The Architecture of Oppression: The SS, Forced Labour and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy

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The Architecture of Oppression: The SS, Forced Labour and the Nazi Monumental Building Economy, Paul B. Jaskot, London, Routledge, 2000, 216 pp., £55.00 (h/b), £18.99 (p/b)

Architectural projects played a major role for the Nazi regime, and Albert Speer put Hitler's ideas into shape. This was and still is the way most people would probably describe the role of architecture and Speer during the Nazi dictatorship in Germany. But why was architecture so important and how did architecture relate to the system of oppression, extinction and warfare? Was Speer working alone? Was he-like many other artists had claimed after the fall of the dictatorship-just a young, ambitious artist who was fascinated and blinded by the opportunities he was given and with relatively little political understanding and ambition?

In The Architecture of Oppression we get a clear and conclusive answer to these and many other interesting questions. The architecture of oppression was a major political issue in the struggle of the Nazis to gain power. Before their takeover, the building industry had the highest number of unemployed compared to all other sectors of the economy. Therefore, there was a high potential for votes and the propaganda promised to revive and boost the building industry. Thus the design and construction of large-scale and prestigious buildings was at the core of Nazi propaganda and dictatorship until the very end. These projects were primarily designed for the so-called Führerstädte, such as Munich, Nuremberg and Berlin. Many of these had bombastic dimensions, were adjusted by Hitler himself, and designed in a sort of Neo-classical style-the German Stadium, the Reich Party Rally Grounds, the Zeppelin Field or the Congress Hall in Nuremberg and the plans for the rebuilding of Berlin. Style and design of these new buildings was carefully chosen and reflected the mentality of the Nazi leaders. The Third Reich saw itself a legal successor to the great empires of the past. The Neoclassical reference to the Greek and Roman empire was therefore no coincidence but a demonstration of power. Both Hitler and his chief architect Albert Speer preferred stonework for 'aesthetic' reasons- granite for facades, brickwork for construction and marble for interiors. Stone was believed to be very indigenous, and therefore could be a reference to the 'Aryan' German roots.

The importance of stone is at the core of this book. Jaskot introduces us to an interesting aspect of the terrifying world in which architecture was used, abused and misused in 1930s Germany to impress, oppress and suppress a people. SS leaders 'thought ahead' and intended to carry over their power to the time after the war. They took the opportunity to start enterprises that competed with the private sector. SS-chief Himmler established a new economic trust for production of building materials, the DEST. DEST enterprises wanted to build the prestigious large-scale Party buildings and through political contacts with Speer managed to get some of the limited contracts to deliver stone. Special KZs (referred to as KL throughout the book) were built to produce stones such as Mauthausen or Flossenbürg. However, as Jaskot points out, no skilled workers were employed but prison inmates were exploited (and killed) under enormous pressure and deprived of many essential needs. …