May 21

This Day in History

World War II

May 21, 1942:

Thousands of Jews die in Nazi gas chambers; IG Farber sets up factory

On this day in 1942, 4,300 Jews are deported from the Polish town of Chelm to the Nazi extermination camp at Sobibor, where all are gassed to death. On the same day, the German firm IG Farben sets up a factory just outside Auschwitz, in order to take advantage of Jewish slave laborers from the Auschwitz concentration camps.

Sobibor had five gas chambers, where about 250,000 Jews were killed between 1942 and 1943. A camp revolt occurred in October 1943; 300 Jewish slave laborers rose up and killed several members of the SS as well as Ukrainian guards. The rebels were killed as they battled their captors or tried to escape. The remaining prisoners were executed the very next day.

IG Farben, as well as exploiting Jewish slave labor for its oil and rubber production, also performed drug experiments on inmates. Tens of thousands of prisoners would ultimately die because of brutal work conditions and the savagery of the guards. Several of the firm's officials would be convicted of "plunder," "spoliation of property," "imposing slave labor," and "inhumane treatment" of civilians and POWs after the war. The company itself came under Allied control. The original goal was to dismantle its industries, which also included the manufacture of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, so as to prevent it from ever posing a threat "to Germany's neighbors or to world peace." But as time passed, the resolve weakened, and the Western powers broke the company up into three separate divisions: Hoechst, Bayer, and BASF.

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