Document Analyst's Report

During December I completed the analysis of the prosecution documents on the "slave labor" program (the prosecution's term for the use of conscripted civilians from occupied territories and POWs in Germany's war economy) and the supplemental prosecution evidence used when Fritz Sauckel and Albert Speer presented their defense cases. Speer apparently made a good impression on several of the IMT judges (and much of the public then and later) as a very intelligent and talented man who tried to limit the damage done at the end of the war, but the strongest trait he displayed during his testimony was his arrogance.

Points of view: As noted in last month's report, Sauckel regarded the conscripted workers as subordinate but still human beings who deserved decent care. Speer's approach was purely utilitarian: he needed millions of people to work and didn't care how they were treated as long as the work was done. Himmler and the justice minister (Thierack) made an agreement in 1942 that criminals categorized as anti-social would be diverted from the prison system into SS labor camps where they would be "worked to death." General Milch, Goering's deputy in the central planning board for the war economy, suggested that workers who shirked on the job "should be entrusted to Himmler's trustworthy hands who will make them work alright." (When he was prosecuted on the forced labor charge, Milch claimed that he meant the workers would receive better food this way, since the SS had better supplies; the argument did not succeed.)

Chain of command: In 1942 Sauckel and Speer formalized their working relationship, including the point that Speer "alone will decide on all questions of priority for all armament assignments." A memo from a meeting of armaments officials in March 1942 spelled it out: "The Fuehrer looks upon Speer as his principal mouthpiece, his trusted adviser in all economic spheres. Speer is the only one who to-day can say anything. He can interfere in any Department. He already disregards all other Departments."

Corporate discipline at Krupp: The prosecution confronted Speer with evidence of how foreign workers were kept in line at Krupp factories. One method was a set of metal cabinets (the size of school lockers) that workers were forced into as punishment; as an extra measure water could be poured over the workers in the cabinets. Shown photographs and affidavits about the punishment, Speer denounced the accusation as a fabrication; this could not have happened, he said, because Germans were "decent people." When shown an invoice for 80 steel whips delivered for use by Krupp guards, Speer claimed that the guards simply needed to have something to hold in their hands.

One crime, two defendants, two verdicts: Given both the formal hierarchy, with Speer at the head of the war economy, and the informal hierarchy of Speer's dominant personal influence, Sauckel was Speer's subordinate and Speer had complete responsibility for the labor regime. The IMT judges reached a different conclusion: Sauckel was executed, while Speer was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Matt Seccombe, 5 January 2024