Archive for the ‘Chemie Grunenthal’ Category

“Instead of deliberately favoring democratic industrialists, we have spent most of our billions in backing predatory institutions which, based on their history and present activities, will probably align themselves against us in the showdown between East and West—and this policy alone could easily  make the difference between defeat and victory for democracy. Would that we had such desperate faith in democratic institutions that we could afford the gamble of similar billions for their survival! For every dollar we have spent in Europe to strengthen democracy and arm it against conquest, we have thrown several dollars within reach of the enemy.

In the Far East, as well as Europe, the United States has backed other totalitarian-minded groups as a “bulwark” against communism. By the end of World War II, the peoples of China, Korea, Indo-China, and the Philippines had suffered for years under the “New Order for Asia” sponsored by the Japanese equivalent of Farben, the Zaibatsu cartels. These cartels by force of arms won a stranglehold on the economies of these countries. Instead of rebuilding the Far East generally as fast as we could, we have peddled the fear that Russia would rob and plunder the people, while at the same time we backed the very forces which had already robbed and plundered them. The Zaibatsu cartels are as strong as ever. In Indo-China, we have backed the collaborators of the “Japanese New Order.” In South Korea, faced with a variety of truly democratic choices, we backed Syngman Rhee and the few landowners and cotton millers who cast their lot with the “New Order” gang.

The Voice of America must sound weak to those forced by the United States to choose between Communism and reliving the dark era of World War II. Their will to resist Communism is weakened—to put it mildly—by our facing them with this black alternative.

Can we expect millions of former vassals in Asia to rally around their erstwhile totalitarian oppressors? Can we rally Europe solely around the fear of Soviet enslavement while we deliberately sustain the forces which twice in recent history have enslaved that continent?

On the answer to these questions depends on our survival.” – Page 363

“To the inmates of Camp I, the word “Buna” (which included “Leuna”) was more frightful than “Auschwitz” — the Farben site more terrifying than any place except a large wooded area three kilometers east of Camp I. During the first weeks of construction the workers at Camp I were routed out of bed every morning, stood roll call, ate a poor breakfast, and were marched by the SS five kilometers to the plant. Until this day of testimony, Ambros had insisted several times that disciplinary actions on the site were the responsibility of the SS. Now for some strange reason, he admitted: “I do know for sure that already in 1941 one began to fence off squares, blocks, and in these squares no SS had any further business. That was the preliminary stage for having the entire plant fenced in.” The workers had confirmed this. Once inside the plant enclosure, they found that the Farben overseers outnumbered the SS by 10 to 1…. “We struggled to carry cables, collapsing under the strain; the work was too heavy even for a nourished man.” “Once the inmates were assigned to Farben Meister, they became his slaves.” The prisoners of war, who were given easier jobs, remembered better and longer than most. “The inmates were forced to carry one-hundred C-weight bags of cement. It took four men to lift one bag and put it on the back of one man. When inmates couldn’t go along quickly enough to satisfy the Farben Meister, the Meister beat them with sticks and iron bars and punched them with his fists and kicked them. I have often seen them beaten to death with iron bars.” “When inmates first arrived at the I.G. Farben factory,” one of Ambrus’ underlings had testified, “They looked reasonably well. In two or three months, they were hardly recognizable as the same people; the worst thing was the lack of food… I am not a scientist, Mr. Counselor, I would not pose as an expert on calories or grams or liters. I can merely say what I saw…. And my Czech physician friend was an expert. The Czech physician said: “The prisoners were condemned to burn up their own body weight by working.” Before construction was finished, nine out of ten punishments were meted out by the Farben plant employees. The SS at Camp I became concerned with the depletion of the labor supply. The most ironical occurrences were the repeated complaints of an SS man to his superior that a Farben foreman was beating the prisoners too often — it happened at the plant as it happened at the mine. “I did not observe anything of that kind,” Ambros said – Portions from pages 178 – 181

The buna factory they wanted to build would have a capacity larger than any of the others. They would need a million tons of hard coal, and Oswiecem was on the southern border of the Silisian coal fields. The plant needed as much power as the city of Berlin, and here at Oswiecem three rivers united—the Sola, the Przemsze, and the Little Vistula. East of the town was another river which could furnish extra power and would take off the waste from plant.

A buna factory needed a lot of water, even in winter. They planned to cut a canal to connect the Vistula to the Oder a few miles away. Oswiecem was on a level plain, and all the waters of all the rivers around could be harnessed without flooding. Oswiecem fell on a line between Krakow and Vienna, and the old short stretches of railways could be joined to ship the buna back to the Reich. Said Ter Meer: “There were really so many of our industrial prerequisites that one has to admit that this location, Auschwitz, was ideal industrially.”

Ter Meer and Ambros looked over the people. “Nature had endowed this place, “Ambros said. “There were men and women [in the whole territory] working partly in industry and also doing part-time farming work. Sociologically, the most ideal condition is to find workers who also have a small plot of ground. This meant everything a chemist could dream of.”

The impressions gleaned by the two doctors were almost Biblical. They were rapt in contemplation of a business which would offer a pastoral craft to the rural inhabitants. Early in the morning, the farmer would get up and milk his cows, then stroll off—lunchbox in hand—to the plant. He would work there in the afternoon while his wife and daughter toiled in the vineyard. Everything about the picture was charming—except that there were not 15,000 such farmers near-by.

But Ter Meer didn’t believe that Ambros, in inviting him there, had mentioned a concentration camp. ”I do not recall that he at the time discussed that some of the labor would be drawn from the near-by concentration camp, but I will say that Ambros, who in his reports was very exact, probably mentioned it, though I am not positive.”

