Saturday, February 13, 2016

R.I.P. | April 7–Lazăr Edeleanu, 75 Years Ago (Updated Aug. 3, 2016)

Lazăr Edeleanu, 1861-1941
Feb. 14, 2016–On April 7, 1941, 75 years ago, Lazăr Edeleanu died at 79 years of age. Born Sept. 1, 1861 in Romania, he was a genius who is still well known for two major breakthroughs in chemistry:
  • He was the first to synthesize amphetamine, in 1887 while pursuing his doctorate in chemistry at the University of Berlin. 
  • He invented the Edeleanu process, still in use, for cracking down and refining crude oil.
A Jewish Romanian, he was a revered scientist who traveled freely among Allied and Axis countries to advise on petroleum and other issues during the first year of WW2 in Europe.
His story does not seem to have been told properly, at least in English, and it deserves to be.

Hitler, Amphetamines and the Chemical Industry

Lazăr Edeleanu's two great inventions both turned out to be of acute interest to Adolf Hitler, personally and as a vehicle for his campaign to control the world. To wit:
  • Hitler was personally addicted to amphetamines for most of the time of his leadership of the Nazi Party. Dr. Theodor Morell became Hitler's doctor in 1936 and first prescribed a probiotic for Hitler's stomach cramps and then intravenous injections of a methamphetamine, Pervitin, created by Dr. Fritz Hauschild. A 2015 book in German says that during 1941-45, Hitler had 800 injections of meth and steroids and in addition took these stimulants via 1,100 pills (Ohler, 2015). Hitler would never have passed a doping test. An American military intelligence report says Hitler took 74 different types of medications.
  • Many Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe officers and troops took Pervitin. The Nazis' chief physician, Dr. Otto Ranke, called Pervitin a "valuable drug"and suggested German generals use it. General Erwin Rommel did so, reportedly giving his soldiers amphetamines to allow them to go for four days in a row during the 1940 Ardennes offensive. The same happened with the Nazi assault on the Soviet Union, with less evidence of effectiveness. Between April and July 1940, soldiers and airmen for the Wehrmacht and Luftwaffe ingested 35 million 3-milligram doses of Pervitin.
  • The main money that funded the Nazis' final victory in 1933 was advanced for business reasons by I. G. Farben (IGF), the largest chemical company in the world and the largest company anywhere outside of the United States (which then accounted for the world's three largest companies). IGF used the Edeleanu Process for cracking down its petroleum, and the process is still used by the inheritors of IGF's plants.
Stimulants equivalent to Pervitin were also, to be fair, introduced in the United States in the 1930s.  Starting in 1932, Gordon Alles at Smith Kline & French developed a 10 mg. amphetamine tablet and during the years 1936-39 SKF sold 50 million such tablets in the USA under the name Benzedrine.  Initially they were used by artists and students seeking inspiration or stimulation, and then by the military. Athletes find the drug can enhance performance, at least at first. It enhances productivity until it becomes an addiction and destroys the user, which is why there are anti-doping rules.

Who was Edeleanu?

After receiving his doctorate in chemistry from Berlin, Lazăr Edeleanu worked at the Royal College of Artillery in London as a lecturer. He was also an assistant to famed Chemistry Professor W. R. E. Hodgkinson, an active commentator on scientific papers relating to ammunition. During this period, Edeleanu collaborated with C.F. Cross and E.J. Bevan to create an artificial fireproof silk and with R. Meldola to create oxazine-based dyes. He was sought after by German chemical companies because his inventions were important for continuing German advances in dyeing technology and global market share.

Returning to Romania, Edeleanu was hired by chemist Constantin I. Istrati as an assistant and then as a lecturer at the Faculty of Sciences in Bucharest's Organic Chemistry Department. In 1906 he was appointed Head of the Chemistry Laboratory at the Geology Institute, founded that year, and director of Vega Refinery near Ploiești, a refinery owned at that time by the German company Diskont. In 1907, along with Ion Tănăsescu, he co-organized the Petroleum Congress in Bucharest and co-authored a monograph on the physical and technical properties of Romanian crude oil.

His most significant invention, in 1908, was the Edeleanu process, in which petroleum is refined with liquid sulfur dioxide to extract aromatic hydrocarbons such as benzene, toluene, and xylene. Advantages of the Edeleanu process are that the cracking can occur at lower temperatures and this allows for the production of higher-quality oil. The procedure was first applied experimentally in Romania and then in France (Rouen), Germany, and the rest of the world.

In 1910, Edeleanu returned for most of the rest of his life to Germany where he founded Allgemeine Gesellschaft für Chemische Industrie. Edeleanu had godlike status among Nazi industrialists as a preeminent scientist and appears to have been able to travel in and out of Germany and Romania to the end of his life even though Jew-hunting in these two countries was in high gear by early 1941.

Edeleanu obtained 212 patents for inventions in Romania, the USA, and Europe. His awards include: 1910, Member of the Society of Natural Sciences in Moscow; 1925, Honorary Member of the Institution of Petroleum Technologists in London (1925); and 1932, Theophilus Redwood Medal for lifetime scientific achievement in analytic chemistry.

