Report Workshop on Public Authorities and National Socialist Exclusion Camps

Katja Grosse-Sommer's picture
February 3, 2017
Subject Fields: 
Eastern Europe History / Studies, European History / Studies, Holocaust, Genocide, and Memory Studies, Jewish History / Studies, Modern European History / Studies

Date: 3. February 2017
Place: Topography of Terror, Berlin
Organizers: Frédéric Bonnesoeur (Berlin), Janine Fubel (Berlin), Christoph Gollasch (Berlin), Borbála Klacsmann (Budapest), Denisa Nešťáková (Bratislava)

Report by: Katja Grosse-Sommer (Amsterdam) and Mareike Otters (Oberhausen)



On February 3rd, 2017, five doctoral students from Berlin, Budapest and Bratislava presented their research projects in the workshop “Public Authorities and National Socialist Exclusion Camps”, held in the documentation center Topography of Terror, Berlin and supported by the Topography of Terror, Paideia – The European Institute for Jewish Studies in Sweden, the Slovakian Institute in Berlin, and the AStA of the Technical University Berlin.

After a word of welcome by ANDREAS SANDER (Berlin) of the Topography of Terror and a short introduction, the Workshop began with a keynote on National Socialist exclusion camps held by MICHAEL WILDT (Berlin). Situating National Socialist camps within the global phenomenon of camps in the 20th century, Wildt particularly emphasized links with colonial-era camps. The perception of NS camps, Wildt argued, was closely associated with concentration and extermination sites. In reality, a variety of actors apart from the SS and SA used camps as opportunities to expand their powers against established and/or competing institutions. Different public institutions, including the Wehrmacht, German civilian administrations, collaborating Auxiliary Police Units (Schutzmannschaften) and the Organization Todt founded camps between 1939 and 1945. Especially camps in Eastern Europe, Wildt emphasized, are to this day significantly under-researched.

The first panel of the workshop, moderated by JULIA PIETSCH (Berlin), focused on the relationship between state institutions and concentration camps. CHRISTOPH GOLLASCH (Berlin) opened the panel with his research on the history of the concentration camp Sonnenburg. The concentration camp was founded in April 1933 on the initiative of the Prussian interior and justice ministry, making it the first state-run camp in Prussia. While initially the Berlin police held the leadership over the camp, the Gestapo soon took over. Up to April 1934, at least 1000 prisoners, mostly communists, were imprisoned here. Gollasch showed that policemen, who were already in the higher state service during the Weimar Republic, dictated the administration and guarding of the camp. To achieve this aim, they consciously took the help of SS and SA, who made up the guard forces. However, conflicts occurred within this cooperation, according to Gollasch. While the police acted within the normative boundaries of the state. National Socialists acted excessively violent towards the inmates. In addition, the directorial system, which included a camp Commandant and a Commandant of the guarding forces, resulted in ongoing conflicts over competences. These conflicts were, according to Gollasch, amongst the reasons to reorganize the leadership of the concentration camp in 1934. Similarly, it was a cause for the introduction of the Dachau model (Dachauer Modell) in Prussia.

The next presentation by JANINE FUBEL (Berlin) examined the conscription (Notdienstverpflichtung) of concentration camp guards for the Berlin-Haselhorst satellite camp (1944-1945) by the police and employment agencies. Fubel showed that the employment agencies could initiate the conscription to military service (Zwangsverpflichtung) from October 1938, making it possible to (forcibly) recruit personnel to work in the concentration camps. The employment agencies closely cooperated with the SS. According to Fubel, the agencies had carried out recruitment tours through the armament industry since 1944 in order to source suitable candidates for their application and acceptance examinations. Furthermore, the agencies advertised camp guarding positions to job seekers. In many cases, the conscription for guards (Dienstverpflichtung) occurred after the application of the candidate, thereby primarily serving, according to Fubel, to release the applicant from existing work duties. Recruited personnel were educated in National Socialist ideology (weltanschauliche Schulung) and given weapons and uniforms. Despite personnel changes in Berlin-Haselhorst, violence and bad living conditions defined the daily experience of the inmates. The behavior of the guards recruited through the prescription to labor service did not, according to Fubel, differ from that of regular SS-personnel towards the prisoners. She further pointed out that the motivation of camp personnel who applied on their own initiative cannot be conclusively established from available sources.

