Forced Labour and the Concentration Camp

The seminar focusses on three key historical topics

  • the transformation of forced labour by concentration camp inmates from a tool for "re-education" into a strategy of economic gain; the role of forced labour as the "final reserve" for the disintegrating wartime economy

  • the link between forced labour in the concentration camp and other forms of forced labour. The ruthless deployment of forced labourers in all areas of the German economy is rooted in specific tenets of National Socialist ideology, and went on to became a defining characteristic of the German economy during the Second World War

  • The participation of virtually all of German society in the crime of "forced" labourquot, and the civilian population’s unhesitating acceptance of forced labour – the daily practices of forced labour deployment in a society shaped by ideology – forced labour’s stabilizing effect on the "people's community"


In an effort to illuminate the functioning of National Socialist society, the seminar considers three historical locations:

  • Buchenwald/Weimar represents the initial construction phase of the concentration camps, during which the forced labour programme was transformed from an instrument of terror to a profit-making operation that served to involve an ever larger segment of the German population into the forced labour system;
  • the move of armament production into the underground tunnel system, as documented by the Mittelbau-Dora Concentration Camp Memorial – a move which illustrates the regime’s plan to solve the problems of the wartime economy with utter disregard for the life and health of concentration camp inmates;

  • the "concentration camp landscape" in the southern Harz region as a symbol of the omnipresence of forced labour in the German wartime society, where concentration subcamps, forced labour detachments, and camps for foreign civilian workers existed side by side.