Construction of the camp

How did the construction of the Siemens production facility at Ravensbrueck come about?

The first company which used forced labor was IG Farben in 1940/1941, followed by Heinkel-Werke, and with the start of production at Ravensbrueck, Siemens was also among the first industrial concerns to make use of slave laborers. (Jacobeit, S. 159)

On demand of the Ministry for Aviation („Reichsluftfahrtsministerium“), there were initial negotiations between Siemens & Halske (S & H) and the SS-leadership about the construction of a production facility at Ravensbrueck in May 1942. There are, however, indications that Siemens & Halske had already been in talks about this before that. (see Strebel 2003, S. 388).

Most male workers had been called to arms and the war-relevant industries increasingly needed to replenish their workforces, a growing gap between production and demand was opening up. To stop this gap from getting too large, German industries initially tried to counter the effect with longer working hours, then the increased utilization of female workers, hiring migrant workers, the use of forced labor and ultimately tapping into the work potential of KZ prisoners. Because of the increasing number of air raids, production facilities also needed to be moved away from economic hotspots.

„The decision to use forced laborers was made primarily for reasons of economic and technological efficiency, as production could not have continued at the required level without this labor. The motives for using forced laborers were less for ideological or racist reasons, but more born out the necessity to keep industry producing at high levels, which it saw as its national duty.“ (Feldenkirchen 2003, 175 ).

„With regard to the employment of KZ-prisoner[s], there were great variations of opinion among Siemens managers, ranging from radical rejection to the demand for increased usage of laborers. The situation at Siemens was therefore quite representative for the whole German large-scale industry, the agricultural sector and many publicly managed companies which were dependent on forced labor from late 1941.“(ebd.)

Strebel concludes that „actions taken by S & H were that of a market leading concern which, in order to maintain its position and enhance it further, needed to be not only flexible but also forward-looking.“ (Strebel, 392).

The construction of the Siemens facility at Ravensbrueck is therefore in line with the interests of Siemens wanting to keep production going and even increase it, and with that of the NS-regime to keep the war machine running.

On their march from the main camp to the production halls of Siemens and back, the prisoners passed a crematorium several times each day where mass shootings were committed from December 1944. (Strebel, 415). „At the end of January/beginning of February, a provisionary gas chamber was started to be used in the immediate vicinity [in the Youth-KZ Uckermark].“ (ebd.). The construction of the Siemens facility could therefore also have been done on demand of the camp management, as „otherwise all attempts at keeping the mass murders secret would have been moot from the outset“ (ebd.)

The planning and erection of the workshops at Ravensbrueck were therefore likely to have been a cooperation of both sides (see Strebel, 392).