Organisation Todt - 1933-1938: Autobahn Construction

1933-1938: Autobahn Construction

The Autobahn concept did not originate with the Nazis but had its beginnings in the efforts of a private consortium, the HaFraBa (Verein zur Vorbereitung der Autostraße Hansestädte-Frankfurt-Basel), founded in 1926 for the purpose of building a high-speed highway between Northern Germany and Basel, in Switzerland. With a decree establishing a Reichsautobahnen project for an entire network of highways, issued on 27 June 1933, Adolf Hitler made it a vastly more ambitious public project and that responsibility rested on Fritz Todt's shoulders as the newly-named Inspector General of German Roadways.

By 1934, the self-aggrandizing Todt had succeeded in elevating this office to near cabinet rank. Todt was, however, also an extremely capable administrator and had built by 1938 more than 3,000 km (1,900 mi) of roadway. The Autobahn project became one of the show pieces of the Nazi regime. Todt had also in that period put together the administrative core of what would properly speaking become the Organisation Todt. The growth and growing importance of the organization, and the increasing prominence of its leader, are a textbook example of the way in which an aggressive and able party leader could expand his authority and purview in the fluid (and treacherous) context of the polycratic German state under Adolf Hitler.

Initially, the Autobahn project relied on the open labour market as a source of workers. Germany was at this time still recovering from the effects of the Great Depression and there was no shortage of available labour. As the economy recovered and the supply of labour became a more serious issue, the OT was able to draw on conscripted (i.e., compulsory) workers, from within Germany through the Reich Labour Service (Reichsarbeitsdienst, RAD) from 1935. As per the law of 26 June 1935, all male Germans between the ages of 18 and 25 were required to perform six months of state service. In this period the work was compensated, at a rate slightly greater than that of unemployment support. The composition and working conditions of the labour force would change drastically for the worse over the course of the following ten years.

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