Hard labour was compulsory in SS camps like Dachau from the start, even for many sick prisoners. Forced labour brought practical benefits for the SS, as prisoners had to build and maintain their own camps. Above all, the SS saw hard labour as a way to punish prisoners. Often there was pointless labour, designed only to torment inmates.
From the late 1930s, SS economic ambitions grew. Early on, prisoners were forced into gruelling work at brickworks and quarries . Later, more and more prisoners were exploited for the war effort. The SS set up hundreds of satellite camps during the war, with the eager collaboration of German industry. SS leader Heinrich Himmler claimed that his slaves produced vital armaments. In reality, they made no major contribution to the war effort.
Countless prisoners were worked to death during the war. Work brought great pain, not freedom, as the cynical SS slogan (“Arbeit macht frei”) at the gates of Dachau, Auschwitz and other camps proclaimed. Prospects were particularly bleak for prisoners in construction. By contrast, the smaller number of prisoners in production enjoyed slightly better conditions. Overall, the main product of SS slave labour was not armaments, or bricks, or stones, but the suffering and death of prisoners.
- 043 – Order by WVHA leader Oswald Pohl to all camp commandants, 30 April 1942
- 041 – The German political prisoner Arnold Weiss-Rüthel on the SS brick works near Sachsenhausen in 1940
- 044 – SS officer Karl Sommer on “renting out” Ravensbrück prisoners
- 047 – Slave labour in Nuremberg, 1944 diary entries by Ágnes Rózsa
- 039 – The Dachau prisoner Ludwig Bendix pleads for medical help in 1937
- 042 – The Austrian Gypsy Adolf Gussak recalls the Mauthausen quarry
- 040 – The political prisoner Harry Naujoks on pointless labour
- 046 – The Jewish survivor Ladislaus Ervin-Deutsch on night shifts in a Kaufering satellite camp
- 038 – Camp Inspector Eicke on compulsory labour, summer 1934
- 045 – Heinrich Himmler on armaments production in camps, June 1944