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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 mid-1943 the firm seems to have come under increasing pressure finally to release Jews for deportation. In May 1943 -- a statement indicative of the management's changed attitude -- the various foremen were informed that 'the exchange must be attempted as soon as possible.' A survey was to be made to discover which Jews were immediately disposable; these were then to be listed by the personnel department and the list was to be passed to the SS. The management stated further that 'a transfer of those Jews remaining in the factory must take place as soon as possible.' 282 The management nonetheless continued to attempt to coordinate the deportation process with the supply of replacements, insisting that the majority of the remaining 334 Jews in June 1943 could only be released 'at the same rate as trained workers can be supplied as replacements.' 283 In September 1943, however, the Armaments Commando finally informed the management that the 'Higher SS and Police Chief for the East has refused the exchange of the Jewish workers', indicating that the majority of Jews were finally transported away without replacement. 284 The figures for the total workforce of Rzeszow, which otherwise show a steady increase under the Daimler-Benz management, register a drop of over 400 during the summer of 1943, which is probably at least partly explained by the deportation of the remaining Jewish workers. 285 For those who remained, further suffering awaited in the form of forced labour at the underground dispersal sites. At least some, however survived the war.

The war witnessed a substantial deterioration in the working conditions of the German workforce. Working hours were lengthened, the labour process was intensified, and the management was able to use the dissolution of the core German male workforce, which occurred as a result of the influx of first women and then foreign workers to push through new techniques that further subjected the workers to managerial control. These new methods, backed up as they were by massive state terror, were used with great effect to integrate the new groups of workers into the factory and to exact punishing work-rates from the forced foreign workers in particular. The high degree of integration of the forced workers at Daimler-Benz, a product of the serial peroduction methods in operation in the capital-intensive automotive engineering industry at this time, further facilitated the huge intensification of labour in the final third of the war, as the company opted to square the circle of raising armaments output without large-scale capital input by brutal exploitation of its defenceless workforce.

   The resort of exploitation was not only a product of rational company choice. Unquestioning participation in the establishment of the National Socialist racial hierarchy reflected the extent to which the process of creeping barbarization in the 'Third Reich' had undermined any moral scruples within the economic and functional elites concerning the vicious racism of the regime. Undoubtedly, the fact that this moral erosion was gradual facilitated the transition to the situation as it stood in 1944 -- the terrorization of German workers from 1933 onwards paved the way for the harsh treatment of west European workers; the brutal treatment of Soviet workers, and the normalization of this culture of barbarism, eased the way to the deployment of concentration camp inmates under even worse conditions. At no point, therefore, was the unconventional industrialist confronted with a clear option of shifting from essentially acceptable to unspeakably inhumane behaviour.

   This is not to say that it 'just happened'. Insofar as industrialists and managers did drift into barbarism, they did so in any case because they broadly accepted National Socialist ideology and had allowed it to permeate the culture of the company. Daimler-Benz's managers collaborated in the exploitation of forced foreign workers primarily because it was in the company's interests to do so. It is a mark of the extent of the erosion of moral norms in the Third Reich that the appalling suffering of the victims was not, apparently, discussed once; it is a mark of the narrowness of the technocratic manager's field of vision that the only thing that seemed to matter was the interest of the company. Self-identification with the company took precedence over any self-identification with the real suffering of humans. The company was able to survive in a relatively healthy position down to the end of the war at least partly at the expense of the health, and indeed in many cases the lives, of these thousands of victims of forced labour.


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282 MBAG VO 175/39, Memorandum of the Discussion of 11 May 1943 Armaments Commando Krakow.
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283 MBAG VO 175/24, Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof to Armaments Commando Krakow, 9.6.1943.
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284 MBAG VO 175/24, Armaments Commando Krakow to Flugmotorenwerk Reichshof, 29.9.1943.
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285 MBAG Haspel 19, Statistical Monthly Reports 1942-1944.
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