Oswald Ludwig Pohl listen (30 June 1892 – 7 June 1951) was a
German SS functionary during the Nazi era. As the head of the SS Main
Economic and Administrative Office and the head administrator of the
Nazi concentration camps, he was a key figure in the Final Solution,
the extermination of Jews. After the war he went into hiding. Pohl was
apprehended in 1946. He stood trial in 1947, was convicted of war
crimes and crimes against humanity, repeatedly appealed his case, and
was executed by hanging in 1951.
1 Early life and career
2 The SS
3 Concentration camp administrator and WVHA chief
4 Trial, conviction and execution
5 See also
Early life and career
Pohl was born in Duisburg-Ruhrort on 30 June 1892 as the son of
blacksmith, Hermann Otto Emil Pohl and his wife Auguste Pohl (née
Seifert); he was the fifth of eight children. His parents were
financially secure, and he attended a Realgymnasium where he studied
classical Greek and Latin texts. From what Pohl claimed, he always
wanted to study science but his father did not have the means to send
him straight to university. In 1912, he became a sailor in the
Imperial Navy. During World War I, he served in the Baltic Sea
region and the coast of Flanders. Pohl attended a navy school, and
became paymaster on 1 April 1918. On 30 October of the same year, he
After the end of the war, Pohl attended courses at a trade school, and
began studying law and state theory at the
Christian-Albrechts-Universität in Kiel; he dropped out of university
soon again though, and became paymaster for the
Löwenfeld", working in Berlin, Upper
Silesia and the Ruhr basin. In
1920, like many others involved in the Lüttwitz-Kapp Putsch, he was
accepted into the Weimar Republic's new navy, the Reichsmarine. Pohl
was transferred to
Swinemünde in 1924.
One year later, in 1925, Pohl became a member of the SA, then finally
joined the re-founded
Nazi Party on 22 February 1926 as member #30842.
Sometime during 1929 Pohl became a member of the SS. Pohl
proclaimed in 1932, "I was a National Socialist before National
Socialism came into being." He met
Heinrich Himmler in 1933, coming
to his attention at the behest of Admiral
Wilhelm Canaris who
described Pohl as an "energetic" officer and a "dedicated Nazi".
Pohl quickly availed himself to the younger Himmler after their first
meeting at a
Kiel Biergarten. While he already presided over as many
as 500 men in his role in the German Navy, as a dedicated Nazi, he
jumped at the chance to be a commissioned officer in Himmler's SS.
Pohl promised Himmler that he would serve him until he dropped and
rose quickly due to his "ruthlessness" and his unwavering
Once an officer in the SS, Pohl furiously set to work, putting his
20-plus years of administrative experience into action; he managed to
successfully standardize and professionalize the SS accounting
operations, so much so that it was able to withstand a public audit,
which garnered more respect from national agencies for Himmler's SS.
Pohl was quickly promoted as a result. Capable administrative
officers were recruited and assigned to the concentration camps due to
Pohl's efforts. Eventually Pohl was appointed chief of the
administration department in the staff of the Reichsführer-SS. His
career continued to thrive when Himmler made him administrative chief
over the SD Main Office and the Race and Settlement Office on 1 June
1935. Two of Pohl’s predecessors, Paul Weickert and Gerhard
Schneider, were dismissed from the SS for embezzlement. Pohl
founded the "Gesellschaft zur Förderung und Pflege deutscher
Kulturdenkmäler" ("Society for the preservation and fostering of
German cultural monuments"), which was primarily dedicated to
restoring Wewelsburg, an old castle that was supposed to be turned
into a cultural and scientific headquarters of the SS at Himmler's
request. The "society" soon became a part of Pohl's SS administration
office. Pohl left the Roman
Catholic Church in 1935.
Concentration camp administrator and WVHA chief
Hungarian-Jewish women and children from
Carpatho-Ruthenia after their
arrival at the Auschwitz deathcamp (May/June 1944). Photo from the
Over time, Pohl's orbit of responsibility began to include the
concentration camp system since he lived near the camp at Dachau and
inspected them from time to time. During the early establishment of
the concentration camps in the mid-1930s, Pohl already recognized the
economic potential of forced labor. Shortly after the Austrian
Anschluss in March 1938, Pohl, who at this time was already
administrative chief of the SS-Hauptamt, accompanied Himmler to the
small town of Mauthausen where it was decided that the SS-operated
German Earth and Stoneworks Corporation (DEST) would begin excavating
granite, using concentration camp prisoners as slave laborers.
