Corporate development, Third Reich and outbreak of war
The Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt merged with Holzverkohlungs-Industrie (HIAG) in Constance. A year later the second largest German wood distillation company, the Verein für Chemische Industrie AG, based in Frankfurt am Main, was acquired. A large number of organic chemical products came under the umbrella of the former Degussa as a result of this merger. One example was the manufacture of acrolein, which assumed great importance after World War II in the context of methionine synthesis. The animal feedstuff additive methionine to this day is one of the success products of Evonik Industries and is manufactured world-wide in large quantities.
Scheideanstalt opened up a new business area, which was very important for the company for a long time. Following acquisition of the majority share in the August Wegelin AG in Kalscheuren near Cologne, Scheideanstalt became involved in the production of carbon black. August Wegelin AG was completely absorbed into the Degussa Group in 1938 as the Kalscheuren Works. Over the years, Degussa became one of the largest manufacturers of industrial carbon blacks. Evonik Industries divested the business in 2010 as part of a portfolio adjustment.
The takeover of power by the National Socialists on January 30, 1933 led to far-reaching economic changes in Germany. The effect on Degussa and other predecessor companies in the period of 1933 to 1945 is currently the subject of academic research. In 1997 Degussa awarded a research contract to the noted American historian Professor Peter Hayes of Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, USA, who conducted a systematic and independent investigation of the role of Degussa during the period of National Socialism. Two other independent studies are concerned with the foreign exchange business of Degussa during the National Socialist era and the history of the Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH in Marl since its establishment in 1938. Please read more about this time in the comprehensive descriptions on Degussa's history in the NS-era and Hüls’ history in the NS-era.
In Hanau-Wolfgang, Degussa acquired the Deutsche Kunstleder-Werke GmbH, including a large area of woodland. The company, from 1947 the Wolfgang branch, primarily produced synthetic leather up to 1975. At the end of the 1950s the research activities of Degussa were concentrated in Wolfgang. Today the site, now known as the Industriepark Wolfgang GmbH, is the largest research center site of Evonik Industries AG.
In 1933 the methacrylate research of Röhm & Haas AG in Darmstadt developed a product that heralded an almost unprecedented advance: PLEXIGLAS®, a polymer that inspired whole ranges of new products. The big success of PLEXIGLAS® was even a result of its importance to war production, e.g. glazing airplane cockpits. Today the production of PLEXIGLAS® is a key business of Evonik Industries AG.
For the time all Degussa employees were able to take part in a company profit-sharing scheme. The “Scheme granting a one-off annual payment to separating works personnel" was superseded in 1952 by a company agreement on a Christmas bonus for workers and salaried staff.
Röhm & Hass AG entered the food sector with the production of enzymes used in fruit juice extraction and clarification. This business interest was not sold until 1999.
With the purchase of Dr. L. C. Marquart AG in Bonn-Beuel, Degussa acquired an additional site. Marquart AG was founded in 1846 as Dr. L. C. Marquart OHG for the production of specialty chemicals. The acquisition of Marquart was one of Degussa’s several so called aryanizations during the time of National Socialism where many threatened Jewish people were forced to sell their property. From 1979, it was known as the Beuel (Marquart) works. For organizational reasons in 1999 the plant became part of the Degussa works Wesseling. Evonik Industries continues to produce dulling materials for paints and varnishes at the Beuel facility to this day.
For their invention of PLEXIGLAS®, Röhm & Haas AG was awarded the Grand Prix, the most prestigious award at the World Exhibition in Paris. The company was also awarded a gold medal. Following the creation of the “Darmstadt New Glass Art” department of Röhm & Haas AG, both artists and artistic craftsmen started to work with the new material.
In the same year the company established a retirement pension scheme, which from 1940 onwards guaranteed the employees of Röhm & Haas voluntary emergency assistance and a legally assured company pension.
This was the year in which I.G. Farbenindustrie AG and the mining company Hibernia founded the Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH in Marl, another root of Evonik Industries AG. The new works at the northern edge of the Ruhr area produced e.g. Buna, or synthetic rubber. The patents for the production of Buna using the arcing method were provided free of charge by the majority shareholder I.G. Farben. In return, Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH had to agree to provide I.G. Farben with details of all improvements in the methods of production and also allow them to market Buna products. The land on which the Marl works were built also belonged to I.G. Farben. The history of Chemische Werke Hüls between 1938 and 1979 and the role that the company played for Marl during this time are described in “Chemie und Politik. Die Geschichte der Chemischen Werke Hüls 1938 bis 1979”, a book written by Paul Erker und Bernhard Lorentz and published in 2003.
To now turn to the issue of Degussa's involvement with precious metals in the war years, the Reich government had all gold, silver and platinum objects in Jewish possession confiscated after the Pogrom Night on November 9, 1938. The precious metal was delivered to smelteries for processing and refining, with the corresponding weight in ingots being passed on to the Reichsbank. Degussa was Germany's largest precious metal smelter at the time and earned well on the refining fees and intermediate trade. Gold dental fixtures gathered in ghettos and concentration camps were delivered directly to its smelteries between 1940 und 1945, meaning that Degussa participated in plundering Jews all over Europe during this time. However, in retrospect it cannot be proved whether the source of the gold was known to the company's directors.
On the death of Otto Röhm, the company's founder, in Darmstadt in September that year, a chapter in the company’s history came to an end. Röhm had co-founded the company of Röhm & Haas and had left his mark as an entrepreneur and inventor for more than 30 years. Being half Jewish, his son Otto Röhm had to leave his father’s company in 1940 at the order of the National Socialists. He went to Switzerland, only returning to the company after the end of the war.
Go to1940 - 1949