Ambros was very exact.  A few weeks later, he reported twice to a group of buna colleagues at Ludwigshafen that plans were being made to build a second concentration camp at Auschwitz: “The inhabitants of the town of Auschwitz itself are 2000 Germans, 4000 Jews, 7000 Poles. The availability of inmates of the camp would be advantageous.”

Three thousand people were in Camp I. Then the second camp swelled the prison population to 14,000—Dr. Ter Meer was never to share his lunch with them. During the first two years of construction, reports came to his office of daily trainloads of “workers” coming to Auschwitz. Then Camp III and Camp IV were built, both nearer the buna factory than the other two camps. Then at last, in 1943, Ter Meer made a third visit to Auschwitz. Returning to Frankfurt, he had himself transferred to Italy, where he became plenipotentiary for the Italian chemical industries. Ambros’ appeals followed him: “More workers are needed.” “Herr Doctor Ambros is asking for assistance at Auschwitz.”….

Q. We have heard from four other witnesses that there was supposed to have been a large chimney in this camp, too. Do you have any recollection of it?

A. I have no recollection of it.

pages 155 – 156

Ambros bowed as he took oath, exhibiting his sketch in all directions. He waved his counsel aside for the moment. He explained: “This tree of many branches I choose to call the Ethylene Tree to symbolize the Good and Evil in nature.”
Ethylene oxide, he went on, was the trunk which bore many branches “green with peaceful uses” and a few that were rotten with potential destruction. He pointed to lines he had drawn to cut off the rotten branches. Green branches had been his sole interest: soap for dirty soldiers, paint and cleaning agents for vehicles. “I still do not understand why I am here. The collapse promised everything but that I would be arrested.”
At Gerdorf, after those senseless investigations, the Americans had been kind enough to lend him a jeep and driver, to take him back home. Surely, if he had deserved arrest, the French at Ludwigshafen would have picked him up. He’d lived in Ludwigshafen since the mid-1920’s; people there thought he was just born for the place. If Heidelberg was the seat of chemical knowledge, Ludwigshafen was nature’s laboratory; and Ambros was the sort of man who liked earth running through his fingers. At Ludwigshafen, more productive than any other single Farben installation, were planted the synthetic seeds of every Farben product. Ludwigshafen put out the elementary compounds that became hormones and vitamins under Hoerlein at Elberfeld. At Ludwigshafen, the organic roots under careful cultivation grew their first ersatz offshoots. His “mother” was Ludwigshafen, said Ambros; but he owed a good deal, too, to his real father, a professor of agricultural chemistry, who had taken him into the laboratory before he could toddle. It was understandable that, at first sight of Oswiecem, he noted it was “predominantly agricultural terrain.”
When Bosch and Krauch hired Ambros, they got a young man with brains as well as feet in the soil. Bosch, recognizing a young excitable genius, turned him loose to study natural dyes and rosins and yeast breeding and sugar fermentation. Soon the Ethylene Tree was bearing synthetic twigs based on his studies.  – page 170

“Sure, we must have a theory. It’s just like what the first caveman said when he caught his neighbor dragging his wife away: ‘Would you please wait a minute while I get hold of a lawyer?’ When a hungry man steals a chicken, that’s larceny if the statute says it’s larceny. But stealing whole territories is not larceny — that’s foreign policy.”

The car almost went off the road as I listened to him expound. “Murder is a crime in every country in the world, but it’s no crime in the world-at-large because the Second Circuit Court of Appeals never said so. Ask Senator Taft. He never took the trouble to call it murder before anyway, so now he says: ‘How can you call it murder after the war is over? The charges are very badly drafted, Joe. We should have charged excusable larceny and justified, premeditated killing. That’s the kind of theory they’ll be happy with.”
“That’s hardly fair,” I said. “If judges felt that way, they wouldn’t be sitting on this trial.”
If only a “theory” were as simple as he had put it! The bitter edge of his tone suggested the simple injustices that “civilized countries,” one by one, had tried to remedy, but against which the world-at-large had done almost nothing. Yes, there was a lot of truth in Minskoff that couldn’t be squeezed into a usable idea for next Monday morning — or could it?….

“A surprise is coming up,” Minskoff said. “Get ready for a sharp right.”

Around the turn, behind a high barbed-wire fence, deep-green grass leveled out for more than a mile ahead. Set back a good distance from the road was a group of buildings covering an area of about three city blocks. Midway between the road and the building was a large sign: “Prager Verein.”
“We should have stopped in Pilsen,” Minskoff said. “In Pilsen, they still call this place ‘Farben.’ When Farben took over here, they impressed about 1100 people from Pilsen. Six hundred of them ended up at Auschwitz. Of course we’re in Bohemia now, but this is the parent factory of the first two chemical outfits Farben grabbed in Sudetenland—isn’t that right?”
I agreed. This is not being a part of his job, he must have learned the fact somewhere around here.
“Farben got to Czechoslovakia before Hitler did, didn’t they?”
I nodded as the car slowed down. Stopping, we got out and went up the main gate. The guard listened to our explanation, smiled, and asked rhetorically, “Americans?” and let us through. I thought of Paul Haefliger again, and of how Farben was always months ahead of the Nazis. Somehow that should mean more than it did. The Farben doings in Czechoslovakia were linked to the Farben doings in Austria the previous year by purpose and method, but from the legal standpoint they seemed to stack up as separate ventures. According to the Munich Pact the territories of Bohemia and Moravia were supposed to remain Czech. Therefore, technically Prager Verein was still “free” when Farben took over its two subsidiaries, in the Sudetenland. Regarding the taking over of the subsidiaries, I recalled a couple of sentences from the Farben report: “One 1st October began the marching in of the German troops. On 3rd October, Falkenau factory was occupied.” But Farben had been “negotiating” in Sudetenland a long time before that….

