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On the search for clues - NS crimes against forced labourers and prisoners of war in a village in Sauerland

Breakfast at harvest time with Paul Lohmann, farmer, left and right conscripted Polish agricultural workers, 1940. It was a punishable offence for the farmers to eat with the Poles. Farmer Lohmann defied this inhuman prohibition.
Breakfast at harvest time with Paul Lohmann, farmer, left and right conscripted Polish agricultural workers, 1940. It was a punishable offence for the farmers to eat with the Poles. Farmer Lohmann defied this inhuman prohibition.

“Foreign workers" in the countryside: 1940 to 1945

 

The Germans deported the first Polish prisoners of war straight after the invasion of Poland in September 1939. Between 1939 and 1945, around 13 million forced labourers from the occupied countries of Europe – civilian workers, prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners – worked in the German wartime economy. As members of defeated “enemy states” they were not afforded the status of guest workers but were, instead, classed as spoils of war. According to the summary by the historian Ullrich Herbert, the methods which the German military administration use to recruit workers in the occupied countries ranged “from mobilisation orders with hostage-taking to advertising for voluntary job take-up”.[9] In the Soviet Union, the German occupation authorities made the administrations they deployed and the village elders in rural areas “acquire” a fixed number of labourers by specific dates for the transports to the Reich.

Whilst so-called “Western workers”, the majority of whom were deported from France, received the same wage as German “allegiance members”, the Eastern workers” from Poland or from what was the Soviet Union at the time, were on a much worse footing. But all of them suffered from poor nutrition and arbitrary punishments. The working and living conditions of “Eastern workers” were characterised by excessively long working hours, poor nutrition, low pay, miserable accommodation, ragged clothing, a lack of medical care, defamation and abuse.[10] The use of forced labourers was initially disputed. Whilst agriculture and the manufacturing sector always pushed for this policy to be expanded because of the huge lack of workers, some sections of the NSDAP wanted to restrict the use of foreigners for ideological reasons.  In the metal-working industry, many companies trained forced labourers, some even gave out additional food supplies; ultimately, the enterprises were interested in using labourers as effectively as possible and in increasing production. The use of “foreign workers” was a very rewarding business for the companies. At the end of 1944, every fourth job in Germany was filled by forced labourers, predominantly from Poland and the Soviet Union. In agriculture and forestry positions, 46 percent of the workforce were foreigners.[11]

 

[9] Ulrich Herbert, Fremdarbeiter, Bonn 1985, p. 157

[10] Ulrich Herbert, Fremdarbeiter, Bonn 1985, p. 286

[11] Ulrich Herbert, Fremdarbeiter, Bonn 1985

 

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