The “Organisation Todt” (OT)

(The following text is based on an article which I wrote for off-line use)

We can read in a file from the Directorate-General War Victims about my great-great-uncle Kalman Lehrer (sometimes also known as Kalman Kalech) during WWII. We read there that he was conscripted into labor service in the Julius Berger Company.

I tried to figure out what the Julius Berger Company was (click here for my earlier post about this subject.

What I initially did not read well and missed in the document is the abbreviation ‘OT’ which is written on one of the documents in that file:

From Kalman Lehrer’s file at the Belgian Office of War Victims (file:DOS-DDO d210703)

What we see is that Kalman Lehrer

a été mis au travail force dans le Nord de La France (O.T.). Il figure sur les listes de salaires (établies par quinzaines) de la firme  « Julius Berger  » du 26.7.42 au 31.10.42″

(translation: [Kalman Lehrer] was conscripted into labor service in Northern France (OT). He is listed in the wages lists (established by fortnights) of the firm “Julius Berger” from 26.7.42 to 31.10.42.)

First I’ll try to explain more about the OT, which stood for Organisation Todt, and then I’ll continue about Kalman Lehrer during the war.

The OTa’s establishment:
The “Organisation Todt” (OT) was established in May 1938, when Hitler instructed the Generalinspekteur für das Strassenwesen, Dr. Ing. Fritz Todt, who had proven himself with the autobahn construction, to continue the previously Wehrmacht led construction of the Westwall . Todt has developed the organization out of a combination of planning departments, private companies (the Julius Berger company was such a company) and until the war started in 1939, the Reichsarbeitsdienst . During the war the OT transformed into a military construction unit and its structure changed from year to year as it was adapted to the requirements of the respective orders.

The OT fell from March 1940 under the responsibility of the Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition (RMfBM)- Minister for Armament and Munitions.

After the death of Fritz Todt in February 1942, the OT reorganized under Albert Speer (Mannheim, 19 march 1905 – London, 1 September 1981). From the beginning of 1941 it was headed by engineer Franz Xaver Dorsch (24 December 1899 – 8 November 1986)

Objectives of the OT:
With Hitler’s order in December 1941 for the expansion of the French coastal fortifications (“Atlantikwall”), a large-scale construction program of the OT got started. That project required an extensive workforce and huge amounts of material, including materials which were taken from the “Bunkerbauprogramm” in the German cities.

The “Atlantic Wall” (source: Wikimedia commons, user: Uberstroker)

The main tasks of the OT in the occupied territories were, in addition to the construction of defense facilities, the construction of roads, telecommunication networks, factories, resource extraction facilities, bridges and barracks. Also the repair and recommissioning of economic institutions, the use of resources in the occupied territories and the security (sick!) were part of the OTa’s tasks.

Some of the construction work done by the OT:

  • From the summer of 1941: construction in the Soviet Union and the Balkan.
  • In early 1943: the launch sites in northern France for the flying bombs “V1” and “V2” were constructed by the OT.
  • From the summer of 1943: OT-employment in the German Reich to fix air-raid damage,
  • From 1943 to 1945: air-raid shelters for the civilian population (“Erweitertes LS-Führerprogramm”)
  • From 1944 etc.: industrial, utility and railroad building projects, the establishment of underground armament and fuel stations (1944/45: “Jägerprogramm”, “Geilenberg-Programm”)

Organisation and labor supply:
The organization of the OT was divided in order of importance by using groups for specific regions each:

  • The German workers of the OT wore olive green uniforms and were under a quasi-military service obligation.
  • The OT also recruited (some “voluntary”) auxiliary personnel from the Western European countries and increasingly from 1942 they conscripted forced laborers and prisoners of war (we should note that not all volunteers served out of idealism. Belgium had for example at the beginning of the war an unemployment rate of about 500,000).
  • An increasing number of concentration camp prisoners and other prisoners from the Nazi-regime that were used by the OT in 1943/44.

An armband from a Todt laborer (source: wikimedia commons)

This is how the composition of OTa’s workforce looked like in late 1944 with a total of about 1.36 million workers:

  • 14,000 German unfit defense personnel
  • 22,000 concentration camp prisoners
  • The rest of the workforce consisted of forced laborers and prisoners of war (because the OT worked closely with the Gestapo and SS, the OT-labor proved for the forced laborers and prisoners of war to be harsh and inhumane).

Belgian Jews working for the OT:
Starting on June 13, 1942, Jews were assigned to the camps run by the Todt Organization.
Unlike the Jews, the volunteers were paid fair wages for their labor. They did indeed work on the construction sites of the Atlantic Wall, but even so they were treated far better than the Jews. In fact, the conditions in these work camps located throughout the coastal line of northern France, was a sinister foreboding of the fate that was to await the Jews in the concentration camps.

In the beginning of the summer of 1942, Jewish labor camps were set up throughout the French coastal line. There was one additional camp, called Mazures, which was located in the Ardennes close to Charleville.

