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Exploitation in Armaments’ Industry

Late in September 2011, Frank Baranowski came to see the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) preparing his book titled “Rüstungsproduktion in Deutschlands Mitte von 1923 bis 1945” (Armaments’ Production in Germany’s centre from 1923 to 1945). “With this book, I intend to create transparency on structural changes and their reasons in armaments’ industry and have a close look at the exploitation of forced labourers, prisoners-of-war and concentration camp inmates“, states the history enthusiast. He concentrates the research he pursues in Bad Arolsen on records about various outlying commandos and prisons in the regions of North Thuringia and South Lower Saxony.

“In the first war years, the North of Thuringia played a minor role in armaments’ industry only”, knows the 39-year-old. By contrast, the region of South Lower Saxony came to see a continuous economic upswing it owed to weapons’ production in the years from 1934 to 1938. When the production of “Vergeltungswaffe V2” (retaliatory weapon V2) was moved to a gallery near Niedersachsenwerfen, the economic status of North Thuringia changed abruptly. It was primarily the aircraft industry that came to open production sites there; in consequence, the demand for “cheap” labour increased steadily.

“The production process mainly relied on forced labourers and concentration camp inmates”, so Baranowski. “Many companies needed skilled, trained staff as well, though.” In the ITS archives, he came across a decree the Reich Minister of Justice had passed on 26 May 1944 ordering all prisons’ chiefs to make available for armaments’ production prisoners they deemed appropriate or fit for the job. “It is instructive to see which firms willingly fell back on the labour offered and which ones preferred to keep a distance”, reports the researcher. It was the quota of German employees in relation with the rate of concentration camp inmates, the type and duration of the production project both groups were recruited for, but also external circumstances such as the labour’s accommodation and food that oriented his research.

Baranowski’s inclination to research awakened in him already when he was a schoolboy. In an essay he wrote at the time he concerned himself with forced labourers in the rural district of Goettingen. “And when my grandmother came and told me that she had worked for the Duderstadt Polte works and was to be a concentration camp guard during the war, my interest was kindled”, so Baranowski. Following several publications on part projects centring on the subject, his book “Rüstungsproduktion in Deutschlands Mitte von 1923 bis 1945” (Armaments’ production in Germany’s centre from 1923 to 1945) will finally be brought out by the Duderstadt Mecke publishers late this year.