Hüls AG and National Socialism

Established in 1938

Hüls AG, one of the predecessors of Evonik Industries AG, was founded on May 15, 1938 in Marl, on the northern edge of the Ruhr area under the name "Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH“. The factory itself was built in the countryside and the name "Hüls" referred to a nearby district where I.G. Farbenindustrie AG operated a mine (Auguste Victoria). Some 74 percent of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH belonged to the then listed I.G. Farbenindustrie AG while 26 percent was held by Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia AG, a subsidiary of the state-owned VEBA AG.

The political background to the company's establishment

The site on which Hüls AG built its chemical plant.
The site on which Hüls AG built its chemical plant.

In 1936 the National Socialist government introduced a Four-Year Plan, with the intention of making Germany independent of raw material imports. The goal was self-sufficiency in preparation for the Second World War. One of the raw materials that Germany needed to produce was rubber, required mainly for the manufacture of automobile tires. Both secret and public preparations for war were a feature of this period. Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH was part of this complex, since synthetic rubber, known as buna, was to be produced here.

Economic and chemical policies

The construction site in 1939
The construction site in 1939

The idea of manufacturing the starting material for buna, namely acetylene, using the arcing process had been pursued worldwide since the 1920's. The idea was to become independent of oil by means of methane, a gas associated with coal. People were firmly convinced that oil reserves would only be available for another thirty years at most. It was also hoped to obtain a wider variety of derivatives.

As the US Group Standard Oil of New Jersey (Esso) was following the same research strategies, I.G. Farbenindustrie AG formed a research alliance with the corporation in 1929. The process was then developed to engineering standard in Baton Rouge/Louisiana. This work was completed in 1935. Chemist Paul Baumann managed the work for I.G. Farben, and in 1938 was appointed Director of Production of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH.

In addition I.G. Farben was also carrying out research into the production of gasoline from coal. A process was developed in which coal was liquefied. Hydrogen plants (hydration) generated hydrocarbons, a specific proportion of which is suitable for gasoline. Securing fuel was a top priority objective of National Socialist economic and rearmament planning. After acquiring licenses for hydration, Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia built a hydration plant in Gelsenkirchen-Scholven.

Links between politics and economy: the National Socialist government and I.G. Farben managers

The National Socialist government also focused its attention on the production of synthetic rubber. The Four-Year Plan strengthened relations between the Reich government and I.G. Farbenindustrie on a personal level as well. Two leading I.G. Farben managers transferred to the civil service: Johannes Eckell (head of department at the Reich Ministry of Economic Affairs and Head of the Chemical Department at the Reich Office for Economic Development) and Carl Krauch (executive manager for the production of mineral oil, rubber and light metals, ammunition and explosives and chemical warfare agents for the official in charge of the Four-Year Plan, Hermann Göring, "Gebechem" for short).

In 1938 several factors coincided, resulting in the establishment of buna production in Marl using the arcing process.ly the political desire of the National Socialist government to manufacture buna, secondly I.G. Farbenindustrie's interest in participation based on the technical maturity of the arcing process.

The buna balls left the plant on 29.08.1940, a mere two years after Chemische Werke Hüls was founded
The buna balls left the plant on 29.08.1940, a mere two years after Chemische Werke Hüls was founded

Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia supplied the starting material methane from its coking plants, obtaining in return the hydrogen generated in the arcing process. Thus a cooperative system was established. In addition to hydrogen and acetylene the arcing process also generated ethylene.

Set of agreements and production strands

It is worth taking a closer look at this harmonious set-up at production level. Following the immediate establishment phase, both shareholders appointed one managing director each - Dr. Ulrich Hoffmann for I.G. Farbenindustrie AG and Dr. Hans Günther for Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia AG. There is a 1943 letter from Dr. Günther to Wilhelm Tengelmann, the Executive Board Chairman of Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia, in which Günther complains of being isolated and that I.G. Farbenindustrie would regard Hibernia as a tiresome hanger-on.

Examination of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH's set of agreements shows in fact that I.G. Farbenindustrie wanted to secure a controlling influence in the long term. The Marl site belonged to I.G. Farben when it was founded and was given in hereditary lease, i.e. if the company was wound up it would revert to I.G. Farben. Hüls acquired licenses to the arcing process and the subsequent production of buna and ethylene oxide derivatives (e.g. antifreeze agents) from I.G. Farben free of charge. All changes and improvements automatically became the property of I.G. Farben. Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia was ignored. Basically I.G. Farbenindustrie took over the sale of Hüls products, which meant that Hibernia did not obtain any market know-how.

