Death By Design:Science, Technology, and Engineering in Nazi Germany

Prentice Hall
Eric Katz  
Total pages
Februar 2006
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Through a selection of primary and secondary sources, Death by Design examines the uses of technology during the Holocaust and  the specific ways in which scientists, architects, medical professionals, businessmen, and engineers participated in the planning and operation of the concentration and extermination camps that were the foundation of the “final solution.”  The book discusses the overriding intellectual, ethical, and philosophical implications of the Nazi's use of science and technology in their killing operations.


  • Primary sources.  Individuals who witnessed the Holocaust first-hand-such as the engineers (Ch. 3). architects (Ch. 7), and doctors (Ch. 10) who participated in the building and running of the concentration camps, as well as individuals who survived internment in these same camps (Ch. 1)-give their accounts of the Nazi killing operations.  These primary sources allow students to “hear” the voices of perpetrators and victims, alike, and build their skills as critical readers and historians.
  • Secondary sources.  Essays on the involvement of the SS (Ch. 11), IBM (Ch. 12), and Ford (Ch. 14) in the Nazi operations help students understand the role of business in the Holocaust.  Additional secondary sources-such as a critical look at the ethics of Nazi architect Albert Speer (Ch. 8) and essays considering the political and ethical values associated with technology (Chs. 5, 6, and 15)-prompt students to question the connections between Nazi science and technology and the current uses of science.
  • A brief historical background introduction.  This essay provides students with a concise history of the Nazi regime.
  • Chapter introductions.  Each chapter introduction provides context for the following reading.  The author of the selection is identified, as is the time and place in which he/she was writing and any other historical background information that might facilitate a deeper understanding of the material.
  • Discussion questions.  Appearing at the end of eachchapter, discussion questions provide the basis for in-class discussions or essay assignments, by encouraging students to bring a more critical eye to the readings.

Table of Contents

List of Abbreviations


A Brief Historical Background

A Brief Summary of the Readings

Section I:  Details of the Killing Operations

            1.  The Killing Process at Auschwitz-Birkenau

                        Miklos Nyiszli.

From Auschwitz: A Doctor's Eyewitness Account

Nyiszli, a Hungarian Jewish doctor employed by the infamous Nazi doctor of Auschwitz, Joseph Menegle, describes the step-by-step killing procedure of the gas chambers and crematoria at the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

            2.  Design and Development of the Gas Chambers and Crematoria in Auschwitz

                        Franciszek Piper.

                        “Gas Chambers and Crematoria”

Piper presents a detailed history of the five gas chamber and crematoria complexes, and the provisional temporary gas chambers, that were built and operated at Auschwitz-Birkenau from 1941 through the end of 1944.

            3.  Engineering Mass Murder at Auschwitz

                        Jean-Claude Pressac with Robert-Jan Van Pelt.

From “The Machinery of Mass Murder at Auschwitz”

Using the latest source material recently acquired after the fall of the Soviet Union, Pressac and van Pelt provide a history of the engineering firms that were involved with the SS in the design and construction of the gas chambers and crematoria at Auschwitz-Birkenau.

Section II:  Technology, Management Policy, and Politics: General Issues

            4.  Technology and Politics in Totalitarian Regimes: Nazi Germany

                        Paul Josephson.

                        From Totalitarian Science and Technology

Josephson presents an overview of the relationship between technology and political power in Nazi Germany, showing how the Nazis used technology to advance the political ideology of the Third Reich, while banning technologies that seemed “Jewish” or ideologically suspect.


5. Nazi Ideology, Management, and Engineering Technology in the SS

            Michael Thad Allen.

            From The Business of Genocide: The SS, Slave Labor, and the Concentration Camps

Allen examines the ways in which Nazi ideology influenced management and engineering decisions in the industrial operations of the SS.  By examining several SS managers and engineers, including Chief of Engineering Hans Kammler, he discusses the reasons why technological professionals aligned themselves with the evil aims of Nazism.


Section III:  The Role of Architectural Design in Nazi Germany

            6.  Architectural Aesthetics and Political Ideology in Nazi Germany

                        Paul Jaskot.

                        “Architecture and the Destruction of the European Jews”

Art historian Jaskot focuses on the aesthetics of architecture as an example of the connection between political ideology and the development of technology in Nazi Germany.


            7.  Architecture and Technology in Nazi Germany:  Memoirs

                        Albert Speer.

                        From Inside the Third Reich: Memoirs

In these excerpts from his memoirs, Speer, one of the highest ranking officials in Nazi Germany during the war, discusses his role as Hitler's architect, the role of technical professionals and engineers in the operations of the Third Reich, and the connection between his training as an architect and his service to the goals of Nazism.

            8.  Albert Speer: Ethics, Architecture, and Technology

                        Jack Sammons, Jr.

“Rebellious Ethics and Albert Speer”

Sammons considers the case of Albert Speer as an example of ethics in the technological professions, and he argues that Speer betrayed the highest ideals of his craft--architecture--in his work to further the aims of the Nazi regime.


Section IV:  Medicine and Biology in Nazi Germany

             9.  Genetic and Racial Theories in the Nazi War on Cancer

                        Robert N. Proctor.

                        From The Nazi War on Cancer

Proctor discusses how Nazi ideas of biological and racial determinism influenced research and industrial policy regarding the causes and cures for cancer.


            10.   Medicalized Killing in the Nazi Death Camps

                        Robert J. Lifton.

                        From The Nazi Doctors: Medical Killing and the Psychology of Genocide

In several selections from his book on the Nazi medical establishment, Lifton shows how the medical metaphor of the Jews as a disease in the German nation became the guiding principle for killing all undesirables in the Third Reich.  Medical professionals oversaw all the killing operations at Auschwitz, and used Jews (and other prisoners) as subjects in grotesque medical experiments.


Section V:  Engineering, Technology, and Business

             11.  IBM in Nazi Germany

                        Edwin Black.

From IBM and the Holocaust: The Strategic Alliance Between Nazi Germany and America's Most Powerful Corporation

In an excerpt from his controversial book, Black discusses the history of IBM's cooperation with the Third Reich and how IBM provided sophisticated information-managing technologies that the Nazis used in the labor camps, population censuses, and the armaments industry.


            12.   The Crime of I.G. Farben: Slave Labor and Mass Murder in Nazi Germany

                        Joseph Borkin.

From The Crime and Punishment of I.G. Farben: The Unholy AllianceBetween Hitler and the Great Chemical Combine

Borkin examines the history of the giant petrochemical corporation I.G. Farben and its alliance with the SS in the building of a slave-labor factory on the grounds of Auschwitz and in the manufacture of the Zyklon B gas that was used in the gas chambers.


Section VI:  Concluding Ethical Considerations

             13.  Technological Evil: Cultural Values in the Holocaust

                        Eric Katz.

“On the Neutrality of Technology: The Holocaust Death Camps as a Counter-example”

This chapter provides a philosophical overview of many of the case histories in earlier chapters, arguing that the development of the Nazi concentration camps is a clear example that technology is endowed with the values of the culture that produced it.


For Further Reading