Engineering the Nazi Grossraum: Organisation Todt and the use of forced labor in Norway 1940-45
The making of a research based exhibition at the Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Industry in Oslo
In 2011 the National Archives of Norway made accessible 440 shelf meters of new source material documenting the activities of Einsatzgruppe Wiking, the Norwegian division of Organization Todt (OT). Responsible for numerous large scale infrastructure projects, OT became the main organizer of forced labour in Norway during the occupation. In the last phase of the war OTs workforce consisted of 90,000 forced labourers, half of them Soviet prisoners of war.
The opening of the archive was the point of departure for the research project “The political economy of forced labour. Organization Todt in Norway 1940- 45” now being carried out by Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Industry. Besides aiming at ordinary academic output like monographies, articles and dissertations, the project is to be conveyed to the general public by way of a large exhibition to open in Oslo in January 2017. While an integrated part of the research project, the exhibition is at the same time a contribution in its own right, exploring the capacities of the historical material to tell stories in a physical, spatial way. Trough workshops and interdisciplinary collaboration with architects and especially stenographers’ the project is looking for new ways of displaying objects that demands a drastic expansion of the traditional museum exhibition. One main ambition is to place OTs construction projects at the core of the exhibition. In this way the museum wants to explore how scale and dimension can be used as a doorway into the economic and ideological practices of National Socialism.
Named after the talented engineer Fritz Todt, OT placed itself in a long tradition of German technology. OT hailed the progressive value of technological rationality, while workers were considered in a framework of inhumane and repressive ideological beliefs. In Norway, OT was responsible for building railroads, highways, airfields, power stations and fortifications of all kinds. Some of those projects, like the Norwegian part of the Atlantic Wall, challenge a national frame of reference and must be displayed in a transnational setting. That is also the case with the Polar Railroad, Hitler’s obsessive plan for drawing a “Germanic line” from Berlin to the Arctic Ocean. Far beyond economic or strategic rationality, and never even close to completion, the project took large tolls in lives lost. One of the objects in the exhibition will be a granite element produced in Norway intended to decorate the surface of the gigantic Triumphal Arch Hitler had planned for the celebration of his victories in Berlin. The element, neatly carved, was made on the demand of Albert Speer, but never left the quarry.
The exhibition will address how the megalomania of the third Reich rested in inhume and oppressive practices. In addition to being heavily dependent on forced labourers the large scale construction projects made up infrastructures for power and domination on a European scale. They served many functions – one was to make the individual feel small.
Ketil Gjølme Andersen is senior curator at the Norwegian Museum of Science, Technology and Industry in Oslo. He is educated as a historian at the University of Oslo with a PhD focusing upon intellectual discourses on economy and technology in Germany during the interwar years (2002). Andersen is currently working on a monography on Organization Todt in Norway and is at the same time curating an exhibition about forced labor to open in Oslo in 2017.