Come you masters of war
You that build the big guns
You that build the death planes
You that build all the bombs
You that hide behind walls
You that hide behind desks
I just want you to know
I can see through your masks
–“Masters of War,” Bob Dylan
This is a mystery story. It revolves around a building that—as you will all come to agree—should have been bombed.
Before construction of the Pentagon during World War II, the two largest and most famous office buildings on planet Earth were the Empire State Building and the headquarters of German industrial behemoth IG Farben. Building these palaces of capitalism was a frantic race run in 1930-1931, at the opening of the Great Depression. Both edifices were designed to inspire awe, by “skyscraper” height in New York, by overwhelming grandiosity in Frankfurt. Unlike the original World Trade Center, both buildings still stand. There is no mystery about how the rugged steel frame of the Empire State Building survived the 1945 direct crash into its 79th floor by a twin-engine B-25 bomber, lost in fog over the city. How the IG Farben HQ survived World War II, however, is a mystery whose dark depths hold secret links between the past and the present.
The Empire State Building was an indelible feature of my mental landscape, growing up as a Brooklyn kid during World War II. But my first glimpse of the IG Farben building was only in a movie: Jacques Tourneur’s Berlin Express, a 1948 film I first saw while the president of the United States was doing his best to follow Hitler’s path to power. Like Alfred Hitchcock’s 1946 Notorious, it’s a thriller revolving around a Nazi conspiracy to regain power. I can think of no other postwar film about a Nazi comeback attempt, rather surprising since these were the years of the denazification campaign and the war crimes trials.
Berlin Express would be worth watching as a mystery thriller with excellent production values and fine ensemble acting. It is also the only postwar film I know of that warned against the nascent Cold War and pleaded for the restoration of the wartime alliance against fascism. But its knockout power comes from astounding visual revelations. Shot in 1947, Berlin Express was the first commercial movie filmed in occupied Germany. A full-screen opening credit proclaims:
Actual scenes in Frankfurt and Berlin were photographed
by authorization of
The United States Army of Occupation
The British Army of Occupation
The Soviet Army of Occupation.
When the IG Farben building appeared early in the film, I gasped. There it stood. Enclosed by acres of manicured parkland, its six monumental interconnected wings (compared to the Pentagon’s five) reached out in a soaring arc that sought to dominate space. Each wing was itself a massive nine-story building clad with blocks of exquisite Travertine marble. The camera took us through the portico’s ponderous columns into the ornate lobby, then across glistening marble floors leading to non-stop no-doors paternoster elevators endlessly whisking people to and from their work. On an upper floor, we followed one of the forty-five curved corridors that interlaced this colossal structure, which housed ten million cubic feet of office space and, from 1933 until 1945, was the nexus of the Nazi war machine. The next scene took place inside an office, through whose windows we glimpsed endless vistas of rubble, the ruins of the city of Frankfurt.
For fifteen years, this had been headquarters of the giant German conglomerate IG Farben. The main slave labor camp at Auschwitz was designed, administered, and financed within the walls, and profits from the camp were remitted to these offices. Joseph Mengele submitted detailed reports on his hideous Auschwitz experiments directly to this building, where his directors dutifully authorized his payments and requisitioned whatever equipment and supplies he requested. Here was invented the Zyklon-B gas used to murder millions of Jews, Communists, Roma, and homosexuals. Even more important, in this building were the brains and other vital organs of the company that invented and produced the synthetic rubber, synthetic oil, and new lightweight alloys that enabled the Wehrmacht’s warplanes and tanks to conquer Europe all the way from the English Channel to the outskirts of Moscow, Stalingrad, and Leningrad. At the war crimes trial of the leaders, prosecutor General Telford Taylor said these were the men who turned Hitler’s fantasies into reality. (For the definitive history of IG Farben, see Diarmuid Jeffrey’s superb Hell’s Cartel: IG Farben and the Making of Hitler’s War Machine.)
