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Ernst Friedrich Christoph "Fritz" Sauckel (27 October 1894 – 16 October 1946) was a German Nazi politician, Gauleiter of Thuringia and the General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment from 1942 until the end of the Second World War.
Sauckel was among the 24 persons accused in the Nuremberg Trial of the Major War Criminals before the International Military Tribunal. He was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to death by hanging.
He was born in Haßfurt (Kingdom of Bavaria), the only child of a postman and a seamstress. Sauckel was educated at local schools and left early when his mother fell ill. He joined the merchant marine of Norway and Sweden when he was 15, first on a Norwegian three-masted schooner, and later on Swedish and German vessels. He went on to sail throughout the world, rising to the rank of Vollmatrose (able seaman). At the outbreak of World War I, he was on a German vessel en route to Australia when the vessel was captured. He was subsequently interned in France from August 1914 until November 1919.
He returned to Germany, found factory work in Schweinfurt, and studied engineering in Ilmenau from 1922 to 1923. He joined the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP) in 1923 (member 1,395). In 1924 he married Elisabeth Wetzel, with whom he had ten children. He remained a party member over its dissolution and publicly rejoined in 1925. Sauckel was appointed party Gauleiter of Thüringia in 1927 and became a member of the regional government in 1929. Following Hitler's appointment as Chancellor in 1933, he was promoted to Reich Regent of Thüringia and Reichstag member. He was also given an honorary rank of Obergruppenführer in the SA and the SS in 1934.
World War II
During World War II he was Reich defence commissioner for the Kassel district (Reichsverteidigungskommissar Wehrkreis IX) before being appointed General Plenipotentiary for Labour Deployment (Generalbevollmächtigter für den Arbeitseinsatz) on 21 March 1942, on the recommendation of Martin Bormann.
Slave and forced labour
Young Polish girl wearing Letter "P" patch.
Arbeitsbuch Für Ausländer (Workbook for Foreigners) identity document issued to a Polish Forced Labourer in 1942 by the Germans together with a letter "P" patch that Poles were required to wear to distinguish them from the German population.
He worked directly under Goering through the Four-Year Plan Office, directing and controlling German labour. In response to increased demands, he met the requirement for manpower with people from the occupied territories. Voluntary numbers were insufficient and forced recruitment was introduced within a few months. Of the 5 million foreign workers brought to Germany, around 200,000 came voluntarily according to Sauckel himself in his testimony at Nuremberg. The majority of the acquired workers originated from the Eastern territories, especially Poland and the Soviet Union where the methods used to gain workers were very harsh. The Wehrmacht was used to pressgang local people, and most were taken by force to the Reich. Conditions of work were extremely poor, and discipline severe, especially for concentration camp prisoners. All the latter were unpaid and provided with starvation rations, barely keeping those workers alive. Such slave labour was widely used by swathes of German industry, coal mining, steel making, armaments manufacture and so on. It was to be one of the main accusations against Sauckel when he was brought before the Nuremberg trials for his crimes. The use of forced and slave labour increased throughout the war, especially when Albert Speer came to power in February 1942 to replace Fritz Todt in charge of armaments production, and he demanded much more labour from Sauckel as a result.
Trial and execution
The body of Fritz Sauckel after execution, October 16, 1946
At the Nuremberg trials, Fritz Sauckel was accused of conspiracy to commit crimes against peace; planning, initiating and waging wars of aggression; war crimes and crimes against humanity. He defended the Arbeitseinsatz as "nothing to do with exploitation. It is an economic process for supplying labour". He denied that it was slave labour or that it was common to deliberately work people to death (extermination by labour) or to mistreat them. Robert Servatius, Sauckel's counsel, portrayed Sauckel as a representative of the labour classes of Germany; an earnest and unpretentious party man assiduously committed to promoting the collective utility of the working class. This portrait was contrary to that of Albert Speer, whom Servatius juxtaposed against Sauckel as a technical genius and entrepreneurial administrator. Sauckel surmised that Speer bore greater legal and moral responsibility by virtue of the fact that the former merely met the demands of the latter, in accordance with protocol. This strategy did not yield to his favour, however, as the ratio in the final judgment against the respective defendants outlined that Speer's tasks were numerous, with the forced labour program comprising only one facet of his ministerial responsibilities, while Sauckel was singularly responsible for his office as General Plenipotentiary.
After a defense led by Robert Servatius, Sauckel was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and together with a number of colleagues was hanged on 16 October 1946, just 11 days before his 52nd birthday. His last words were recorded as "Ich sterbe unschuldig, mein Urteil ist ungerecht. Gott beschütze Deutschland!" ("I die an innocent man, my sentence is unjust. God protect Germany!"). Albert Speer escaped the death sentence, but served 20 years at Spandau prison.
Sauckels body, as those of the other nine executed men and the corpse of Hermann Göring, was cremated at Ostfriedhof (Munich) and the ashes were scattered in the river Isar.
Portrayal in popular culture
Fritz Sauckel has been portrayed by the following actors in film, television and theater productions;
- Steffen Raßloff: Fritz Sauckel. Hitler "Muster-Gauleiter" (Thüringen. Blätter zur Landeskunde 36). Erfurt 2004. (PDF) (translation into English)
- Steffen Raßloff: Fritz Sauckel. Hitlers "Muster-Gauleiter" und "Sklavenhalter" (Schriften der Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Thüringen. Bd. 29). 3. Auflage, Erfurt 2008. ISBN 978-3-937967-18-9 (PDF)
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