Administrative and financial authority for the camps and the SS
Death's Head troops were conveyed to Pohl by 1938, which pitted him
against his contemporary and peer, Theodor Eicke, particularly on
matters of administration, budget, and building projects.
In June 1939 Pohl became chief of both the Verwaltung und Wirtschaft
Hauptamt (VuWHA) ("main office [for] administration and economy", part
of the SS) and the Hauptamt Haushalt und Bauten ("main bureau [for]
budget and construction", part of the Reich's Ministry of the
Interior). Himmler stated that: "The supervision of the economic
matters of these institutions (concentration camps) and their
application to work is the responsibility of SS Gruppenfuehrer
Pohl". The day before the Wannsee Conference, 19 January 1942,
Himmler consolidated all of the offices for which Pohl was responsible
into one, creating the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office
(Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt; WVHA). While already a
significant figure in the regime, Pohl's appointment as chief of the
WVHA strengthened his position greatly. Behind Himmler and Heydrich,
he eventually became the third most powerful figure in the SS.
Placing Pohl's position into perspective is historian Heinz Höhne who
quips, "Four potent departments placed Pohl's hand firmly on the
levers of power in the SS empire: he was in charge of the entire
administration and supply of the Waffen-SS; he controlled the 20
concentration camps and 165 labor camps; he directed all SS and Police
building projects; he was in charge of all SS economic
As the head of the economics division of the SS, Pohl was appointed to
run the Deutscher Wirtschaftsbetrieb (German Industrial Concern;
GmbH), an organization he helped establish. It was designed to unify
the massive business interests of Himmler's SS, taking in profits from
the slave labour of concentration camp prisoners. Under Pohl's
leadership, the WVHA turned its attention, once focused primarily on
security and re-education, towards economic matters. To merge
operations, Pohl announced the incorporation of the inspectorate of
concentration camps into the WVHA on 13 March 1942. Expressing his
sentiments regarding the use of prisoners for labor in a memo, Pohl
wrote, "SS industries [Unternehmen] have the task...to organize a more
businesslike (more productive) execution of punishment and adjust it
to the overall development of the Reich."
Expanding his power ever further over the economic realm, Pohl was
named chairman of the board of directors for the Eastern Territories
Industries Inc. (Ostindustrie GmbH) on 12 March 1943. Despite the
seeming intention to use concentration camp prisoners for production
in the expanding SS economics industry, Pohl's role was also framed by
the ideological mandates of exploitation and racial extermination, as
evidence indicates for example, that Pohl refused to allow any
increases in rations to starving prisoners toiling in the Granite
Gross-Rosen concentration camp
Gross-Rosen concentration camp when there were administrative
complaints in favor of providing more food to the inmates.
