The HASAG Company
Contributor: Hugh Martyr
In 1863 a small factory producing lamps was founded in Leipzig, Germany. Twenty-five years later it became The Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft and was converted to the production of metal products. By 1930 the Company was employing over a thousand employees with an annual turnover of 5 million marks. With the rise to power of the Nazi Party a SS Strurmbannfuhrer, Paul Budin was made General Manager and he secured contacts with the Army High Command to supply ammunition to the Luftwaffe and Wehrmacht.
By 1934 the HASAG works had been classified by the government as a Wehrmachtsbetrieb or official factory for the Armed Forces and had expanded to employ almost 4,000 employees. At the start of World War II its standing was raised to an official Armaments factory (Rustungsbetrieb) and Budin was appointed as Chairman of the Committee that supervised production of light ammunition.
The Minister with responsibility of Armaments, Albert Speer, gave HASAG more contacts to produce light infantry weapons and by the end of 1943 Budin had received Adolf Hitler's thanks for his achievements giving his Company the title of an "Exemplary Nation Socialist Enterprise". When Albert Speer was appointed Minister of Armaments in 1942, the committee's range of responsibilities was broadened and Budin's stature also grew as a result. By this time the company had eight plants in Germany and had opened some more in occupied Poland. The management had employed several Croatian and Polish workers who were at first paid a small amount but kept under strict control. As demand for weapons grew and able-bodied people were needed in the Armed Forces, prisoners from nearby Buchenwald Concentration Camp were sent as slave labour to the HASAG Plants; to house them, new sub-camps (Aussenkommandos) were erected near to each factory. At the end of the War records show that in total 14,481 people, over two thirds of them women, had been working at HSAG and housed in the camps. The company preferred to have women slave labour as the level of skill needed was minimal due to the high automation in the production line and also the SS charged the employers less money for women and young girls. For each Jewish prisoner in the labour camps HASAG paid four to five zlotys per day, less maintenance costs, into the account of Herbert Bottcher, the SS und Polizeifuhrer for the Radom district. The Buchenwald Camp Authorities had estimated that a woman would give three and a half months work before dying; the actual life expectancy in fact was less than two months. The workers were fed little and were forced to work twelve-hour shifts. Executions and torture were commonplace, the bodies of the dead were transported into the nearby forests and buried by other inmates in pits.
As the Soviet Army started to move ever closer, the factories in Poland were closed and the workers brought into the German Plants and new camps built. It is not known how many labourers were transplanted, many died in the trains and on forced marches as the bad conditions in the camps deteriorated further. Prisoners used the thin ersatz coffee issued each morning as washing water rather than try to drink it. After a twelve hour shift, they were fed thin soup and black bread. Survivors spoke of the cold weather killing off people each night in the unheated barrack huts, saying that each morning the dead would be placed outside of the hut and would often remain there for days. Conditions at the Flossenberg Camp became so bad that the SS were actually ordered to act to ease the conditions as the important production of parts for the Flying bomb and V2 rockets were being slowed down.
In April 1945, the Camps had to be evacuated as the American Army advanced to meet the Russian advance. Prisoners were hastily packed into cattle wagons and sent south by train to Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Czechoslovakia, those unable to be put into trucks were forced to march many dying on the way. The American forces arrived at the camps around Leipzig on or About 12 April 1945.
It is thought that Paul Budin committed suicide together with his wife in April 1945, when he blew up the company's head office building in Leipzig destroying a lot of the files before they could be seized. No Civilian HASAG personnel were put on trial at the International Military Tribunal (IMT) in Nuremberg.
For a survivor's story please see: https://isurvived.org/Survivors_Folder/Stephen_Casey-hungarian.html
Documents and clippings about HASAG in the 20th Century Press Archives of the ZBW
Leipzig Memorial of Forced Labour official website
Robin O'Neil, The Rabka Four: A Warning from History, Spiderwise 2011
Martin Gilbert, The Holocaust, Collins London 1986
The History of the Second World War, Purnell London 1966
Holocaust Historical Society
Last Major Update: May 2020
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Winston Churchill, 1935