German industry

The longer the war lasted, the more prisoners were exploited by German industry. As labour power became scarce, companies used concentration camp prisoners to keep going. Most prisoners were housed in new satellite camps, near building sites and factories. Firms paid a daily rate for each prisoner; inside Germany, an unskilled prisoner cost four Reichsmark (most profits went to the German state). One of the SS managers involved in “renting out” prisoners was SS-Hauptsturmführer Karl Sommer from the WVHA. Prosecuted after the war, Sommer testified about the involvement of private firms (Sommer was sentenced to life but released in 1953).

044 – SS officer Karl Sommer on “renting out” Ravensbrück prisoners

Gradually the transports of inmates to the munitions factories increased: 500, 1,000 inmates, three or four times a week. The bosses of some firms came themselves to select workers, checking their manual dexterity, hearing and eyesight. After that the inmates were “looked at” by the camp doctor! For a time this procedure was very precise and because of complaints from firms only physically good-looking women were chosen, but later the selection became more and more “generous” for lack of “material” (that was how the inmates were referred to) and 50 to 60 year olds and the physically impaired were accepted.

Source: B. Strebel, Das KZ Ravensbrück (Paderborn, 2003), p. 439

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes