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"Arbeitserziehungslager"

The camp type "Arbeitserziehungslager" was introduced in the Second World War and was solely in control of the Gestapo. The background of this development were local interests of the industry, the communities, labour administration and the Gestapo interested in disciplining the workforce as well as oppressing any workforce resistance. "Arbeitserziehungslager", the "concentration camps of the Gestapo" (Gabriele Lotfi) were used to imprison initially German labourers, then foreign mainly Eastern European civilian labourers at breach of employment contract or when opposing to the obligation of work for a limited period of time. In addition to protective and preventive detention, the imprisonment in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" can be considered as the third element of the National Socialist repression policy. The number of "Arbeitserziehungslager" was only eight in 1940; by the end of the war there were 200 camps within and outside of the territory of the Reich. Altogether approximately half a million people were held prisoner in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" between 1939 and 1945. Despite the high number of prisoners, the "Arbeitserziehungslager" had not been investigated until later. Apart from economical and communal involvement one of the reasons might be that the importance of "Arbeitserziehungslager" as a National Socialist means of repression had long been underestimated due to the usually limited period of imprisonment.

A more exact demarcation of possible reasons for a confinement in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" was not conducted in the decrees that laid down the principles of organisation of the detention in a "Arbeitserziehungslager". Reasons for detention were things like loafing or refusal to work or for example the failure to do the German salute. Mainly women were imprisoned in "Arbeitserziehungslager" for reasons other than work-related offences, e.g. due to violating the prohibition of contact with so-called aliens meaning usually men from Eastern Europe. According to the decree of the Chief of the Security Police dated 28 May 1941, the detention in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" served the purpose of education, and was officially not considered to be any kind of punitive measure. Being purely a "police-run" measure the detention in a labour education camp did not require any court conviction – who was imprisoned or punished for what reason was totally up to the arbitrariness of the police office in charge.

While releases from concentration camps were no longer intented once the war had begun, the detention in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" was for a limited period only. The reason was that the workforce working in operations and businesses could not be permanently withdrawn from their workplaces. For that reason the term of imprisonment was calculated from the time of arrest meaning the removal of the affected person from their job. Officially, a term of imprisonment of 21 to 56 days was intended, however, some prisoners had to stay for three months or longer in the "Arbeitserziehungslager". In the course of the war, prisoners held in a "Arbeitserziehungslager" were increasingly transferred to concentration camps following their imprisonment in a "Arbeitserziehungslager". Likewise, the prison conditions and functions of a "Arbeitserziehungslager" were drawing closer to those of a concentration camp towards the end of the war. The "Arbeitserziehungslager" were also used as places of execution by the Gestapo.

In the territory of the German Reich the "Arbeitserziehungslager" were in control of the regionally operating headquarters of the State Police. In the territories occupied by German forces, however, those camps were usually subject to the commanders of the security police and the SD. The establishment of those camps required the authorization of the "Reichssicherheitshauptamt" (RSHA). The responsible offices ordered the confinements into "Arbeitserziehungslager"; camp leaders and guard units were provided by the Gestapo, in exceptional cases police officers of the ordinary police, later in some cases also security personnel of factories and other supervisors.

The first early forms of "Arbeitserziehungslager" were established from late 1939 in the course of the erection of the Siegfried Line for disciplining German labourers working on the Siegfried Line. The "SS Sonderlager Hinzert" in the Hunsrück and seven further police detention camps served as repressive instruments for the Organisation Todt, which was in charge of the work at the Siegfried Line. The majority of "Arbeitserziehungslager" that were erected in the course of the Second World War was in the vicinity of industrial centres or also adjacent to factory premises. Six concentration camps also had separate "Arbeitserziehungslager": Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, Groß-Rosen, Plaszow and Stutthof. The prison and working conditions in the "Arbeitserziehungslager" were comparable to those of a concentration camp. According to Ernst Kaltenbrunner, Head of Security Police and SD, dated May 1944 the prison conditions were supposed to be even more ghastly than those at a concentration camp. Combined with the limited term of imprisonment the cruelty of the imprisonment was not only to terrorize prisoners and dash their spirit. The National Socialists hoped for an immediate repressive effect on the life and work environment of the prisoners upon their return. The prisoners of the "Arbeitserziehungslager" suffered badly under the harassing and cruel punishments at the camp as well as the hard physical labour and the disastrous living conditions there, so that many lost their lives there.

Selected Literature:

Gutermuth, Frank & Netzbandt, Arno. Die Gestapo. Berlin 2005.

Lotfi, Gabriele. KZ der Gestapo. Arbeitserziehungslager im Dritten Reich. Stuttgart 2000.

Tech, Andrea. Arbeitserziehungslager in Nordwestdeutschland 1940-1945. Göttingen 1998.