Before that vast Nazi industrial war machine could be administered inside this gorgeous palace of death, it had to be financed and created. IG Farben’s first contribution to Hitler and his Nazi party came at a crucial moment in the history. The Nazis, who had won 37.5% of the vote in the July 1932 election, plummeted to 33.1% in the November election, costing them 34 seats in parliament. Outnumbered by the combined Social Democrat and Communist deputies, the Nazis were unable to form a majority coalition, but Hitler, backed by many German industrialists and some American corporations, persuaded President Hindenburg to appoint him Chancellor, with control over the police. New parliamentary elections were scheduled for March 1933. In late February, Hitler held a secret meeting with a who’s who of Germany’s industrialists. Led by IG Farben, which gave the largest contribution, the giant corporations financed a tsunami of Nazi propaganda, huge Nazi rallies, and the unleashing of Hitler’s Stormtroopers (Sturmabteilung or SA, known as the Brownshirts). In that March election, the last free one, the Nazis attained their peak vote (43.9%), enough to consolidate Hitler’s dictatorship.
How could this building not have been—for military reasons alone, not to mention moral reasons–the prime target of U.S. and British bombing? But for other reasons, no Allied forces were ever permitted to attack the citadel of Nazi power and command center of Germany’s greatest war crimes. This was not because the ancient city of Frankfurt, where German kings and emperors had been crowned as early as 855AD, was spared. The cloak-and-dagger action of Berlin Express takes us on a nightmare scenic tour of the bombed-out remains of Frankfurt. Lucien Ballard’s superb black-and-white photography captures endless miles of skeletal buildings, vast piles of rubble, mutilated beggars, and the homeless. Some of the main action takes place inside the ruins, including key scenes in a clandestine pro-Nazi night club hollowed out behind the rubble. The IG Farben building stood unscathed, amid a city bombed into a modern form of the stone age.
“The masters of war,” as Bob Dylan sang to us, “hide behind walls.” Which walls? In America, the closest image of the walls they hide behind is the Pentagon. But the Pentagon is merely the workplace of their minions, henchmen, and hirelings, sitting behind desks in high-ranked uniforms or scurrying around corridors after their military retirement, now in expensive suits as representatives of our “defense” corporations. But in Nazi Germany, anyone could see the ostentatious walls behind which lurked the profiteering masters of war. They gloried in their walls, and they wanted them known by the world. The IG Farben headquarters thus combined those prime targets of the 9/11 bombers: the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the two most famous office buildings in the 21st century world.
We call the 9/11 bombers “terrorists,” a term that obscures both their motivation and the astounding and ghastly success of their geopolitical mission: to plunge to the United States into endless and unwinnable war in the heart of the Muslim world. Terror was not their aim, which was to lure the U.S. into Afghanistan, where the Jihadists—with major assistance from Washington—had recently defeated the USSR. In contrast, the World War II British and U.S. bombers of Frankfurt—and the other cities of Germany and Japan—were implementing a strategy of terrorism. That was an explicitly Fascist strategy, expounded by the Italian Fascist theorist Guilio Douhet and developed in Britain by Air Marshall Hugh “Boom” Trenchard and General Arthur “Bomber” Harris and in America by General Billy Mitchell (as explained and documented at length in the “Victory through Air Power” section of my book, War Stars: The Superweapon and the American Imagination). The strategy developed from the Italian terror bombing of Libya in 1911 and the British terror bombing of Iraq in 1922.
Douhet explained his theory in a series of treatises compiled in The Command of the Air, the blueprint for what is known as “strategic bombing,” the main World War II U.S. air strategy, and later the mission of the U.S. Strategic Air Command, in which I served as a navigator and intelligence officer. Since, in Douhet’s words, the goal is “spreading terror and panic,” therefore “it is much more important” to destroy “a bakery” than “to strafe or bomb a trench.” The main targets are “warehouses, factories, stores, food supplies, and population centers.” Douhet enthused about incendiary as well as explosive bombs (and poison gas). He envisioned “panic-stricken people” fleeing burning cities “to escape this terror from the air.”
