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Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich
by Neil Gregor

 © Yale University Press 1998
  All rights reserved.     Used with permission.

Daimler-Benz in the Third Reich by Neil Gregor

VI. Big Business and Racial Barbarism: Labour at Daimler-Benz 1939-45

4-c) The Racial Hierarchy Completed: Daimler-Benz and Jewish Forced Labour 1942-4

Part One  |  Part Two  |  Part Three  |  Part Four

A further source of labour brutally exploited by German industry during the occupation of Poland was that of the Polish Jews, who, in September 1939, had been ordered into forced labour by Reinhard Heydrich. Working mainly within the newly established ghettos or in labour camps attached to large-scale projects, many hundreds of thousands of Jews experienced a period of protracted suffering prior to deportation to the extermination camps -- if they survived the forced labour itself. The Jews were put to work not only by the SS, but also in cooperation with the regular Wehrmacht, in large-scale armaments production or building projects with industry, or in 'public works' programmes involving civilian agencies. The deployment of Jews in large armaments plants actually reached a peak in 1942, at the very time when Operation Reinhard, the programme of destruction of the Jews of the Generalgouvernement, was at its height. The role of Jewish forced labour in the economic exploitation of Poland thus not only allows an examination of the collusion of broad sectors of the non-SS economic and functional elites in the barbarism of Nazi Jewish policy, but also shows in a particularly acute fashion how the attempts to exploit the Polish economy for war purposes foundered to a large degree on the pursuit of racial reordering and genocide. As the case of Rzeszow shows, the primacy of racial destruction, which was at the core of National Socialism, meant that all attempts by industry to exploit Jewish labour in the long term were doomed to inevitable failure. Nonetheless, once again, industry was not only able to instrumentalize this labour in its own interests, but also contributed, through its active fostering of a racist climate within the factory, to an intensification of the Jews' suffering prior to their deportation to the extermination camps.

   At Rzeszow as elsewhere, the problems of maintaining a steady level of production were compounded by the continuous process of transferring Polish labour to work in factories in Germany. By the summer of 1942, the imperative to increase production in the face of the changed military context, combined with the expansion of labour transfer back to Germany under Sauckel, had caused an acute shortage of labour at the plant. 253 During June and July 1942, the problem of labour supply at Rzeszow was discussed intensively by the management and the Armaments Commando. From late June onwards, the possibility of supplying Jewish workers was debated with the Armaments Commando. The precise content of these negotiations is unknown, but it is clear that the management of the plant was keen to procure Jewish workers from the outset. Following these discussions, the management wrote to the Labour Office on 30 June informing it that the plant was about to set up a separate production line for small engine parts. 254 In doing so, it was satisfying a key precondition for the deployment of Jewish labour at the plant -- namely deployment in a separate workshop -- and it seems likely that this was carried out with the aim of increasing the likelihood of procuring the Jewish workers. In the letter, the management wrote of its new plans and its need for increased labour:

Given the lack of suitable skilled labour please supply us with about 400 Jews, who we ask to be chosen from the available supply of Jewish skilled metal-workers. If the number of Jewish skilled metal-workers capable of work is insufficient, please allocate us suitable male Jewish workers, who, in the absence of skilled workers, we can train.
While attempting to secure this supply, the management continued to oppose the transfer of workers from Rzeszow. On 2 July the director involved refused again to accept the Armaments Commando's plans, stating that this would jeopardize production, and requesting for a second time that the OKW exempt Rzeszow from the process. 255 The management conceded, however, that should this exemption not be granted, it would be willing to give up 120 skilled and semi-skilled workers and 80 unskilled workers. The Labour Office promised that, in this event, it would 'as far as possible supply semi-skilled workers and Jews as replacements.' The question of deploying Jewish labour was then further discussed by the management, the Armaments Commando, and the SS representatives responsible for the execution of Jewish policy locally 'on the basis of the firm's request to the Labour Office to supply Jewish workers' at a meeting on 17 July. 256

   It is clear that, although their initial availability was a product of policy formulated autonomously by the regime, the pressure to supply Jewish workers came from the company. The proposals met, in fact, with a lukewarm response from the SS, whose representative argued that those Jews who had just been deported from Rzeszow were of 'such low value with regard to their deployment as labour' (arbeitseinsatzmäBig derart minderwertig) that deployment at the Flugmotorenwerk Rzeszow was not possible. The remaining Jews in the area were also, according to the SS, 'only deployable to a limited extent... there is therefore no possibility of supplying Jews from the Rzeszow area.' However, the SS invited the firm to take part in the next combing-out operation in the neighbouring area of Debnica 'to make the necessary selection'. Even here, the SS argued that there were hardly any suitable Jewish workers to be had, and that it was having difficulty securing sufficient Jews for its own purposes, so that there was little chance of obtaining labour for the factory.

   Despite these claims, the firm managed within a relatively short period of time to secure the Jewish workers required. When exactly they arrived is unclear. By 6 August, however, 450 Jewish workers had been supplied to Rzeszow. 257 Of these, only 390 had come from combing-out operations at Debnica and Przemysl, so that 60, despite the scepticism and opposition of the SS, must have been recruited from elsewhere -- probably from the town of Rzeszow itself.

Part Two

253 See Broszat, Nationalsozialistische Polenpolitik, pp. 99-105; Herbert, Fremdarbeiter, pp. 180-89.
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254 MBAG VO 175/26, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Labour Office Reichshof, 30.6.1942.
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255 MBAG VO 175/24, Memorandum (Armaments Commando Krakow) concerning Transfer of Workers from Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to the Old Reich, 4.7.1942.
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256 MBAG VO 175/24, Memorandum, 20.7.1942.
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257 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to General Plenipotentiary for Building in the Generalgouvernement, 6.8.1942.
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