The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)
Nuremberg, war crimes, crimes against humanity

The Trial of German Major War Criminals

Sitting at Nuremberg, Germany
16th July to 27th July 1946

One Hundred and Eighty-Fourth Day: Tuesday, 23rd July, 1946
(Part 7 of 12)

[Page 260]

DR. FLAECHSER, Continued:

An order restricting the use of prisoner-of-war labour according to Articles 31 and 32 of the Geneva Prisoner-of- War Agreement is not to be understood from the above- mentioned command. It now remains to investigate whether the stipulations of Articles 31 and 32 of the Geneva Prisoner-of- War Agreement are based on general rules of International Law which should be observed even if there were no special ruling by treaty, such as the Geneva Prisoner-of-War Agreement represents. This cannot generally be affirmed. The above-mentioned treaty regulations cannot be regarded as the prescription by treaty of generally valid legal concepts if so important a member of the family of International Law as the Soviet Union does not accept a ruling of this sort.

Proceeding from this idea, the employment of Soviet prisoners of war in work forbidden by Article 31 of the PW Agreement is not to be objected to. The Italian military personnel interned in Germany after Italy's fall do not come under the regulations of the Geneva Prisoner-of-War Agreement since no state of war existed between Germany and Italy. Moreover, these military internees did not come under the restrictions of Article 31 in their employment as manpower. It must, however, be pointed out that these military internees are comprised in the enumeration by Mr. Deuss of prisoners of war occupied in the armament industry.

In conclusion, the following is to be said on this point:

The procurement of prisoners of war for the factories was effected exclusively through the offices of the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Commitment. The control of the proper allocation in accordance with the Prisoner-of-War Agreement depended on the Labour Commitment Officer of the Stalag, who in return was himself finally responsible to the General for Prisoner-of-War Matters at the Army High Command. It was not possible for the defendant Speer to have any influence on the distribution of prisoners of war and their occupation. The prosecution has not been in a position to produce any evidence from which the participation of the defendant Speer in unlawful employment of prisoners of war might be deduced. This assertion of the prosecution has remained unproved.

The prosecution has now further brought against the defendant the charge that the Todt Organization, at the head of which Speer was placed in February, 1942, after Dr. Todt's death, used native workers to build fortifications in the French coastal areas. As far as the Todt Organization is concerned, it was a purely civilian institution of the General Construction Inspector for road maintenance. It worked on a private economic basis, that is, it allocated the construction work that it intended to carry out to private firms, also to foreign firms, which were established in the respective countries, and it merely supervised the execution of the constructions. The private firms could undertake the procurement of the necessary materials and labour themselves. For the very reason that native construction enterprises were used, it was possible to eliminate the difficulties which otherwise would have obstructed the execution of the work. The workyards of the Todt Organization enjoyed a certain favour with the natives because the workmen had the assurance that they could not be compelled to go to Germany to work in industry there because these tasks of construction of the Organization Todt were considered as urgently important. The workers went voluntarily to the firms which were working for the Todt Organization to obtain this security. The example quoted by the defendant Speer during cross-examination, of 50,000 Todt Organization workers who were once taken from France to Germany to repair damages caused to two West German valley dams by air attacks, made such a bad impression on the workers employed in other Todd Organization construction sites that there was nothing else left to be done but to

[Page 261]

send these 50,000 workers back to France. In the meantime, many workmen of the Todt Organization construction sites in France disappeared, because they feared they would be taken to Germany sooner or later against their will, while up to then they had regarded employment in enterprises which worked for the Todt Organization as insurance against an eventual transfer to Germany. Only the return of the above- mentioned 50,000 workers to France, which was brought about by the defendant Speer when these unfavourable consequences developed, restored the hitherto existing state of confidence.

Here, too, the fact should be emphasized that as a result of the event described the Todt Organization workers were free to go where they wished, in France in any case, and that no coercion was used against them. The consequences of this were that when the protected plants (Sperrbetriebe) were established in France, all enterprises working for the Todt Organization were declared protected plants and therewith removed from the possibility of being employed on other work. This instance shows that the view of the prosecution that the workers of the Todt Organization were forced into the Todt Organization plants against their will is wrong.

As it is established that the French Government agreed to the use of French workers in construction sites under administration of the Todt Organization, as well as in any other armament industries in Germany and the occupied territories, every illegality is excluded. It should not be left unmentioned here that after the conclusion of the Armistice Agreement with France the latter had no more part in military hostilities. The Armistice Treaty certainly did not mean an agreement for a truce but, de facto, a final stopping of hostilities, and was to serve as a preparation for the conclusion of peace; it was a peace situation but did not yet mean the definite return to peace-time conditions regulated by treaty. A resumption of hostilities was, however, according to both partners to the Armistice, completely out of the question. The Armistice was exclusively to regulate the situation until the definite conclusion of peace. Prescriptions of the Hague Convention, as well as of the Prisoner-of-War Agreement, concerning the restriction that performance of services cannot be allowed to violate the loyalty towards one's own country which is still fighting, do not apply because the country was no longer at war. After a general armistice, the production of arms and munitions can no longer be directed against the party which has retired from hostilities, but only against other partners still in the field. The aforementioned principle of respecting the loyalty to one's own country can no longer be applied in such cases.

