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Labor Camps

Installations established by the Nazi regime during World War II for exploiting forced laborers, including Jews. Forced laborers worked in hundreds of camps that were built individually or in clusters, usually situated next to concentration camps. Such was the case in Auschwitz, Stutthof, Gross-Rosen, Dachau, and Mauthausen. SS leader Heinrich Himmler was determined to concentrate Jews in closed camps in order to exploit the Jewish labor potential. An increasing dearth of available working hands prompted Hitler to decree in November 1941 that every person in occupied Europe could be subject to labor service.

Labor camps were initially erected with little planning; various agencies in the Reich established rudimentary, transitory camps for their own purposes. In Eastern Europe, these were often situated along main roads so that workers could repair damage to the thoroughfares.

The systematic mass murder of Jews after 1941 and Germany’s difficulties on the battlefield created disagreement within the regime about the future of labor camps. In March 1942, various elements, including the minister of armaments Albert Speer and the Wehrmacht command, argued for exploiting Jewish labor. They were prepared to place Jews in munitions factories, even if doing so would bring Jews back into Germany proper—this at a time when the Reich had already been cleared of Jews and trains were transporting them to the killing centers.

SS Grupenführer Oswald Pohl, head of the SS Office for Economics and Administration, tried to convert concentration camps into organizations that would supply manpower for achieving the Reich’s economic and military objectives. Himmler planned to erect industrial plants inside concentration camps to enhance SS income. These efforts, however, were not successful. Instead, it was decided that concentration camp commanders would supply workers to labor camps attached to existing or new factories established by conglomerates, including the Krupp works and I. G. Farben. The wages employers paid for the inmates’ work were transferred directly into the SS bank account.

In 1944, with damage from Allied bombing on the rise, essential industrial plants were housed in underground structures; in addition, hundreds of new labor camps were manned by Jews from Hungary, who were transported en masse to Auschwitz-Birkenau. The SS and factory owners were able to exploit inmates until the workers’ very last breaths, first starving them, then tiring them out, and eventually sending them to be killed, knowing always that the Nazis would receive fresh consignments of Jews.

In late 1944–early 1945, when the camps in the east were being evacuated and their inmates sent on death marches, new labor camps continued to be built in Germany. During the final months of the war, tens of thousands of inmates were still working in armaments factories.

Suggested Reading

Ferencz Benjamin, Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation (Cambridge, Mass., 1979); Bella Gutterman, A Narrow Bridge to Life: Jews in Labor Camps in Germany; The Case of the Gross Rosen Network, 1940–1945 (New York, 2007); Edward Homze, Foreign Labor in Nazi Germany (Princeton, 1967); Hans Pfahlmann, Fremdarbeiter und Kriegsgefangene in der deutschen Kriegswirtschaft, 1939–1945 (Darmstadt, Ger., 1968).



Translated from Hebrew by David Fachler