As well as being a great consumer of goods and materials, the SS was also a large-scale producer of them. Before the war, Himmler indulged in limited productive economic enterprises, or SS Wirtschaftsunternehmungen, such as the Apollinaris mineral water works at Bad Neuenahr. Great publicity was given to the SS porcelain factory at Allach, a satellite of Dachau concentration camp, which manufactured top quality decorative pieces as well as basic ceramic utensils for kitchen use. The sword smithy at Dachau, which kept alive the tradition of making high-grade damascus steel edged weapons, was another example of the acceptable face of the SS economy, with workers being very well treated to protect their precious skills. The war, however, and the acquisition of large fertile territories, greatly enlarged the scope of these activities. Farming and stockbreeding in Poland, and lumbering, mining and fishing in Russia, all entered the field of SS economics. Ad hoc SS Economic Operations Units, or Wirtschaftskommandos, were formed to coordinate local entrepreneurial projects, and between 1941 and 1944 the SS exploited the wealth, resources and population of the conquered East on a massive scale.

In wartime Germany itself, an equally great range and even greater ambition of SS economic activity was apparent. Just as the SS achieved a fair measure of independence in the sphere of military supply, so it sought and attained independence in the more general production field. The concentration camp system gave the SS a virtually inexhaustible source of cheap expendable labour, and where it was not expedient in any given case to set up an SS enterprise the camp workers could be farmed out to private firms or used on sub-contract work, for which the SS received payment. The projects thus directly or indirectly carried out by the SS ranged from tailoring to armaments and from quarrying to aircraft construction, and nearly 2 million labourers of both sexes were ‘employed’ on Himmler’s business. By 1944, the SS had developed its own comprehensive and widespread economic system in which was found the raw materials, the factories which processed them, the workers who handled them, and finally the consumers who absorbed them. It ultimately controlled more than 500 manufacturing plants, and produced 75 per cent of Germany’s nonalcoholic beverages and practically all of the country’s furniture. Moreover, by virtue of this economic activity, the SS maintained influential representatives and contacts at many points throughout normal German industrial life. Indeed, Hitler often joked that Himmler was Germany’s biggest industrialist!

For his part, the Reichsführer attached supreme importance to making the best possible use of all available concentration camp labour. It was planned that the building projects of the SS after the war would be on such a large scale that the creation of a camp reserve of 5,000 stonemasons and 10,000 bricklayers was ordered in 1942. These workers would be employed to deliver to the state at least 100,000 cubic metres of granite per year, more than was ever produced by all the quarries in the old Reich. Since there were only 4,000 skilled stonemasons in the whole of Germany before the war, an extensive training programme was instigated. Camp commandants were directed to ensure that the efficiency of prisoners selected for training was increased through the provision of suitable food and clothing, and willing trainees were given rewards as an example to the indifferent. One of the biggest incentives was that inmates successfully undergoing training were exempt from transfer to other less humane camps – or to extermination camps.


The munitions factory within the confines of Dachau concentration camp, showing inmates working on the production of rifle components for the Waffen-SS and police.


Rifle grenades, signals flares and other explosives were manufactured in large numbers by prisoners at Dachau. Trusted inmates were employed by the SS as inspectors, to ensure that quality control was maintained. There was an automatic death sentence for any inmate found sabotaging production.

For construction and building purposes, Germany was subsequently divided into four great SS Work Inspectorates, the SS-Bauinspektion Reich, with headquarters at Berlin, Dachau, Posen and Wiesbaden. The wartime activities carried out by their workers included road making and the building of barracks and training grounds. Plans to lay the foundations of a large SS town, the so-called ‘SS-Stadt’, around Wewelsburg Castle had to be shelved until after the war. Instead, SS construction brigades, or SS-Baubrigaden, drawn from unskilled concentration camp inmates assisted in clearing up bombed areas. A large number of prisoners were detailed to build the extermination camps, to construct various experimental rocket sites and to transfer vital war production plant to secret underground locations in Germany, before being ‘permanently silenced’. In occupied territories it was customary to use for general construction purposes formations known as SS Front Labour Units, or SS-Fro ntarbeiterunternehmen, composed chiefly of foreign workers, while building equipment stores, or SS-Bauhöfe, holding reserve stocks of equipment, were maintained in most large towns.

All this industry was co-ordinated and directed by the SS Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt or WVHA, the SS Economic and Administrative Department. Commanded by SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, the WVHA was formed in March 1942 by amalgamating three existing offices:

1.the old Verwaltungsamt (Administrative Office) of the SS Hauptamt

2.the Hauptamt Haushalt und Bauten (Department of Finance and Building)

3.the office of the Inspekteur der Konzentrationslager (Inspectorate of Concentration Camps)

Its creation recognised the potential which the SS and police system had for generating its own income, and solved the problem of conflicting interests and divided authority over such questions as the allocation of prison and concentration camp labour.

