The camp type Arbeitserziehungslager, was established from late 1939, initially for disciplining German labourers working on the Siegfried Line, a series of fortifications on the western borders of Germany. Later Arbeitserziehungslager were established in the vicinity of industrial centres or adjacent to factory premises. They were solely in the control of the Gestapo for the purpose of disciplining the workforce as well as oppressing any workforce resistance. The Arbeitserziehungslager were initially used to imprison German labourers, then later foreign, mainly Eastern European civilian labourers, for a limited period of time.
In 1940, eight Arbeitserziehungslager were established but by the end of the war, there were two hundred camps within and outside of the territory of the Reich. Approximately half a million people were held prisoner in an Arbeitserziehungslager between 1939 and 1945.
Detention in an Arbeitserziehungslager was for refusal to work, loafing on the job, or the failure to give the German salute. Women were mainly imprisoned in an Arbeitserziehungslager for violating the prohibition of contact with 'aliens' usually men from Eastern Europe.
It was left to the police officers in each locality to decide who was imprisoned or punished and for what reason. The term of imprisonment was calculated from the time of arrest, which was when the person was removed from their job by the local police. Officially, a term of imprisonment of 21 to 56 days was intended, however, some prisoners had to stay for three months or longer in the Arbeitserziehungslager. As the war progressed, criminals and political prisoners were also committed to the Arbeitserziehungslager from the Courts of Justice. The Gestapo also used the camps as places of execution.
Camp leaders and guard units for the Arbeitserziehungslager were provided by the Gestapo and in some cases local police officers were also used. The prison and working conditions in the Arbeitserziehungslager were comparable to those of a concentration camp. Ernst Kaltenbrunner, a general in the Schutzstaffel or SS and chief of the Reich Main Security Office, stated in 1944, that the prison conditions in an Arbeitserziehungslager were supposed to be even more ghastly than those at a concentration camp.
The prisoners of the Arbeitserziehungslager suffered badly from harassment and cruel punishments at the camp, as well as from hard physical labour and dreadful living conditions. Many of them lost their lives there. Others were transferred to concentration camps following their imprisonment in an Arbeitserziehungslager.
[Authors Note: Arbeitserziehungslager Camps were also known as AEL’s or Labour Education / Punishment Camps.]