Edeleanu returned for the last time to Romania, where he died in 1941 in Bucharest.

Edeleanu's Company

The company changed its name to Edeleanu GmbH in 1930. By 1960, there were 80 Edeleanu cracking facilities worldwide.

After Hitler became Führer, Edeleanu's company was bought by the Deutsche Erdöl-AG, later called DEA. It went through several subsequent ownership changes until in 2002 it was bought by Uhde GmbH in 2002, part of the Thyssen Krupp trust, and it is now part of L1, owned by a Russian magnate.

Romania in WW2

Romania allied itself with Nazi Germany on July 5, 1940. The Nazis took this as an invitation to occupy the country and drain it, without appropriate compensation, of people and natural resources to throw into the attack on the Soviet Union. King Carol II, the "playboy king", who had pursued the alliance with Hitler, abdicated on September 6, 1940, leaving fascist Prime Minister Ion Antonescu and the Iron Guard in charge. Antonescu signed the Tripartite Pact in November 1940, tying Romania to the German-Italian-Japanese Axis until 1944, when Romania–now nominally ruled by King Michael I in exile–switched allegiance to the Allies just in time to gain some respect after WW2.

During WW2, 500,000 Romanians reportedly lost their lives, about 3 percent of the population. I am thinking that this must be an underestimate if the losses include victims of Allied bombing, Romanian troops killed in action, and Jews and Roma consigned to concentration camps.

The number of Romanian troops engaged on the Eastern Front was second only to that of Nazi Germany itself–more than 686,000 men under arms in mid-1941 and about 1.22 million men in mid-1944. The number of Romanians fighting in the Soviet Union exceeded all of Germany's other allies combined. A report by the Romanian Government in 2004 concludes:
Of all the allies of Nazi Germany, Romania bears responsibility for the deaths of more Jews than any country other than Germany itself. The murders committed in Iasi, Odessa, Bogdanovka, Domanovka, and Peciora, for example, were among the most hideous murders committed against Jews anywhere during the Holocaust. Romania committed genocide against the Jews.
Hitler's Debt to IGF, Before WW2

IGF became a giant chemical conglomerate, bringing together in 1925 eight leading German chemical manufacturers, including Bayer, Hoechst and BASF, which at the time were the largest chemical firms in the world. Its name is taken from Interessen-Gemeinschaft [I.G.] Farbenindustrie AktienGesellschaft (Private-Limited-Company Syndicate of Dye-Making Corporations). During its heyday, IGF was the largest chemical company in the world and the world's fourth-largest company, after General Motors, U.S. Steel, and Standard Oil of New Jersey.

On the German market, IGF had a monopoly and was Germany’s largest single exporter. Its founder and first chairman of its board was Dr Carl Bosch, who had previously been the chief executive officer of BASF. Bosch was of equivalent status to Edeleanu, having won the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1931 and the Goethe Prize in 1939.

Costly innovations such as the production of synthetic rubber (Buna) from coal or gasoline, persuaded IGF, when the economic crisis hit at the end of the 1920s and continued into the 1930s, that the company should establish close ties with Hitler and the Nazi Party.

Hitler was meanwhile eager to establish the closest of ties with IGF, not only because of their access to money to finance his campaign, but his recognition of the opportunity that IGF presented for Germany to become independent of imported raw materials. To be profitable, the new IGF products needed to go to large-scale production and IGF needed an assured market.

Hitler indicated that he would guarantee purchases  by the state of these products in large amounts. At a meeting of leading German industrialists with Hjalmar Schacht (head of the Reichsbank), Hermann Göring and Heinrich Himmler, held on February 20, 1933, IGF held up its side of the Faustian bargain by contributing 400,000 reichsmarks to the Nazi Party. This was 13 percent of the total sum of 3 million reichsmarks raised at this meeting by German industrialists for the Nazi Party’s election campaign.

But its importance went far beyond the percentage because it was the earliest money and it was the largest single contribution. IGF's imprimatur opened the door to Hitler's becoming Führer and contacts between IGF’s management and the Nazi government became increasingly close, not just because of IGF's gift but because the giant chemical conglomerate was an indispensable element in the Nazi’s drive to re-arm.

The irony of this is that:

  • Of the 12-member IGF supervisory board, four were Jewish.
  • Even after the 1933 campaign gift, Nazi propaganda continued attacking IGF as an international Jewish firm exploiting its workers.

