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.

Garbeck under the swastika


Until the territorial reform of 1975, the district of Garbeck belonged to the department of Balve; today it belongs to the town of Balve. In 1939, the village, with its districts of Levringhausen, Hövringhausen and Frühlinghausen, had 1,419 inhabitants. In his book about the region’s history[1], Josef Pütter, a local historian and honorary citizen of Balve, devoted just three lines to the National Socialist regime. On this subject, the home page of the town of Balve states somewhat self-critically: “A need for reverence has meant that a profound account of the outcomes and impacts of the NS period has not yet been written. Former Nazis, and especially their families, should be spared”. And: “Only after they had seized power, were the NSDAP and their subdivisions able to gain a firmer foothold in Balve, as the election results before and after 1933 show. The Reichstag election on 31 November 1932 gave the NSDAP only 15.6 percent of the votes, with the Centre gaining 68.2 percent of the votes. Between the Reichstag election and the referendum in 1933, the mood had changed.”[2] In the election on 5 March 1933, the NSDAP had already gained 31.3 percent of the votes in neighbouring Garbeck, with the Centre still managing 62.8 percent and the SPD 3.4 percent. The Communists only got eight votes.

The Nazis now had a tight hold on the Catholic Sauerland as well. From the police files, I discovered that during the Pogrom night in November 1938 the Nazis had abused the last remaining Jew in Balve and demolished his apartment.[3] In 1922, David Bondy had been appointed the first honorary citizen of Balve. He had set up a foundation for the poor and donated a church clock to the church community. Pütter claims that no harm was inflicted on the Jewish merchant by the people of Balve. “Unfortunately, the people had to sadly and powerlessly stand by as foreign SA people attacked the old man.”[4] Bondy wrote a final card from Theresienstadt to a musician friend. Pütter does not tell us anything more about the fate of the Jew who was “held in such high esteem” by the people in Balve.

In Garbeck too, many people were excited about “Führer, folk and Fatherland”. From the NSDAP membership register I can see that a quarter of all adults in the village belonged to a party grouping. The NSDAP local chapter had almost eighty members, not just a handful, as is still repeatedly claimed today. Twenty-five men wore the uniform of the SA, some of them had been wearing it since the middle of the 1930s. The teachers at Garbeck primary school were members of the NS Teacher’s Federation, even the National Socialist Flying Corps and the German Aviation Sports Association had a few members from the village. Most of the children and the young people were enrolled in the Hitler Youth or in the League of German Girls. Even Garbeck kindergarten posed for a souvenir photo with the swastika flag.[5] 



[1] Josef Pütter, Sauerländisches Grenzland im Wandel der Zeit, Balve 1965

[2] http*//www.balve-online.de/

[3] Märkischer Kreis Archive, A Ba 2114

[4] Josef Pütter, Sauerländisches Grenzland im Wandel der Zeit, Balve 1965

[5] 100 Jahre Pfarrgemeinde Hl. Drei Könige Garbeck, Balve 1995


But not everyone in Garbeck were enthusiastic “compatriots”. Many devout Catholic churchgoers were secretly clenching their fists in their pockets. Father Thomas, in particular, the cooperator of Pastor Schulte, was known for his critical attitude towards the Nazis. “There was a song ‘The enemies of your cross threaten to devastate your kingdom, Lord’. It was sung at every prayer service and at every opportunity”, said my aunt, Rita Prior (born 1926), laughing. It was a true protest song. “It was often said that the Father needed to be careful or they would come for him”. In 1940, the clergy still put on the Corpus Christi procession despite it being banned by the police. But this time, instead of processing through the village, the faithful only walked from the church to the neighbouring primary school. In the school, the Catholic youth had helped to erect four altars and a sign saying, “Christ prevails – God rules”. This was a provocation for the Nazis. I found a photo of the scene in my father’s estate (born 1923). He had been active in the Catholic youth group. The Garbeck pupils were not allowed to take part in the procession, recalled Rita Prior, but: “We were able to look out onto the street.” And our teacher Mr Lotze threatened us saying, “Don’t you dare look out of the window!”. The teacher was an SA group leader and always came to school in his uniform. At the start of the holidays, we had to stand to attention around the flag”, said my aunt.

