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Hitler's Slaves

Hitler's Slaves: Life Stories of Forced Labourers in Nazi-Occupied Europe

Alexander von Plato
Almut Leh
Christoph Thonfeld
Copyright Date: 2010
Edition: NED - New edition, 1
Published by: Berghahn Books
Pages: 560
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  • Book Info
    Hitler's Slaves
    Book Description:

    During World War II at least 13.5 million people were employed as forced labourers in Germany and across the territories occupied by the German Reich. Most came from Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Moldavia, the Baltic countries, France, Poland and Italy. Among them were 8.4 million civilians working for private companies and public agencies in industry, administration and agriculture. In addition, there were 4.6 million prisoners of war and 1.7 million concentration camp prisoners who were either subjected to forced labour in concentration or similar camps or were 'rented out' or sold by the SS. While there are numerous publications on forced labour in National Socialist Germany during World War II, this publication combines a historical account of events with the biographies and memories of former forced labourers from twenty-seven countries, offering a comparative international perspective.

    eISBN: 978-1-84545-990-1
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Foreword Board of Directors of the Foundation ‘Remembrance, Responsibility and Future’
    (pp. ix-xii)
    Günter Saathoff

    The Foundation ‘Remembrance, Responsibility and Future’ has a twofold mandate: firstly, in recognition of Germany’s responsibility for National Socialist injustice, to make payments to former victims of National Socialism, in particular former forced labourers, and secondly to keep alive the memory of this injustice for future generations and promote projects that enable us to learn the lessons of history and so foster understanding between peoples. In the summer of 2001, one year after it was founded and as the culmination of a nationwide debate and international negotiations, the foundation began making payments to former victims of National Socialism. Between 2001...

  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. I

    • Introduction
      (pp. 3-20)
      Alexander von Plato, Almut Leh and Christoph Thonfeld

      There are numerous publications on forced labour in National Socialist Germany during the Second World War. But a publication such as this one, combining the depiction of historical conditions and developments with the biographies and memories of former forced labourers from twenty-seven countries, is unprecedented, particularly in that it displays such regional variety and adopts a comparative international perspective. This is the first time that research on the Holocaust and its survivors has intersected with investigations of the experiences of slave and forced labour. Up to now, no publication has succeeded in productively crossing the borders between different regional research...

  6. II

    • 1 Reports from Germany on Forced and Slave Labour
      (pp. 23-36)
      Alexander von Plato

      In the last more or less free parliamentary elections in Germany in November 1932, the National Socialist German Workers’ Party (NSDAP) won only 33.1 per cent of the votes – 4.2 per cent, or two million votes, less than in July 1932. However, on 30 January 1933 the party became part of a coalition government, and President Hindenburg appointed Adolf Hitler Chancellor of the German Reich. Hitler was barely in power before the arrests began and the first concentration camps were erected. It was from these camps that prisoners were selected for forced labour. The subsequent burning of the Reichstag...

    • 2 Work, Repression and Death after the Spanish Civil War
      (pp. 37-46)
      Mercedes Vilanova

      The eleven life histories included in this project introduce us to people who faced severe repression in Spain, France or Germany as a result of General Franco’s victory in 1939. Their testimonies are an example of how the combination of Hitler’s and Franco’s policies resulted in the cruellest of fates: execution in Spain or in German concentration camps. Spain did not take part in either of the two world wars of the twentieth century, but nevertheless the course of Spanish politics had a very strong impact on the lives of the persons interviewed. In April 1931, after centuries of monarchy,...

    • 3 Czechs as Forced and Slave Labourers during the Second World War
      (pp. 47-58)
      Šárka Jarská

      Formed in October 1918, the Czechoslovak Republic consisted of the historical countries of Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia. German rule began with the Munich Agreement, signed on 29 September 1938, which annexed part of the bordering regions of Bohemia and Moravia (Sudetenland) to the German Reich. Germany’s influence on the political, economic and social life of this area increased sharply after 14–15 March 1939, when its troops occupied the remaining parts of Bohemia and Moravia and Hitler declared them a protectorate of Germany. Some areas of Slovakia and Subcarpathian Ruthenia fell into Hungarian hands following the Vienna Award...

    • 4 Slovak Republic (1939–1945)
      (pp. 59-70)
      Viola Jakschová

      The Slovak Republic, as its official name was, was declared on 14 March 1939 within the boundaries fixed by the Vienna arbitration.¹ Its creation was the result of a long period of aggressive policy towards Czechoslovakia by the German government under Adolf Hitler. In the course of these developments Slovakia, under the political leadership of Monsignor Jozef Tiso since 1938, acquired first the status of an autonomous entity within ‘Czecho-Slovakia’, and then, after October 1939, that of a formally independent state. However, Slovakia was a German ‘protectorate’, that is, a satellite state of the German Reich; it was forced to...

