From 1909 to 1914 Sauckel spent five years as a merchant seaman in the Norwegian and Swedish merchant marine. Interned in a French prisoner- of-war camp during World War I, Sauckel earned his living as a factory worker after the war, before joining the NSDAP in 1923.
In 1925 he was made district business manager of the Nazi Party in Thuringia and two years later he was appointed Gauleiter. From 1927 to 1933 he was an NSDAP deputy in the Thuringian diet and the leader of its legislative faction after 1930. Appointed Thuringian Minister of the Interior on 26 August 1932 and then Governor on 5 May 1933, Sauckel was elected to represent the district in the Reichstag on 12 November 1933.
An Honorary SA General and SS General without function, Sauckel was responsible during the Third Reich for mobilizing German and foreign workers for the Wehrmacht war machine. Promoted to Reich Defence Commissioner for the Military District of Kassel on 1 September 1939, Sauckel was appointed Plenipotentiary-General for Labour Mobilization three years later. He was responsible for deporting five million people from their homes in occupied territories to work as slave labour in Germany, issuing directives that they should be exploited as much as possible for the lowest possible expenditure. His ‘protection squads' press-ganged with ruthless efficiency workers who were subsequently imported as slave-labour for the war economy of the German Reich.
The slave-labour boss was also responsible for the extermination of tens of thousands of Jewish workers in Poland. At his trial in Nuremberg, Sauckel claimed that he was innocent of any war crimes and had known nothing about the concentration camps, asserting that he had been ‘shocked in his inmost soul by the crimes that had been revealed in the course of the trial’. Sauckel’s protestations of innocence did not impress the judges.
He was sentenced to death by the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg for war crimes and hanged on 16 October 1946.