Skimming off the Fat: Industrial-Scale Recycling in Nazi-Occupied Europe

Saturday, January 6, 2018: 8:30 AM
Virginia Suite C (Marriott Wardman Park)
Anne Kristina Berg, University of Michigan
Historians of National Socialism have illustrated the progressive radicalization of Nazi policy and practice on nearly every level. Recycling was no exception. Official policy since 1936, Nazi recycling came into its own during the war and manifested its destructive and self-destructive tendencies most clearly in the Nazi-occupied east. In this contribution, I will shed light on the institutional intricacies and policy proliferations that linked German industry and the Nazi state as they upscaled recycling efforts in line with the regime’s imperial designs for Europe. This unleashed a flood of administrative directives aimed at coordinating the frenzied efforts of the numerous Reich offices, individual scientists, industry professionals, the Reich’s raw material office and, most notably, the SS. As I detail in this paper, innovations for the reuse of wastes as well as equipment and process improvements were chiefly driven by industry representatives. These were quick to curry favor with the Reich, which in turn set production standards and mandated the return of residual materials, scraps and waste products to the industrial cycle. The commitment to industrial-scale recycling thus spawned a massive administrative apparatus that extended across Nazi occupied Europe. The camp system proved to be key. Scores of prisoners in concentration and labor camps recycled everything from shells and ammunitions to rags and any kind of scrap, collected all over Nazi-occupied Europe. Moreover, the camp system functioned as a gigantic research lab in which industrial innovations and rationalizations were systematically tested. The regime’s zero waste economics comes full circle: The total extraction of resources aimed at sustaining the war that is chiefly responsible for the scarcity it supposedly combated, now serves as the overarching rationale for the proliferating camp structure and the excessive brutality upon which the extraction of labor had come to rely.
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