New book published in German about Bisingen

One of Natzweiler's 70 slave-labor dependencies





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From: jimmott@MAIL.H-NET.MSU.EDU
Subject: book review cross-posted from H-German (Duba)
Date: June 29, 2008 10:00:08 AM EDT


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Published by (June 2008)

Christine Glauning. _Entgrenzung und KZ System: Das Unternehmen "Wüste"
und das Konzentrationslager in Bisinger 1944/1945_. Reihe "Geschichte
der Konzentrationslager 1933-1945". Berlin: Metropol Verlag, 2008. 410
pp. Charts, bibliography, appendix, index of persons, index of places.
EUR 24.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-938690-30-7.

Reviewed for H-German by Leonid Rein, International Institute for
Holocaust Research Yad Vashem

Armament and Terror in the Third Reich

In summer 1944, the Third Reich stood before a problem of resources for
the continuation of the war. Especially acute were fuel shortages. The
conquest of the Caucasian oil fields had never materialized. Extensive
territories occupied during the previous three years in the East were
lost. The U.S. bombings of the Ploesti oil refineries in Romania
severely damaged one of Nazi Germany's main fuel sources. On August
25th, 1944, Romania (occupied by Soviet forces) declared war on Germany,
which meant the loss of Romanian oil. Fuel shortages became especially
evident in the course of the Ardennes counter-offensive, which failed to
a large degree because the German tanks and planes participating in it
ran out of fuel. On August 24th, 1944--that is, the day _before_ Romania
turned against its former ally, and a few weeks after the Ploesti Romano
Americana refinery had been heavily damaged by a U.S. air raid, 1,000
Polish prisoners from Auschwitz were transferred to Bisingen, a new
concentration camp near a village of the same name at the feet of
Hohenzollern Castle in southern Württemberg. This camp, together with
seven more in the same area, was an external camp of the Alsatian
concentration camp Natzweiler and part of the armament program
code-named _Wüste_ (Desert), the purpose of which was to find
substitutions for the dwindling fuel reserves of the Third Reich.
Christine Glauning's book deals with the concentration camp Bisingen as
part of the _Wüste_ project. It is organized in a mixed
thematic-chronological form. Divided into eight major parts, it treats
the history of oil shale mining in Württemberg from the mid-nineteenth
century up to the Nazi period, the internal structure and administration
of Natzweiler's external camp system, and Bisingen as part of this system.

Glauning shows how the Württemberg oil shale project, which had been
abandoned as entirely unprofitable, received new impetus after 1942 as
the Nazis feverishly sought new resources to prolong the war after the
failure of the blitzkrieg strategy against Soviet Union and in the face
of German reversals on the Eastern Front. The project rose out of
personal and institutional power struggles characteristic of the Third
Reich. Those interested in realizing the oil shale project, such as
Hans-Joachim von Krüdener in the Reich Aviation Ministry, knew well how
to use these chaotic conditions to their own advantage. Thus, the
economically worthless oil shale project became a matter of prestige
both for Albert Speer's Armament Ministry and Heinrich Himmler's SS.

Glauning identifies several phases of the oil shale project between 1942
and 1944/45: the first phase began in early 1942 when the failure of the
blitzkrieg revealed a need for a switch from a "peacelike war economy"
(_friedensähnliche Kriegswirtschaft_) to a full-fledged war economy,
based on long-term goals.[1] This phase was characterized by increased
armament production and the search for new raw materials essential to
the war effort. Hermann Göring's older "Four Year Plan Organization" was
eclipsed by Albert Speer's Reich Armament Ministry. Glauning attributes
the rise of the oil shale project to two persons: Walter Scheiber, chief
of the armament supplies department in Speer's Ministry, and
Hans-Joachim von Krüdener, head of oil shale at the Ministry of
Aviation. Von Krüdener had already called for development of the
Württemberg oil shale deposits in the 1930s. To win out over numerous
skeptics, both von Krüdener and Schieber won powerful allies in Heinrich
Himmler and Oswald Pohl, chief of SS Main Office for Economic
Administration (SS-WVHA). The SS was also meant to provide the labor of
many thousands of concentration camp inmates for realization of this

SS involvement propelled the oil shale project into a new phase. Himmler
sought to expand the SS economic empire as a means to enhance his own
position within the Third Reich. He viewed the oil shale project as a
matter of prestige. The significance Himmler ascribed to the project
expressed itself in the foundation of a SS-owned corporation, Deutsche
Schieferöl GmbH, at the end of 1943. The last phase of the project's
development occurred when it was integrated (under the code name
"Desert") into the so-called Geilenberg program, named after the General
Commissar for Immediate Measures by the Reich Minister for Armament and
War Production, Edmund Geilenberg (appointed to this position on May 30,
1944). Geilenberg was tasked with squeezing out what was still to be had
from German industrial capacity. He was especially concerned with
finding raw materials after heavy damage caused by Allied air raids.
Needs for an increase in arms production also influenced the
concentration camp system, whose inmates were seen as the means to
realize this goal. In 1942, the number of so-called external camps of
main camps both in Germany and in German-occupied countries increased
dramatically, as did the number of inmates overall. In 1944, a few years
after the Nazis had proclaimed the Reich "free of Jews," Jewish forced
laborers from occupied countries were brought into Germany to work at
various armament projects.