We might have been stopping at any one of three or four factories on Route 25 between Newark and Camden, New Jersey — except for that institution of evil. Farben had been months ahead of Hitlerin organization financial power and in the conquest of productive installations. The Munich Pact had been signed in September 1938. But even before Munich — and several months before the Nazi troops had marched here in Bohemia — Farben had been negotiating to try and take over this parent company. Also before Munich, another firm had arrived in Prague to compete with Farben. Von Schnitzler had sold a piece of Prager Verein to this competitor before he even had any part of it to sell. (Farben was to get this piece back after gaining a majority control.)
In Von Schnitzler’s own words, seldom had a “great international agreement been concluded so quickly.” At a conference in November 1938, in Berlin, to which the Prager Verein managers were “invited,” Schmitz and Ilgner had come to form an impressive audience to Von Schnitzler’s demands.
The pressure had culminated in a December meeting, Von Schnitzler presiding. The occupation of Prague was still four months away. Von Schnitzler used the Sudetenland occupation as the persuader. He told Prager Verein representatives that he knew they were trying to “sabotage” the deal and that he was going to report to the German government that Prager Verein’s resistance was menacing social peace in the Sudeten area. Unrest could be expected at any moment, he said, and Prager Verein would be responsible. Actually, there were not many Jews in Prager Verein, and Hitler had no plans at all for taking it over.
Missoff chuckled over Von Schnitzler’s commercial generalship. Farben had not only swallowed the lignite mines and dyestuffs of Prager Verein, but all intermediate plants, stocks, good will, patents, and trademarks. Altogether it was no small feat to do in a couple of months the paperwork that turned the fourth largest business on the Continent into a Farben subsidiary. Minskoff was chuckling even after we hit the road again. He quoted Cardozo’s dictum: “Every man has a little larceny in his heart.”

– Portions taken from pages 104 – 106







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Operation Paperclip by Annie Jacobson. (Excerpts regarding Hitler’s Chemists – Otto Ambros)

Hitler’s Chemists

Otto Ambros

Otto Ambros was a fastidious man. His calculations were exact, his words carefully chosen, his fingernails always manicured. He wore his hair neatly oiled and parted. In addition to being Hitler’s favorite chemist, Ambros was the manager of IG Farben’s synthetic rubber and fuel factory at Aushwitz.

page 21

“The concentration camp already existing with approximately 7000 prisoners is to be expanded.” Santo noted in his official company report. For Ambros, Farben’s arrangement with the SS regarding slave laborers remained vague; Ambros sought clarity. “It is therefore necessary to open negotiations with the Reich Leader SS [Himmler] as soon as possible to discuss necessary measures with him,” Ambros wrote in his official company report. The two men had a decades-old relationship; Heinrich Himmler and Otto Ambros had known one another since grade school. Ambros could make Himmler see eye-to-eye with him on the benefits that Auschwitz offered to both Farben and the SS. – Operation Paperclip. page 153.

Otto Ambros was key to making the Buna factory a success. With his knowledge of synthetic rubber and his managerial experience–he also ran Farben’s secret nerve gas production facilities–there was no better man than Otto Ambros for the Auschwitz job….
Major Tilley waited at Dustin for the return of Tarr and Ambros. It was now clear to him that there was no single individual more important to Hitler’s chemical weapons program than Otto Ambros had been. Ambros was in charge of chemical weapons at Gendorf and Dyhernfurth, and he was the manager of the Buna factory at Auschwitz. From interviewing various Farben chemists held at Dustbin, Tilley had also learned that the gas used to murder millions of people at Auschwitz and other concentration camps, Zyklon B, and it was sold to the Reich by an IG Farben company. In one of these interviews, Tilley asked IG Farben board member Baron Georg von Schnitzler if Otto Ambros knew that Farben chemicals were being used to murder people.

“You said yesterday that a [Farben employee] ‘alluded’ to you that the poisonous gasses [sic] and the chemicals manufactured by IG Farben were being used for the murder of human beings held in concentration camps,” Major Tilley reminded von Schnitzler in their interview
“So I understood him,” von Schnitzler replied.
“Didn’t you question those employees of yours further in regard to the use of these gases?”
“They knew it was being used for this purpose,” von Schnitzler said
von Schnitzler confessed, “I asked [the Farben employee] is it known to you and Ambros and other directors in Auschwitz that the gases and chemicals are being used to murder people?”
“What did he say?” asked Major Tilley.
“Yes; it is known to all the IG directors in Auschwitz,” von Schnitzer said.

Few men were as important to IG Farben during the war than Otto Ambros had been. IG Farben began first producing synthetic rubber in 1935, naming it Buna after its primary component, butadiene…. Otto Ambros poured over maps of this region, called the Upper Silesia, in search of a Buna factory site, he found what he was looking for. The production of synthetic rubber required four things: water, flat land, good railway connections, and an abundance of laborers. Auschwitz had all four. Three rivers met in Auschwitz, the Sola, the Vistula, and the Przemsza, with a water flow of 525,000 cubic feet per hour. The land was flat and sixty-five feet above the waterline, making it safe from floodwaters. The railway connections were sound. But the most important was the labor issue. The concentration camp next door could provide an endless labor supply because the men were cheap and could be worked to death. For Farben, the use of slave labor supply could take the company to levels of economic prowess previously unexplored.

pages 151 – 155

It was only a matter of time before an American chemical company would learn of the army’s interest in a whole new field of chemical weapons. An American chemist, Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind, was in Germany at this same time. Dr. Hirschkind was conducting a survey of the German chemical industry for the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service while on temporarily leave from Dow Chemical Company. Dr. Hirschkind had spent several months inspecting IG Farben plants in the U.S. and British zones and now he was in Heidelberg, hoping to meet Ambros. Lieutenant Colonel Tarr reached out to Colonel Weiss, the French commander in charge of IG Farben’s chemical plant in Ludwigshafen, and a meeting was arranged.