Perhaps the best known early victim of this Fascist theory of warfare is Guernica, a Spanish city of no military significance, subjected to saturation aerial bombing by the Luftwaffe in 1937. Pablo Picasso’s magnificent painting of the slaughter is rightly known as one of the greatest visual antiwar artworks. I find the horrors of Black Rain, the 1989 Japanese reenactment of the Hiroshima bombing and its aftermath, more gut-wrenching. But when I think deeply about what we see in Berlin Express and relate it to our daily news, this old Hollywood movie hits with more terrifying implications.
Why was the IG Farben HQ never bombed? How did this building become the safest building in any German city? No official explanation has ever been offered. Berlin Express repeats a rumored explanation: General Eisenhower decided in 1944 that he wanted the building for his headquarters (which is what we see in those scenes actually shot inside this structure in 1947). The problem with the explanation lies in the history of the bombing of Frankfurt.
Frankfurt was bombed fifty-four times by the British before July 25, 1942. During the rest of 1942 and 1943, massive RAF bomber raids intermittently saturated Frankfurt with explosives and incendiaries. The October 4, 1943 attack alone dropped 300,000 tons of liquid and solid incendiary bombs on the city. The first American air raid on Frankfurt came on January 29, 1944, when a vast fleet of 800 B-17 Flying Fortresses obliterated the entire city—except the IG Farben building and grounds.
Most of the B-17 crews were veterans of raids on other German cities. On this raid, they encountered something they had never experienced. They were “puzzled,” they reported, by the lack of any German resistance on the way in. They met neither flak from the antiaircraft batteries below nor fire from Nazi fighter planes above until after they had made their bombing run and turned back to head home.
Why? The B-17s were most vulnerable while they were laden with bombs and in tight bombing formations. The defenders could hardly miss 800 Flying Fortresses, and, compared with other missions, dozens of bombers would have been shot down. I can think of only one explanation for this behavior by the Nazi forces whose mission was to defend the city. If they attacked the bombers before they unleashed their bombs, those bombs could go anywhere—including the sacrosanct IG Farben headquarters. And that makes no sense unless the defenders knew in advance, no doubt from the dozens of past raids, that the attackers would not target IG Farben.
Who were IG Farben’s guardian angels? The answer to that question helps explain how the apparent victory in our so-called Good War somehow turned into our Forever War, today led by a president who is meticulously following Hitler’s path to power. It lies in the labyrinthine maze of IG Farben’s interconnections with giant British and American corporations.
One way to navigate the IG Farben international maze is to follow the footsteps of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles. Until the U.S. entered the war, IG Farben’s U.S. representative was Sullivan & Cromwell, a law firm headed by Foster, abetted by his partner Allen. As soon as Hitler won the 1933 election, Sullivan & Cromwell began all its German cables with “Heil Hitler.” While negotiating crucial international deals for IG Farben, including ways to hide the company’s control of strategic U.S. corporations, Foster was also an apologist for the Nazi regime and a founder of the America First appeasement movement. (The Dulles brothers’ pre-war story is told powerfully by Nancy Lisagor and Frank Lipsius in A Law Unto Itself: The Untold Story of the Law Firm Sullivan & Cromwell) During the war, Allen led the OSS office in Switzerland, where he met various German spies and agents, suppressed reports of the Holocaust, and arranged for a post-war anti-Soviet strategy. (For essential reading on Allen, see David Talbot’s The Devil’s Chessboard: Allen Dulles, the CIA, and the Rise of America’s Secret Government.) The Dulles brothers took the helm of America’s Cold War when Foster became Secretary of State and Allen became head of the CIA under President Eisenhower.
As the U.S. was sliding into World War II in 1941, the Department of Justice exposed the byzantine cartel created by IG Farben and Standard Oil, including a jointly-owned U.S. corporation. Top executives of Standard Oil were convicted of criminal conspiracy with IG Farben. (Each of these corporate criminals was punished with a fine of five thousand dollars.) Using a host of holding companies and dummy corporations, IG Farben also gained stakes in other major U.S. competitors, including Dow Chemical and Alcoa. Its aim? To prevent the U.S. from producing its own synthetic rubber and oil, as well as light weight strategic metals, especially the new forms of magnesium so important for fighter planes. Its tactic? Lure the U.S. companies with offers of IG Farben patents and then sign agreements severely limiting any production utilizing these patents. Thanks to cordial and intimate relations between the German and U.S. executives, this worked fine for Nazi war plans.
