Holocaust and Genocide Studies 17.2 (2003) 351-355
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Zwangsarbeit und Vernichtung: Das Wirtschaftsimperium der SS. Oswald Pohl und das SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, 1933-1945, Jan Erik Schulte (Paderborn: Schöningh, 2001), 550 pp., €41.00.
Focusing on the development of the SS Economic-Administration Main Office (SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt, or WVHA), Jan Erik Schulte's first-rate volume lays bare the economic, administrative, and financial glue that held the SS empire together. Ideologically committed to and thoroughly dependent upon Himmler, SS administrative chief Oswald Pohl appreciated but, as Schulte points out in an appended profile of eighty-seven WVHA managers, did not require commitment to the Nazi idea in selecting a loyal staff with management, business, and accounting skills. Professional administrators with military experience, not ideological soldiers, were intended to march in Pohl's army. Applying their skills in the WVHA apparatus, these businessmen, accountants, construction technocrats, and concentration camp managers "became helpers and actors of a regime that... participated directly or indirectly in the greatest industrial mass murder in history" (pp. 449-50).
Schulte describes how, from Pohl's appointment in early 1934, the SS financial administration oversaw the buildup of the SS-Verfügungstruppe (SS Special Service Troops-VT), out of which the Waffen-SS would emerge in 1940. During the period 1935-38, the SS-VT administration expanded into management responsibility for all administrative aspects of the SS, including the concentration camp system. Schulte effectively challenges the conventional wisdom that economic motives drove Himmler and Pohl towards the engagement of concentration camp labor in the German economy. He characterizes the foundation of the German Earth and Stone Works (DESt) in 1938 as an effort to preclude civilian agencies from interfering with the labor and the lives of the prisoners. Linked to a July 1938 deal with General Inspector of Construction for the Reich Capital Albert Speer to deliver construction materials, the DESt, despite the uneven quality and questionable profitability of its product, gave the camps economic purpose as well as access to both Party and state funding for projects Hitler thought important. As a result, Himmler could maintain political control over camps, stifle criticism, and successfully argue for their expansion.
The years 1939-40 were crucial for the consolidation of the SS economic and administrative apparatus. In April 1939, Himmler and Pohl created two main SS offices, Administration and Economy, and Budget and Buildings; in July 1940, SS firms were enclosed within a holding company, Deutsche Wirtschaftsbetriebe GmbH (German Business Firms, Ltd.). As Schulte explains, this complex apparatus remained a creature of Himmler's narrow ideological and power-political goals, despite opportunities to establish an autonomous business cartel. When, under the leadership of Pohl's chief [End Page 351] auditor, Hans Hohberg, in 1941-42, SS business executives sought to expand SS influence in the private sector by increasing economic impulses (profit, potential for expansion, and market control), Pohl and Himmler remained more concerned with maintenance of absolute control over their concentration camp empire. SS economic output was mediocre at best; as Schulte ultimately concludes, the "SS Economic [Administration] did not possess any unified economic or ideological program" (p. 441).
Perhaps the book's most significant contribution is its analysis of the role of the WVHA in SS postwar settlement planning. Though Himmler's executive authority lay in his appointment as Reich Commissar for the Strengthening of German Nationhood (Reichskommissar für die Festigung deutschen Volkstums—RKFDV), the WVHA had the task of constructing, financing, and administering future German settlements. Through a network of economic and construction inspectorates and a string of agricultural estates that were to form the nuclei of SS and police bases, Pohl's WVHA managed planning for postwar construction in the USSR. Had SS administrators realized their dreams, 20,000 police personnel would have been assigned to police the occupied Ukraine alone, a clear indication that their "plans were far removed from reality" (p. 304). Schulte demonstrates convincingly, however, that Ostsiedlung fantasies, not the anticipated deployment of labor in the already-existing...