Glauning shows that the entire camp system underwent an ever-increasing
decentralization process, whereby external camps became camps in their
own rights. In the case of Natzweiler, the external camps continued to
exist long after the main camp was evacuated in the summer 1944; members
of the commandant's office staff were distributed between various
external camps and thus these camps became autonomous bodies.

Glauning also considers the question of the Wehrmacht's involvement in
the concentration camp system. In the last stages of war, the rising
number of both concentration camps and the number of inmates to be
guarded had led leaders to supplement camp personnel with Wehrmacht
soldiers. In Bisingen, the majority of camp personnel were former
Luftwaffe members and Wehrmacht reservists. Glauning thus shows that
Wehrmacht soldiers and officers did not serve only in subordinate
capacities as camp guards. In Bisingen itself, many central positions
within the camp administration were held by Wehrmacht members, rather
than the SSâ?"bloc leaders, labor unit leaders, camp physicians, and even
the camp commander were Wehrmacht members. Glauning also shows that the
presence of more Wehrmacht members did not result in better conditions
in the camps. Often (as was the case with Bisingen's camp commander,
Johannes Pauli) Wehrmacht members not only achieved levels of brutality
instituted by the SS, they surpassed them. Glauning's analysis also
incorporates research about the perpetrators, considering their motives
and larger behavioral patterns. She focuses on two different people:
Pauli, and his immediate superior, Franz-Johann Hoffmann. Although the
men came from different backgrounds (Hoffmann was a member of the lower
middle-class and SS veteran; Pauli came from a more bourgeois
background), Glauning shows that both men underwent a "school" of
violence at various stages of their lives and acquired similarly radical
fixed images of their supposed enemies.

Changes in camp leadership led to changes in inmate hierarchies. Whereas
German criminals were originally appointed to "Kapo" positions, in this
later phase, East Europeans and even Jews could be appointed as
_Funktionshäftlinge_ (inmate-functionaries). This fact did not mean that
the Nazis had entirely abandoned racial ideology, and Jewish inmates
still were subjected to brutal maltreatment. Neither did the increased
need for inmate labor result in better treatment. Leaders' desires to
get the most out of prisoners led to drastic increases in mortality
rates in Bisingen and in other labor camps. In Bisingen, around 1,200
inmates died between October 1944 and mid-April 1945 as a result of
appalling living and working conditions and brutal maltreatment on the
part of both camp personnel and factory officials.

Glauning shows that not only SS guards, but representatives of the
Organization Todt and private firms as well treated prisoners as slaves,
driving them to work using physical and verbal violence; they, too, were
responsible for the deaths of thousands of prisoners. At the same time,
Glauning shows the inability of SS apparatus to bridge the gap between
ideology and pragmatic requirements. Notwithstanding the fact that in
the course of his inspection of Bisingen, Oswald Pohl himself harshly
criticized the inhuman conditions in the camp, this did not led to any
noticeable improvement in either living or work conditions. After Pohl's
inspection, Bisingen's mortality rates increased dramatically. Between
December 1944 and mid-April 1945, 967 prisoners died in Bisingen. Thus
contrary to the current trend in German research, which ascribes more
importance to economic considerations than to pure ideology in National
Socialist policy in various spheres,[3] Glauning maintains that to the
very end ideological motives were of great importance.

Glauning sees in the development of the oil shale project an interplay
between rationality and irrationality, between pragmatism and
ideological dogmatism. Even if the whole project was launched for
reasons that had little to do with rationality and pragmatism, people
engaged in various stages of the project's development acted out of
rational motives, be it the implementation of their research skills or
efforts to secure workers or facilities. Glauning destroys the image of
concentration camps at the end period of the Third Reich as bodies
centrally administered, ruled by SS, and cordoned off from their
surroundings. In fact she applies the term "Entgrenzung" (dissolution of
boundaries), especially in terms of the relations between the camps and
their surroundings. In Bisingen, villagers came into everyday contact
with the camp, whether via the sight of inmates passing through the
streets on their way to work, the accommodation of camp personnel, or
collaboration in the apprehension of escapees. Glauning also destroys or
at least corrects the so-called "Bisingen myth," which portrayed the
population of Bisingen as protesting against the inhuman treatment of
camp's inmates or even assisting prisoners in various ways.

Glauning's study is well written and easy to read. It provides an
interesting, important contribution to both the history of the Nazi
armament program and the history of concentration camps in the later
stages of the Third Reich.


[1]. Gerold Ambrosius, "Von Kriegswirtschaft zu Kriegswirtschaft," in
_Deutsche Wirtschaftsgeschichte. Ein Jahrtausend im Ãoberblick_, ed.
Michael North (Munich: Beck, 2000), 345-346.

[2]. The most striking examples of such studies are: Christian Gerlach,
_Kalkulierte Morde. Die deutsche Wirtschafts- und Vernichtungspolitik in
WeiÃYrussland 1941 bis 1944_ (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1999) and more
recently Götz Aly, _Hitlers Volkstaat. Raub, Rassenkrieg und nationaler
Sozialismus_ (Frankfurt am Main: S. Fischer, 2005).

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