IG Farben was a public German company that manufactured chemicals. The company was founded in 1925 and it operated until 1945 when it was seized by the Allies and its assets eventually liquidated in 1952. Before the liquidation, this company was notably the world’s largest chemicals manufacturer. The company got involved in war crimes with the Nazi takeover of Germany. The company’s leadership was openly pro-Nazi and therefore they supported their ideologies and anti-Semitic initiatives. Among other things, IG Farben is responsible for producing large quantities of Zyklon B, the gas that was used to kill the Jews and other ‘undesirable’ populations during the Holocaust. Initially, IG Farben was just a conglomerate of chemical manufacturing companies that was focused on producing chemicals for the industrial world. The company was basically a business striving to be profitable for its investors and shareholders. This changed upon the Nazi takeover of Germany and as such it cannot be entirely true that IG Farben was a bad organization. Their behavior can be explained using three different theories namely Zimbardo's theory of situational forces, the theory of cultural relativism and the theory of Social Darwinism. These are discussed below.
Zimbardo's Theory of Situational Forces
Zimbardo states that situations foster evil, in that good people can be forced in to doing bad things based on the situation they are facing. This means that with the right concoction of social situations, the most ordinarily righteous individuals can turn into evil doers. This theory suggests that a situation can foster evil by providing the individual with an ideology that justifies their actions (Jaspal & Breakwell, 2014). The situation may change individual’s perception of the evil act, or the victim so that torture, killing or destruction may be seen as ‘helping’ or ‘for the greater good’.
In IG Farben’s case, the leadership was pro-Nazi and as such, the ideology that prevailed and motivated them was that the Jews needed to be eliminated from the face of the earth, and exterminated as pests (Jaspal & Breakwell, 2014). Thus, when they created the gas used to kill them, they were only doing the world a favor by creating a solution to a ‘pest problem’. The fact that these people were drawn into Nazism means that they really believed that they were doing the right thing. Also, they were lured into evil by being assured that they were doing the ‘right’ thing for the ‘greater good’. In more ways than one, the organization had its perceptions of the victims modified and they stopped seeing them as human beings with equal rights. They saw them as pests that needed to be exterminated, thus justifying their actions with regards to the role they played in killing them.
They also felt like they were in control, in some way. The fact that they could play a decisive role in ‘cleansing’ the world gave them a sense of power that they could not resist. Once they had convinced themselves that Jews needed to be removed from the world, they could easily partake in the ‘noble cause’ of destroying the ‘pests’ on the Earth.
This is how an otherwise clean, money-minded corporation may have turned into a Holocaust enabler during the Second World War.
The Theory of Cultural Relativism
Cultural relativism implies that the perceptions and practices of people are dependent on the environment within which they grow and practice (Crowder, 2013). People generally believe in their own customs and traditions, beliefs and practices such that they can barely be convinced of an alien perception. The opinions and beliefs with regards to the world are all hedged upon our experiences as a people, implying that they depend on the specific cultural contexts within which the individual fits. Cultural relativism thus implies ethnocentricity in that people are only capable of looking at the world through their own cultures and as such, they have different opinions on the basis of culture they belong to. The theory herein is that people are likely to understand something based on its relevance in their specific culture, and it may be easy for people of one culture to take a certain position.
In the case of the Second World War, it was easier for the Germans to take a pro-Nazi attitude than an anti-Nazi one against the Jews. Apparently, it was the Jews’ fault that Germany had been defeated back in 1918 and therefore they had to pay for what they had done to the honor of the German nation (Crowder, 2013). The Nazi’s anti-Semitism, however, was not only based on vengeance for 1918 loss, but also a pure hatred further catalyzed by the shooting of a German in Paris, France by a young Jew. This painted Jews as enemies of the German nation and as such the Germans would find it much easier to go against Jews than try to support them.
IG Farben was a German company operating under pro-Nazi leaders. As such, they too believed that the Jews were the enemy and that they needed to be exterminated. Considering that these Jews cost the nation a victory in 1918, their extermination may have improved their chances of winning the next international conflict and as such they needed to be removed from the equation. Looking at this from a German perspective, people who had positioned themselves against the interests of the state were not exactly a part of the nation. The fact that they were of a different ethnicity only made it easier for the Nazis as they could perceive them as destructive aliens. With this attitude, it became very easy for the IG Farben group to support Hitler’s government in order to rid the nation of destructive elements.
By stating that they actually believed in the evils of the Jewish community and their role in the defeat of Germany as well as in the murder of a German in France, the organization can be seen to have participated in the Second World War out of a need to do the ‘greater good’ with regards to cultural relativism as patriotic residents in the Nazi Germany.
The Theory of Social Darwinism
Social Darwinism is a concept based on biology, specifically natural selection or jungle law as others would have it, where survival is for the fittest (Hawkins, 1997). This concept advocates for the elimination of the weak in favor of the strong. As the strong seek to increase their strength in terms of wealth and power, the weak are likely to become a problem to them as they get even weaker or seek to join the strong. As a result, the strong are compelled to eliminate the weak. In other words, strength is promoted while weakness is punished.
In Nazi Germany, Jews were weak people. They were few and largely a minority such that they did not have much in terms of wealth or power. Germanic Jews were poor, a part of the minority and evidently weak. This made them an easy target for the strong Germans. From the perspective of IG Farben as a corporation, the weakness of the Jews made them a liability in their external environment (Hawkins, 1997). They needed a strong society in which to build a strong business. This means that they needed to be able to control their external environment in order to control their business. By aiding in the extermination of the weak members of the society, the company helped create an ideal society where only the strong existed and the weak were eliminated.
It can thus be stated that rather than carry out market segmentation as most companies today are forced to do, IG Farben opted to design the market by naturally selecting the strong members and eliminating the weak such that they left only with those who could afford their products and living conditions. This was not necessarily specific for the company, but they were the ones who had the capacity to do it and in doing so they may believe that they were helping all the other corporations in the country.
In more ways than one, IG Farben was an evil organization based on the fact that they were the ones responsible for producing the gas used in the extermination camps during the Second World War. This means that regardless of the theory used to justify their actions, they played a fundamental role in the Holocaust and must as such be held accountable for it. However, it is important to understand the underlying factors and probable causes of their actions for purposes of understanding humanity. The three theories discussed in this paper seek to explain why they organization turned from a clean corporate conglomerate to a killing machine in the anti-Semitic campaigns run by Hitler during the Second World War. And while the theories do not justify the creation of the killer gas used against the Jews in the extermination camps, they provide a possible and plausible explanation of why they committed anti-human crimes.