According to historian Michael Thad Allen, "Pohl’s men prided
themselves as modern administrators" and often clashed with prison
guards who "undermined productivity" by beating or killing
prisoners. An irreconcilable duplicity emerged over the
conflicting goals between the pragmatic economic interests of the SS
under Pohl's purview and their fanatical racialist ideological
imperatives. Fulfilling a call beyond mere economic interests but
one based on communal concerns prompted Pohl's thinking when he
informed the Reich's Interior Ministry in a letter that, "It is the
will of the
Reichsführer-SS that profits from lucrative corporations
be diverted to cover the losses of others that must labor under the
constraints of their non-capitalistic [nicht privatwirtschaftliche]
end goals. At times these goals damn our corporations to years of
future losses." In this manner, Pohl helped provide SS companies
with their "ideological raison d’être." Along with other SS
ideologues, Pohl wanted the SS to lead the Nazi revolution through the
creation of an economic base that focused on communal industrial
interests vice the despised principles of western style capitalism
that served individuals; in the process he intended on employing
concentration camp prisoners to serve the greater interests of the
Reich. For Pohl, that also meant completely "exhausting forced
Budapest, Hungary – Column of Jewish women arrested in Wesselényi
Street, 20–22 October 1944
Pohl oversaw the organization of the concentration camps, deciding on
the distribution of detainees to the various camps and the "rental" of
detainees for slave labour until 1944. The exploitation of the
captives rested on the Nazi principle of "extermination through
labor". Human material was to be efficiently and fully exploited in
the process and as former Buchenwald political prisoner and historian
Eugen Kogon points out, Pohl insisted on extracting the maximum
financial worth from each and every camp laborer. Kogon asserts
that Pohl even created evaluative tables that calculated their value
as farmed-out wage earners (minus the depreciation of food and
clothing), their profit intake from valuables (watches, clothing,
money) remaining after their deaths (minus crematoria expenses), and
any costs recovered from selling their bones and ashes; in total, the
average concentration camp inmate had a life-expectancy of nine-months
or less and was valued at 1,630 marks. Along these lines, Pohl
supervised the macabre task of collecting Jewish people's gold
fillings, hair, clothing, jewelry and other possessions. These
"spoils", taken from the concentration camp inmates (mostly Jews) were
carefully itemized and sold at prices set by the WVHA.
In keeping with Pohl's plan, concentration camps were to be
constructed at Auschwitz, Lublin (Majdanek), and Stutthof to
facilitate a "vertically integrated construction and building supply
enterprise." The catalyst for the expansion of SS construction
initiatives stemmed from Hitler's megalomania, namely, his plans to
erect massive German cities and monuments (masterminded by the young
architect Albert Speer) as the
Reich expanded. Himmler was likewise
inspired by these plans which would expand SS production and "boost
the status of the SS". To accomplish the job of carrying out the
Führer's vision, Pohl created the East German Building Supply Works
(Ost-Deutsche Baustoffwerke GmbH; ODBS) along with the German Noble
Furniture Corporation (Deutsche Edelmöbel GmbH) with the aide of Dr.
Emil Meyer, an officer in the Allgemeine-SS and prominent figure
within the Dresdner Bank.
Despite holding a "nominal" rank in the Waffen-SS, Pohl and the WVHA
had "no direct connection" to the combat formations of the SS.
Pohl nonetheless showed unwavering commitment to the cause and tenets
of National Socialism when performing his duties and stressed the
importance in fulfilling the tasks outlined by the Reichsführer-SS.
By those tasks he meant the policing duties related to the Reich's
security, those concerning the concentration camp system and industry,
those duties which promoted the National Socialist world-view, and any
undertaking related to the "Reinforcement of Germandom." Shortly
before the invasion of the Soviet Union, Himmler wrote to Pohl about
not needing to conceal any "hidden agendas" from him and emphasized
the "essential" task of increasing "good and worthy" blood (Germans)
through nutrition and SS settlements.
Once it began to look as though the war was not ending anytime soon
(spring 1942), Hitler and other Nazi elites looked to increase
armaments production through the use of concentration camp inmates.
This coincided Pohl's control over the KL system. Grandiose
building plans for new SS facilities in the East were lain aside in
favor of arms production, a new course of action which Pohl thought
prudent and necessary. While Himmler and Pohl foresaw an enormous
SS-operated armaments industry, they encountered opposition from the
newly appointed armaments minister, Albert Speer, who undermined their
initial projects. Aside from the moderately successful aircraft
parts manufacturing operation at
Flossenbürg concentration camp
Flossenbürg concentration camp and
Himmler's boasting in October 1943 of a "giant" SS-run system of
armament works, "the SS had failed to become a serious arms
manufacturer.". To the extent possible however, Pohl worked in
tandem with Speer for arms production, despite the latter's lack of
faith in the SS industrial complex. Satellite camps which leased
out concentration camp labor spread as a result of the collaboration
between the industrialists and the SS, due in part to Pohl and Speer's
arrangements. Concentration camp inmates were not supposed to be
leased-out on orders from Himmler, a directive Pohl ignored for he
considered it impractical given the inability of the SS to establish
production processes in short order. An enterprise overseen by
Pohl and one Speer was keen on as well, was the construction works at
Dora-Mittelbau, the underground complex where the V2 rockets were
assembled. Work on the prestigious wonder-weapon V1 and V2
projects using slave-labor remained bitterly contested with
administrative jockeying between the SS and Speer's ministry an
By the summer of 1944, control of the concentration camps was removed
from Pohl's WVHA and executive power was instead given over to local
HSSPF offices, which, according to Pohl, occurred for operational
reasons. Speer's armaments ministry took over arms production
without the intermediation of the WVHA in the application process for
industrial firms seeking business with the Reich. Estimates
provided by Pohl indicate that during the second half of 1944, there
were upwards of 250,000 slaves working for private firms, another
170,000 working in underground factories and an additional 15,000
clearing rubble from the Allied bombing raids.