In July 1944, a farmer denounced the Father.[6] Wallmann, the Gendarmerie Master from Balve, passed on this information to the Gestapo in Meschede. Karl Thomas had, “contrary to the rules of the Secret State Police, christened the child of an Eastern worker. The child was called Olga and was the daughter of a pair of Eastern workers, Iwan Borkow and his wife, who lived in Frühlinghausen in the Garbeck District with the farmer Lohmann.” Karl Thomas had been arrested by the Gestapo for the first time in 1937, “for preaching against the comprehensive school”.[7] At the time, Thomas was working as a teacher in Lebenhan near Neustadt, Saale. In 1938, Würzburg City Court contented itself with giving him a warning but it did take away his authorisation to teach.[8] As a result, the Order sent the Father to Garbeck, where he worked from 1 July 1940 to 31 March 1948. Karl Thomas subsequently returned to teaching and died in a traffic accident in 1971.



[6] Märkischer Kreis Archive, A Ba 2127

[7] Ulrich Hehl, Priester unter Hitlers Terror, Paderborn, 1968, p. 1665

[8] Würzburg State Archive, 15975 RPBG

“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


Since 1939, forced labourers had also been working in Garbeck. “The whole village was full”, said Rita Prior: “On farms, in factories; there were foreign workers everywhere. The French were in the Gransauer mill, Soviet prisoners of war were in the lime works.” Forced labourers also worked in private houses. The dining room of a restaurant in the centre of the village was initially used as accommodation. At the beginning, most Poles took part in Sunday mass in church. “The first forced labourers came to Garbeck at the beginning of the war, first from Poland and then, after the Russian campaign, from the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia”, recounted the retired builder Liborius Hemeier (born 1931): “They were generally referred to as Russians. Women and girls were also used here as forced labourers, in the factories as well - at Heinrich Honert, Hubert Waltermann and Josef Keggenhoff. At first, they were all housed in the Gransauer mill and were given their meals there too. Afterwards, Honert had his forced labourers at Levermann’s. Sleeping quarters were set up in the old office rooms. Later, Hubert Waltermann built a barracks at the factory.”

An entry by Pastor Schulte in the parish book provides an insight into the situation of the Polish forced labourers in the village in which all were Catholic apart from one family: “They were housed in the dining room at the Syre restaurant and each day they were allocated to the individual enterprises. In autumn 1940, the camp was abolished and a new one was set up at the lime works. We were not able to provide pastoral care to the occupants because we were refused entry. During 1940, the prisoners of war were replaced by civilian workers from Poland. They lived in the houses in which they had found work. These people were initially allowed to take part in worship within the community. Many but not all Poles attended Sunday mass. In September 1940, a police order was issued which categorically forbade the Poles from taking part in community worship. And although separate church services were permitted, the police had to be notified beforehand. In July 1941, a ministerial declaration was published which again forbade people from taking part in church services because very unwelcome phenomena had come to light.” [12]