It must, moreover, be pointed out that the Todt Organization was in no way a para-military organization as has been falsely asserted. Apparently this false assumption has been strengthened by the fact that the German members of the administration of the Todt Organization abroad wore a uniform. These people were considered as Wehrmacht followers, but on the other hand the labour engaged by the firms and the construction workers of the firms as well as the technical personnel were in no such relation. The charge cannot be made, therefore, that these native workers were indirectly incorporated into a Wehrmacht organization.

A further charge against the defendant Speer consists in the fact that prisoners from concentration camps were employed in the economic sector controlled by him. The defendant has admitted this. A penal responsibility because of this fact does not, however, stand the test of legal examination. The employment of convicts for work of an economic nature has always been a practice in Germany. It could be carried out in various ways, partly by employment within the convict prison itself, partly outside. Owing to the lack of labour due to the aggravation of the economic war, it was necessary to draw upon the labour available in the concentration camps.

[Page 262]

The prosecution has submitted documents from which can be seen how much trouble was taken by the offices subordinate to the Reich Minister Himmler to use the reserves of labour contained in the concentration camps for the construction of their own SS plants, and the defendant Speer has supplied information during his hearing before the Tribunal on 20th - 21st June regarding the efforts of Himmler towards building up a separate armament industry of his own, and subordinate to him only, which would have had the result that any control over the production of arms in these intended SS plants would have become impossible, so that the SS could have provided themselves with weapons without the Army or any other offices being able to control them.

The defendant Speer successfully fought against this. It was agreed that Himmler would release a part of the inmates of the concentration camps to be employed in the armament industry. Hereby the inmates of the concentration camps gained an improvement of their situation, since in the first place they obtained the higher food rations provided for workmen or for those doing long shifts or heavy work, as has been attested by witness Riecke; moreover, they left the large concentration camps and were no more under SS control during working-hours, but were subject to the control of foremen and skilled workmen appointed by the plants themselves.

It is true that to avoid transportation and marching difficulties special camps were erected near the plants or working-places where they were employed, and these were not accessible to the control of the plant managers nor to the control of the offices of the defendant Speer, but stood exclusively under the control of the offices in charge of the administration of the concentration camps. For the conditions prevailing in such camps neither the plant manager nor the offices of the defendant Speer can be held responsible if abuses occurred there. In general, as attested by the letter of the department chief Schieber of 7th May, 1944, to the defendant Speer (Document Book II, Page 88), the inmates preferred work in such plants to work under the administration of the concentration camp itself. And Schieber quite clearly states in his letter that for these reasons more scope should be given to the employment of concentration camp inmates in order to improve their lot. But he further states that the number of concentration camp inmates employed in the armament industry amounted to 36,000 and that this figure was decreasing. Against this, the defendant's assertion at his interrogation that the total number of concentration camp workers employed in the armament industry amounted to one per cent of the total number of workmen employed in the whole armament industry is calculated too high. Of 49 million workmen engaged in the final processing of armaments, the figure of 36,000 represents only seven per thousand. The number of concentration camp inmates employed in the armament industry represents a very small part of the total labour employed in the final processing of armaments, that is of the total labour employed in the plants manufacturing finished products.

These figures show how misleading the assumption of the prosecution is, that the employment of such prisoners in the armament industry had resulted in an increased demand for such labour and that this increased demand was satisfied by the sending into concentration camps of persons who under normal conditions would never have been sent there. The opinion that the fact of the employment of prisoners from concentration camps in the armament industry led to an increase in the number of concentration camp inmates is disproved by the letter of Schieber already mentioned (Exhibit No. 6, Page 88), and by his testimony, also submitted as Exhibit No. 37, Document Book No. 51. According to this the employment of concentration camp inmates in the armament industry occurred for the first time in the autumn of 1943, and the number of prisoners employed there reached its peak with the maximum figure of 36,000 in March, 1944, and from that time on not only did not increase, but, on the contrary, decreased.

[Page 263]

Therefore the conclusions of the prosecution in no way bear examination. Not even proof has been brought forward that Speer had attempted to have people sent to concentration camps.

At his interrogation, the defendant admitted that everywhere in Germany people were afraid of being sent to a concentration camp. The population's dread of concentration camps was quite justified, for it depended only on the judgement of the police authorities, led by Himmler, whether a person was sent to a concentration camp or not; further, because there was no legal authority which might have made it possible to check the charges resulting in a transfer to a concentration camp, and finally, and this is the main reason, because it was left entirely to the discretion of the concentration camp authorities to decide for how long one was to be held in a concentration camp.

