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Oswald Pohl




Oswald Pohl

Oswald Pohl was born on June 30 1892, in Duisburg-Ruhrort as the son of blacksmith Hermann Otto Emil Pohl and his wife Auguste Pohl (née Seifert); he was the fifth of a total of eight children. After graduating from school in 1912, he became a full-time soldier in the German navy, being trained in Kiel and Wilhelmshaven as well as the Caribbean and south-east Asia. During World War I, he served at the baltic sea and the coast of Flanders. Pohl also attended a navy school, and became paymaster on April 1, 1918; most of his time in the navy from then on was spent in Kiel. On October 30 the same year, he married.

After the end of the war, Pohl attended courses at a trade school and also 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 Freikorps "Brigade 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 Poland in 1924.

One year later, in 1925, Pohl became a member of the SA, then finally joined the re-founded NSDAP (the Nazi party) on February 22, 1926 as member #30842. He met Heinrich Himmler in 1933 and became his protége; he was appointed chief of the administration department in the staff of the Reichsführer-SS ("Reich leader SS", RFSS) and given the rank of SS-Standartenführer on February 1, 1934 and began to influence the administration of the concentration camps.

His career continued when he was made Verwaltungschef (chief of administration) and Reichskassenverwalter ("Reich treasurer") for the SS on June 1, 1935, then initiated the Inspektion der Konzentrationslager ("inspection of the concentration camps"), an organization to organize and oversee the administration of the concentration camps. He also 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 the Wewelsburg, an old castle that was supposed to be turned into a cultural and scientific headquarters of the SS at Heinrich Himmler's request. The "society" soon became a part of Pohl's SS administration office.

Pohl with Himmler

Pohl also left the church in 1935, and in June 1939 became chief of both the "Hauptamt Verwaltung und Wirtschaft" ("main bureau [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 for the interior). On February 1, 1942, both institutions were combined into the SS-Wirtschafts-Verwaltungshauptamt (SS-WVHA, "SS main bureau for economic administration") with Pohl in charge; among other things, the SS-WVHA was in charge of the organization of the concentration camps, deciding on the distribution of detainees to the various camps and the "rental" of detainees for forced labour until 1944.

Pohl was made SS-Obergruppenführer and general of the Waffen-SS on April 20, 1942; on December 12 the same year, after divorce from his wife, he married Eleonore von Brüning, widow of Ernst Rüdiger von Brüning who in turn was the son of one of the founders of the Hoechster Farbwerke which became part of the IG Farben in 1925.

The forerunner of the WVHA was the SS Administrative Office (Verwaltungsamt) headed by the future chief of the WVHA, Oswald Pohl. A former naval disbursing officer, Pohl joined the Nazi Party in 1926. Three years later he entered the ranks of the Sturmabtelilungen (SA), but in 1934 he decided to accept a position in the SS.

Touring the IG Farben Buna plant

In 1934, the SS was still in its formative stages and its leader, Heinrich Himmler, wanted to fill the SS leadership with a cadre of competent, hard working, and loyal professionals. He noticed Pohl's financial and administrative background in the navy and asked him to join the SS in the position of deputy to the chief of the SS Administrative Office. Pohl, however, was not to remain second-in-command for long. His superior died in February 1934, and Pohl advanced to the top position. At that time, Pohl's office was one of many departments within the SS Main office. The Administrative Office's tasks were restricted to the administration of the Allgemeine SS (General SS).

On April 20, 1939, Himmler reorganized the SS Administrative Office and expanded Pohl's responsibilities. The former Administrative Office became a separate SS Main Office responsible for both administrative matters and economic affairs. Himmler also created a Main Office for Budget and Buildings; he put Pohl in charge of both. The overlapping duties of these main offices created bureaucratic confusion. On February 1, 1942, therefore, Himmler ordered another reorganization, and both main offices were fused into one large SS Economic and Administrative Main Office (WVHA) under Pohl's direction.(3)

The WVHA's role in the German economy increased dramatically as a result of the military setbacks suffered by the Wehrmacht on the Eastern Front in the winter battles of 1941 and 1942. Heavy material losses led to Hitler's decision to increase armaments production. Always ready to increase the influence of the SS, Himmler received the Fuehrer's permission to begin the building of armaments plants on the site of some of the SS's concentration camps. Himmler ordered Richard Gluecks, the Inspector of Concentration Camps, to provide thousands of slave laborers for the new armament projects.


Click on documents for larger view


Excerpts from a letter from Pohl, Head of the WVHA, to Reichsführer SS Heinrich Himmler regarding a meeting with Reich Minister Albert Speer; Re: war production and bombing damage, 16 September 1942



Because the armament plants came under the jurisdiction of the WVHA's responsibilities for all SS economic affairs, and because these plants required the use of Glueck's concentration camp inmates, there was a great potential for bureaucratic confusion and infighting. Himmler, therefore, ordered yet another reorganization of the WVHA. In March 1942, Himmler put Gluecks' office of the Inspector of Concentration Camps under the authority of Pohl's WVHA.

Pohl on trial

After the end of World War II in 1945, Pohl first hid in Upper Bavaria, then near Bremen; nevertheless, he was captured by British troops on May 27, 1946.

In January 1947, Military Tribunal II, which had been created by the U.S. Military Government for Germany on December 14, 1946, took on the trial of Oswald Pohl and the WVHA, the fourth Subsequent Nuremberg Proceeding. Eighteen defendants, all members of the WVHA (Wirtschaft und Verwaltungshauptamt, the Economic and Administrative Main Office) were indicted on January 13, 1947, and arraigned on March 10.

The indictment contained four counts: participation in a common design or conspiracy to commit war crimes and crimes against humanity; war crimes against civilians of German occupied territories and POWs in concentration camps (which the WVHA took control of in the spring of 1942); crimes against humanity against German civilians and nationals of other countries; and membership in the SS, recently declared a criminal organization by the International Military Tribunal.

All the defendants were indicted under the first three counts, and all but one under the fourth count. The trial lasted from April 8 until September 22 and the Tribunal delivered its judgment and sentences on November 3. The first count of the indictment (conspiracy) was disregarded and judgments were delivered only on the last three counts. Three of the defendants were acquitted, but the rest were found guilty: two under only the second and third counts and thirteen under the second, third, and fourth counts.

The Tribunal sentenced four of the guilty defendants to death, three to life in prison, and eight to prison terms of 10, 20, or 25 years. Seven months later, however, the Military Governor, General Lucius D. Clay, reconvened Military Tribunal II, at the request of the judges, so the defendants could file additional briefs. After hearing more evidence presented on behalf of the defendants, the Tribunal returned its supplemental judgment on August 11, 1948, reaffirming its findings for all the defendants as well as the sentences for all but four.


One of the death sentences was reduced to life imprisonment, one life sentence to 20 years in prison, one 25 year term to 20 years, and one 20 year term to 15 years. The Military Governor confirmed the revised sentences on April 30 and May 11, 1949.

The proceeding's chief defendant, head of the Economic and Administrative Main Office, Oswald Pohl, was executed on June 8, 1951.






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