The NS leadership considered that the use of foreign labourers endangered the ideological foundations of National Socialism. To combat the threat posed to “race” and “nationality” by “foreign races”, the Reich government issued a whole series of discriminating decrees that further restricted the life of Polish labourers. The so-called “Polish decrees” reinforced and radicalised the racist concepts of “Slavic sub-humans” and “racially superior” Germans. Contact with “Eastern workers” was to be limited to working relationships.[13] The 1940 leaflet “Responsibilities of civilian workers of Polish origin during their stay in the Reich” dictates the following: “(...) Leaving the place of residence is strictly prohibited. During curfews ordered by the police authorities, accommodation must not be left either. Public transport, e.g. railways, may only be used with the special authorisation of the local police authority. All workers of Polish origin must always wear the badge provided to them on the right side of the chest of each item of clothing so that it is visible at all times. The badge must be firmly sewn onto each item of clothing. Anyone who works carelessly, downs tools, incites other workers, leaves the workplace without authorisation etc. will be sentenced to forced labour in a concentration camp. Any acts of sabotage or other serious infringements of work discipline will be punished severely, with at least several years in a work education camp. All social interaction with the German people, particularly visits to theatres, cinemas, dances, restaurants and churches together with the German people, is forbidden. Dancing and alcohol consumption is permitted in restaurants specially allocated to Polish workers. Anyone having sexual intercourse with a German woman or a German man or making indecent advances to them will be sentenced to death.”[14]



[12] Private collection of Johannes Waltermann, Garbeck

[13] Ulrich Herbert, Fremdarbeiter, Bonn 1985

[14] Münster State Archive, Primavesi Collection 363


The Hönnetal “work education camp” in Sanssouci near Balve


The NS ruling powers set up a whole system of prison camps to uphold worker morale and to frighten and discipline recalcitrant workers. Contrary to widely held beliefs that the prisoners were “criminals”, grounds for imprisonment in prison camps included “hanging around” and “breach of employment contract” as infringements against discipline at work were call in officialese. From 1940, foreigners were imprisoned in so-called “work education camps” at the order and under the supervision of the Gestapo. The detention period was initially capped at 56 days, then later at three months. In summer 1940, the “Reich work camp” in Hunswinkel near Lüdenscheid, which belonged to the firm Hoch und Tief and had existed since 1938, was converted to a “work education camp” for foreigners. The prisoners did the heavy labour during the construction of the Verse dam. In autumn 1944, work was stopped and most of the prisoners were transferred to the “Hönnetal work education camp” in Sanssouci, a district of Balve.[15]

On 29 December 1944, Eric Roth, the head of the Gestapo in Dortmund, informed the District President in Arnsberg, “Extremely urgent quarrying is being carried out by the Todt organisation at the new work site on behalf of the Reich Commissioner Geilenberg”[16] . The NS economic planners made the “Schwalbe I” building project top priority and it was subject to the strictest confidentiality. Following the allied bombings of fuel plants in May 1944, Armaments Minister Speer ordered the most important gasoline factories to be moved below ground. The edict issued by the Führer on 30 May 1944 stated that the “immediate measures” were to be carried out with “the most generous use of workers and material and with ruthless energy”. SS and Gestapo deployed more than 350,000 forced labourers and prisoners of war at this large construction site in Hönnetal between Balve and Menden. Ten thousand forced labourers dug a two-and-a-half kilometre-long tunnel in the rocks so that a factory for hydrogenating aviation fuel could then be set up on behalf of the Union Rheinische Braunkohle Kraftstoff AG, Köln-Wesseling.

The forced labourers were abused on a daily basis and many died from the aftermath of torture or from starvation. On 27 November 1944, Dr Josef Mahr, the Arnsberg medical officer, reported on the terrible conditions in the “Hönnetal work education camp”: The accommodation for four hundred “Eastern workers” was “extremely primitive”, with all rooms having too many occupants. 115 of the prisoners were ill, most of them suffering from nutritional oedemas “some of them will die in the next few days”. To that point, the cause of death had been recorded on the death certificates as “all heart muscle paralysis”. The doctor warned that the prison camp constituted a severe risk of epidemic to the civilian population”: “The camp inmates should not, under any circumstances, be brought to the workplace each day with the other German citizens.” Instead, they must “be fed so that they do not starve and in addition are then also able to be productive at work.” It is unclear how many prisoners died; a few of them managed to escape.  At the end of March 1945, the camp was closed down and the prisoners were forced to trek in the direction of East Westphalia. What then became of them has not been passed on. In neighbouring Beckum, it seems that nobody noticed the exodus of hundreds of prisoner, or so the local historian Peter Witte says. He quotes the policeman Heinrich Q.: “There aren’t many left from those who came from Sanssouci.”[17] To this day, nothing in Balve-Sanssouci recalls the “Hönnetal work education camp”.



