Even today, almost 70 years after the political end of National Socialism, there are numerous myths being woven around Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. The most stubborn is that he abolished unemployment. Work was indeed decisive in Nazi Germany: it helped Hitler’s political rise and that of his Nazi Party; it supported the war, brought economic gains, upheld the Nazi state and could save and destroy lives. After the campaign issues of ‘work’ and ‘unemployment’ which made Hitler and his party popular among the population and ultimately contributed to the seizure of power, the Nazi regime established the Arbeitsschlacht (labour battle), where numerous jobs were created which eventually led to full employment and a labour shortage. To compensate the shortage of workers during the war, in addition to German citizens like women and the youth, inmates from concentration camps, prisoners of war and civilian foreign workers were deployed. Therefore by the period of National Socialism, some 20 million people from across Europe had to perform forced labour for the Reich, its businesses, its economy and its war. The Nazi state would not have lasted for as long as it did without this deployment of the various forms of forced labour. Prisoners’ capacity to work often decided their fate, as the Nazi regime considered those unable to work to be useless consumers of food and thus without purpose in the system. Although the motto of almost all concentration camps and ghettos was ‘Arbeit macht frei’ (work sets you free), in fact what occurred was ‘extermination through labour’. The prisoners were supposed to make a profit for the German economy and thereby work themselves to death. This was an efficient method of killing in the eyes of those in power. These various meanings of work within National Socialism will be presented chronologically.
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- Author or Editor: Anne-Kathleen Tillack-Graf x