Once Hitler established himself as Führer, IGF adapted swiftly enough to the regime’s ideological requirements:
  • Through economic and political blackmail, IGF took over important chemical factories in the areas annexed to the Reich or occupied by the Germans. Some of my Dutch relatives in the fertilizer industry were bankrupted in 1936 by IGF's actions in the Dutch chemical market. Romania was of special importance to Hitler because of its oil fields. 
  • In 1933 Carl Bosch objected–in vain–to the removal of Jewish scientists from the company and from various scientific institutions.
  • The Four-Year plan proposed by Hitler in 1936 put the entire German industry on a war footing.
  • By 1937 no Jews were left in the IGF executive or on its board of directors. The majority of the board members joined the Nazi Party. Bosch resigned his post as chief executive officer in 1935 and was instead elected chairman of the board.
  • After a long illness, Bosch died on April 26, 1940, a week before the Nazi invasion of the Netherlands.
IGF During WW2

Krauch took Bosch's place as chairman of the board, adding this position to the different posts he held in the Four-Year Plan administration. To prepare for war against the Soviet Union, the IGF board, with Nazi Government support, decided to establish additional factories for the production of Buna and synthetic fuels.

The IGF board decided to locate its major new factory at Auschwitz in Upper Silesia. The concentration camp already being built offered IGF a cheap workforce of up to 10,000 prisoners to build the new factory. Board members Otto Ambros and Heinrich Butefisch were made responsible for the Auschwitz plant as managers in charge of Buna and gasoline. Dr. Walter Durrfeld became general manager. At first, the plant managers protested against maltreatment of the prisoners working in the plant, who were in poor physical condition, but Durrfeld eventually went along with the SS plan to speed up the work. Workers who could not keep up went to the gas chambers and were replaced with a flow of new recruits from the camp who were not yet enfeebled.

Five IGF-owned or -contracted manufacturing plants produced Buna, most of which utilized prison (slave) labor: (1) Dwory. At its peak in 1944, this factory made use of 83,000 slave laborers. The pesticide Zyklon B, for which IGF held the patent, was manufactured by Degesch (Deutsche Gesellschaft für Schädlingsbekämpfung), of which IGF owned 42.2 percent (in shares) and which had IGF managers on its Managing Committee. (2) Frankfurt (IGF building at Frankfurt, and a Hoechst AG chemical factory in Frankfurt bombed by the RAF on September 26, 1944). (3) Ludwigshafen and Oppau. (4) Pölitz, North Germany (today Police, Poland). In 1937, IGF, Rhenania-Ossag, and Deutsch-Amerikanische Petroleum Gesellschaft founded the Hydrierwerke Pölitz AG synthetic fuel plant; by 1943, the plant produced 15 percent of Nazi Germany's synthetic fuels. (5) Waldenburg.

In mid-1942 a new section of the concentration camp, Auschwitz-Monowitz, was established, close to the site of the IGF factory, to house the prisoners working there and save the time-consuming daily march from and to the main camp. As a business, IGF's Auschwitz project was a bust. The Buna production never got started, in part because of Allied air attacks. Only small quantities of synthetic fuels were ever produced. The starved and terrorized prisoners' productivity never came close to IGF’s expectations. Their work was considerably inferior to that of workers who went home to a real dinner at the end of the day. The slave laborers were a constant source of disappointment to their Nazi managers.

IGF After WW2

After the defeat of the Third Reich, at the International Military Tribunal held in Nuremberg, the United States, as the occupying power, conducted trials against top officials of three major industrial concerns–Krupp, Flick, and IGF. The IGF Trial was the largest of the industrial trials. All defendants were indicted for the same crimes as the Krupp defendants–planning and waging of wars of aggression, conspiracy for this purpose, economic plundering, and forced labor and enslavement of prisoners of wars, deported persons, and concentration-camp inmates. Three defendants were indicted for SS membership.

In the IGF trial the chairman of the board Carl Krauch and several executives including Durrfeld were tried for

      1. Preparing and waging aggressive war. (Acquitted of all charges.)
      2. Crimes against humanity by looting the occupied territories. (Nine found guilty.)
      3. Enslaving and murdering civil populations, prisoners of war and prisoners from the occupied territories. (Five were found guilty.)

The sentences imposed on Ambros and Durrfeld were the most severe–eight years each. By 1951, however, all imprisoned IGF officials were released. After 1955 many IGF officers including Ter Meer and Ambros were again in leading positions in the German chemical industry.

In the Soviet zone  IGF plants were nationalized. However, in the other zones no change of ownership took place. The conglomerate was broken into its original three major component parts–Bayer, BASF, and Hoechst–whose balance sheets by the end of the 1950’s already exceeded that of the IGF before breakup.

The final IGF Liquidation Act of January 21, 1955, removed remaining restrictions imposed by the Allies. A court of the Federal Republic of Germany in 1953 established the principle that a Jewish prisoner forced to work for IGF in Monowitz had a right to sue IGF for compensation. The residual company IGF in Liquidation agreed to put 27 million deutschmarks at the disposal of the Jewish Material Claims Conference to cover claims of these Jewish forced laborers.

The payment was deemed voluntary and not therefore an admission of guilt. IGF paid no compensation to non-Jewish forced laborers.


Hitler and Amphetamines: Norman Ohler, Der Totale Rausch ("Total Euphoria: Drugs in the Third Reich"), 2015.

I G Farben:
The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben (New York, London: The Free Press).
Israel Gutman, ed., Encyclopaedia of the Holocaust (New York: 1990).
The Auschwitz Chronicle by Danuta Czech (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1990).
Holocaust Historical Society