One of the most important specialized organizations of the Third Reich, the Todt Organization (OT), named after its director, Fritz Todt, was used for the construction of military and related sites, especially in occupied Europe. Labor service “volunteers” and private construction firms were first used by the OT in the building of the Siegfried Line in 1938–1939. During the war hundreds of thousands of foreign civilian workers, prisoners of war, and in places close to concentration camps, Jewish and other slave laborers were used to repair war damage and construct military-related projects. It was one of the few organizations in Hitler’s Reich to enjoy extensive administrative autonomy and worked all the more efficiently as a result.
We work week after week, five to six hundred men, on a piece of land that could be taken care of in four days with two steam plows. That’s called “productive labor.” We call it “slave labor, sheer drudgery.” The foremen think the acidic soil will be OK in maybe another ten or fifteen years. But already by next year, it’s supposed to become farmland and be planted. . . .We stand out on the moor for months, often sinking up to our knees in the swamp. Frequently, our spades can’t cut through the gigantic roots and tree stumps of the sunken forests in this moor. . . . Often, one of us collapses and is taken to a field hospital by two fellow prisoners and a sentry. And then there’s this constant pressure to work, driving us on and on, the humiliating insults, the tormenting feeling you’re not human any more. Just some animal. An animal that’s herded together in flocks, housed in ten long stables, given a number, hounded and beaten as need requires, exposed to the whims of its drovers.
Organization Todt (OT), named for German Minister of Arms and Munitions Fritz Todt, handled construction projects throughout territory occupied by the German army during World War II. Formed in 1933 by Todt, then head of technology and road construction, the OT was at first chiefly identified with construction of the great autobahn road system in Germany that was the pride of the Third Reich. In 1938, German leader Adolf Hitler assigned OT the task of quickly completing the West Wall (also known as the Siegfried Line), defenses in western Germany that were designed to hold back a French army attack in order to allow Germany to concentrate its military resources in the east. Todt was an adroit manager, and in record time, some 500,000 workers constructed 5,000 concrete bunkers.
With the beginning of World War II, the OT provided the German army with engineers and construction specialists involved in the building and repair of bridges, dams, airfields, and fortifications, as well as factories. In March 1940, Todt became the Reich’s minister of arms and munitions. The OT was in fact the only organization in the Third Reich, apart from the Hitler Youth, that bore the name of a member of the governing elite.
Following the German invasion of the Balkans in the spring of 1941, the OT was in charge of extracting minerals there and shipping them to the Reich. With the invasion of the Soviet Union, it took on the great responsibility of reconstructing and maintaining the Soviet transportation network. OT also made use of vast numbers of conscript laborers throughout German-occupied Europe. In all, the OT mobilized some 1.4 million people, 80 percent of whom were non- Germans (many were (Soviet citizens) prisoners of war).
At the end of 1944, the entire number of concentration camp inmates was some 600,000. Of these, 480,000 were fit for deployment: 140,000 were with the Kammler staff, 130,000 deployed under Organisation Todt, and 230,000 were in private industry.
OT’s most ambitious task was the construction of the Atlantic Wall, the German defenses against an invasion of France by the Western Allies; it ran from Norway to the Bay of Biscay. On this effort, the OT expended some 13.3 million tons of concrete and 1.2 million tons of steel in 3,000 fortifications. The ruins of many of these may still be seen today. The OT also built the submarine pens in France that proved so difficult for Allied aircraft to destroy.
Following Todt’s death in an airplane crash in February 1942, his assistant, Albert Speer, took over the organization, and under him, it reached its greatest extent. Increasingly, the OT was involved in cleaning up bomb damage from Allied air raids on Germany. In autumn 1944, the organization was renamed the Front-OT, when it was armed and enlisted in the defense of German territory.
Guse, John C. “The Spirit of the Plassenburg: Technology and Ideology in the Third Reich.” Ph.D. diss., University of Nebraska, Lincoln, 1983.
Seidler, Franz Wilhelm. Die Organisation Todt: Bauen für Staat undWehrmacht, 1938–1945. Koblenz, Germany: Bernard and Graefe, 1987.