Aside from their murderous practices, the SS also had several businesses.
On January 23, 1939 Oswald Pohl .the head of “SS Main Economic and Administrative Office” founded the “German Research Institute for Nutrition and Food Provision Ltd.” The shareholders were the SS concern “German Earth and Stone Works Ltd.” and a member of the SS Main Economic and Administrative Office. Although his name is not found in available sources, it can be assumed that the individual concerned was the SS-Standartenfuhrer (Colonel) Dr. Salpeter whose name was recorded as that of a trusted shareholder at the end of 1939. The major aim of the undertaking was the cultivation and study of medicinal plants and spices. Its management was the responsibility of Hauptsturmfuhrer (Captain) Heinrich Vogel in the Office of Economic Administration of the WVHA. According to the partnership agreement the research institute had the following tasks:
a) Systematic research and cultivation of those medicinal herbs native to Germany in the interest of the national economy
b) Supplying German and foreign markets with German drugs.
c) Production of new drugs and new syntheses based on scientific research.
d) Maintenance of laboratories.
e) Acquisition of plots
f) The organization of all commercial and agricultural transactions arising in connection with the enterprise e.g. poultry and animal farms etc.
The plantation at the Dachau concentration camp was the centerpiece of the whole venture which came to include a wide range of assorted projects. While at the end of 1939 there were in total only three in operation (Dachau, Ravensbruck, Bretsteintal in der Steiermark.) by the end of 1944 the “German Research Institute for Nutrition and Food Provisions Ltd” comprised over twenty agricultural enterprises as well as fish hatcheries and the administration and oversight of properties in the occupied territories of Czechoslovakia, Poland, and the Soviet Union.
One of these enterprises was the herb garden in Dachau, Known as the plantation.
The plantation at Dachau and the smaller one at Ravensbruck concentration camp were distinctive in the sense that they were cultivated almost exclusively by prisoners. The other projects, which were spread across Germany an Austria, employed a good deal more civilian workers and were cultivated only in part by prisoners. They were also less labor intensive, being based around experiments with biodynamic cultivation methods in which both Himmler and Pohl were believers as well as cattle and sheep breeding and experimenting with veterinary medicine etc.
Ernst-Günther Schenck was tasked to set up the plantation.in Dachau concentration camp, which contained over 200,000 medicinal plants, from which, among other things, vitamin supplements for the Waffen-SS were manufactured.
In 1940 he was appointed as inspector of nutrition for the SS. In 1943 Schenck developed a protein sausage, which was meant for the SS frontline troops. Prior to its adoption it was tested on 370 prisoners in Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp, some of whom died of hunger.
The extensive cultivation of medicinal herbs, however, particularly in the given climate conditions, was highly labor intensive: such a project under the the prevailing wage conditions was hardly feasible. For the initiators of the project to use concentration camp prisoners was therefore an obvious one. Using a labor force that could be exploited could guarantee the viability of the whole undertaking.
The plantation was located outside the prisoner camp. It was a large nursery with areas of cultivated land that, from 1938 onwards, the prisoners were forced to lay out and work on. The SS described this agricultural operation euphemistically as the “herb garden”. Today, the area is mostly overbuilt with industrial buildings.
The complex comprised numerous structures, including a maintenance building, a teaching and research institute, a shop, an equipment shed, a bee house, greenhouses, as well as large sections of productive land. It was Heinrich Himmler’s idea that by cultivating and studying medicinal and aromatic herbs the Nazi state could itself independent of its reliance on foreign medicines and herbs. Establishing a “Volk medicine” in close touch with nature was a prestige project of Nazi health policy and was avidly supported by the leader of the SS. Responsible for selling the produce from the experiments and testing was the SS-owned company “Deutsche Versuchsanstalt für Ernährung und Verpflegung GmbH” (DVA).
The residents of Dachau, as in the town Dachau, and neighboring areas could purchase the produce of the “herb garden” in a shop. There individual prisoners succeeded in secretly establishing contact with the civilian population who helped them, at the risk of death, to smuggle goods and information in and out of the camp.
The prisoners called the feared deployment to the outdoor areas of the “herb garden” the “plantation” work detail. They were forced to do the extremely arduous and exhausting work no matter the weather. Inadequate clothing, malnutrition, bullying and abuse by the SS turned the already hard outdoor work into a perilous torture. The working conditions in the buildings and greenhouses were less brutal. A work detail of illustrators had to compile a herbarium.
The former administrative and institute building as well as remnants of three greenhouses with added end structures have survived. There are plans to restore the building ensemble, which is in the possession of the City of Dachau authority. Based on a new utilization concept, the historical structures are to be integrated into the Memorial Site and become part of its ‘space of memory’.
In April 1945 Dr. Ernst-Günther Schenck volunteered to work in an emergency casualty station located in the large cellar of the Reich Chancellery, near the Vorbunker and Führerbunker,during the battle in Berlin.
Although he was not trained as a surgeon and lacked the experience, as well as the supplies and instruments necessary to operate on battle victims, he nonetheless assisted in major surgical operations. During these surgeries, Schenck was aided by Dr. Werner Haase, who also served as one of Hitler’s private physicians. Although Haase had much more surgical experience than Schenck, he was greatly weakened by tuberculosis, and often had to lie down while giving verbal advice to Schenck.
During the end time in Berlin, Schenck saw Hitler in person twice, for only a brief time: once when Hitler wanted to thank him, Haase, and nurse Erna Flegel for their emergency medical services, and once during the reception after Hitler’s marriage to Eva Braun.
Because of this chance encounter with Adolf Hitler his memoirs proved historically valuable. His accounts of this period are prominent in the works of Joachim Fest and James P. O’Donnell regarding the end of Hitler’s life, and were included in the film Downfall (2004).
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