1933–1945: Siemens under the Nazi regime
The German electrical industry – like the rest of the country’s economy – profited from the upswing that began soon after the Nazis took power in 1933. Under the Nazis, the German economy grew noticeably from the mid-1930s until the end of World War II. This growth was based almost entirely on government armaments contracts. As the leader in the German electrical industry, Siemens’ revenue – like that of other major companies – increased continuously from 1934 and reached its peak during the war years.
Carl Friedrich von Siemens was head of the company from 1933 to 1941. A staunch advocate of democracy, he detested the Nazi dictatorship. However, he was responsible for ensuring the company’s well-being and continued existence.
Although the German economy was increasingly regulated by the government, the industrial sector was granted a certain amount of leeway. For the most part, Siemens was able to restrict its manufacturing activities in the armaments area to the production of electrical goods and to avoid producing goods outside its traditional portfolio. Even during wartime, the company’s production of typical war goods such as weapons and ammunition was limited. Nevertheless, from the end of 1943 on, Siemens primarily manufactured electrical equipment for the armed forces.
Beginning in 1940: Use of forced labor
At the end of the 1930s, the regime’s demand for armaments began to intensify. Without the aid of foreign workers, the manufacturing sector could no longer meet this demand. After the outbreak of hostilities in 1939, this situation worsened since growing numbers of qualified employees at the company’s various plants were drafted for military service. The use of forced labor was seen as the only way to compensate for labor shortages.
Starting in 1940, Siemens relied increasingly on forced laborers to maintain production levels. These laborers included people from territories occupied by the German military, prisoners of war, Jews, Sinti, Roma and, in the final phases of the war, concentration camp inmates. During the entire period from 1940 to 1945, at least 80,000 forced laborers worked at Siemens
From 1943: Transfer of production facilities
After the war broke out, production at Siemens’ German locations was impeded by transport problems, a scarcity of raw materials and, in particular, labor shortages. Starting in 1942, the situation was further exacerbated by the air war. A large number of the company’s factories in the Berlin area were destroyed by aerial bombardment, disrupting key manufacturing operations at the company’s Siemensstadt campus. Meanwhile, the demand for armaments continued to increase.
Company management reacted by establishing additional production facilities in other parts of Germany and in the territories occupied by the German military. Until 1943, these individual facilities served primarily to relieve supply bottlenecks. Later in the war, however, it became increasingly necessary to replace production capacity destroyed by Allied bombing. As a result, Siemens had transferred and relocated nearly 400 facilities by the time the war ended. These facilities also made use of forced labor.
1945: The situation at war's end
Following Germany’s military, political and economic collapse in April 1945, all Siemens factories in Berlin were closed. Almost half the company’s buildings and production facilities had been destroyed in the war. After the surrender, everything that had survived – including a large number of functional machines, the company’s entire inventory, a large portion of its stock and finished goods as well as technical documentation and design drawings – was dismantled and removed by the Soviet army as reparation for the damages that the Soviet Union had incurred at German hands.
The Allies confiscated all the company’s tangible assets worldwide. All its trademark and patent rights were rescinded. All its foreign assets were lost. Overall, Siemens forfeited 80 percent of its total worth or some 2.6 billion German marks.
In November 1941, after the death of his uncle Carl Friedrich, Hermann von Siemens was appointed to head the company. He had led Siemens through the last years of the war and was now confronted with the challenge of rebuilding the company and reestablishing it on the global market.
Acknowledging wrongdoing, addressing the issues and acting responsibly – Maintaining a clear position on the company’s own history
Siemens acknowledges its past. This goes also for the actions of the company during the time of National Socialism, as former Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser clearly stated at the presentation ceremony for the Award for Understanding and Tolerance at the Jewish Museum Berlin on November 11, 2017. The fact that Siemens allowed people to work against their will during a time when the company was an integral part of the wartime economy of the national socialistic rogue regime is something that the company’s current top management and employees deeply regret.
In the past, Siemens has shown its commitment to this responsibility through its contributions to the Jewish Claims Conference (1962), to its own "Siemens-Hilfsfonds für ehemalige Zwangsarbeiter" (1998–2000) as well as the foundation initiative of German businesses known as "Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft" (2000) in the amount of roughly €155 million. As an expression of this responsibility, the company today works closely together with the Ravensbrück memorial site, where each year Siemens trainees are sent to visit the various memorials and live on the premises for one week while carrying out discussions with historians and eyewitnesses. This has brought about a very important dialogue that provides young people with direct insight into this historical time. Furthermore, we support select projects that serve to come to terms with and document the events that took place at that time. These activities are small but important contributions to ensuring that our history, even during that difficult time, remains alive and can serve as a reminder for the future.
It is important to me that we do all we can to prevent injustice from repeating itself, both in Germany and around the globe. That is our obligation and our unequivocal position.Joe Kaeser, November 11, 2017