    • 5 ‘You can’t say it out loud. And you can’t forget.’: Polish Experiences of Slave and Forced Labour for the ‘Third Reich’
      (pp. 71-85)
      Piotr Filipkowski and Katarzyna Madoń-Mitzner

      It is a matter of common knowledge (in Europe, at least) that the Second World War began with a German attack on Poland on 1 September 1939. After a month’s resistance Poland fell, having been weakened by the incursion of the Red Army into its eastern territories on 17 September (in accordance with the German-Soviet pact of August 1939). The vast majority of the country and its citizens came under German occupation (with about one third coming under Soviet rule until June 1941). In response, Poles immediately began to organise an underground resistance movement.

      While Soviet policy was similar throughout...

    • 6 The Fate of Polish Slave and Forced Labourers from Łódź
      (pp. 86-98)
      Ewa Czerwiakowski and Gisela Wenzel

      At the beginning of the Second World War, Łódź had 668,000 inhabitants; it was Poland’s second largest city and one of the largest industrial centres in the Second Republic. ‘The textile factories were located in the south of the city. That was where the “city of a thousand smokestacks” was located, a Polish Manchester ... , which doesn’t exist anymore,’ recalls our interviewee Bolesław Z. Some 50 per cent of inhabitants were of Polish origin (334,000), 35 per cent were Jewish (233,800) and approximately 10 per cent were of German origin (67,000). According to Slawomir N., ‘Here in Łódź there...

    • 7 Interviews with Polish Roma: A Report of My Experiences
      (pp. 99-112)
      Artur Podgorski

      The project I carried out in Poland aimed to find five former slave and forced labourers among Polish Roma with whom I could carry out life-history interviews in the context of the documentation project. This task was far from easy, as I was soon to find out. From identifying appropriate interview partners, through making first contact and setting up an appointment for an interview, to actually conducting the interview, the project proved to be a real challenge characterised by the experience of significant cultural differences and by my own efforts to find common ground with my interview partners. This was...

    • 8 The French Experience: STO, a Memory to Collect, a History to Write
      (pp. 113-123)
      Anne-Marie Granet-Abisset

      The present study focuses on a particular category of forced labour: ‘labour deportees’.¹ The vast majority of these workers, known in France by the acronym STO (Service du Travail Obligatoire)², were men who were conscripted and sent to Germany between March 1943 and July 1945. The passage of the war years saw a strengthening of economic collaboration, one of the aspects of the collaboration organised and desired by the Vichy regime. Effective from the outset through the requisitioning of a large part of the country’s agricultural and industrial production for Germany,³ starting in 1941 it was also implemented in the...

    • 9 The Experiences of Hungarian Slave and Forced Labourers
      (pp. 124-137)
      Éva Kovács

      One in ten victims of the Shoah, and one in three victims in the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp, was Hungarian.¹ Between 1938 and 1945, one in fifteen Hungarians (in total, one million Jews and Roma) were the victims of discrimination.² A particular feature of the Hungarian Shoah was the Labour Service System – an idea conceived as early as 1920 to control the ‘unreliable social strata’ within the parameters of a public labour service. Following the First World War, Jews were also included among the ‘unreliable’. In 1939, the Labour Service System was reorganised as part of a new Hungarian armaments...

    • 10 ‘Mother, are the apples at home ripe yet?’ Slovenian Forced and Slave Labourers during the Second World War
      (pp. 138-150)
      Monika Kokalj Kočevar

      With the attack of German, Italian and Hungarian army units on 6 April 1941, Slovenian territory, a part of the kingdom of Yugoslavia known as Drava ban’s domain, was very quickly dismembered into three territorial units. New borders were decided by Adolf Hitler himself¹ and gave the ‘Third Reich’ the biggest, northern part – Styria, Upper Carniola and a small part of Carinthia with about 798,000 inhabitants (10,261km²). The southern part, later known as Ljubljana Province, with over 336,000 inhabitants (4,544km²), belonged to Italy, which annexed the territory at the beginning of May 1941. The smallest, eastern part, with 102,000...

    • 11 Of Silence and Remembrance: Forced Labour and the NDH, and the History of their Remembrance
      (pp. 151-165)
      Christian Schölzel

      This chapter discusses interviews held with twelve survivors¹ from the former Ustaše state known as NDH (Nezavisna država Hrvatska, Independent State of Croatia) who arrived in Germany between 1941 and 1945 to perform slave or forced labour.² Conducted with forced labourers, Jews, non-Jews, communist civilians, farmers, manual workers, intellectuals and a government minister, the interviews show that the lives touched by the experience of forced labour were many and varied. The same applies to those persecuted in German, Italian and Croatian prisons, assembly camps, internment camps and concentration camps.

