber, a filmmaker who recently toured his touching film, Follow Me: The Yoni Netanyahu Story, which chronicled the short, tender and heroic life of one of Israel’s great military leaders, is trying to complete a film that has been close to his heart for a long time. The story of one of the world’s largest companies, I.G. Farben, and how it not only profited from Hitler, but was a major reason that Germany was able to execute its war in the first place, is one that we all need to know.
I.G. Farben was perhaps the first true “multinational corporation”; it was the very model of a modern major conglomerate: brilliant, inventive, diversified—and ruthless in its pursuit of the bottom line. As the largest company in Europe during World War II, its rise and fall provides a shocking example of a profit-driven culture run amok.
We already know about corporate greed and its impact on the Holocaust from bestselling author and historian, Edwin Black. Black’s poignant works exposed how multinational corporations had profited from the Nazi’s genocidal campaign to eradicate Judaism from Europe first, and then if they had been successful, the world over time. (See IBM and the Holocaust, and War Against the Weak
When Black wrote IBM and The Holocaust
, we were literally shocked that a company we all know from Westchester, New York, provided critical assistance on a regular basis for the Nazis to find, count, number, enslave, abuse, kill and destroy more than an estimated 15 to 20 million people
. IBM had offices in each death camp to maintain their tabulation machines and to protect their patents on the punch cards they required.
Black went on to show us the way that BP, the well known oil conglomerate colluded with the Nazis, and even how the Pan-Arabist and Jihadist movement of the Middle East region, led by the Mufti of Jerusalem, al-Husseini, partnered with the Nazis during the depths of the Holocaust. His work has transcended what most thought they knew to add horrific information to a generation that once thought that Hitler’s dynamism consumed Germany alone against Jews and others.
We now know that Hitler’s skills extended to turning regular businessmen, entrepreneurs and otherwise decent people throughout the world, not just in Germany, into blind followers of money and earnings; convincing them that genocide and slavery were legitimate business practices, similar to using non-union labor or moving a business to a developing country employing a cheaper workforce.
Germany’s Jewish, Gypsy, homosexual and other undesirables were now acceptable as slaves, and the disposal of the ones who could not work became just another expense in the ledgers of so many companies; many we still look to today for products and services.
Gruber’s film, tentatively entitled A Deal with the Devil, is based on the seminal book The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben by Joseph Borkin. It traces the company's remarkable history from the middle of the 19th century to the present day. Gruber's production company, Black Eye Productions, is fundraising for an imminent aspect of the film—to interview Holocaust survivor Branko Lustig, who was a slave laborer at I.G. Farben’s infamous Auschwitz concentration camp.
Lustig was just 12 when he was there, and he went on to become an Oscar-winning producer for films including Schindler's List, and Gladiator. He was born in Osijek, Croatia, and now lives in nearby Zagreb. He founded the Zagreb Jewish Film Festival, whose mission is Holocaust remembrance—and to promote tolerance of all people around the world.
“One of the biggest challenges we have today and heading into the future is keeping not only the memory of the Holocaust alive, but keeping the factors that made it the success it was for Hitler prior to and during World War II front and center in our minds so we can hopefully never have to see these come to life again,” Edwin Black said.
Operating in many ways as a borderless, virtual nation, I.G. Farben's business practices have quietly shaped and steered millions of lives, many of them to their deaths. The film traces the ancestry of three of the world’s most influential corporations—BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst—all the way back through the murky history of their infamous parent company. With assets on nearly every continent by the 1930s, some historians would say that I.G. Farben is the most powerful entity you probably never heard of.
“It is so important that we expose the evil that was done and the people who made it happen. Not only the ideologues who promote the evil under the guise of creating a better world, but the profiteers who have no stake in the idea other than the ability to get rich from the process,” Black continued. “I.G. Farben and its subsidiaries did so much damage and everyone should know that the very products they knew and loved and some they still use today were made possible only through collusion with Hitler and his killing forces.”
Lustig has agreed to share his experiences, and Gruber quickly put together a crowdfunding page on Kickstarter.com to help him pay for the expenses to take a crew to Croatia and interview Lustig and edit the material into his current work. As of the writing of this, he needs less than $7,000 for the trip, as well as to access a 50% matching grant that was awarded to the project by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany (Claims Conference).
Lustig’s insights will illuminate the personal aspect of the business of warfare, and about business as warfare, as well as the corporate hunger that slowly fed national hunger, and vice versa, as German industrial aggression became harder and harder to distinguish from German military aggression.
According to a U.S. government report, "without I.G.’s immense facilities…and overall concentration of economic power, Germany would not have been in a position to start its aggressive war in September 1939." The company’s birth, its rise, and its seeming fall—carefully orchestrated to mask its quiet re-emergence—form a chilling, cautionary tale that continues to be relevant today. Its successors, BASF, Bayer, and Hoechst became some of the largest companies in the world, each individually bigger than I.G. Farben was at its height.
If you are interested in helping understand, with an eye towards stopping the phenomenon of profit at any price and wish to help Gruber
complete this aspect of his important film, go to the Kickstarter
page to get more information.
Juda Engelmayer is a public relations executive at the New York-based 5WPR firm.