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Building to Death: Prisoner Forced Labour in the German War Economy ó The Neuengamme Subcamps

Marc Buggeln
September 2009

In 1944 most concentration camp prisoners were not interned in the main camps but in subcamps. These subcamps were erected near important armament production sites, where the work power of the prisoners was needed. The conditions in these subcamps were sometimes even more terrible than in the main camps. In historiography, the phrase ëextermination through workí is often used in order to describe the subcamps. However, newer studies show that conditions differed enormously between camps. For this reason it is necessary to compare the conditions in the different subcamps systematically. My article discusses the reasons for the differences that have been put forward so far. Afterwards I show that an exploration of the subcamps of Neuengamme leads to somewhat different results, and I argue that, therefore, the phrase ëextermination through workí should be used more cautiously.