The prosecution has further asserted that Speer went on having concentration camp inmates work in the armament industry after he had obtained knowledge of conditions prevailing in the Mauthausen camp from a visit he made there. That this was not the case is proved by the evidence of the defendant on this point. As it was only a hurried visit, the purpose of which was merely to instruct the camp administration to desist from tasks undertaken in defiance of the prohibition, and which served purely peace-time purposes, and instead of this to place labour at the disposal of the armament industry, the defendant Speer could only obtain a superficial impression of the living conditions in the camp. Up to this point, his evidence may be referred to.

Moreover, through witnesses for the prosecution, detailed reference has been made to the fact that during such visits to concentration camps by personalities of high standing, the camps were shown from the best side only, and that any signs of atrocities, etc., were carefully removed so that the visitor should not get a bad impression of the camp - see the statement of the witness Blaha on 1st January, 1946.

In connection with this question, we will deal with the further charge of the prosecution, which asserts that Speer had approved of the use of Hungarian Jews as labour for the construction of the bomb-proof aircraft factories ordered by Hitler. On this point, reference must be made to the evidence of the witness Milch and that of the witness Frank. Milch stated that Speer, who was ill at the time, strongly opposed these constructions, but that Hitler, who demanded the undertaking of the work, gave the commission directly to Dorsch, the leader of the Todt Organization, to carry them out. So that the controversy between Hitler and Speer should not become known to outsiders, Dorsch officially remained subordinate to Speer, but in this matter he had to deal directly with Hitler alone, and was immediately subordinate to him. In his evidence Milch further stated that the proposed constructions were never carried out. I have submitted Hitler's order to Speer of gist April, 1944, as Exhibit 34, Page 52, in my document book. This order clearly shows that Hitler designated Dorsch as being directly responsible to him, since the appointment of Speer, who was given the duty of adjusting these building tasks to the building plans under him, was of a purely formal nature. The evidence given by Field-Marshal Milch is thus confirmed by this letter.

To support the opinion of the prosecution that the defendant Speer had contributed to sending people to concentration camps, a statement is quoted which was made by Speer at a sitting of the Central Planning Board of 30th October, 1942, on the question of shirkers. In this connection, one must look at the evidence of the defendant Speer in the witness box, in which he declared that upon this statement no steps to stop this evil were taken with the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Commitment either by the Central Planning Board or by himself. Actually, nothing was done about it at that time. It was only in November, 1943, that Sauckel issued a decree against shirkers. The term "shirker" is applied to those workers who, in order to evade the fulfilment of

[Page 264]

their working obligations, simulate illness or stay away from work under the pretext of reasons that do not stand the test of examination, or even without any reason at all.

It may incidentally be mentioned here that economic warfare did not neglect even this question. Efforts were made in every imaginable way to undermine the willingness to work of the working people. By dropping leaflets and through other channels of information, advice was given to the workers as to how they could report sick; what means they were to use in order to succeed in feigning illness at medical examinations; they were invited to work slowly, etc. At first this propaganda succeeded only in isolated cases. As, however, such isolated cases very easily have an unfavourable influence on the working discipline of the personnel as a whole, the defendant Speer discussed the possibility of police intervention. Speer did not, however, take any initiative of any kind which would have led to practical action on the part of the police. It was not until a year later that a decree was issued by the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Commitment, first making it an obligation for the employer to use disciplinary penalties. In particularly grave cases, the trustees for production could ask for punishment by a court. Based on this decree sentences could be pronounced providing for transfer to a workers' training camp for a term of 56 days. Only in exceptionally grave cases of infractions of the labour laws did the decree of the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Commitment provide for transfer to a concentration camp.

It must be mentioned here that this decree was applicable both to native and foreign workers in the same way, for in no case were native workers to be treated differently. In the cross-examination of defendant Sauckel, the French prosecution produced the document relative to a meeting of Sauckel's labour authorities at the Wartburg. At this meeting Dr. Sturm, the specialist on questions of labour law with the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Commitment, gave a lecture on the punishment of workmen, and it was thereby established that only an infinitesimal percentage of workers had to be sentenced to penal punishment.

But from this it is again evident that the prosecution has brought forward no proof for the assertion that, as a consequence of Sauckel's decree concerning shirkers, the concentration camps were filled; so that conclusive proof is lacking that Sauckel, or respectively, the defendant Speer, contributed by any measures they took to the filling of concentration camps.

In his statement before the Central Planning Board of 22nd May, 1944 (P. 49 in my document book), Speer pointed out that the escaped prisoners of war who were apprehended by the police had to be brought straight back to their work. From this remark we see the basic attitude of the defendant Speer, who did not want to see the escaped prisoners of war thrown into concentration camps but demanded that they be immediately incorporated into industry. So far the prosecution has not been able to bring forward any reliable proof for the assertion that Speer had the concentration camps filled in order to obtain labour from them.

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