The ethylene derivatives product strand also enabled the production of diglycol and oxol, two components of war gases. Even in the planning stage at Chemische Werke Hüls, I.G. Farbenindustrie always remained intent during negotiations with the Army Ordnance Office on using these production plants for buna production. Where possible, the goal became to prevent the sites planned for ethylene derivatives from being sold to other companies. In order to enforce this, I.G. Farbenindustrie was even prepared during the preliminary negotiations to jeopardize the entire buna plant.

Since the arcing process called for large quantities of energy it was necessary to erect their own power station. However, this was not owned by either I.G. Farben or Hüls, but was built by Steinkohlen-Elektrizität AG (Steag), leased to Hüls and operated by Hüls personnel.

The overall set-up of the Marl plant was such that it could quickly be disposed of without I.G. Farbenindustrie sacrificing any flexibility. I.G. Farbenindustrie's management saw Hüls purely as a wartime production plant and as a result there was no application-related division or indeed research institutions.

Hüls AG Power Station 1939
Hüls AG Power Station 1939

I.G. Farbenindustrie's dominant influence was also apparent in the organizational structure. All-important matters involving anything more than routine business, i.e. buna production, had to be submitted to the Supervisory Board, where I.G. Farbenindustrie held the majority voting rights. However, I.G Farben, the Army Ordnance Office and the Four-Year Plan Authority agreed to divide production contractually into two parts:

Firstly a so-called Ae plant, which was set up by order of and with a loan from the Army High Command (OKH), and essentially manufactured ethylene oxide, chlorine and soda lye as starting materials. These were then processed in the second section, the B-plant (standby plant) into spirit ethylene, triglycol, glycol, glycerin and glysantin. The planned production of oxol was not started. The B-plant sites were leased to the Army's "Verwertungsgesellschaft für Montan-Industrie GmbH“ (mining) by I.G. Farbenindustrie and operated by Hüls staff.

Overall this set of agreements reveals Chemische Werke Hüls during the National Socialist era to be a mere adjunct to higher-level players, namely I.G. Farbenindustrie, the Army High Command and the Reich government (in the shape of the Four-Year Plan Authority, which at personnel level was again occupied by I.G. Farbenindustrie managers). However, we gain a clear insight into the interaction of these players from the private and public sector,ly in forcing through rearmament and secondly in keeping the associated financial risk away from the private sector.

Management objections

This dominant position however was not accepted without protest by the Marl management. Already in 1940, shortly before buna production started, the managing directors jointly opposed the restrictive licensing practices. As a result Fritz ter Meer of I.G. Farben's executive board was compelled to authorize more production lines for Hüls.

In 1943 Dr. Günther, with the knowledge of his colleague Dr. Hoffmann, informed the executive chairman of Bergwerksgesellschaft Hibernia - who was also a member of the Supervisory Board of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH - , that I.G. Farbenindustrie would be acting as sole shareholder of the Marl plant. This point to good collaboration between the two Hüls managing director who, as is well known, came from Hibernia and I.G. Farben. At the same time the beginnings of independence became apparent.

Feierabendhaus (social center) was intended to cater for the social needs of the employees.
Feierabendhaus (social center) was intended to cater for the social needs of the employees.

The "Feierabendhaus" was built as a social meeting place and cultural institution. The name created a link to the same center in Ludwigshafen. The "Feierabendhaus" incorporated a company restaurant, cinema, theater, etc. Training courses in National Socialist concepts were also held there. The director of the "German Work Front", Robert Ley, led the foundation stone of the building in 1940.

Employees' social situation

The employees of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH were recruited from management down to foreman from different plants belonging to I.G. Farbenindustrie AG, e.g. from Ludwigshafen, Schkopau in Saxony and Leverkusen.

As workers from the Ruhr area were not available, staff recruitment concentrated on the Münster region. The employees lived up to 70 km away. Initially there was no accommodation for them in the vicinity of the factory. Employees coming from far away either had to find private lodgings or lived in camps. Many of them had been conscripted by the Labor Office.

From 1938 to 1940, 3,000 employees moved with their families from the other I.G. Farben factories to Marl, to a district previously associated mainly with mining. Living space had to be created for them. The "Bereitschaftssiedlung" (standby housing estate) was built, which still exists today. Employees were housed there according to their company status and on the basis of job-related criteria.

It became necessary for the factory to have its own nursery to provide food for the rapidly growing workforce.

The influx of numerous chemical workers - they earned more than miners and had better accommodation - led to changes in the local social structure. This gave rise to many problems and even affected the food situation. Company management was forced to set up a "factory nursery" to supply vegetables and to maintain two farms for milk and meat supply.

