Abstract: Why Germany Did Not Fully Exploit the Nickel Industry in Occupied Norway: IG Farben and the Political Economy of Nickel in the Third Reich

Jonas Scherner


The economic history of the German occupation of European countries was a history of massive exploitation. This paper reviews a case in which Germany abstained from utilizing the industrial potential of an occupied country, namely the Norwegian nickel industry. The nickel refinery in Kristiansand in Norway was one of the world's largest nickel refineries, and nickel was a metal of high military importance. The country also had two (small) nickel mines, as well as several promising undeveloped ore bodies. Surprisingly, the German occupying powers did little to exploit the potential of the Norwegian nickel industry. We will examine the German political economy of nickel from the early 1930s onward and especially IG Farben's endeavors to become one of the world's leading nickel producers. As Germany in 1940 gained indirect control over the large (previously) Canadian-owned nickel mine and smelter in Petsamo in the Arctic parts of Finland, IG Farben's goal came within reach. The question was now where to refine the Petsamo nickel. Interestingly, IG Farben decided not to refine the Petsamo nickel at the underutilized Kristiansand plant in Norway, but transported it to its own factory complex in Oppau near Mannheim in Germany. Our aim is to examine the political economy of nickel in the Third Reich, the interplay between companies and Nazi authorities, and the implications for the Norwegian nickel industry during the war years.