The workshop’s second panel, moderated by PAUL MOORE (Leicester), focused on the relationship between camps and the communal administration as well as society in the camps’ immediate surroundings. The panel was opened by FRÉDÉRIC BONNESOEUR (Berlin), who examined the role of the city administration in organizing forced labor in the concentration camp Oranienburg. Bonnesoeur showed that the camp, opened on the 21st March 1933 in an abandoned brewery by the local SA chapter 208, was actively supported by the majority of city council members, primarily for economic reasons. The city administration set up contracts securing the supplying of the camp by local businesses, and provided financial loans to the SA for the establishment and expansion of the camp. To ensure repayment of these loans, local administrators of the building inspectorate organized forced labor of inmates in areas of the city and surrounding communities within the context of a work-provision program funded by the state. Bonnesoeur concluded that the example of Oranienburg showed that local actors from political and economic sectors played an active part in supporting and advancing both the construction of the concentration camp as well in organizing the forced labor of its inmates.

The next presentation by BORBÁLA KLACSMANN (Budapest) focused on the Monor transit camp close to Budapest, Hungary, thereby expanding the geographical focus of the Workshop beyond the borders of the German Reich. From 30 June to 9 July 1944, around 9.000 Jews were deported from this camp to the extermination camp Auschwitz-Birkenau. Klacsmann emphasized the crucial role of Hungarian authorities in the establishment, administration and guarding of the camp. Thereafter, she focused on the reactions of the Gentile surrounding population to the violent occurrences in their city. Their behavior, according to Klacsmann, ranged from passivity, collaboration and help for the Jewish victims. In examining behavior of Jewish inmates, she uncovered examples of organized self-help as well as co-perpetration. An overall categorization of different behaviors into such clear-cut categories such as “resistance” and “collaboration”, according to Klascsmann, is impossible.

Wrapping up the workshop, DENISA NEŠT'ÁKOVÁ (Bratislava) examined gender-specific experiences of men and women in the Slovakian camp of Sered. The camp was founded in 1941 on Jewish initiative by the Slovakian interior ministry in the town of Sered. The camp’s establishment was supported by the Jewish Center, which hoped to thereby alleviate the Jewish populations’ economic grievances and offer them protection from deportation. Between March and September 1942, before its takeover by the SS in 1944, the work camp Sered was also used as a transit camp. Basing her research on testimonies of former residents of the ghetto sourced from the Visual History Archive, Nešťáková showed that persecution and internment did not necessarily lead to a collapse of inmates’ gender identities: in fact, traditional gender roles were strengthened: particularly for young men in the Zionist youth movement, Sered offered innovative political and economic possibilities. Even though women were part of the labor force in Sered, they were amongst others excluded from its political underground organization. Sered remained a male-dominated world rather than being a newly ordered society, in which women were restricted to their pre-war gender roles of daughters, sisters, girlfriends and wives.

The workshop’s final discussion and evaluation session made clear that the question to be asked may not only be how the camps influenced their surroundings, but instead, how adjacent society and normative state institutions themselves influenced not only the establishment of the camps, but also their inner structure and further development. National Socialist camps were not ahistoric places and thus, their research must take place with eye to the society from which they were established. Lastly, participants formulated new research directions: suggestions included including concentration camp history as part of regional history, concentration camp history written from the perspectives of inmates or with a closer focus on gender-specific aspects of the National Socialist camp experience.




Keynote Lecture: MICHAEL WILDT (Berlin)

Panel I

Die „günstige Gefangenenanstalt“ Sonnenburg. Zur Ausschaltung von Kommunisten und anderen Gegnern des Nationalsozialismus durch die alten Funktionseliten der Weimarer Republik und neuen faschistischen Gewaltakteure am Beispiel des frühen KZ Sonnenburg

„Die Notdienstverpflichtung ist nach Anhörung des Arbeitsamtes erfolgt.“ Die Dienstverpflichtung zum KZ-Wachdienst durch die Berliner Polizei und Arbeitsämter am Beispiel des Sachsenhausener KZ-Außenlagers Berlin-Siemensstadt 1944

Moderation: JULIA PIETSCH (Berlin)

Panel II

The role of the local municipality in implementing forced labor for the inmates of the Oranienburg concentration camp in May 1933

10 Days in the Brick Factory: The Monor Transit Camp. A presentation concerning the role of the au-thorities and local non-Jews, and the circumstances inside one of the biggest transit camps of the 6th deportation zone of Hungary

DENISA NEŠT'ÁKOVÁ (Bratislava): Gender related experiences of Women and Men in the Labor Camp Sereď, Slovakia in 1941-1944

Moderation: PAUL MOORE (Leicester)