chapter  6
22 Pages

Work and extermination in the concentration camps


Around 1.65 million people were sent to concentration camps by the SS and the Gestapo between 1933 and 1945. Almost a million of those interned in camps did not survive.1 The overwhelming majority of the victims of the concentration camp system died during the second half of the war, from 1942 onwards, a phase in which forced labour in the armaments industry became the defining characteristic of camp imprisonment. At first sight, the high death rates in the concentration camps during the second half of the war would hardly suggest that, as far as the armaments industry was concerned, the SS was following even the most rudimentary economic rationale: to keep the urgently needed work force alive. In the specialist literature on the subject, it is therefore often claimed that the ideological goal of extermination remained paramount right up to1945, despite the demands of the war economy. In this view, no change in the function of the concentration camps can be ascertained. Rather, the unchanging exterminatory mindset of the SS was revealed programmatically in the concept ‘annihilation through labour’.2