I discovered the complex ties between IG Farben and Dow Chemical in 1966, while working to help create the movement against the use of napalm in Vietnam. Dow, of course, was the main producer of napalm. As I wrote then: “In the 1930’s, Dow Chemical and IG Farben formed an international cartel. Part of their agreement was to restrain U.S. production of magnesium and allow Germany to take world leadership in the vital element. As a result, at the outset of World War II Germany was producing five times as much magnesium as the United States.”
Could the guardian angels of IG Farben’s HQ be the same angels who saved IG Farben’s leading executives from execution or lifetime sentences? As Berlin Express was filming in Frankfurt, 140 miles away in Nuremburg twenty-three top IG Farben executives were being tried as war criminals. In the film, the Nazis are still the enemy. But by that time, America was already rebuilding German industry against a perceived menace from Soviet Communism.
Leading the charge against the prosecutors of IG Farben’s chieftains was Congressman George Dondero of Michigan, who asserted on the floor of Congress, that Josiah DuBois, the prosecution’s lead attorney, as well as five other members of the team, were all “Communist sympathizers” “who are trying to blacken the name of IG Farben.” Dondero’s Congressional district happened to include the Midland, Michigan, international headquarters of Dow Chemical, whose links to IG Farben were already being exposed in U.S. newspapers. On the same House floor, Congressman John Rankin of Mississippi branded the trial a “disgrace” where members of a “racial minority” are “trying German businessmen in the name of the United States.”
Ten defendants were acquitted on all counts. Thirteen were convicted of various war crimes. None served more than three years of their prison sentences, and most served far less. As for IG Farben, it was divided up, mostly into the three companies that had previously merged to form the many-headed beast: BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer. As soon as they were released from prison, many of the convicts became leaders of BASF, Hoechst, and Bayer. Karl Wurster, who won total acquittal despite serving as a director of the company that supplied the Zyklon B gas for the death chambers, became the head of BASF.
BASF, short for Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrik, was the main company that originally created and merged into IG Farben. When I was researching Dow Chemical and napalm in 1966, I learned that Badische Anilin und Soda Fabrick had renewed its relations with Dow and the two companies were now partners in the Dow-Badische company, with a giant chemical plant in Freeport, Texas.
As a member of the small delegation that met in 1966 with the executives of UTC, a Dow subcontractor with a huge napalm contract in the San Francisco Bay Area, I naively presented my research. Barnet Adelman, the president of UTC and a fellow Jew, responded in these exact words, the core defense of the IG Farben war criminals at Nuremberg: “Whatever our government asks us to do is right.”
When the leaders of IG Farben escaped any meaningful punishment for their monstrous war crimes (with their fortunes intact), the U.S. prosecutors dropped their pending case against Deutcshe Bank. As Germany’s largest bank, Deutsche Bank bankrolled the rise of Nazis and amassed colossal wealth from the genocide of the Jews and the takeover of foreign banks as nations fell to the Wehrmacht. Deutcshe Bank financed both the death camps and IG Farben’s slave labor factory at Auschwitz. As Jews and other victims were gassed by IG Farben’s Zyklon-B, their gold wedding rings and dental fillings were collected and melted down. Deutsche Bank then sold the gold, thus converting it into the hard cash desperately needed by the Nazi war machine. David Enrich’s Dark Towers: Deutcshe Bank, Donald Trump, and An Epic Trail Destruction reveals the sequel. After U.S. banks blacklisted Donald Trump because he had defaulted on many loans, Deutcshe Bank gave Trump loan after loan, through bankruptcy after bankruptcy, default after default, effectively financing his real estate empire.
Born in 1934, I have often wondered, over the decades, how fascism triumphed in Germany, arguably then the most advanced nation in the world. I guess we are beginning to understand. I hope it’s not too late.