      A rich mine of biographical information supported by credible new sources,...

    • 12 ‘If you lose your freedom, you lose everything.’: The Experiences and Memories of Serbian Forced Labourers
      (pp. 166-176)
      Barbara N. Wiesinger

      To date, there has been little research into the forced labour imposed on Serbs/Serbians by the ‘Third Reich’.¹ Not only is the number of people involved unknown, but there is also little information available about their concrete working and living conditions. I therefore begin by outlining the background and scale of the deployment of Serbs/Serbians in forced labour. Between 1941 and 1944, 161,000 ‘foreign labourers’ were recruited in the military occupation zone of Serbia – many of them political prisoners or hostages. However, not all were transported to Germany. In the ‘Independent State of Croatia’ (Nezavisna država Hrvatska, NDH), 153,000...

    • 13 They Survived Two Wars: Bosnian Roma as Civil War Refugees in Germany
      (pp. 177-187)
      Birgit Mair

      From May to December 2005, the Institut für sozialwissenschaftliche Forschung, Bildung und Beratung e.V. (ISFBB), directed eight life history interviews with Roma from Bosnia. The interviews were conducted by Lazar Dimic in Romani and filmed by Harald Jantschke and Joanna Maxellon. The project team was led by the author, who has extensive experience in interviewing concentration camp survivors.¹ The interviews took place in Berlin, where most of the former forced labourers have lived as refugees since the early 1990s. We questioned five women and three men who identify themselves as Bosnian Roma of the Muslim faith. The interviewees were born...

    • 14 Forced Labour in Bulgaria 1941–1944: Tracing the Memories
      (pp. 188-198)
      Ana Luleva

      In respect of the imposition of forced labour during the Second World War, Bulgaria is a special case. This country was one of Germany’s allies (from 1 March 1941 to 5 September 1944), and Bulgarian citizens were not sent to German labour or concentration camps. Only Bulgarian students in Germany and Slovakia who were imprisoned in German concentration camps after September 1944 were victims of forced labour in the ‘Third Reich’. The fact that no Bulgarian citizens were sent to Germany as forced labourers, however, does not mean that they were not victims of forced labour during the war. Forced...

    • 15 Lithuania 1941–1944: Slave and Forced Labourers Remember
      (pp. 199-210)
      Rose Lerer Cohen

      In 2006 we interviewed eight survivors who had been forced and slave labourers for the Third Reich between 1941 and 1945; the interviews took place in Lithuania. The sample consisted of three Jews (two women and one man), one Roma woman and four non-Jewish Lithuanians (two men and two women). This chapter focuses on a range of aspects relating to the historical background, memory and commemoration, emigration and reintegration and our own observations and interpretations.

      The earliest written mention of Lithuania is in theAnnales Quedlinburgensesof 1009, and the first Lithuanian state was established by the Grand Duke Mindaugas...

    • 16 Belarusian Forced Labourers: Types and Recruitment Methods
      (pp. 211-225)
      Alexander Dalhouski

      The study of forced labour in Belarus during the Second World War gives rise to various research-related problems.¹ The central problem is that historians in both Western and Eastern Europe often base their work on the German administrative divisions defined during the occupation period 1941–44 and therefore examine only the General Commissariat (GC) White Ruthenia. The other parts of the country, which were either occupied by the military or belonged to the Reich Commissariat (RC) of Ukraine, the GC of Lithuania or Bialystok district in East Prussia, are rarely mentioned. The result of this approach is that the GC...

    • 17 Forced and Slave Labour in Belarus: Experiences, Coping Strategies and Personal Accounts
      (pp. 226-237)
      Imke Hansen and Alesja Belanovich

      In Belarus during the Second World War, some 380,000 people were deported for forced labour, of whom around 53 per cent were women and 47 per cent were men. These figures do not include those Belarusians who were forced to work for the Germans in occupied Belarus or those who were taken to concentration camps and subjected to the policy of ‘extermination through labour’. Many of the deportees were very young – children or adolescents – and many lost their families, friends and whole frame of reference as a result of the war and the use of systematic extermination methods....

    • 18 The Experience of Forced Labourers from Galician Ukraine
      (pp. 238-249)
      Tetyana Lapan

      In 1941 the German military leadership seized the territory of Ukraine, thereby destroying its territorial integrity. The western districts – Lviv (Lvov), Drogobych, Stanislav (present-day Ivano-Frankivsk) and Ternopil – were included into the Government General in August 1941 as a separate district under the name of ‘Galicia’, which also included Polish territory with Cracow at its centre. As an administrative unit entirely created by the occupying power, the Government General was distinctive from a demographic point of view as well as from a political one, since it included regions inhabited by ethnic Ukrainians such as Lemkivshchyna and parts of Posyannia,...

