Forced labor in Germany during World War II

Forced labor in Germany during World War II

Use of forced labor in Nazi Germany during World War II occurred on a large scale. It was an important part of the German economic exploitation of conquered territories; it also contributed to the extermination of populations of German–occupied Europe. The Germans abducted about 12 million people from almost twenty European countries; about two thirds of whom came from Eastern Europe.citeweb|author=John C. Beyer|coauthors=Stephen A. Schneider|title=Forced Labor under Third Reich - Part 1|url=|publisher=Nathan Associates Inc.|format=PDF and citeweb|author=John C. Beyer|coauthors=Stephen A. Schneider|title=Forced Labor under Third Reich - Part 2|url=|publisher=Nathan Associates Inc.|format=PDF] Many workers died as a result of their living conditions, mistreatment or were civilian casualties of the war. They received little or no compensation during or after the war.

Forced workers

Adolf Hitler's policy of Lebensraum strongly emphasized the conquest of new lands in the East, known as Generalplan Ost, and the exploitation of these lands to provide cheap goods and labor to Germany. Even before the war, Nazi Germany maintained a supply of slave labor. This practice started from the early days of labour camps of "undesirables" ( _de. unzuverlässige Elemente), such as the homeless, homosexual, criminals, political dissidents, communists, Jews, and anyone that the regime wanted out of the way. During World War II the Nazis operated several categories of "Arbeitslager" (labor camps) for different categories of inmates. Prisoners in Nazi labor camps were worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Many died as a direct result of forced labor under the Nazis.The largest number of labor camps held civilians forcibly abducted in the occupied countries (see Łapanka) to provide labor in the German war industry, repair bombed railroads and bridges or work on farms. As the war progressed, the use of slave labor experienced massive growth. Prisoners of war and civilian "undesirables" were brought in from occupied territories. Millions of Jews, Slavs and other conquered peoples were used as slave laborers by German corporations such as Thyssen, Krupp, IG Farben and even Fordwerke - a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company. [Sohn-Rethel, Alfred "Economy and Class Structure of German Fascism", CSE Books, 1978 ISBN 0-906336-01-5] About 12 million forced laborers, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in the German war economy inside the Nazi Germany throughout the war.cite web|url=,2144,1757323,00.html|title=Final Compensation Pending for Former Nazi Forced Laborers|publisher=Deutsche Welle|date=2005-10-27|accessdate=2008-05-20|last=Marek|first=Michael See also: citeweb|url=|title=Forced Labor at Ford Werke AG during the Second World War|accessdate=2008-05-20|publisher=The Summer of Truth Website] More than 2000 German companies profited from slave labor during the Nazi era, including Deutsche Bank and Siemens. [citeweb|url=|title=Comprehensive List Of German Companies That Used Slave Or Forced Labor During World War II Released|publisher=American Jewish Committee|date=7 December 1999|accessdate=2008-05-20 See also: citeweb|author=Roger Cohen|url= |title=German Companies Adopt Fund For Slave Laborers Under Nazis|publisher=The New York Times|date=February 17, 1999|accessdate=2008-05-20 citeweb|author=Roger Cohen|url= |title=German Firms That Used Slave or Forced Labor During the Nazi Era|publisher=American Jewish Committee|date=January 27, 2000|accessdate=2008-07-17 ]

A class system was created amongst „Fremdarbeiter foreign workers“ brought to Germany to work for the Reich. The system was based on layers of increasingly less privileged workers, starting with well paid workers from Germany's allies or neutral countries to slave laborers from conquered "untermensch" (Nazi German term for what they saw as subhuman) populations.

#„Gastarbeitnehmer guest workers“ - Workers from Germanic, Scandinavian countries, Italy or other German allies (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary). This was a very small group, only about 1% of foreign workers in Germany came from countries that were neutral or allied to Germany.
#„Zwangsarbeiter [forced worker] “:*„Militärinternierte military internees“ For example, almost all Polish non-officer prisoners of war (~300,000) were forced to work in Germany. In 1944 there were almost two million prisoners of war employed as forced laborers in Germany.Citeweb|author=Ulrich Herbert|url=|title=The Army of Millions of the Modern Slave State: Deported, used, forgotten: Who were the forced workers of the Third Reich, and what fate awaited them?|publisher=Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung|date=16 March 1999|accessdate=2008-05-20 This is an extract from Herbert's "Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich", Cambridge University Press 1997.]