On July 28, 1945, Dr. Hirschkind met with Ambros and Lieutenant Colonel Tarr in Heidelberg. Ambros brought his wartime deputy with him to the meeting, the Farben chemist Jurgen von Klenck. It was von Klenck who, in the final months of the war, had helped Ambros destroy evidence, hide documents, and disguise the Farben factory in Gendorf so that it appeared to produce soap, not chemical weapons. Jurgen von Klenck was initially detained at Dustbin but later released. The Heidelberg meetings lasted several days. When Dr. Wilhelm Hirschkind left, he had these words for Ambros: “I would look forward after the conclusion of the peace treaty [to] continuing our relations [in my position] as a representative of Dow.”

Only later did FIAT interrogators learn about this meeting. Major Tilley’s suspicions were now confirmed. A group inside the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, including his former partner, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, did indeed have an ulterior motive that ran counter to the motives of CIOS, FIAT, and the United Nations War Crimes Commission. Tilley’s superior at Dustbin, Major Wilson, confirmed this dark and disturbing truth in a classified military intelligence report on the Ambros affair. “It is believed that the conflict between FIAT… and LT-Col Tarr was due to the latter’s wish to use Ambros for industrial chemical purposes” back in the United States.”

“All documents regarding the Ambros affair would remain classified for the next forty years, until August of 1985. That an officer of the U.S. Chemical Warfare Service, Lieutenant Colonel Tarr, had sheltered a wanted war criminal from capture in the aftermath of the German surrender was damning. That this officer was also participating in meetings with the fugitive and a representative from the Dow Chemical Company was scandalous.”

page 157 – 159

By 1964, Ambros had been a free man for thirteen years. He was an extremely wealthy, successful businessman. He socialized in Berlin among the captains of industry and the professional elite. When the Frankfurt Auschwitz trial started, he was a board member of numerous major corporations in Germany, including AEG (Allgemeine Elekrizitats Gesellschaft), Germany’s General Electric; Hibernia Mining Company; and SKW (Suddeutsche Kalkstickstoff-Werke AG), a chemical company.

page 415 – 416

In separate letters to Finance Minister Ludger Westrick and Deputy Finance Minister Dr. Dollinger, a new secret was revealed, though Ambros promised not to make public a piece of the information they shared. “Concerning the firms abroad where I am a permanent co-worker advisor,” Ambros wrote, “I won’t name them [publicly] because I don’t want to tip off any journalists who might cause trouble with my friends. You know about W.R. Grace in New York… and I hope I can stay with Hibernia Company. Concerning the firms in Israel,” Ambros wrote, “stating their names publicly would be very embarrassing because they are [run by] very public, well-respected persons in public positions that have actually been at my home and are aware of my position, how I behaved during the Reich, and they accept this.”

The “well-respected” public figures in Israel to whom Ambros referred have never been revealed. That Ambros also had worked for the American company W.R Grace would take decades to come to light. When it did, in the early 1980s, the public would also learn that Otto Ambros worked as a consultant for the U.S. Department of Energy, formerly the Atomic Energy Commission, “to develop and operate a plant for the hydrogenation of coal in a scale of 4 million tons/year at the former IG Farben industry.” That a convicted war criminal had been hired by the Department of Energy sparked indignation, and congressmen and journalists sought further details about Ambros’s U.S. government contract. In a statement to the press, the Department of Energy insisted that the paperwork had been lost…

Letters on White House stationary reveal that Deputy National Security Adviser James W. Nance briefed Reagan about how it was that the U.S. government could have hired Otto Ambros. Nance’s argument to the president was that many others hired him. “Dr. Ambros had contracts with numerous officials from Allied countries,” wrote Nance. “Dr. Ambros was a consultant to companies such as Distillers Limited of England; Pechiney, the French chemical giant; and Dow Europe of Switzerland. He was also the chairman of Knoll, a pharmaceutical subsidiary of the well known chemical corporation BASF.” President Reagan requested further information from the Department of Energy on its Ambros contract. Nance told the president, “The DOE and/or ERDA [The Energy Research and Development Administration] do not have records that would answer the questions you asked in the detail you requested. However, with Ambros’ involvement in the company shown and his special knowledge in hydrogenation of coal, we know there were productive contacts between Dr. Ambros and U.S. energy officials.” Even the president of the United States could not get complete information about an Operation Paperclip legacy.

In the midst of the scandal, a reporter for the San Francisco Chronicle telephoned Ambros at his home in Mannheim, Germany, and asked Ambros about his 1948 conviction at Nuremberg for mass murder and slavery.

“That happened a very long time ago,” Ambros told the reporter. “It involved Jews. We do not think about it anymore.”

Pages 418 – 419

In the decades since Operation Paperclip ended, new facts continue to come to light. In 2008, previously unreported information about Otto Ambros emerged, serving as a reminder that the story of what lies hidden behind America’s Nazi scientist program in to complete.

A group of medical doctors and researchers in England, working on behalf of an organization called the Thalidomide Trust, believe they have tied the wartime work of IG Farben and Otto Ambros to the thalidomide tragedy of the late 1950s and early 1960s. After Ambros was released from Landsberg Prison, he worked as an economic consultant to German chancellor Konrad Adenauer and to the industrial magnate Friedrich Flick, the richest person in Germany during the Cold War. Like Ambros, Flick had been tried and convicted at Nuremberg, then released early by John J. McCloy.