Trial, conviction and execution
Main article: Pohl Trial
Oswald Pohl receives his sentence of death by hanging.
After the end of
World War II
World War II in 1945, Pohl first hid in Upper
Bavaria, then near Bremen. Disguised as a farmhand, he was arrested by
British troops in May 1946 and sentenced to death on 3 November 1947
by an American military tribunal in the Pohl Trial. Pohl was the
chief defendant for the proceedings at the fourth Nuremberg trial; he
and his co-conspirators were on trial for crimes committed in the
concentration camps administered by the SS-WVHA while he was in
charge. Without denying his knowledge of the mass killings of
Jews, Pohl presented himself as a mere executive, accusing the
prosecution of being guided by feelings of hatred and revenge.
Pohl appealed his death sentence several times. During the Nuremberg
trials, he started to see a Roman Catholic priest and recommitted
himself to the Catholic faith. Officially, Pohl had never left the
Catholic Church, although he stopped attending services in 1935. In
1950, his re-conversion resulted in the appearance of his book Credo.
Mein Weg zu Gott ("Credo. My way to God"), which was published with
permission of the Catholic Church. Pohl was hanged shortly after
midnight on 7 June 1951 at
Landsberg Prison in Landsberg am Lech.
^ Wistrich 1995, p. 192.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 24–25.
^ Allen 2002, p. 25.
^ a b c d Holocaust Research Project.org, Oswald Pohl.
^ a b Zentner & Bedürftig 1991, p. 711.
^ Allen 2002, p. 26.
^ a b Allen 2002, p. 24.
^ a b Wachsmann 2015, p. 161.
^ Allen 2002, p. 27.
^ Allen 2002, p. 29.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 182.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 169.
^ USHMM–Holocaust Encyclopedia, SS and the Camp System.
^ Friedländer 2009, p. 91.
^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 161–162.
^ Höhne 2001, pp. 404–405.
^ Avalon Project–Yale University, USA vs. Pohl et. al.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 559.
^ Yahil 1990, p. 316.
^ Read 2005, p. 672.
^ Höhne 2001, p. 405.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 485.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 560.
^ Buchheim 1968, p. 273.
^ Tuchel 1994, p. 88.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 81–82.
^ Krausnick 1968, p. 120.
^ Allen 2002, p. 9.
^ Allen 2002, p. 20.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 19–20.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 82–83.
^ Allen 2002, p. 83.
^ Allen 2002, p. 94.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 425.
^ Kogon 2006, p. 295.
^ Kogon 2006, pp. 295–296.
^ Laqueur & Baumel 2001, p. 476.
^ Friedländer 2009, p. 354.
^ Allen 2002, p. 100.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 162.
^ Allen 2002, p. 102.
^ Stein 1984, p. 261.
^ Allen 2002, p. 108.
^ Allen 2002, p. 195.
^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 403–404.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 404.
^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 404–405.
^ Wachsmann 2015, p. 405.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 196–201.
^ Wachsmann 2015, pp. 406–410.
^ Longerich 2012, p. 634.
^ Stackelberg 2007, p. 231.
^ Allen 2002, pp. 203–222.
^ Blatman 2010, p. 173.
^ Sofsky 1997, p. 181.
^ Bloxham 2009, p. 253.
^ Snyder 1976, p. 271.
^ Bloxham 2003, pp. 94, 192.
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Nuremberg Military Tribunal 1950, p. 934.
^ Krondorfer 2008, pp. 62–81.
^ Schulte 2001, p. 45.
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