The majority of forced labor came from Antwerp. The Belgian police was responsible to round them up as dictated by the Belgian Bureau of Employment. The Germans, Todt Organization, and their guards became involved with these Jews only after they arrived at the OT camps. This operation lasted three months whereby four trains were leaving Antwerp on July 13, 14, August 42, and the last one on September 12 of 1942. Three other trains left Brussels on June 26, Charleroi on July 31 and Liège on August 3rd of 1942.

The first train arrived on June 13, 1942 at camp Condette located south of Boulogne. This train contained 250 Jews of different nationalities. One month later, July 14, 1942, another train arrived in Calais and Port-Lahon. On July 18 approximately 200 Jews from Antwerp arrived via Revin at the Mazures camp. Trains continued to arrive, 250 men in Calais, on August 14, 300 persons in Boulogne and on August 5, 1942, another train at Dannes-Camiers via Boulogne.

At first, the Germans assembled and registered the new arrivals at Dannes and thereafter the prisoners were distributed throughout the other camps. More than one hundred prisoners were sent to Ferques during June-July of 1942. On August 14, 1942, a train headed for Boulogne, passed through Dannes by the end of September of 1942. 250 of the toughest prisoners were sent to the Etaples camp.

Starting August of 1942, the Hermann Dohrmann Company of Mulheim on the Ruhr, specializing in road construction and heavy industries, started to create five lists with names of Jewish laborers from Brussels and Antwerp for accounting and salary purposes. These five lists covered the period from August 9 till October 17, 1942, and except for the fifth list which contained 118 names, each list had 120 names and two weeks of salary. In September of 1942, 250 Belgian Jews were put to work at Etaples and were registered in the Dannes-Camiers camps.

The deportation of Belgian Jews from the OT Organisation camps to Auschwitz:
During this period, starting August/September of 1942, razzia’s (round ups) were initiated for the entire Jewish population throughout Belgium and the northern regions of France. This was the beginning of the process to be known as the “final solution”. The first train destined for Auschwitz left Malines on August 4, 1942 (click here for a full list of the transports from the Dossin barracks).

The Germans anticipated the deportation of approximately 20,000 persons and despite this prediction, the authorities responsible for deportation did not succeed to match this amount. To be able to match this amount, workers were taken out the camps throughout the coastal region. Every measure was taken to ensure that the mandated amount of 20,000 was met even if this meant a delay to defend the Reich and to protect Hitler’s Europe. This decision defies any logic whatsoever and perpetuates the Nazi doctrine and insanity to annihilate the Jews. The Final Solution had priority over any other military objective.

Four trains containing a high number of workers from the camps of Northern France left the Dossin barracks in Mechelen for Auschwitz:

  • two on October 24, 1942 (the 14th and 15th convoy)
  • two on October 31, 1942 (the 16th and 17th convoy) (Kalman Lehrer was deported with the 16th convoy)

Within this time period, the camps were almost completely emptied and this measure satisfied the objective of the Nazis to meet their quota. Because of this measure however, construction work on the Atlantic Wall was delayed.

However, the camps did not remain completely deserted. Jews of Belgian nationality and husbands married to Aryan (non-Jewish) women were allowed to remain while other prisoners replaced those who were deported. However, the camp would never have a Jewish population of 2,000 again as was the case in the summer of 1942.

The 15th convoy had 238 laborers from the labor camps of Charleville and Rochelle in northern France. On the 16th convoy 752 forced laborers were listed and 562 laborers were listed on the 17th convoy.

The 17th convoy was of a different composition than the prior ones because it was the first convoy that consisted of men only. Most came straight from the camps of OT without even a stop at the Dossin Barracks in Mechelen. When they arrived at Mechelen (Malines), the OT laborers were simply put on standby in the train until it was filled with internees from the Dossin Barracks. It was also the first time that mass escapes occurred, 241 deportees jumped from the moving train while it was still on Belgian soil. We can possibly explain that mass escapes started only with this convoy because most of the earlier convoys consisted of families with children. It is likely that no parent would try to escape from a moving train if it meant leaving the children behind. The 17th convoy transported only men without their families; they had nothing to lose or anyone to leave behind by jumping off a moving train to liberty, thus escaping an uncertain fate at an unknown destination.

The Julius Berger Company:
As already mentioned earlier, Todt had developed the organization out of a combination of planning departments, private companies and, until the war started in 1939, the Reichsarbeitsdienst.

Julius Berger was one of such private companies. It is nowadays part of Bilfinger & Berger AG ( which is based in Mannheim, Germany. Its founder was a Jew,  Julius (Juda) Berger (born 22 September 1862 in Zempelburg, West  Prussia –  murdered 16 May 1942 in Theresienstadt) whose company was aryanized by the Nazis in the 30’s of the twentieth century, and hence, Julius Berger left forcefully the company he has established.