In the late 1950s, Ambros was also elected chairman of the advisory committee for a German company called Chemie Grunenthal. Grunenthal was about to market a new tranquilizer that promised pregnant women relief from morning sickness. The drug, called thalidomide, was going to be sold under the brand name Contergan. Otto Ambros served on the board of directors of Grunenthal. In the late 1950s, very few people knew that Grunenthal was a safe haven for many Nazis , including Dr. Ernst-Gunther Schenck, the inspector of nutrition for the SS, and Dr. HeinzBaumkotter, an SS captain (Hauptsturmfuhrer) and the chief concentration camp doctor in Mauthausen, Natweiler-Struthof, and Sachsenhausen concentration camps.

Ten months before Grunenthal’s public release of thalidomide, the wife of a Grunenthal employee, who took the drug to combat morning sickness, gave birth to a baby without ears. No one linked the birth defect to the drug, and thalidomide was released by the company. After several months on the market, 1959, Grunenthal received its first reports that thalidomide caused polyneuropathy, or nerve damage, in the hands and feet of elderly people who took the drug. The drug’s over-the-counter status was changed so that it now required a prescription. Still, thalidomide was marketed aggressively in forty-sex countries with a label that stated it could be “given with complete safety to pregnant women and nursing mothers without any adverse effect on mother and child.” Instead, the drug resulted in more than ten thousand mothers giving birth to babies with terrible deformities, creating the most horrific pharmaceutical disaster in the history of modern medicine. Many of the children were born without ears, arms, or legs and with reptilian, flipperlike appendages in place of healthy limbs.

The origins of thalidomide were never accounted for. Grunenthal had always maintained that it lost its documents that showed where and when the first human trials were conducted on the drug. Then, in 2008, the Thalidomide Trust, in England, headed by Dr. Martin Johnson, located a group of Nazi-era documents that produced a link between thalidomide and the drugs researched and developed by IG Farben chemists during the war. Dr. Johnson points out that Grunenthal’s 1954 patents for thalidomide cryptically state that human trials had already been completed, but the company says it cannot offer that data because it was lost, ostensibly during the war. “The patents suggest that thalidomide was probably one of a number of products developed at Dyhernfurth or Auschwitz-Monowitz under the leadership of Otto Ambros in the course of nerve gas research,” Dr. Johnson says.

The Thalidomide Trust also links Paperclip scientist Richard Kuhn to the medical tragedy, “Kuhn worked with a wide range of chemicals in his nerve gas research, and in his antidote research we know he used Antergan, which we are fairly sure was a ‘sister drug’ to Contergan,” the brand name for thalidomide, Dr. Johnson explains.

In 2005, Kuhn experienced a posthumous fall of grace when the society of German Chemists (Gesellschaft Deutscher Chemiker, GDCh) announced it would no longer award its once-prestigious Richard Kuhn Medal in his name. Nazi-era documents on Kuhn had been brought to the society’s attention, revealing that in “the spring of 1943 Kuhn asked the secretary-general of the KWS [Kaiser Wilhelm Society], Ernst Telschow, to support his search for the brains of ‘young and healthy men,’ presumably for nerve gas research.” The Society of German Chemists maintains that “the sources indicate that these brains were most likely taken from execution victims,” and that ‘[d]espite his scientific achievements, [Richard] Kuhn is not suitable to serve as a role model, and eponym for an important award, mainly due to his conduct towards Jewish colleagues.”

It seems that the legacy of Hitler’s chemists has yet to be fully unveiled. Because so many of these German scientists were seen as assets to the U.S. Army Chemical Corps’ nerve agent programs, and were thus wanted as participants in Operation Paperclip, secret deals were made, and the many documents pertaining to these arrangements were classified.

pages 431 – 433

Operation Paperclip


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“The last German war secret” by Andrew Rule for Herald – June 27, 2011 12:00AM

IT caused the worst medical disaster in history. It destroyed more lives than were lost on 9/11. Its effects rival Chernobyl and Bhopal, the sinking of the Titanic or the Jonestown Kool-Aid cult poisoning.

It was a drug sold worldwide under a bewildering number of trade names to treat a bewildering number of ailments. Tragically, one of them was to treat morning sickness.

For pregnant women, it was no great remedy for nausea. For their unborn children, it was deadly.
It killed tens of thousands of babies, left thousands more horribly deformed.

Some midwives deliberately let limbless babies die. Some parents went mad or committed suicide or abandoned their infants to charities or the state. Others resigned themselves to lives of quiet desperation and anonymous heroism.

The drug was thalidomide. It is almost exactly 50 years since a brilliant (although later disgraced) Australian doctor called William McBride alerted the world to the monstrous side-effects its makers failed to uncover before pushing it on the market.

Now another Australian – Melbourne lawyer Peter Gordon – has taken up the thalidomide cause to fight for those whose injured bodies have been worn out by decades of over-use.

Gordon doesn’t dodge fights. As a young Footscray Football Club president, he saved the Bulldogs from extinction when the AFL pushed to amalgamate the club with the doomed Fitzroy.

As a gun plaintiff lawyer – representing victims of asbestos, tobacco, silicone breast implants and sexual abuse in the Catholic Church – he took on powerful opponents and mostly won.

When he retired two years ago as head of heavyweight law firm Slater and Gordon to be a consultant – and to improve his tennis game – he told himself he had quit fighting big class actions. He was wrong.

It all changed the day a thalidomide victim he had met by chance asked advice about signing a document. Through him, Gordon met Ken Youdale, an 86-year-old Sydney war hero dedicated to helping thalidomide victims in memory of his daughter Niki, who died from the drug’s effects years ago.

Gordon and Youdale struck up a friendship then struck a deal last year for the British distributor of the drug (Diageo, formerly Distillers) to pay $50million in extra compensation to 45 surviving Australian and New Zealand thalidomiders. This followed a similar deal for British victims.

For Gordon, the victory was not the end of a campaign. It was the start of a crusade.

