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“Education through work”

In the initial years of National Socialist supremacy, the police and judiciary sent numerous political opponents to prison and concentration camps. These prisoners were the first to be deployed systematically for forced labor.

The picture shows men cutting peat with hand tools. They are being supervised by a man in a uniform on the right-hand side of the picture.
Prisoners cultivating moorland (Emsland), 1935. The work was supervised by SA men as well as foremen from private firms.
You can see men digging a trench with spades. A man in uniform is standing at the edge of the trench and is supervising them.
Prisoners cultivating moorland (Emsland), 1935. The photographs originate from a photo album which the SA intended to give Adolf Hitler for Christmas in 1935.

In contrast to their view of the Jews, the National Socialists considered the "Aryan" political prisoners to be members of the German people. Forced labor was intended to serve as a means of breaking their resistance.

In the summer of 1933, the Prussian interior ministry had three concentration camps built near the Dutch border. They were used primarily for the imprisonment of political opponents and also for Jehovah's Witnesses and later for so-called "asocials.". Beginning in 1934, several additional camps for justice system convicts were established. The inmates had to perform forced labor for the drainage of the moors. The work was intended as a means of demoralization. The lack of technical equipment was deliberate.

The guard units consisted primarily of SA and SS men. Mistreatment and murder were the order of the day. Nazi propaganda played down this terror by dubbing it "education through work."

The Emsland camps were part of an expanding camp system, which gradually spread across the entire German Reich.

An iron camp gate can be seen. At the top of the door in the centre are the words "Arbeit macht frei" ("Work sets you free") in metal letters.
Gate of the Dachau Concentration Camp, around 1940. The Dachau Concentration Camp was the first concentration camp run by the SS. It was initially established in March 1933 in a former gunpowder factory.



The concentration camps were instruments of terror. Over time they also increasingly took on an economic function. After 1936–37, the SS began to exploit the labor of prisoners in SS-owned enterprises, particularly quarries and brickworks. The inscription "Arbeit macht frei" (“Work will make you free”) on the gates of the Dachau, Sachsenhausen, and Flossenbürg concentration camps alluded to the idea of re-education through work. In reality, the slogan was above all intended to mock the prisoners. The slogan was also used in the later concentration camps.

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