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Fritz Todt

Fritz Todt in uniform
Fritz Todt in the uniform of a major general of the Luftwaffe.

Fritz Todt (September 4, 1891 - February 8, 1942) was a German engineer and senior Nazi figure, the founder of Organisation Todt. He died in a plane crash during World War II.

He was born in Pforzheim, the son of a small factory owner. He studied engineering in Karlsruhe and the School for Advanced Technical Studies in Munich. He took part in World War I, initially with the infantry and then as an observer with the airforce, winning the Iron Cross. After his military service, he finished his studies in 1920 and joined the civil engineering company Sager & Woerner. He joined the Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (NSDAP) (better known as the Nazi Party) on January 5, 1922. He became an Oberführer (a rank equivalent to senior Colonel) in the Sturmabteilung (S.A.), then commanded by Ernst Röhm, in 1931 and also completed his doctorate (on "Fehlerquellen beim Bau von Landstrassendecken aus Teer und Asphalt" - "Sources of defect in the construction of tarmac and asphalt road surfaces").

Following the appointment of Hitler as Reichskanzler on January 30, 1933, Todt became (in July) Generalinspektor für das deutsche Strassenwesen ("Inspector General for German Roadways") and was involved in the new construction company for the motorways (Reichsautobahnen). He later became Leiter des Hauptamts für Technik in der Reichsleitung der NSDAP ("Director of the Head Office for Engineering in the Administration of the Reich of the NSDAP") and Generalbevollmächtigter für die Regelung der Bauwirtschaft ("General Commissioner for the Regulation of the Construction Industry"). As a special privilege, Todt was permitted to have considerable power and was not necessarily immediately answerable to any of the Reich ministries. He was also appointed to the rank of Generalmajor of the Luftwaffe after its official promulgation in March 1935.

In 1938, he founded the Organisation Todt (OT), joining together government firms, private companies and the Reichsarbeitsdienst (Reich Labor Service), for the construction of the "West Wall", later renamed the "Siegfried Line", for the defence of the Reich territory. On March 17, 1940, he was appointed Reichsminister für Bewaffnung und Munition ("Reich Minister for Armaments and Munitions") and oversaw the work of Organisation Todt in the occupied west. After the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, he was appointed to manage the restoration of the infrastructure.

In 1941, he became increasingly distant from the commanders of the Wehrmacht and from Reichsmarschall Hermann Göring, the Oberbefehlshaber der Luftwaffe (Commander-in-chief of the Luftwaffe) in particular. He did remain close to Hitler at this time, yet, after an inspection tour of the Eastern Front, he complained to him that, without better equipment and supplies for the armed forces, it would be better to end the war with the USSR. Inevitably, Hitler rejected such an assessment of the situation and carried on the offensive against the Soviets regardless.

On February 8, 1942, while flying away from the conclusion of a meeting with Hitler at the Wolfsschanze ("Wolf's Lair") at Rastenburg, his aircraft exploded and crashed. He was succeeded as Reichsminister by Albert Speer, who had narrowly missed being on the same aircraft. He was buried in the Invalidenfriedhof, located in the Scharnhorst-Strasse in Berlin and became the first holder, albeit posthumously, of the Deutscher Orden ("German Order"). It was even suggested that Todt was the victim of an assassination plot, but this has never been confirmed. What was never in dispute was that the OT used millions of forced laborers (Zwangsarbeiter) from the occupied countries of the Reich during World War II, and that the judging panel at the Nuremberg Trials (formally, the "Trial of the Major War Criminals Before the International Military Court") in 1946 sentenced Speer to 20 years' imprisonment for having headed this organisation and thus sanctioned the international illegal use of forced labor.

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