The more he spoke to people who have gathered material about thalidomide for years, the more he found out. Details of the damage done have been hidden in yellowing archives never before translated into English, and in the memories of people who have stayed silent for half a century.

Through Ken Youdale, he met British and German activists investigating thalidomide’s murky origins in post-war Germany.

Four are thalidomiders – London jewellery dealer Nick Dobrik, Yorkshire businessman Guy Tweedy, Melbourne-born office manager Mikey Argy and German teacher Monika Eisenberg. Backing them is former Royal Air Force officer Dr Martin Johnson, who runs Britain’s Thalidomide Trust.

With the help of a history professor and a brilliant Brussels computer expert, they have traced uncomfortable truths behind the pharmaceutical industry’s darkest hour. The result is a thick dossier on the company that sold thalidomide to an unsuspecting world.

Martin Johnson is working on a book about their discoveries but the last chapter is still unwritten. It will probably figure Gordon, who made his name and his fortune attacking multi-national corporations with multi-million-dollar lawsuits, leading an international legal team against the German industrialists some call “The Boys from Brazil”. It could be his biggest battle yet.

THE worst horror stories can have the most beautiful settings. The horror story of thalidomide begins in the picture-book town of Stolberg, near Aachen, in western Germany.

This is the Rhineland, pretty country with an ugly past. Before and during World War II it was a fascist stronghold, where high-ranking Catholic Nazis cultivated a connection with Aachen Cathedral.

After the war, Aachen was an escape route for Nazis, who secretly crossed the border along what locals call “rat lines” into Belgium or Holland then bought their way to South America.

Even those who did not flee saw Aachen as a haven: from there, at the first sign of being investigated, they could flee, to be harboured by diehard fascists in Holland or Belgium. Political groups that covertly supported ex-SS members flourished in Aachen, now a bustling university city.

Stolberg is close by, surrounded by serene green fields and woods. To get there you drive past a former railway siding where wartime slave workers were unloaded. Further along is a car park, site of the camp where the slaves were locked up at night.

With its castle and old Teutonic houses and shops, Stolberg makes a fairytale backdrop, although the Brothers Grimm could hardly have imagined the grotesque story born here in the 1950s.

In the town square, children play, couples eat ice creams and old people walk fat dogs. The only jarring note is a banner above the town hall door that translates as “No place for neo-nazis”.

It’s a clue that the region attracts the young fascists that are modern Germany’s dirty little secret. A police car is always parked outside the synagogue in Aachen to stop born-again Nazis vandalising it.

Near Stolberg’s square is a handsome old building enclosing a cobbled courtyard. There is no sign of life after office hours but if anyone trying to photograph it gets too close, a security guard steps out and blocks the doorway, alerted by a closed-circuit camera trained on the street.

Locals call this the “mother building” of Chemie Grunenthal, the pharmaceutical firm named after the street flanking the tiny stream that gurgles past the building.

“Grunenthal” means “green valley”, but there is nothing green about the business that started here after the war, growing from an old factory down the road to a huge chemical plant on Aachen’s outskirts. At each Grunenthal site, guards watch for certain cars and people, especially thalidomiders, easy to spot because they mostly have shortened arms and deformed hands. Employees do not talk to thalidomiders — it is “verboten”.

“They know my car,” says Monika Eisenberg, who lives in Cologne but often visits Stolberg in her little black Opel.

Eisenberg, 49, is one of about 2700 surviving German thalidomiders, known as “Contergan kinder” (Contergan children) after a trade name used to label a common thalidomide-based drug. Her left arm is half normal length, the hand tiny and bent so that she wears her wedding ring on her right hand, which has five fingers but no thumb.

But the teacher turned counsellor has an agile mind — she played chess for money to get through university – and is part of the “posse” helping the international legal team build a case against Grunenthal from Australia to North America, New Zealand to Britain.

The company can’t be sued by victims in Germany because of a series of local laws, some specially enacted to protect it.

When Monika Eisenberg was a teenager, her father was killed in a rock-climbing accident. Around that time, her mother refused to sign an agreement to accept the tiny compensation on offer.

Two men visited, urging her mother to sign. When she refused, Monika recalls, one said to her mother: “Mrs Eisenberg, you have a nice house and nice children. Your husband just died. We hope nothing else happens in future.”

Monika never forgot that veiled threat – and the sense of being watched. Now she watches them.

The Grunenthal security guards know her because each time “one of us dies”, she says, she places flowers and lights a candle outside their buildings. Honouring the death of fellow thalidomide victims is harmless enough but it marks her as a troublemaker. And some German companies have ways of dealing with troublemakers.

In 1980 a Grunenthal technician called Christian Wagemann wore an anti-fascist badge to work. He was sacked – and effectively blacklisted in the German pharma industry. He is now a school cook.

Wagemann’s dismissal letter was signed by Otto Ambros, then chairman of the firm’s advisory board and until his death in 1990 a respected figure in the global pharmaceutical business. Ambros also happened to be Hitler’s chief chemical weapons expert and a convicted war criminal.

He helped invent the deadly Sarin nerve gas and ran a section of Auschwitz where thousands of slave workers died. He reputedly killed prisoners to demonstrate the gas and in 1941 wrote that his “dear friendship with the SS is proving very beneficial.” Sacking someone for anti-fascist views was no problem.

Ambros was too valuable a Nazi to be executed for war crimes. So valuable, he later briefed Britain and the United States on nerve gas – and was retained by the British firm Distillers, a relationship that might explain why it trusted hollow assurances the “new” drug was safe.

Some of Ambros’s wartime comrades hanged at Nuremberg but he served only eight years prison on charges of using slave labour before reputedly being employed by Grunenthal, which seemed not to hold a Nazi war record against anyone. Not surprisingly, given its origins.