In his first ten years in business, Julius Berger concentrated on railway, road, and bridge construction. He quickly earned a solid reputation with the government and received contracts for hundreds of miles of railways and roads. In 1893 alone he built 22 stretches of railroad across Germany.

August Grün was co-director of a successful company with experience in water-related civil engineering projects. When Grün’s partner left the firm in 1892, Paul Bilfinger, an engineer working for the government, stepped in. At that time the company already employed 250 people and had accumulated equipment and experience in a broad range of construction areas.

From the start of their partnership Grün and Bilfinger bid on a wide variety of engineering projects. The firm entered the international arena in 1907 when it built a 45-mile stretch of railway in Hungary. In the same year, Berger’s firm began work on jobs outside its previous focus, building a canal in Hamburg, a dam and power station in Blesen, and hydraulic control installations on several German rivers and canals. In 1909, the two firms collaborated on a project for the first time, widening the 61-mile Kiel Canal, an important shipping route connecting the North and Baltic Seas.

The burst of international activity declined to a near halt after 1935. The slowdown lasted through the end of World War II, but the two firms sustained themselves with work on the projects Hitler had begun in 1933 in an effort to ease unemployment in Germany. Hitler’s programs included construction of the autobahns, a network of asphalt and concrete highways that would crisscross the nation. Both firms were at the top of the list of bidders, and they received several contracts. Many stretches of the autobahns called for long and high bridge sections, each requiring individual planning and, often, creative designs. The challenging requirements kept engineers who had been working in exotic locales and unusual terrain stimulated.

During World War II, both Julius Berger and Grün and Bilfinger built several airports and naval installations. Like most other German companies, they spent the two years after the war clearing rubble, making emergency track and bridge repairs, and repairing damaged railway stations, roads, dikes, and housing and industrial properties.

A note about the Groupe de Recherches “Dannes-Camiers” (link)
To enhance our knowledge about the fate of the Belgian Jews sent to Dammes-Carniers, the Research group of Dammes-Carniers has been founded by the children and grandchildren of deportees from Liege and nearby Seraing to the labor camps in Northern France. Its aim is to locate gather and disseminate information and documents relating to this relatively unknown episode in the deportation of Belgian Jews.

This group was amazed to find documents in the Office of War Victims ( which is part of the Social Security Ministry in Belgium. Among other things, the documents include lists of “employees” of the OT. The groups also learned about official postwar reports dealing with the salaries and other funds stolen from the Belgian Jews. The Belgian Jews working in the labor camps of Dannes-Camiers theoretically earned salaries, which of course, were never paid. This group is determined to discover the destination of these funds the Belgian government recovered after the WWII.

 © ARA – Brussels – please don’t copy without permission

Kalman Lehrer and the OT:
Kalman Lehrer was conscripted into forced labor for the Julius Berger which was one of the private companies hired by the OT. According to his Belgian Office of War victims file, Kalman was based in Boulogne between 26/7/1942 and 31/10/1942.

When we consider that his age in 1942 was forty four years (he was born on 20/6/1898) and would have been considered too “old” to be working for the OT, we can assume that he must have managed to be accepted somehow to be conscripted into forced labor for the OT and not to be deported (in the end, unfortunately, he got killed anyway after he was sent to Auschwitz via the Dossin barracks with the 16th convoy on October 31, 1942).

An overview of when Kalman worked for the Julius Berger Company (from his file at the Belgian Office of War Victims, file:DOS-DDO d210703)

His “salary”, which I assume was 10 francs per day which was the standard stipend (his file does not mention the stipend he received but it is known that the standard stipend stood at 10 francs), was transferred to “La Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas” (nowadays part of BNP Paribas –

In early 1943 the Brüsseler Treuhandgesellschaft (BTG) was initially active in detecting the property and possessions of the enemy and the Jews. In a second phase the BTG became responsible for the centralization, management and liquidation of that property. The BTG requested to have the unclaimed salaries of the Jewish forced laborers who had worked for the OT transferred to an account of the Société Française de Banque et de Dépôts (SFBD).The total sum was about 1,349,265 Belgian Francs. After the liberation the SFBD returned only part of the money to the Jewish forced laborers whose wages were paid via the Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas. In 1958 an amount of 965,758 Belgian Francs was transferred to the Deposit and Consignment Office .

We don’t have an exact date of when Kalman was murdered. The officials assumed that he was killed between 30/10/1942 and 1/6/1945.

Appendix I: Inventory list from the the “Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas” at the Federal Public Service Social Security – Directorate-General War Victims of Belgium:
As mentioned in the article, Jewish OT workers received theoretically a stipend via the ‘Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas’, which in fact was never paid out during the war.

The War Victims office in Belgium has sent me an inventory list of all files they have got with regards to the ‘Banque de Paris et des Pays-Bas’. It is a huge list but it has still some missing gaps.
I am adding it here because it can give an impression of the many companies which were part of the OT structure and it also can give a lead for further research on this topic.
[table “23” not found /]

Appendix II: Sources I used for this article:

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