The “Siemens test” – selection of workers
Siemens required workers with nimble hands and good eyes for the precision mechanical work that they undertook. For tasks such as coiling spools, soldering, sorting and galvanizing, women – and in particular young girls – were particularly well suited, and so the women’s KZ at Ravensbrueck, being close to Berlin but deemed relatively safe from air raids, was an obvious choice. (Jacobeit, p. 160).
The selection of the laborers was done by Siemens employees. „Workers from concentration camps were (..) not simply handed over by the SS to armaments factories, they were selected by companies which had important production quotas to fill punctually, and the companies were therefore very keen on doing the selection themselves. That they demanded ever more laborers was in part due to the fact that those were the cheapest of all workers, and the companies only had to pay a small rental fee for them to the SS.“ (Jacobeit, p. 158)
Suitable women for this work were selected through the so-called “Siemenstest”.
The contemporary witness Rita Sprengel spoke about one such aptitude test which she had to do together with other prisoners. She had to bend a thin wire with pliers. “But before this, the Siemens people made whole blocks (of prisoners) line up and hold out their hands. Then they would walk along the line, inspecting the prisoners. They had to be young and nimble, they checked their hands. The hands should not shake, should be dry and the fingers should be as slim as possible.“ Intelligence was also a deciding factor: „There were mostly the young and intelligent of the foreigners among the Siemens prisoners“, Rita Sprengel stated. (Jacobeit, p. 162)
Apart from the skills of the women and girls used in the Siemens factories, it was also the physical health, and in particular a keen eyesight, which were deciding factors in being selected, as people in charge saw this as a cause for higher production rates. (Krause-Schmitt, p. 38)
It is described how “the feared reports of the Ravensbrueck Siemens management about female prisoners made to the camp commander Suhren” never stopped. (Jacobeit, p. 166). „The slightest “offense” was enough to denounce these women in the reports as lazy, sleepy, clumsy, cheeky, dirty and so on. They would then receive harsh punishments, be sent to demanding work details or put into the bunker and were discarded from Siemens.“ (Krause-Schmidt, p. 41). And so it was „the Siemens facility in particular which spied on every prisoner in the greatest of detail.“ (ebd.).
After the dexterity of the prisoners was evaluated and passed for the required jobs, Siemens employees also examined the intelligence of the laborers to be admitted to the production facility. The survivor Lisa Kammerstätter reported that she and other prisoners were asked “how much 10% of 100 was. I said that the question was nonsense and got accepted. A number of women who could not answer the question were sent back again“.
Siemens rejected “intellectuals” out of hand though because very often academics such as teachers, doctors or professors were excluded as the company saw them as “not able to work, talking too much and contributing nothing“, as the KZ-survivor Lidia Beccaria Rolfi reported.