[15] Matthias Wagner, Das Arbeitserziehungslager Hunswinkel/Lüdenscheid 1940-1945, Dokumentation zur Geschichte der Zwangsarbeiter im Märkischen Kreis, Altena 2001, p. 121

[16] Peter Witte, Das Arbeitserziehungslager Hönnetal in Sanssouci, in “700 Jahre Beckum. Die Geschichte eines Dorfes im Sauerland”, Arnsberg 1985, p. 219

[17] ibid.


Forced labourers in Garbeck


The rural populations were extremely ambivalent in their dealings with forced labourers. Many farmers treated them like any other agricultural worker, judged them on their performance and subordination, shared their meals and sometimes even spent their free time with them. Others kept their distance and behaved in an exemplary manner, as “German farmers” do. Colleagues in the metal-working enterprises also behaved somewhat inconsistently. During the working day in the factory, they talked, joked and grumbled, but only a few Germans brought additional food for the foreigners, with most being indifferent to their fate. This can be seen in some of the examples that I came across during my research in the area.


J. Fischer, Farmer

In 1940, the Labour Office sent Ceslaus Rinzat, a Polish forced labourer, to the farm belonging to the farmer J. Fischer, as I was told by the farmer’s son (born 1930) during our conversation in Garbeck in autumn 2005. At the beginning, the labourer did not want to touch anything dirty. Rinzat was a hairdresser from Kraków. But after Gerwiener, the village constable, “sorted him out, he did everything”, said Fischer; milking was the only thing he could not do. In winter, when there was not much to do on the farmyard, Rinzat helped out at Böhmer’s, the hairdressers in the village. The man became friendly with a “Russian woman” from the neighbouring farm. When she became pregnant, she had to “go away”. “Where she went to, we didn’t ask. At the end of the day, it was still the war. Look at what the Americans do today in Iraq. Our grandchildren will live through a war with the Muslims”, declared Fischer. In autumn 1944, “Ceslaus” went to work for a timber merchant in Linnepe. Ceslaus Rinzat died in Dortmund after the war following a stomach operation.[18]


H. Rademacher, Farmer

I read in the police files that the farmer Heinrich Rademacher in Levringhausen came into conflict with the authorities because of his “familiar” interaction with Theophil Rozycki (Teofil Różycki) , a Polish agricultural worker. The farmer had to endure house searches, he received threats, complaints were made against him, and the village policeman passed on a warning from the “state police”. In his “complaint against a Pole and two German nationals” of 16 May 1944, police officer Wallmann wrote the following about Rademacher: “The farmer’s attitude towards his Pole is definitely familiar. They live in complete coexistence.” He put forward the proposal “that the Pole be moved on somewhere else”. He does not keep the “required distance” which he is obliged to keep “as a German farmer”. Rademacher is also a notorious drinker and “typical hoarder and dealer”. In the “warning from the state police” it said: “I have been advised that I can expect measures to be taken by the state police, in particular protective custody and committal to a concentration camp, if I do not keep the required distance from Polish nationals and refrain from otherwise forbidden interaction.” On 19 August 1944, police officer Wallmann reported to the Gestapo: “Rademacher does not currently have any foreign labourers. (...) Rozycki is now with widow Schulte-Heller in Garbeck.”[19]  Theophil Rozycki died on 25 February 1945 from a “cerebral haemorrhage”; the Director of Balve did not inform the British military administration on 8 January 1950 of the precise circumstances of his death.[20]


Martin Rapp, June 2021


The unabridged version of this article by Martin Rapp can be found in the media library (in German).



[18] ibid.

[19] ibid.

[20] Märkischer Kreis Archive, A Ba 6 60-1

Media library