The Business of Genocide

The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

By Michael Thad Allen

392 pp., 6.125 x 9.25, 19 illus., notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-0-8078-5615-4
    Published: February 2005
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-0-8078-6001-4
    Published: April 2003
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-7398-9
    Published: April 2003

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Awards & distinctions

2002 Charles Smith Award, Southern Historical Association

2003 DAAD Book Award, German Studies Association

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of prisoners were worked to death by the Nazis under a brutal system of slave labor in the concentration camps. By 1942, this vast network of slavery extended across all of German-occupied Europe, but the whole operation was run by a surprisingly small staff of bureaucrats--no more than 200 engineers and managers who worked in the Business Administration Main Office of the SS. Their projects included designing and constructing the concentration camps and gas chambers, building secret underground weapons factories, and brokering slave laborers to private companies such as Volkswagen and IG Farben.

The Business of Genocide powerfully contradicts the assumption that the SS forced slavery upon the German economy, demonstrating that instead industrialists actively sought out the Business Administration Main Office as a valued partner in the war economy. Moreover, while the bureaucrats who oversaw Holocaust operations have often been seen as technocrats or simple "cogs in the machinery," the book reveals their ideological dedication, even fanatical devotion, to slavery and genocide in the name of National Socialism.

About the Author

Michael Thad Allen is associate professor of modern German history and the history of technology at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta.
For more information about Michael Thad Allen, visit the Author Page.


"Well-researched and convincing. . . . Present[s] a new picture which is emerging of the history of the Third Reich and its crimes."β€”Times Literary Supplement

"Well-researched. . . . Should contribute to better understanding Nazi Germany and its crimes."β€”Los Angeles Times Book Review

"Through his examination of the hundreds of bureaucrats employed by the WVHA, Allen concludes that [Hannah Arendt's] banality of evil thesis does not square with the historical evidence. Far from being Max Weber's bureaucrats locked in an 'iron cage' . . . Allen finds that the 'ordinary' men in Nazi organizational institutions were ever cognizant of Nazi ideals and outdid each other to implement them."β€”Jewish Book World

"Opens up a new realm for anyone interested in how professional expertise helps implement political policies."β€”Choice

"Creatively mixing biographies, books, and pamphlets written by the perpetrators with engineering assessments, statistical reports, and archival WHVA records, Allen offers arguments that significantly advance our understanding of the Third Reich."β€”Business History Review

"Allen's admirably researched book provides a provocative theoretical contribution to hotly contested debates on the motivations, abilities, and actions of Nazi desk-job perpetrators . . . in particular and the broad nature of the National Socialist state in general. . . . Allen skillfully blends archival evidence with secondary accounts and displays both technological insight and human understanding in laying bare the evil machinations of [the WVHA].β€”Journal of Modern History