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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

   When the Jewish workers arrived, they had just been filtered off from the main rounding-up process by which the majority of Jews were being transported to the extermination camps. 258 They had been ordered by the SS to bring their own clothing, bedding and crockery for use in the barracks in which they were to live. 259 The majority, however, those from Debnica and Przemysl, had not been permitted to bring anything, so that the firm had to report to the SS that 'we have got into great difficulties on the issue of accommodating these 390 Jews in the barracks. We have neither blankets nor straw sacks, and in addition we have no supply of underclothes, which we desperately need if the Jews are not to become totally filthy.' 260

   By the end of August 1942, the number of Jewish workers had reached 600. 261 However, within a month of their arrival the Rzeszow management was informed during a visit of the combing-out commission that the deployment of Jewish workers was only possible until the winter of 1942-3, and that all remaining Jews in the area were to be deported 'further east' in early 1943. The commission pointed out that there was 'little point in going to great costs to retrain these Jewish workers, as by the time they can be productively deployed they will have to be given up.' 262 This was confirmed on 5 September, when General Keitel, the head of the OKW, ordered that all Jews in armaments production were to be replaced by Poles. Thereafter, all the military commander of the Generalgouvernement could achieve was a concession that such Jews would only be 'released' by industry when Polish replacements had been trained. 263

   The management thus began to follow a dual policy of trying to retain the Jewish workers for as long as possible -- despite clear pressure from the SS to release them -- while trying to secure replacements from the Polish Baudienst or 'Building Service', a National Socialist forced labour organization which coordinated the exploitation of young Polish male workers. The deployment of slave labour formed no part of the company's long-term plans. Jewish workers were not procurred out of a humanitarian desire to protect them (as was often claimed by industry after the war). It was rather the case that they were cynically instrumentalized in pursuit of short-term company interests in a specific context (acute short-term labour shortage, demands to raise production) and then abandoned once these interests had been achieved. 264 The Jews were deployed as a 'stop-gap' measure in the interests of securing a smooth continuity in labour supply, and thus of production, until better replacements had been found. Again, it is precisely the short-term nature of the company's intentions that accounts for much of the treatment of the workers. Further, as was the case in its German plants, the normalization of barbarism facilitated the uncritical establishment of a Nazi racial hierarchy within the plant, with Jews being treated even more badly than Poles. Functional exploitation combined with a culture of brutal and discriminatory racism on a daily basis to ensure that the experience of the Jewish workers was one of unspeakable suffering.

   By October 1942 the Rzeszow management had secured the supply of 450 replacement workers from the Polish Building Service. It argued against the immediate deportation of the Jewish workers, demanding that the plant be allowed to retain them until the Polish workers had been trained:

'The training period will, according to the quality of the human material, take eight to 12 weeks. For this reason it is a matter of absolute importance to the war effort that the withdrawal of the Jews currently deployed in productive labour be postponed under all circumstances until the completion of this training, i.e. until the end of March. Not until we are in a position to take the newly trained Building Service workers into the factory can we give up the Jews with a -- under the circumstances -- minimal disruption of production.' 265
In other words, as soon as the company had trained their replacements, it was ready to release the Jews for deportation -- in the full knowledge of what this meant for the Jews concerned. For Daimler-Benz, only the securing of a steady production was important. It even attempted to coordinate the arrival of the Polish replacements and the deportation of the Jewish workers in the interests of simplifying the question of accommodation. The barracks in which the Jewish workers slept were to be used to house the Polish workers after the Jews had been deported. The Armaments Commando wrote to the management to ask what barracks the firm already had and to know their 'current capacity for Jews, future capacity for Poles.' 266 A marginal note by the manager responsible --'500 Jews = 300 Poles!' -- shows not only how the experience of the Jews was conditioned by the dictates of the National Socialist regime's racial policy but also how the management acted on and reinforced the same racist logic of the SS. The company informed the Armaments Commando accordingly that 'the barracks, which previously contained 500 Jews, can, after rebuilding and repair, accept 300 Building Service workers. If the same number of Building Service workers are to be deployed as the current number of Jews, four more barracks for 50 men each will be needed.' 267 Whereas for the Polish workers the company insisted on 'at least to some extent tolerable housing' out of a need 'to persuade these people from the start to stay here as our permanent workforce', for the Jewish workers these considerations were irrelevant. 268

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258 Hilberg notes that on 22 July 1942 5000 Jews were deported from Przemysl to Belzec (Hilberg, R., Due Vernichtung der Europäischen Juden, Frankfurt/M., 1982, p.516).
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259 MBAG VO 175/24, Armaments Commando Krakow to Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof, 7.8.1942.
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260 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to SS Krakow, 14.8.1942.
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261 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to the Building Assessor of the RMfBuM, 29.8.1942.
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262 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 23.8.1942.
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263 Madjczyk, Okkupationspolitick, pp. 222-3.
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264 On the attitude of the German industry to National Socialist policy towards Jews see Barkai, A., 'German Entrepreneurs and Jewish Policy in the Third Reich' in: Yad Vashem Studies 21 (1991) pp. 125-53.
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265 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 25.10.1942.
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266 MBAG VO 175/24, Armaments Commando Krakow to Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof, 16.11.1942.
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267 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 18.11.1942.
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268 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Director of the Oberfeldkommandatur, 19.10.1942.
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