The function of prisoner labor changed during the 12 years that the Nazi concentration camps were in existence. In the first years, labor was almost exclusively an instrument of terror towards the prisoners, while contributing to a lesser degree to the running of the camp administration and infrastructure. With the liquidation of unemployment in Germany in the second half of the 1930s, the possibility emerged of making greater use of prisoner labor in certain branches of the economy, such as building materials. In this connection, the SS set up its own companies, mostly at stone quarries, employing prisoners on a mass scale. As the war became prolonged in 1942, the necessity of using prisoners in the armaments industry arose. Earlier, in 1941, Auschwitz prisoners were employed mostly in agriculture, in operating and expanding the camp, and, to an increasing degree, in private companies in Silesia. A whole network of branch camps came into being at the coalmines, armaments factories, and chemical and other plants operated by these companies. The final part of the lecture is devoted to the economic bottom line and the killing function of labor as expressed in the decree on Vernichtung durch Arbeit (Destruction through Labor).
Form: lecture, illustrated with documents and photos
Audiences: Museum guides, intermediate- and secondary-school students, university students, teachers, educators.
Languages: Polish, English
Lecturer: Franciszek Piper, Ph.D. Illustration: Auschwitz prisoners at work