:*„Zivilarbeiter [civilian workers] “. Primarily Polish prisoners from the „General Government“ - They received lower wages and could not use public conveniences (such as public transport) or visit many public spaces and businesses (for example they could not attend a German church service, swimming pools or restaurant); they had to work longer hours than Germans; they received smaller food rations; they were subject to a curfew; they often were denied holidays and had to work seven days a week; could not enter a marriage without permission; possession of money or objects of value, bicycles, cameras or lighters was forbidden; and they were required to wear a sign - the „Polish-P“ - attached to their clothing. In 1939 there were about 300,000 of them in Germany; In 1944 there were about 2,8 m Polish "Zivilarbeiter" in Germany (approximately 10% of Generalgouvernement workforce) [A. Paczkowski, Historia Powszechna/Historia Polski, Wydawnictwo Naukowe PWN, Warszawa 2008, tom 16, p. 28] and a similar number of workers in this category from other countries.

:*„Ostarbeiter [Eastern workers] “ Soviet civil workers primarily from Ukraine. They were marked with a sign OST („East“), had to live in camps that were fenced with barbed wire and under guard, and were particularly exposed to the arbitrariness of the Gestapo and the industrial plant guards. Estimates put the number of OST Arbeiters between 3 million and 5.5 icon citeweb|url=|title=Остарбайтеры|accessdate=2008-05-20]

In general, foreign laborers from Western Europe had similar gross earnings and were subject to similar taxation as German workers. In contrast, the central and eastern European forced laborers received at most about one-half the gross earnings paid to German workers and much fewer social benefits. Forced laborers who were prisoners of labor or concentration camps received little if any wage and benefits. The deficiency in net earnings of central and eastern European forced laborers (versus forced laborers from western countries) is illustrated by the wage savings forced laborers were able to transfer to their families at home or abroad (see table).

The official German records for the late summer of 1944 listed 7.6 million foreign civilian workers and prisoners of war in the territory of the „Greater German Reich“, who for the most part had been brought there for employment by force. By 1944, slave labor made up one quarter of Germany's entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners. [citebook|author=Allen, Michael Thad|title=The Business of Genocide|publisher=The University of North Carolina Press|year=2002|pages=p.1 See also: cite web|url=|title=Forced Laborers in the "Third Reich"|publisher=International Labor and Working-Class History|edition=No. 58, Fall 2000, S. 192-218|accessdate=2008-05-20|last=Herbert|first=Ulrich] The Nazis also had plans for the deportation and enslavement of Britain's adult male population in the event of a successful invasion. [ Shirer, William. "The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich", Arrow books 1991.]

Extreme cases: extermination through labor

Millions of Jews were forced laborers in ghettos, before they were shipped off to extermination camps. The Nazis also operated concentration camps, some of which provided free forced labor for industrial and other jobs while others existed purely for the extermination of their inmates. Ironically, at the entrances to a number of camps a German phrase meaning "work brings freedom" (Arbeit macht frei) was placed. A notable example of labor-concentration camp is the Mittelbau-Dora labor camp complex that serviced the production of the V-2 rocket. Extermination through labor was a Nazi German World War II principle that regulated the aims and purposes of most of their labor and concentration icon cite book|author=Stanisław Dobosiewicz|title=Mauthausen/Gusen; obóz zagłady (Mauthausen/Gusen; the Camp of Doom)|year=1977|pages=449|publisher=Ministry of National Defense Press|location=Warsaw|id=ISBN 83-11-06368-0] [en icon cite book|author=Wolfgang Sofsky|title=The Order of Terror: The Concentration Camp|year=1999|pages=352|publisher=Princeton University Press|location=Princeton|id=ISBN 0-691-00685-7|url=] The rule demanded that the inmates of German WWII camps be forced to work for the German war industry with only basic tools and minimal food rations until totally exhausted. [pl icon cite book|author=Władysław Gębik|title=Z diabłami na ty (Calling the Devils by their Names)|year=1972|pages=332|publisher=Wydawnictwo Morskie|location=Gdańsk See also: en icon cite book|author=Günter Bischof|coauthors=Anton Pelinka|title=Austrian Historical Memory and National Identity|year=1996|pages=185–190|publisher=Transaction Publishers|id=ISBN 1-56000-902-0|url= and de icon cite book|author=Cornelia Schmitz-Berning|title=Vokabular des Nationalsozialismus (Vocabulary of the National Socialism)|year=1998|pages=634|chapter=Vernichtung durch Arbeit|publisher=Walter de Gruyter|id=ISBN 3-11-013379-2]

Controversy over compensation

To facilitate the rebuilding of German economy after the war, certain groups of Nazi victims were excluded from direct compensation through the German Government; those were the groups with the least amount of political pressure they could have brought to bear, and many forced laborers from the Eastern Europe fall into that category.citeweb|author=Jeanne Dingell|url=|title=The Question of the Polish Forced Labourer during and in the Aftermath of World War II: The Example of the Warthegau Forced Labourers||accessdate=2008-06-02] Since the end of the war, there has been little initiative on the part of the German government or German industry to compensatethe forced laborers under the Third Reich.