Chemie Grunenthal was started in 1946 to exploit the post-war demand for antibiotics and other pharmaceutical lines. Its founder, the late Hermann Wirtz, came from a prosperous family that had run the successful Stolberg soap and perfume factory Maurer and Wirtz since 1845.

He apparently used Hitler’s “Aryanisation” program to take over two Jewish-owned firms in the 1930s. Despite Germany’s defeat he emerged with the cash and the contacts to catch a post-war chemical boom, swelling a fortune that would make his descendants rich and powerful.

Industry needed scientists and Germany – like the US, the Soviet Union and Britain – tended to ignore the likelihood that some valuable knowledge was based on experiments done on prisoners in concentration camps. Enter Dr Heinrich Muckter, a former Nazi doctor who had been caught by American soldiers fleeing with a truckload of stolen laboratory equipment from Krakow University in the war’s last days.

Muckter, with his mentor – eminent former Nazi, Professor Werner Schulemann – thrived with Grunenthal. They became part of a global pharmaceutical network, with friends in high places from London to Washington to Rome.

By the mid-1950s, pharmaceutical makers were kings in a borderless business where profit often trumped politics and morality. Within a decade of the war, Muckter and other ex-Nazi opportunists had stared down their pasts with the sort of arrogance that caused a dangerously-untested drug to be inflicted on the world.

The result was that thousands of innocent people suffered death and misery on a scale not seen since wartime.

Those responsible have got away with it. Until now.

THE first known thalidomide victim was born on Christmas Day, 1956, the daughter of a loyal Grunenthal worker given the new drug for his wife to try. His baby was born without ears.

It could have been worse. Babies would be born in the following years with terrible deformities – no anus, no vagina, no arms, no legs – and internal problems so awful it made infant death inevitable, if not desirable.

But missing ears were bad enough – and so close to home it should have rung alarm bells. Except no one wanted to hear. The new product was not about pushing the boundaries of medicine for the common good; it was about profits, and by the mid-1950s, Grunenthal needed profit.

The post-war demand for antibiotics had eased and competition was fierce. To prosper, Grunenthal had to have a best-seller – fast.

It lodged the first patents for thalidomide in 1954, brochures were printed in 1956 to launch it and it was on the market the following year – by which time its two supposed inventors had left the company, later washing their hands of the decision to market it.

To take only three years from patent to market was, by usual standards, a rushed job.

Historians now pose the question: Were the Germans recycling and branding a by-product left over from wartime research into antidotes for nerve gas, Otto Ambros’s specialty?

One thing seems certain. Bar a few half-baked experiments that showed it made mice and rats calm and sleepy with no apparent side-effects, there was no testing of the drug’s safety for pregnant women. A cynic might suspect its promoters saw no reason to “waste” time and money in the rush to get to market.

If so, it was a monstrous misjudgment says Monika Eisenberg, who was born at Cologne more than five years after that first earless baby at Stolberg.

It’s a view widely shared by thalidomiders and their lawyers – there are a dozen in the US alone to handle potential claimants there and in Canada. But even for veterans of complex court battles, unravelling the 50-year-old scandal keeps turning up surprises.

One is that Australia was one of many countries that readily accepted the drug – despite the fact the US (eventually) and East Germany (tellingly) banned it because it seemed too risky. Another surprise is that Grunenthal and its licensees flooded potential markets with sample tablets given free to doctors and hospitals. More than two million sample tablets arrived in the US alone.

So many American women took sample tablets that many more thalidomide babies were born there than the 10 survivors usually acknowledged. Gordon’s American lawyer colleagues have already found more than 100 potential claimants, many in Canada, where the drug was openly sold.

The likelihood that big, untraceable numbers of samples were distributed free to doctors worldwide before the drug went on sale raises a fresh possibility: there are people with birth defects that they don’t know were caused by thalidomide because they have been told all their lives they were random losers in a one-in-a-million genetic lottery.

No one, sometimes not even the victims’ guilt-ridden parents, had any motive to uncover the truth. Not doctors, not chemists, not distributors and especially not those with the best chance of knowing what really happened: the top brass at Grunenthal.

Half a century later, the truth is elusive. But there are clues buried in millions of words of archive material and fading memories.

It just takes someone of rare ability to find it. Three years ago, that person appeared.

TOMAS is not his real name. He looks younger than his 39 years, and lives in an austere converted loft in Belgium with two powerful laptops, tools of trade for a multi-lingual computer wizard straight from a Stieg Larsson novel, right down to his anti-fascist attitude and an eerily photographic memory. His laptops hold millions of words of archival material gleaned from around the world and he can find any of it in seconds.

Tomas was born in West Germany a decade after the thalidomide epidemic. He grew up seeing thalidomiders in the street but it was a controversial film called Eine einzige Tablette (“A single Tablet”) that moved him to act.

He contacted the Thalidomide Trust in Britain and offered to help. Now he is a secret weapon in the search for truth about the drug. One reason to stay anonymous is that he doesn’t trust those he is investigating, he says.

In between the contract consulting work he does for a living, Tomas unearths material showing the drug’s makers should have known better but went ahead with thalidomide anyway. As the Trust’s chief executive, Martin Johnson, says: “These weren’t hicks from the sticks. They knew everything in their field.”

Johnson deals daily with the human wreckage left by the drug. He is determined to right a wrong the British political and legal establishment entrenched in the 1960s and 1970s by backing the huge Distillers firm when it dodged its moral obligation to properly compensate thalidomide victims and their shattered families.

A framed poster in the Trust’s office in England depicts a bottle of Distillers-made gin below the heading “Mother’s ruin . . . Children’s curse”. It urged drinkers to boycott Distillers products in pubs until the company agreed to help thalidomiders.

