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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

   From the beginning, the living conditions of the Jewish workers were barbaric. They were 'housed' in five barracks, in which there were 'long double-sided plank-beds, stacked on top of one another, so that in a 30-man barrack 100 Jews can be accommodated.' 269 Two naked flames were used as lighting, and in each barrack two 'ovens' made of building tiles were used for heating. For a planned 500 workers, the firm installed two transportable toilets, erected over holes in the ground. The whole barrack area was surrounded by a barbed-wire fence. The Jews were to be fed separately from the Polish workforce, and their march to and from the factory took place under police and factory security guard. The Armaments Commando also stipulated that 'the Jews receive 80 per cent of the wages paid to the Polish workers... the wages are to be paid to the police.' 270 In addition to the appalling conditions in which the Jews lived, they were perpetually subjected to a brutal and arbitrary regime of terror within the factory. 271 The slightest transgression could be used as the pretext for the most inhuman mistreatment, which in many cases culminated in summary shootings or in such brutality that the victim died as a direct result. Individual acts of mistreatment took place against a background of everyday racism within the factory. In line with SS policy, all contact with the Jewish workers was strictly forbidden to the German workers. 272 That the management actively participated in establishing racist practice within the plant is shown, for example, by the case of a German foreman who was sacked by the manager (without any pressure from outside) 'because he had lowered himself to greeting the Jews with a handshake and had swapped postage stamps with them.' 273 The climate of racism was further reinforced by exclusion of Jewish workers from receiving extra allocations of food or drink. 274

   The Jewish workers were to be deployed in a separate department to other workers. The available documentary material does not, however, allow a full insight into precisely how the Jewish workers were used or what role they played within the production process. It is also unclear how far the management was successful in its attempts to recruit primarily skilled workers. Most seem to have been given at least a minimal period of training. Given the appalling conditions, it is not, however, surprising that the labour of the Jewish workers was of poor quality. The management complained that the work of the Jews had 'considerable shortcomings, which however, have to be put up with in view of the unhealthy circumstances in the Generalgouvernement.' 275 The deployment of the Jews led, for example, to far higher wastage of material and of high-quality steel for tools, of which there was a great shortage.

   Parallel to the process of attempting to raise the productivity of the Polish workforce, the management tried -- purely by terror -- to force a higher work-rate out of the Jews. In March 1943 the manager informed the Armaments Commando that he had started measuring the productivity of the Jews. Those whose work was considered satisfactory were allowed extra clothing 'and preferential treatment in other ways compared to the others'. At the same time, they were informed that 'in future, those who are lazy or who work badly will be placed at the disposal of the authorities.' 276 The Armaments Commando noted that the work-rate of the Jews in its area had gradually improved, but it seems unlikely that this was the result of any improvement in conditions -- a probable initial improvement is to be seen as the natural consequence of gradual familiarization with the labour process. 277 The rapid deterioration in the physical condition of the Jews ensured that productivity remained low, however.

   Exactly how many of the Jewish workers died and under what circumstances is hard to ascertain. By January 1943, the number of Jews had fallen from 600 to 498 (16 per cent of the 'foreign' workforce). 278 By the next month, however, a further allocation of 107 Jews brought the number back to 605. 279 By the end of February, the figure had fallen dramatically to 248. 280 It seems likely that the health of the majority of these workers had declined so much that they were unable to work any more, and that they had been deported en masse. By 1 June, however, the figure had risen again to 334, of whom the vast majority were directly integrated into the production process. 281 At least three separate allocations -- the initial one, one in February 1943, and a further one in the first half of 1943 -- are discernible.

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269 MBAG VO 175/24, Memorandum/Buildings Description, 6.8.1942.
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270 MBAG VO 175/24, Memorandum Regarding Deployment of Jews, Rzeszow, 17.7.1942.
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271 Examples of brutality are given in Bellon, Mercedes in Peace and War, p. 246. See also the cases examined by the Federal Justice Department, Ludwigsburg, ZSL II 206 AR-Z 2 14/77 and II 206 AR-Z 183/75. These give a clear impression of the nature of the regime and what it meant for Jewish workers.
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272 MBAG VO 175/39, Decree of the RFSS regarding Deployment of Jews as Labour 29.10.1943.
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273 MBAG VO 175/39, Memorandum regarding the Discussion on 12.11.1943 with the German Foremen and Heads of Department.
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274 MBAG VO 175/28, Memorandum, 11.2.1944.
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275 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 25.10.1942.
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276 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 8.3.1943.
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277 BA-MA Freiburg RW 23-10, KTB War Diary of Armaments Commando Krakow, 3.Q.1942.
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278 MBAG VO 175/42, Situation Report, January 1943.
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279 MBAG VO 175/42, Situation Report, February 1943.
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280 MBAG VO 175/31, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Haspel, 27.2.1943.
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281 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 9.6.1943.
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