As with the other SS Hauptämter, the province of the WVHA covered the whole SS. The Allgemeine-SS was, for the most part, an unpaid and only lightly equipped organisation, so the administration of both supply and finance for that branch did not require a very extensive or complicated machinery. Nevertheless, the employment of full-time Allgemeine-SS staff, the upkeep of Allgemeine-SS property and the supervision of stocks of weapons, uniforms and equipment at regional level all fell within the scope of the WVHA. The Waffen-SS and police imposed much larger claims upon it, including the overseeing of administrative units of the Waffen-SS, the provision of Waffen-SS clothing, and the undertaking of engineering and construction work. Moreover, a WVHA Wirtschaftsführer or Economics Official was attached to the HSSPf in each occupied territory to co-ordinate the joint administration of the SS and police. When the National HQ of the uniformed police was bombed out in February 1944, it moved most of its departments to the premises of the WVHA, which thereafter carried out services on behalf of the Ordnungspolizei not only in the occupied territories but also in the Reich proper. In addition to these activities, the WVHA was the supreme financial authority for the SS and ran the vast range of SS economic undertakings. To a large extent, the day-to-day work of the WVHA was decentralised and carried out by administrative departments of the various SS Hauptämter, the administrative officers attached to the HSSPfs, and administrative sections at Oberabschnitt and Abschnitt level. Even so, the WVHA remained in charge of the general supervision of all SS and police administration, and appointed administrative personnel. It had to approve the promotions of administrative officers in the SS and police, and acted in close liaison with the SS Führungshauptamt regarding administrative training courses, for which it maintained two specialist schools at Arolsen and Dachau. The SS Verwaltungsdienst, or Administrative Service, included for its enlisted ranks the posts of accountant, baker, billeting official, butcher, clerk, cook, paymaster and storekeeper, while officer grades specialised in agriculture, engineering, forestry and mining, as well as general administrative duties. The SS maintained its own system of supply distinct from that of the Wehrmacht, for which purpose a large network of depots and stores was built up in Germany and the occupied territories. Operationally, these came under the control of the SS Führungshauptamt, but the actual responsibility for supply was divided between the Führungshauptamt and the WVHA. Broadly speaking, the former dealt with arms, ammunition and other technical equipment, while the latter was responsible for rations, clothing, wood, coal, fodder and personal items. The WVHA also engaged in the bulk purchase of leather and textiles, although all other raw materials were acquired for the SS by a special Rohstoffamt (Raw Materials Office) attached to the Persönlicher Stab RfSS.

By 1945, the WVHA had developed to incorporate five distinct branches, or Amtsgruppen, with general allocation of functions as follows:

Amtsgruppe A

Finance, Law and Administration (SS-Brigadeführer Heinz Fanslau)

Amtsgruppe B

Supply, Billeting and Equipment (SS-Gruppenführer Georg Lörner)

Amtsgruppe C

Works and Buildings (SS-Gruppenführer Dr Hans Kammler)

Amtsgruppe D

Concentration Camps (SS-Gruppenführer Richard Glücks)

Amtsgruppe W

Economic Enterprises (SS-Gruppenführer August Frank)

Pohl proved to be a very capable administrator of the entire system, and by the end of the war the WVHA had attained a nationwide economic imperium for the SS.

Amtsgruppe W was subdivided into eight distinct departments or ämter at the end of 1944. These are detailed in the table on p. 104, together with the main activities coming under their jurisdiction, to show the immense variety of SS enterprises being undertaken at that time. Due to its very nature, Amtsgruppe W was considerably decentralised, with each of its ämter located away from the WVHA headquarters.

The massive concentration camp industry was supervised on the ground by only a few junior SS officers and NCOs, assisted by a large number of foreign auxiliary troops and senior inmates known as ältesten. These inmates acted as works foremen or Kapos, and were free from all other camp duties. Political prisoners and hardened habitual criminals were usually entrusted with such jobs since they often wielded great influence over their comrades. Many clerical positions within the camps were also held by selected inmates, and there was a high degree of prisoner self-administration. Employment of inmates on desk work also provided the camp officials with an opportunity to play the prisoners against one another, and make them scapegoats for thefts and other petty crimes committed by some of the SS men. The permanent SS contingent at each camp was usually fairly small, Dachau, for example, having just 300 Totenkopf veterans, all over forty years of age, to oversee 17,000 inmates in 1943. However, most camps also had Waffen-SS training grounds sited nearby from which extra men were regularly drafted in on a rota basis, and from which emergency reinforcements could be summoned if required.



Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH, or D.E.St. (German Clay and Brickworks Co., Ltd) under SS-Obersturmbannführer Karl Mummenthey.

Section 1:


These were located at Sachsenhausen, Neuengamme, Buchenwald and Stutthof concentration camps.

Section 2:


This section supervised granite quarries at Mauthausen, Gross-Rosen, Flössenburg and Natzweiler; stone quarries at Rotau and Linz; masonry at Oranienburg; gravel dredging at Auschwitz; and an oil shale research distillery at Natzweiler.

Section 3:

Pottery and Porcelain Works.

These were in operation at Allach, Dachau and also in Bohemia.


Baustoffswerke und Zementfabriken (Building Materials and Cement Factories) under SS-Obersturmbannführer Dr Hanns Bobermin.

Section 1:

Building Materials.

These plants made plasterboard, insulation, roofing tiles, etc. and were sited in Posen, Bielitz and Zichenau.

Section 2:

Cement Factories.

The main enterprise under this Section was the Golleschau Cement Works at Auschwitz.

Section 3:

Eastern Works.

Dealt with the large number of Russian building companies which the SS took over ‘lock, stock and barrel’ during 1941–2.


Ernährungs Betriebe (Food Industry) under SS-Oberführer Karl Möckel.

Section 1:

Mineral Water.

There were three SS soft drinks factories which went under the trade names of Sudetenquell, Mattoni and Apollinaris, and an associated SS bottling plant, the Rheinglassfabrik.

Section 2:

Meat Processing.

This was carried out at Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen.

Section 3:

Bread Making.

SS bakeries operated at Auschwitz, Dachau, Sachsenhausen, Herzogenbusch, Lublin and Plaszow.


Deutsche Ausrüstungswerke, or D.A.W. (German Equipment Works) under SS-Sturmbannführer Dr Hans May.

Section 1:

Military Armaments.

SS involvement in the armaments and munitions industry increased as the war progressed, not only for the purpose of supplying the Waffen-SS but also to assist conventional arms manufacturers by furnishing them with cheap labour. The SS made many of its own weapons and technical instrumentation at Auschwitz, Neuengamme, Ravensbrück, Sachsenhausen, Stutthof, Lublin and Plaszow, maintained an ordnance testing and repair shop at Stutthof, and melted down scrap cable at Dachau. In addition, aircraft parts assembly was carried out at Flössenburg, Mauthausen and Natzweiler on behalf of the Messerschmitt and Junkers companies. Heinkel contracted the SS to produce hangars for them at Sachsenhausen, gun carriages were repaired at Mauthausen, hand grenades assembled at Sachsenhausen, and industrial diamonds cut at Herzogenbusch and Belsen.

Section 2:

Carpentry and Cabinet Making.

Almost every concentration camp had a furniture workshop, making articles for both military and civilian consumption.

Section 3:


The vast majority of SS and police uniforms were manufactured at so-called SS-Bekleidungswerke or clothing factories in the concentration camps, with a central store at Dachau. In addition, the SS made webbing and braid for the Wehrmacht on sub-contract to the Schwarz Company of Hamburg.

Amt V

Land-, Forst- und Fischereiwirtschaft (Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries) under SS-Obersturmbannführer Heinrich Vogel.

Section 1:

Nutrition and Food Research.

This section purchased both live and dead animals such as guinea-pigs, mice and rats for experimental use in the research institutes of the SS. It also bred Angora rabbits at Auschwitz and maintained medicinal herb and spice gardens in many other camps.

Section 2:


Administered the economic use of forests situated on SS property.

Section 3:


The SS operated a fish processing company under the trade name of Anton Loibl GmbH.

Amt VI

Textil- und Lederverwertung (Re-processing of Textile and Leather Goods) under SS-Obersturmbannführer Fritz Lechler.

There were textile and leather works at Dachau and Ravensbrück which upgraded old uniforms, belts, boots, etc. for re-issue to combat units of the Waffen-SS and police. They also processed clothing confiscated from concentration camp inmates, which was then forwarded to the SS-Bekleidungswerke to be made into uniforms.


Buch und Bild (Books and Pictures) under SS-Sturmbannführer Dr Alfred Mischke.

Section 1:


The SS publishing house which produced books and magazines on Germanic history and culture for general public consumption.

Section 2:

Bauer & Co.

An SS picture restoration company, employed by major European art galleries, which also confiscated valuable paintings for display at Wewelsburg or in the House of German Art in Munich.