Forced labor at Hüls

When large numbers of workers were drafted in at the beginning of the war, an increasing proportion of forced laborers arrived at the factory. They suffered the effects of the racist criteria of National Socialism as far as treatment, food and wages were concerned. At the top of the internal hierarchy were the so-called "Western workers", i.e. Dutch, Belgians, French and at the bottom of the heap the so-called "Eastern workers", many of who came from the Ukraine, and Soviet prisoners of war. They were all housed in camps. Some of the barracks were the same as those in which German workers had previously lived, while in some cases new camps were built. On the one hand they were located near the factory, e.g. in the north right next to the factory fence, the so-called Nordstraße (North Road), and in the south on what is now Lipper Weg. French forced laborers were housed for example on the Halterner Stausee in a former hotel. Sanctions were applied both to German and foreign workers if management considered that work discipline was deteriorating.

Records for 1944 show a work prison camp on the company site, controlled by the "Geheime Staatspolizei" (Gestapo). Available sources state that as far as feeding the forced laborers was concerned, great store was set on making sure they were able to keep working. In contrast to mining, no evidence survives of foreigners being mistreated.

Prisoner of war construction workers at Chemische Werke Hüls, 1943.
Prisoner of war construction workers at Chemische Werke Hüls, 1943.

The I.G. Farben factories generally operated a staff exchange scheme. This included the buna works in Auschwitz-Monowitz. Chemische Werke Hüls records for 1944 show a group of "Auschwitz transferees" among the Polish forced laborers. They came from Monowitz to Marl, were trained there and sent back.

At staff level it is very clear that Hüls was part of the National Socialist war and economic system. Right from the construction phase, the factory depended on government staff allocation. In a detailed memorandum, management outlined the staff problems generated by the high turnover and low qualifications of its workforce. It reached the point where the "Gebechem" Carl Krauch, who worked for the official in charge of the Four-Year Plan, Hermann Göring, invited the responsible regional and district chairman of the "German Work Front", the responsible State Police office, the armament inspectorate, the counter-intelligence representative and the Regional Labor Office to talks with the Westphalia North Gauleiter (regional commander) to explain Hüls's work problems in the fall of 1940.

Further talks took place in the Hüls administrative building, chaired by the representative of the Gauleiter, Regional Chairman Schürmann, at which a work disciplinary program was discussed for the foreigners employed in the Westphalia North region. Afterwards Hüls no longer depended on allocation of German conscripts by the Labor Office, but was able to recruit suitable workers itself. At the same time the use of foreign workers began, increasingly on a forced labor basis. Hüls was one of the companies to adapt to this situation in the labor market.

The camps were controlled directly by the factory management. The central objective of the camp management was to keep a workforce going for the benefit of the company. The Deutsche Arbeitsfront ("German Work Front") actually entrusted with the business was active only in the running of the camps and organizing cultural arrangements on the instructions and orders of management.

All the National Socialist mass organizations were represented in Marl. Senior employees were members of the NSDAP, even if they joined at different times. The records show that Paul Baumann was one of the last to join, in 1939.

The effects of war actions

The butadiene factory after allied bombing raids.
The butadiene factory after allied bombing raids.

From 1941 onwards the Marl factory suffered allied bombing raids at least once a year. The worst occurred in summer 1943, leaving many dead and bringing the factory to a standstill for three months. When the Allies seized the Ruhr district, Chemische Werke Hüls found itself in the area of the US troops' advance aimed at closing off the "Ruhrkessel" (Ruhr pocket). Like all businesses essential to the war effort, it was supposed to be blown up by German troops during their retreat. Paul Baumann, Head of Production and assistant managing director, managed to prevent this, however. The forced laborers were taken away by police on March 26, 1945. The workforce declined from 9,871 in February 1945 to 482 by mid April 1945. On March 31, 1945, American troops occupied the factory. Chemische Werke Hüls became part of the Allied dismemberment process, since it had been controlled mainly by I.G. Farbenindustrie AG.

Literature list (in alphabetical order)

Abelshauser, Werner: Die BASF, eine Unternehmensgeschichte, München 2002

Brack, Ulrich: Der „Ausländer-Einsatz“ bei den Chemischen Werken Hüls während des zweiten Weltkrieges, in: Der Lichtbogen; 37,1; Marl 1988, S. 18-41

Ders. (Hg), Herrschaft und Verfolgung, Marl im Nationalsozialismus, Essen, 1986

Brack, Ulrich/Mohr, Klaus (Hg.): Neubeginn und Wiederaufbau, Marl in der Nachkriegszeit 1945-1949, Essen 1994

Erker, Paul, Lorentz/Bernhard: Chemie und Politik. Die Geschichte der Chemischen Werke Hüls 1938-1979. München 2003

Hayes, Peter: Industry and Ideology, IG Farben in the Nazi era, Cambridge 1987

Plumpe, Gottfried: Die I.G. Farbenindustrie AG, Wirtschaft Technik Politik 1904-1945, Berlin 1990

Teltschik, Walter: Geschichte der deutschen Großindustrie, Entwicklung und Einfluss in Staat und Gesellschaft, Weinheim 1992