The D. E. S. T. (an acronym of Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH or "German Earth & Stone Works Company"), was the German national socialist organization responsible for most of the slave labor in the Shoah or Holocaust. DEST belonged to "Amt W" of the SS-Wirtschafts- und Verwaltungshauptamt (WVHA) and had several operational bases (administration headquarters) at prominent concentration camp sites like Mauthausen (St. Georgen), Flossenbuerg, Gross Rosen, Natzweiler, Oranienburg or Natzweiler.
Even before Hitler and his men took office, they had a vision of replacing the defeated Germany of the post-World War I and the anemic Weimar Republic with a grand, new and proud Germany; a Germany of the 'Days of Heroes and Warriors' in utter nationalistic hubris. They had many avenues in mind to bring this about:
To a defeated German populace, these were noble causes. The rebuilding of Germany, following the Great Depression, however, was an expensive project that necessitated huge capital outlays. While the country had been experiencing some economic recovery, Germany was just becoming solvent. There were no large revenues to build expensive, massive edifices to 'honor' the new chancellor in 1933. Still, Berthold Konrad Hermann Albert Speer, the architect of the Third Reich was given the directive to begin city planning and building, which he did.
Labor in any building effort is one of the greatest expenses. The hierarchy of the Third Reich reasoned that enforced labor slavery would accomplish their purposes and allow them to commence the building of the Germany of their bloated dreams. Common prisoners were forced into labor, followed by racial prisoners, including the Jews, Roma-Sinti, and others.
The initial German concentration camps of Flossenbürg, Buchenwald, Dachau and Sachsenhausen, and later Mauthausen-Gusen, were built near quarries to facilitate the mining of stone, marble and minerals, needed for the "Reich's Building Plan". The procurement of materials, organization and management of slave labor and quarry operations, all fell on the D.E.S.T. (Deutsche Erd- und Steinwerke GmbH) or "German Earth & Stone Works Company", which was administered by the SS Authority.
Founded on April 29 1938 (along with DEST's start-up at the Gusen and Mauthausen quarries), D.E.S.T was widely successful in the exploitation of slave labor, most of whom were Jews, in the quarries, using human labor in such an incredibly cruel way that it became one of the main tenets of war crime charges in the Nuremberg Trials. The director of the program, SS-Obergruppenführer Oswald Pohl, who was stationed in Berlin, was sentenced to death for war crimes in 1947 in Nuremberg, and executed in 1951.
Workers who were fed very little, were worked between 12 and 16 hours a day in back-breaking work with no recompense, and often beaten, shot or hanged for slacking in their work. They received little or no medical attention, and were virtually 'used up'; in other words, they were worked until they could work no more. When they became incapacitated through starvation, weakness or disease, the ones who did not die on their own were then killed. New prisoners arrived daily at the major "atrocity and killing centers", and the physically fit took the place of the ones who had died.
The plans of Hitler, Speer and the D.E.S.T. were not fully accomplished as at the end of the war. Initially, much building activities went on and the grand, neo-baroque edifices rose according to the Führer's visions, but as the war progressed there were two main obstacles. One was the need to redirect resources toward the war effort, instead of domestic concerns, and the other was the lack of wisdom in the building programs, as bombing raids began to occur all over Europe, including in Germany. Hitler's plans were therefore never fully realized. The hundreds of thousands of lives that perished while mining for stone and marble, and making bricks for the "Führer Buildings" left, not buildings, but their suffering as a legacy.
1943 marks the year where DEST changed its focus from stone industry to armament products. From this time DEST played a key role to help the SS enter some key war industries. This is underlined by the industrial park of DEST at St. Georgen and Gusen that made the SS a key supplier of aircraft fuselages (Me 109, Me 262), carbines and machine guns to companies like Messerschmitt GmbH or Steyr-Daimler-Puch. To run its business with the inmates of the Gusen and Mauthausen concentration camps, DEST operated its headquarters of Granitwerke Mauthausen between 1940 and 1945 at the town of St. Georgen/Gusen which was the biggest and most important "Werkgruppe" (industry group) of DEST.