Kulturbauten (Cultural Monuments) under SS-Obersturmbannführer Horst Klein.

Section 1:

Society for the Maintenance of German Monuments.

Looked after the upkeep and improvement of historical buildings including the SS castles at Wewelsburg, Kranichfeld and Sudelfeld. Many of the tapestries, wood carvings and the like used to embellish these institutions were manufactured by craftsmen at Buchenwald and other concentration camps. This section also supervised the SS Damascus School at Dachau.

Section 2:

Memorial Foundations.

This section was principally concerned with the King Heinrich Memorial Trust and the Externsteine Foundation, the latter looking after a sanctuary situated among a group of rocks in the Teutoberg Forest.


SS men guarding Hungarian Jews at Auschwitz railway terminal, summer 1944. This candid photograph was found in Czechoslovakia at the end of the war, among the possessions of a dead Waffen-SS soldier who had previously served at the camp. Himmler expressly forbade the taking of such souvenir snapshots, realising that they might well eventually be used in evidence against the SS.

During the second half of the war, the working hours of most prisoners were raised considerably. By 1944, an eleven-hour day had become the rule, even during the winter months, with only Sunday afternoons set aside for rest. Debility and mortality increased rapidly, and the productivity of inmates remained far below Himmler’s and Pohl’s high expectations. Consequently, more and more had to be employed to maintain even a static output. Anti-social elements and petty criminals were soon being transferred en masse by the RSHA from conventional German state prisons to the concentration camp factories, and according to a WVHA report of 15 January 1945 the number of inmates incarcerated at that time had reached an all-time high of 715,000, including 200,000 women. Probably as many as one-third of those subsequently lost their lives in the exhausting evacuation marches organised in the face of Allied advances on the camps. The total number of prisoners who died during the war from weakness and disease while labouring for the SS in the concentration camps and industrial complexes of the Reich was estimated by the Nürnberg tribunal at half a million.

The Nazi party in general, as a nationalist and anti-socialist movement, was supported from its infancy by big business. The SS was particularly attractive to major industrial groupings such as I.G. Farben, whose directors shared Himmler’s opposition to the costly protection of the old Junker landholders, and his goal of building German hegemony in Europe, in a closed economic bloc independent of American capital and the world market. During the spring of 1934, Himmler befriended Wilhelm Keppler, one of I.G. Farben’s managers, and bestowed upon him the honorary rank of SS-Gruppenführer. In return, Keppler was instrumental in the creation of the so-called Freundeskreis RfSS, or Circle of Friends of the Reichsführer-SS, a group of wealthy industrialists and business advisers. They agreed to make regular financial contributions towards the cultural, social and charitable activities of the SS, in return for Himmler’s patronage and protection. While Keppler was the instigator of the Freundeskreis, its leading member was the renowned financier Kurt Freiherr von Schröder, whose Cologne Bank maintained the special account, codenamed ‘S’, which held Freundeskreis donations. Other prominent members of the Circle included: Dr Rasche, Director of the Dresden Bank; Dr Lippert, Oberbürgermeister of Berlin; Dr Ritter von Halt, Director of the Deutsche Bank; and Gottfried Graf von Bismarck. Heavy industry was represented by, among others: Director-General Röhnert of the Lüdenscheid Metal Works; Steinbrinck of the Flick Steel Consortium; Bingel of the Siemens electrical combine; Bütefisch of I.G. Farben; and Walz of the Bosch chemical concern.


A typical concentration camp guard, February 1945. This is one of only a dozen known photographs showing the double-armed swastika collar patch being worn. It was used from September 1944 to identify full-time concentration camp guards who had been compulsorily transferred in from the Wehrmacht, SA, Werkschutz or similar non-SS organisations. Such men, who had little to do with the horrors of the camp system, bore the brunt of Allied reprisals when the camps were liberated.


Foreign Minister Joachim von Ribbentrop in his uniform as an honorary SS-Brigadeführer, early 1936. At this stage in his career, von Ribbentrop had just been appointed Hitler’s ambassador to Great Britain.

Throughout the life of the Third Reich, the Freundeskreis deposited vast sums into the coffers of the SS, and a special office was set up under SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Kranefuss to administer donations received from the Circle. For its part, the SS was able to award lucrative contracts in the conquered territories to the companies concerned, and supply them with cheap concentration camp labour. In September 1943 alone, over 1 million Reichsmarks went into Account ‘S’, 200,000 of them from von Schröder personally, who wrote that he was very happy to be able to help Himmler perform his ‘special tasks’. There is no doubt that these pillars of German society played a most important part in oiling the wheels of the SS economic machine.

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