The nation-wide poster campaign was an audacious tactic in 1972 to get around draconian sub judice laws stifling public criticism of Distillers for spending big on expensive lawyers rather than properly compensating victims of the drug it had blithely bought without checking on potential side effects.

The posters were technically illegal and police tore them down and hunted for people who put them up, but they hit Distillers’ hip-pocket at the same time as the dogged campaign by London’s The Sunday Times to expose how thalidomide children and their families were being bullied by a rich company that manipulated governments and the law.

It was Rupert Murdoch, who in 1972 already owned London’s cheeky tabloids The Sun and News of the World – and later The Sunday Times – who had secretly printed the thousands of anti-Distillers posters to push for justice for the crippled children.

Forty years on, Martin Johnson hopes the world’s biggest media tycoon has a long memory – and a soft spot for the new campaign to make Grunenthal pay.

Murdoch’s intervention showed the thalidomide cause attracted strange bedfellows. It still does.

Johnson is a former air force pilot and committed Christian with a PhD whose previous job was setting up a hospice for dying children.

Guy Tweedy, a blunt, self-made Tory billboard operator from Yorkshire, Mikey Argy, an eloquent Melbourne-born single mother, and Nick Dobrik, a Left-leaning Cambridge-educated antique jewellery dealer, all share a Jewish background but little else except the desire to help thalidomiders worse off than themselves. Monika and Tomas are Germans ashamed of their country’s role in the thalidomide disaster. And Peter Gordon barracks for the Bulldogs.

None of them are in it for money, although Mikey Argy says she could use some extra funds to educate her two girls and modify her house to better suit someone with half-length arms.

If there is a uniting symbol, it is the picture of an armless and legless woman with a big smile, hanging behind Martin Johnson’s desk. She was, he says, one of the most profoundly handicapped people in the world until she died four years ago. And one of the bravest.

She once told him “I’ve got a mouth and ears, haven’t I?” and insisted on working as a telephone counsellor to help others. Johnson’s voice falters as he tells her story. As if missing every limb wasn’t enough, he says, she was abused as a child. And she is not the only one.

Tweedy and Dobrik keep pictures of the same woman in their briefcases to remind them why they do what they do. They know who they are fighting for – and who the enemy is.

Dobrik’s grandfather Joseph lived in Antwerp until a collaborator betrayed him during a sweep for Jews by German soldiers in 1942. He was sent to Auschwitz and, against all odds, survived. Hardened, he joined the Russian Army after being liberated from Auschwitz and became even harder.

When the fighting stopped, he went back to Antwerp, found the Nazi collaborator and killed him.

It’s not a story that Dobrik’s family likes being told. Nick remembers his grandfather as a generous man but talking about the makers of thalidomide brings out the old man’s fierceness in him. “We just want to get the bastards,” he says.
THE house that thalidomide built belongs to the Wirtz family.

It is more than one house, really. There’s the historic company headquarters in Stolgren, the red-brick factory nearby, the massive new factory complex in Aachen, the luxury estate in the tax haven of Eupen across the Belgian border, and the chalet in a millionaire enclave in Switzerland.

The old family soap and perfume businesses are now international concerns, Maurer and Wirtz and Dalli-Werke. But it’s Grunenthal that pushed the Wirtzes up the European rich list. Martin Johnson’s research suggests that success was built on the back of the Jewish-owned businesses the late Hermann Wirtz took over before the war.

Far from making pariahs of the Wirtz family, the thalidomide “failure” made them and some of their employees wealthy.

In the five years that Grunenthal ignored warning signs their drug was dangerously flawed, it made huge profits selling thalidomide-based drugs around the world. Ex-Nazi Heinrich Muckter was paid a bonus of 22 times his annual executive salary of 14,400 marks in 1961 alone – more than 320,000 marks. It made him a millionaire in a year, by modern salary levels.

Here was an indicted criminal put in charge of marketing and promoting an untested drug – and offered massive wealth if it sold. The case of Heinrich Muckter is going to make for interesting evidence.

Whatever Muckter got, of course, his employers presumably stood to get more. Hermann Wirtz’s son, born in 1939 and company chief until 2005, has been made a Knight of the Holy Sepulchre, an order revived under Hitler in the 1930s, and an honour usually reserved for those who can afford fat donations to the Catholic Church.

Martin Johnson’s research shows that the Wirtzes paid for a new roof for Aachen Cathedral. Johnson says the job included gilding the inner dome and that it would have cost a fortune.

But when the Wirtz home town, Stolberg, recently decided to acknowledge thalidomide victims, they seemed less generous. Grunenthal reportedly offered just 5000 marks – the price of a secondhand car – to erect a little statue in the town square.
Meanwhile, for the drug’s makers, the thalidomide money still rolls in.

Far from being shelved after the truth about it was finally revealed in late 1961, the notorious compound has been shrewdly tweaked to meet the market.

So far, it has been sold under dozens of trade names in dozens of countries. Its applications range from cold and flu preparations to treating leprosy in the Third World and cancer in the first, an application praised by some and questioned by others.

Thalidomide gets a better press these days. Stories regularly appear in the media marvelling that the formerly notorious drug now apparently saves lives. For those that make it, it’s a case of when you’re on a bad thing, stick to it.

After all, anyone with the recipe and the machinery can produce a cheap product sold at a huge mark-up to the dying and the desperate.

Making thalidomide is no more complicated “than making your own bread,” notes one activist. But regardless of whether it is effective against leprosy or cancer, it still deforms babies.

You might imagine the last thalidomide child was born in 1962, in the year after the alarm was raised. In fact, hundreds have been born since then.

The last was just six months ago in Brazil, where pregnant women sometimes still take the drug without realising the harm it can do. It will all be in Martin Johnson’s book. His working title is The Last Nazi War Crime.

The Herald Sun does not suggest any current owner or employee of Grunenthal has Nazi connections


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