As stated in the London Debt Agreement of 1953::"Consideration of claims arising out of the Second World War by countries which were at war with or were occupied by Germany during that war, and by nationals of such countries, against the Reich and agencies of the Reich, including costs of German occupation, credits acquired during occupation on clearing accounts and claims against the Reichskreditkassen shall be deferred until the final settlement of the problem of reparations."

To this date, there are arguments that such settlement has never been fully completed and that Germany post-war development has been greatly aided, while the development of victim countries stalled.

A prominent example of a group which received almost no compensation for their time as forced laborer in Nazi Germany are the Polish forced laborers. According to the Potsdam Agreements of l945, the Poles were to receive reparations not from Germany itself, but from the Soviet Union share of those repatriations; due to the Soviet pressure on the Polish communist government, the Poles agreed to a system of repayment that "de facto" meant that few Polish victims received any sort of adequate compensation (comparable to the victims in Western Europe or Soviet Union itself). Most of the Polish share of repatriations was "given" to Poland by Soviet Union under the Comecon framework, which was not only highly inefficient, but benefited Soviet Union much more than Poland. Under further Soviet pressure (related to the London Agreement on German External Debts), in 1953 the People's Republic of Poland announced its waiver of further claims of reparations from the successor states of the German Reich. Only after the fall of communism in Poland in 1989/1990 did the Polish government try to renegotiate the issue of repatriations, but found little support in this from the German side and none from the Soviet (later, Russian) side.

The total number of forced laborers under the Third Reich who were still alive as of August 1999 was 2.3 million. The German Forced Labour Compensation Programme was established in 2000; a forced labor fund paid out more than 4.37 billion euros to close to 1.7 million of then-living victims around the world (one-off payments of between 2,500 to 7,500 euros).Citeweb|publisher=Reuters|url=|title=Germany ends war chapter with "slave fund" closure|date=12 June 2007|accessdate=2008-07-13] Germany Chancellor Angela Merkel stated in 2007 that "Many former forced laborers have finally received the promised humanitarian aid"; she also conceded that before the fund was established nothing had gone directly to the forced laborers. German president Horst Koehler stated:"It was an initiative that was urgently needed along the journey to peace and reconciliation... At least, with these symbolic payments, the suffering of the victims has been publicly acknowledged after decades of being forgotten".

ee also

*Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union
*Hunger Plan
*Kidnapping of Polish children by Nazi Germany
*Organisation Todt
*Service du travail obligatoire
*Sexual enslavement by Nazi Germany in World War II


a. Note_label|a|a|none By January 1944, Italy has switched sides and is included in Occupied Western Europe. Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania would not switch sides till summer 1944 and are included in German allies section.


Further reading

*citebook|authorlink=Ulrich Herbert|author=Herbert, Ulrich|title=Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany Under the Third Reich|publisher=Cambridge University Press|year=1997|isbn=0521470005 German historian who has conducted a lot of research into the issue of Nazi forced labor.

*citejournal|author=Edward L. Homze|title=Subscription required to access: Review of Benjamin B. Ferencz, "Less Than Slaves: Jewish Forced Labor and the Quest for Compensation|journal=The American Historical Review|volume=vol. 85|pages=p.1225 No. 5 (Dec., 1980) JSTOR|url=
*citebook|author=Kogon, Eugen|title=The Theory and Practice of Hell: The German Concentration Camps and the System Behind Them|publisher=Farrar, Straus and Giroux|year=2006|isbn=0374529922
*citebook|authorlink=Adam Tooze|author=Tooze, Adam|title=The Wages of Destruction|publisher=Viking|year=2007|pages=pp.476–85, 538–49|isbn=0670038261

External links

* [ Compensation for Forced Labour in World War II: The German Compensation Law of 2 August 2000]
* [ Forced Labor document] from Yad Vashem
* [ United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Symposium (2002): Forced and Slave Labor in Nazi-Dominated Europe, 1933 to 1945]
* [ International Red Cross]

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.