Nazi leaders

In public, Nazi leaders did not talk much about the camps. They knew that the camps were not universally popular. Still, they sometimes mentioned the camps. They wanted to quash rumours about abuses. They wanted to threaten potential opponents. And they wanted to spread lies about the camps (like the lie that camps were driving down crime). On 29 January 1939, Heinrich Himmler referred to the camps in a speech on German radio to celebrate the Day of the German Police. We do not know what ordinary Germans thought of Himmler’s speech. But it made an impression on his SS men, who displayed his slogan about the “path to freedom” in several camps.

096 – Heinrich Himmler speaks in public about the camps, January 1939

Sachsenhausen prisoners before Himmler’s slogan about the camps (1939)

Gedenkstätte und Museum Sachsenhausen

Allow me on this occasion to say a very frank word about the concentration camps. I know how mendaciously and foolishly this institution is being written about, spoken about and blasphemed, especially abroad. Certainly, like any other deprivation of freedom, the concentration camp is a harsh and strict measure. Hard labor that forges new values, a regulated lifestyle, an unprecedented cleanliness in accommodation and personal hygiene, sound food, strict but fair treatment, guidance to learn to work again and to acquire new craftsmen’s skills – these are the methods of education. The slogan that stands above these camps is: There is a path to freedom. Its milestones are: obedience, diligence, honesty, orderliness, cleanliness, sobriety, truthfulness, readiness to make sacrifices and love of the fatherland. […] At any rate one result of this rigorous procedure against criminality is that the total number of criminal offences has again declined last year by a further 7%.

Source: Institut für Zeitgeschichte, Munich, MA 312

Translation: Ewald Osers