War, destruction, the start of rebuilding
Buna production started at the Marl works of Chemischen Werke Hüls GmbH. The company had been founded specifically for this purpose two years previously. Production of the synthetic rubber Buna was very important to the four-year plan of the National Socialist leadership. The aim of the plan was to make the German (armaments) industry as independent as possible of imported goods, including natural rubber.
Th. Goldschmidt AG built two new plants in Essen. The bearing foundry and the new glue film plant were primarily intended to meet the mounting demand for such products at the outbreak of the Second World War. Glue film was used, for example, in the manufacture of rifle butts and in aircraft production. Two years later the Luftwaffe's so-called “Jäger-Programm" (Fighter Program) led to an increased demand for glue film, with the result that an additional production plant went into operation at the Schöppenstedt works near Salzgitter, acquired in 1934. From 1940 Th. Goldschmidt AG increasingly used forced labor from countries such as Poland, Belgium, France and the Soviet Union.
All of Evonik’s predecessors used forced labor. Hüls used up to 6,000 forced laborers, Degussa 10,000, Röhm 1,000 and Goldschmidt, at least 500 forced laborers.
Zyklon B, the poison gas used in the death chambers as of September 1941, had been developed in the World War for delousing soldiers' quarters, for example. In 1922, the Degussa subsidiary Degesch – Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung – acquired a process that made it possible to retain the gas in cotton wool-like pellets. As soon as these came into contact with air, the end product Zyklon B was released. Here again, it cannot be proved that Degussa directors were aware that the product was being used for mass extermination purposes in the concentration camps. After the war, Dr. Gerhard Peters, who was director of Degesch from 1939 on, was sentenced to prison but later acquitted in a 1955 retrial. The directors of the erstwhile Degussa and other predecessors of the present-day companies were never charged, and they have always denied knowledge of the Nazi crimes.
Read more about this time in the comprehensive description on Degussa's history in the NS-era.
Röhm & Haas GmbH purchased an 86,000 m2 site in Worms and started construction of a raw material plant to manufacture the initial products required for PLEXIGLAS® production at the Darmstadt works. Steady progress was made initially on the construction work, but it then suffered severely as a result of allied forces bombing raids in 1943 and 1944. It ultimately came to a complete halt. The factory remained a construction site and the planned production never started. In 1946 the site and the buildings on it were taken over by the French occupation forces. It was only on the release of the plants in 1955 that production was able to proceed at the Worms’s factory.
Only two years after the start of production in Marl, some 2,000 new employees and their families had already arrived at the Chemische Werke Hüls site. They predominantly came from I.G. Farben-Werk Ludwigshafen. Providing for such numbers under wartime conditions was a problem. The management consequently arranged for two farming companies to provide for the work force.
After the heavy bomb damage at Essen in March of that year, Goldschmidt AG decided to transfer production essential to the war effort. It built a production facility in Ammendorf near Halle for glue film, thermit and emulsifiers. An additional works was planned for Reichenbach/Silesia. However, the almost completed plants at Reichenbach were occupied by the Red Army in February 1945, before they had produced anything.
The Marl chemical works of Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH was also subjected to heavy allied bombing. However, it was initially possible to continue with Buna production.
The production of the pyrogenic silicic acid AEROSIL® commenced at the Degussa works, Rheinfelden, with a capacity of ten tons per month. It was first manufactured by Degussa chemist Harry Kloepfer in 1942. Because of its physical/chemical properties, AEROSIL® is used in such varied sectors as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, the paint and varnish industry, in the manufacture of polymers, resins and adhesives, in the tire and rubber industries, as well as in anti-foaming components in mineral oils. Today it is one of the most successful products of the Evonik Group.
The devastating air attack on Frankfurt am Main on the evening of March 22 caused an abrupt break in production at the Degussa works in the Frankfurt city center. The main administration building of the time on Weißfrauenstraße was also severely affected. The departments which had become homeless overnight were transferred to Wächtersbach, other locations in Frankfurt, or moved to less-affected outlying areas. All research was transferred to Constance, returning only in 1949. For security reasons, the accounts department and all accounting documentation had already been transferred to Idstein in the Taunus area in 1943.
Heavy air attacks in September of that year brought production at Röhm & Haas GmbH in Darmstadt to a standstill. Following further, smaller air raids, 80 percent of the factory was destroyed.
Following Germany's occupation by allied forces, production at all the former Degussa factories came to a standstill. The active oxygen chemicals plant in Rheinfelden, near the Swiss border, which was so important to the company, was left intact, but the hydrogen peroxide plant was lost in accordance with the regulations for dismantling of plant. Apart from the destruction and losing all international assets and all factories and branches located in Central and East Germany, Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt also lost a large part of its stocks of precious metals.
The works belonging to Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH in Marl, which had been severely damaged in bombing raids in 1943, was threatened by the possibility of detonation before the arrival of American troops. However, this was prevented. Soon after the end of hostilities, Buna production – now in the British occupation zone – was given special authorization to continue. At the same time, it became clear that in order to continue, the company had to create a new production base. A new department was set up to meet this need. The “Technical applications department” provided advice during conversion to peacetime production and sounded out the market.
There was a break in production at all Goldschmidt factories at the end of the war due to damage or shortage of materials. The original works in Essen was 85 percent destroyed; reconstruction essentially amounted to new construction. Nevertheless, some basic production of hair creams did start up again as early as 1945, and these were sold from the premises. The Mannheim-Rheinau works remained relatively intact, although there were communication problems with Essen, since Mannheim was in the French zone. Ammendorf near Halle was also only slightly damaged, but in 1946 it was expropriated into the future GDR without compensation, as were Goldschmidt's other interests.
Otto Röhm, son of the co-founder Dr. Otto Röhm, returned to Germany from Switzerland and joined the Röhm & Haas GmbH management in June. In October the company obtained permission from the US military government to start production. In 1946 OROPON® and BURNUS® production started up again. Then in 1947 production of PLEXIGLAS® also started, at in small quantities. The branch at Mittenwalde near Berlin was lost due to the occupation and then dismantled by the Soviet occupation forces. The French occupation forces confiscated the factory at Worms in 1946. Röhm & Haas GmbH also lost its foreign interests.
Chemische Werke Hüls GmbH began construction of a PVC plant at the Marl works based on the emulsion method. It went into operation in 1949. The plan was to push ahead with conversion to civilian production. However, realignment of the product range could not prevent significant job losses.
Deutsche Gold- und Silber-Scheideanstalt started production of methionine at the works in Constance, using the sulfate method. The amino acid, methionine, was initially intended for use in human medicine and for effective treatment of the widespread nutritional disorders in Germany. It also soon found another broad area of use as an animal feed additive to improve the quality of protein in animal feed. Today Evonik produces feed additives at six sites in five countries and is the only company worldwide to produce and market all important amino acids for animal feed.
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