Sauckel was born at Hassfurt am Main on October 27, 1894, the son of a post office clerk. He spent the years before World War I working in the Norwegian and Swedish merchant navies. During the war, he was interned in a French prisoner of war camp, and he later worked in a factory.
An early Nazi (he joined the party in 1921), Sauckel was appointed Gauleiter of Thuringia in 1925, and its governor in 1933. He also held senior honorary rank in the SA (Sturmabteilung; Storm Troopers) and the SS.
Saukel was responsible for mobilizing German and foreign workers for the military industrial complex in Hitler's Third Reich. During the war, he was appointed Nazi plenipotentiary-general for labor mobilization and served in that position from 1942 to 1945. To satisfy Germany's needs, five million workers were deported from their homes in the occupied territories and forced to work for German industry. Sauckel instructed that these slave laborers be exploited "to the highest degree possible at the lowest conceivable degree of expenditure." He was responsible for the death of thousands of Jewish workers in Poland.
At Nuremberg, he insisted that he was innocent of any crimes and unaware of the concentration camps. Sauckel was nevertheless convicted of war crimes and crimes against humanity. He was hanged on October 16, 1946.