The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

Synopsis

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of prisoners were worked to death by the Nazis under a brutal system of slave labor in the concentration camps. By 1942, this vast network of slavery extended across all of German-occupied Europe, but the whole operation was run by a surprisingly small staff of bureaucrats--no more than 200 engineers and managers who worked in the Business Administration Main Office of the SS. Their projects included designing and constructing the concentration camps and gas chambers, building secret underground weapons factories, and brokering slave laborers to private companies such as Volkswagen and IG Farben.

"The Business of Genocide powerfully contradicts the assumption that the SS forced slavery upon the German economy, demonstrating that instead industrialists actively sought out the Business Administration Main Office as a valued partner in the war economy. Moreover, while the bureaucrats who oversaw Holocaust operations have often been seen as technocrats or simple "cogs in the machinery, " the book reveals their ideological dedication, even fanatical devotion, to slavery and genocide in the name of National Socialism.

Excerpt

The SS began as a small clique of Nazi street fighters in the SA (Sturmabteilung, or Storm Division) and swiftly became the dominant organ of executive power in the Third Reich. It ballooned after 1933 into a nationwide organization almost overnight. Many historians speak of a "pragmatic" and a "fanatic" side of National Socialism, of coldly rational, officious functionaries and a lunatic fringe of propagandists. But the dividing line is hard to draw between such pragmatic and fanatic "sides" in the SS. Its founders sought to make the very structure of their organizations embody National Socialism. At first it may seem contradictory to note that Nazis set out to institutionalize their self-proclaimed dynamism in hierarchical institutions. What other name for such institutions is there than bureaucracy, which the Nazis so loudly derided? But the SS identified its own hierarchies with the regeneration of "German" values. "Vision" was supposed to set them apart, and this was no empty rhetoric. The SS's conception of an ideal society shaped the personnel that Heinrich Himmler recruited no less than the offices they inhabited. Conversely, incoming individuals with a strong sense of purpose could shape the SS. The relation was mutual, especially in the flux of the early, formative years when the SS achieved rapid successes. Once the SS became more than a street fighters' club, the coordination of even the most rudimentary information necessarily demanded modern bureaucracy. Here too ideology and organization ran together because the will to "be modern" itself motivated SS men (though it was hardly unique to them).

This chapter focuses on three aspects of the SS's early push: its financial administration under the leadership of Oswald Pohl, Himmler's first industrial ventures, and the foundation of the concentration camps by Theodor Eicke. Eventually, the exploitation of slave labor after 1942 brought them all together, but in the mid-1930s they remained distinct. By 1936 Pohl promptly . . .

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