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Jewish Forced Labor Under the Nazis: Economic Needs and Racial Aims, 1938-1944

jan peczkis|Thursday, August 8, 2013

Many popular Shoah misconceptions have entered both common and academic thinking. Holocaust-uniqueness advocates would have us believe that, 1). The diversion of Jews from death camps to forced labor occurred only because Germany's deteriorating military position forced this policy; 2). Nazi policies towards Jews were self-consistent; 3). Nazis never saw the Jews in a utilitarian manner; 4). Once decided upon, the Nazis had a unitary goal of exterminating all Jews; 5). The Holocaust, unlike other genocides, was irrational and self-defeating in that it knowingly harmed the perpetrator economically and militarily. This groundbreaking work shows that all five premises are false.


Interestingly, the use of Jewish forced labor preceded not only Germany's defeats, but preceded even the war. It went back to soon after the November 1938 pogrom (Kristallnacht), especially after it became obvious that most German Jews would not emigrate, and was an active form of the persecution of Jews. (p. xvii, 3). Some of it was a "work Jews to death" through meaningless, arduous work, but the vast majority of it was productive work that usually was not fatal to the laborer (pp. 291-292), although the latter depended upon the location. (pp. 225-226).

Gruner's work makes it obvious that the exploit-Jews policy and the annihilate-Jews policy coexisted in Nazi thinking and practice, even to the end of the war. Although the emphasis shifted as the war went on, neither policy negated the other.

A variety of German institutions used Jewish forced labor. They included not only the much-remembered SS-administered concentration camp system, but also private companies, public builders, the German military, and municipal administration offices. (pp. xiv-xv).

The mandatory wearing of the Star, among German Jews, did not begin until September 1941. (p. 19). Now consider the Holocaust itself. Counterintuitively, the Spring 1942 AKTION REINHARD called for the renewed economic exploitation, as well as extermination, of Poland's Jews. (p. 259). However, Nazi policies towards Jews were a mass of contradictions. Ironically, up to and during this time, Poland's Jews were increasingly pressed into forced labor in order to replace the Polish forced laborers that were increasingly being sent to the Reich for work there. (p. 242, 259, 263). Skilled Jewish workers were in a premium then, and right to the end of the war. (pp. 263-264). Top Nazis argued among themselves as to the degree of eventual replacement of Jewish workers with Poles and other untermenschen (pp. 263-265), but never allowed any such decision to harm the German war effort. (p. 264).

Furthermore, the lack of a monolithic or consistent Nazi policy towards Jews continued long after Wannsee, and even to the end of WWII. In September 1942, Hitler wanted to spare the skilled Jewish workers of Poland. This went against the wishes of Himmler, who wanted them exterminated. (p. 291). The Lodz ghetto, located deep within Reich-annexed Polish territory, was allowed to function until mid-1944. At that time, Heinrich Himmler successfully ordered that the Jews of the Lodz ghetto be sent to their deaths. Reichsstatthalter Arthur Grieser, despite his fanatical Nazism and own complicity in genocidal crimes, was part of a group of Nazis that actively opposed the liquidation of the Lodz ghetto Jews owing to their value as forced laborers. (p. 194).

The foregoing situations underscore the fact that the Nazis, in part, saw Jews as economic commodities. They also suggest that, had Germany won the war, part of the Nazi leadership would have been amenable to sparing the remaining Jews if Allied concessions were right.

The author provides some statistics for the GG (General Government--German-occupied central Poland). There, the Jewish forced laborers numbered as follows: 700,000 (end of 1940)(p. 282), 300,000 (end of 1942)(p. 275, 283), 120,000 (Spring of 1943)(p. 269), and 70,000-100,000 (Summer of 1944)(p. 273).

Wolf Gruner refutes the oft-repeated contention that the Nazis were so fanatical about killing Jews that they were willing to harm Germany economically and militarily to accomplish this. He writes, (quote) Despite ongoing murder operations, at New Year's 1943, about 400,000 male and female forced laborers were still living in Germany and in the occupied Polish territories (probably more than 200,000 in the General Government, 70,000 in the Greater German Reich, and 115,000 in the annexed Polish territories). Thus, upon closer examination, the thesis of the total irrationality of the deportation decisions conflicting with the exigencies of war cannot be upheld for Germany, the annexed territories, or Poland. (unquote)(p. 291).

Gruner adds that, (quote) Overall, the leaders of the Third Reich approached anti-Jewish policies very pragmatically. Many contradictions are explained by the extensive participation of various German agencies and institutions...Tens of thousands of Jews survived the Holocaust because they were exempted from genocide due to economic interests and labor shortages. (unquote)(p. 294; see also p. xviii).
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