SS leader Heinrich Himmler often boasted about prisoners making huge arsenals of weapons – as he did in this speech to German generals on 21 June 1944. But Himmler lied to impress his audience. The SS never became a major arms manufacturer. Only a small proportion of prisoners worked in arms production, and most of those who did could not match regular workers, because of illness and starvation.

045 – Heinrich Himmler on armaments production in camps, June 1944

In this year of the war the concentration camps are now providing 40 million hours of armaments labour every month. One third of German fighter planes are being built in the concentration camps by inmates and criminals who for the most part, that is 90 per cent, are from outside Germany. A third of German gun barrels are produced there, with only one German overseer to 90 prisoners. Countless other things are being produced as well, from the most precise optical instruments to munitions and enormous quantities of mortars and 3.7 cm anti-aircraft guns. In addition, this labour force is constructing huge underground factories […] and these subhumans are working 11 hours a day to produce the weapons for this war.

Source: Bundesarchiv Berlin, NS 19/4014, Bl. 161–2

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes