Document Analyst's Report

During November I completed the analysis of Fritz Sauckel's defense documents and began work on the prosecution's documents on what it called the "slave labor" program (this falls under the "forced labor" heading in our database list of trial issues). Sauckel's background, as he testified, included a major fact that affected his approach to the use of several million foreign workers in Germany's war economy: During World War I he had been a POW in French custody. He regarded the foreign workers as being in a similar situation, held in German custody far from home and expected to work for Germany.

Coercion and consideration: In a speech in January 1944, Sauckel attributed the success of the labor program to a combination of two factors. The first was the use of "German power which is apparent to these people" in the countries and territories that provided the workers under "agreements" backed by German force. The second was the relatively good treatment given to the workers under Sauckel's instructions. That good treatment, Sauckel believed, sustained the workers' morale and kept them productive.

The coercion: In a speech to his labor officers in 1943, Sauckel did not hold back: "Where the voluntary method fails (experience shows that it fails everywhere) the obligation to serve takes its place . . . We shall disregard the last slags of our humanitarian blabbering . . . Let us abandon every false sentiment now." The obligation to serve, which Hitler imposed as a legal requirement in occupied territories, was backed up by the German ministries, police, and military.

The consideration: Sauckel believed that the workers' morale was an important factor in their productivity. They had to accept the fact that they were in German custody (like POWs), but their treatment there would affect how they worked. Sauckel asked his officials and the managers of the workplaces to provide good care, even to Russian workers (who were regarded with the most suspicion). As Sauckel explained it, even "the most primitive person possesses an inner life, a will of his own" that must be considered.

Several elements of Sauckel's plan conflicted with Himmler's program to control the occupied territories and their populations. Himmler ordered that all the labor camps for foreign workers were to be surrounded with barbed-wire fences. Sauckel directed that the barbed wire was to be taken down. Himmler also ordered that all workers from the eastern territories were to wear a badge stating "East." Sauckel learned that many workers from various countries (such as Ukraine) found this insulting, and he later authorized the use of different national emblems.

In the end, the tribunal may have credited Sauckel's good intentions, but the forcible conscription of workers and the terrible conditions they often suffered in workplaces and labor camps counted against him. He was convicted and executed.

Matt Seccombe, 4 December 2023