One of the most truly evil corporations of all time was I.G. Farben. Not the name of a person, as a casual reader of Thomas Pynchon's masterpiece Gravity's Rainbow might think--as I did when I first read it.

I.G. as it was notoriously known, was a conglomerate, composed of the so-called "Big Six:"

  1. BASF
  2. Bayer
  3. Hoechst
  4. Agfa
  5. Cassella
  6. Kalle

I.G. was soulless. It produced Zyklon B, the gas used by the SS in the Auschwitz death camp and other extermination camps of the Third Reich.

More than that, it was an enthusiastic participant in the Holocaust. The camp was not a single entity, but a complex:

  • Auschwitz I, the original and vast concentration camp with hundreds of thousands of inmates,
  • Auschwitz II, the extermination center of gassing chambers and crematory ovens at Birkenau,
  • Auschwitz III, the I.G. Buna and synthetic fuel works,
  • Auschwitz IV, I.G.'s own concentration camp at Monowitz.

Over the entrance to Auschwitz were the words Arbeit Macht Frei.

After World War II, I.G. and its officers mostly got off. What a surprise! It was only business after all.

And the companies redivided into many of the units that we have come to know so well, brands that we don't even think about. Each of them is now far bigger than I.G. ever was.

Other corporations were similarly involved in the Nazi war effort, an earlier version of the military-industrial complex. Some have finally been called to account, at least symbolically, to pay some reparations for the vast amounts of profit they made on slave labour.

There is a lesson here for those who read history.

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