Introduction

The Human as a Commodity

Founded in Berlin in 1847, Siemens quickly developed into a major international corporation. The company was a leader in the German electrical industry in the 1930s and benefited from the economic upswing and rearmament. During World War II, Siemens used at least 80,000, but more likely more than 100,000 forced labourers, including German Jews, civilians deported from occupied Europe, prisoners of war, prisoners of conscience and concentration camp inmates. They were forced to work under inhumane conditions for the war production in Berlin and at other company locations, including nearly 400 relocated and alternative factories. This labour force made it possible for Siemens to expand into the occupied territories. In 1943, for example, the company built a factory in Bobrek, a subcamp of Auschwitz.

For many decades after 1945, Siemens, like all German companies, refused to assume responsibility for its use of forced labour. In 1962, Siemens provided seven million German marks as compensation to surviving Jewish concentration camp prisoners, but rejected any legal or moral obligation. It did not alter its position until the 1990s, when Nazi forced labour became a broader topic of debate and class-action lawsuits were filed in the United States. In 1998, Siemens founded its own “Humanitarian Aid Fund for Former Forced Labourers” and participated in the foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future” in 2000. Since 2010 Siemens has organized annual remembrance projects for apprentices in cooperation with the Ravensbrück Memorial.

A comprehensive study of the history of Nazi forced labour at Siemens has yet to be conducted. This is particularly true regarding civilian forced labourers and prisoners of war, but also for the Sinti and Roma.