    • 19 Oral Histories of Former Ukrainian Ostarbeiter: Preliminary Results of Analysis
      (pp. 250-261)
      Gelinada Grinchenko

      By 1939, over 20 million (or 80 per cent of) Ukrainians lived within the borders of the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Seven million lived in Polish-held Galicia and Volhynia, while others were under Hungarian control after the March 1939 annexation of the Subcarpathian Rus.¹ According to the secret protocol of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, concluded in August 1939, Western Ukraine (along with Western Byelorussia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Bessarabia) was to be handed over to the Soviets. The consequence of this pact for Ukrainians was to assign about 4.5 million Western Ukrainians, most of whom had previously lived under Polish rule,...

    • 20 Oral Testimonies from Russian Victims of Forced Labour
      (pp. 262-275)
      Irina Scherbakova

      For Russia (and certainly two other former Soviet republics, Belarus and Ukraine), the Second World War isthepivotal event in the history of the twentieth century and the most important in the official Soviet history and historiography. Inevitably, anything that did not fit into the ideological matrix based on ‘the great feat of the Soviet people in the Great Patriotic War’ was removed from the wartime mythology created in the Soviet era. This is why the truth was concealed about the beginning of the war (after the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) and the first catastrophic defeats: such knowledge would also have...

    • 21 The Experience of Citizens of the Former Soviet Union as Forced Labourers in Nazi Germany
      (pp. 276-285)
      Natalia Timofeyeva

      The subject of forced labour carried out on the territory of the ‘Third Reich’ by citizens of the Soviet Union was a taboo for historians in the Soviet Union, and even after the USSR’s dissolution the topic did not receive due attention in Russia. Only in the last decade has there been a substantial increase in interest in this issue. The last ten years have also witnessed a number of fundamental research projects aiming to fill the information gap.¹ In the context of the International Slave and Forced Labourers Documentation project, a group from the Voronezh State Pedagogical University conducted...

    • 22 Presenting Life in Captivity: Oral Testimonies of Former Forced and Slave Labourers from St Petersburg and the Russian Northwest
      (pp. 286-295)
      Anna Reznikova

      In the context of the International Slave and Forced Labourers Documentation Project we conducted fifteen interviews with former forced and slave labourers, four of which were recorded on video. In St Petersburg, the project was supported by the Memorial Research and Information Centre. Memorial retains a card index containing information on individuals who suffered repression under the Soviet regime on the grounds of their political or religious conviction. A file on people subject to forced and slave labour during the Second World War was started as a separate index supplementary to the main card index in 1993.

      At present, the...

    • 23 Women’s Biographies and Women’s Memory of War
      (pp. 296-309)
      Olga Nikitina, Elena Rozhdestvenskaya and Victoria Semenova

      Soviet women participated in the Great Patriotic War on a large scale. Most of them, as part of the civilian population in the occupied territories near the front, were involved in the military conflict through forced labour mobilisation or the partisan movement. According to official statistics, the number of women who were conscripted and took part in military action amounted to 800,000. Women who joined partisan units in occupied territories made up 9.8 per cent of all partisans, of whom there were 28,500 altogether.¹ Huge losses of the Soviet army in the initial period of war led to the mass...

    • 24 The Deportation of the Italians 1943–45
      (pp. 310-323)
      Doris Felsen and Viviana Frenkel

      When the Second World War broke out in September 1939, Italy, in spite of having sealed a treaty of military alliance with Nazi Germany, did not side with its powerful ally immediately. Mussolini was conscious of the army’s lack of training and preferred to sit on the fence for several months. However, the Germans’ first easy victories, the illusion that the war would be short and the ambition of standing by the winners moved the Duce to take the fatal decision to enter the war. The Italian army attacked France, which had already been defeated by the Germans. This ‘stab...

    • 25 Former Forced Labourers as Immigrants in Great Britain after 1945
      (pp. 324-337)
      Christoph Thonfeld

      Great Britain was the main destination of emigration for displaced persons in Europe, but very little research has been done on this.¹ Among displaced persons (DPs), former forced labourers were the largest group. Most of those who reached Great Britain did so in one of four ways. First, the country allowed the immigration of (mostly) Jewish survivors of National Socialist persecution, continuing the policy of strictly regulated and limited asylum that had been granted to Jewish refugees from the pogroms in Eastern Europe at the end of the nineteenth century and from increasingly radical persecution in Germany during the 1930s....

    • 26 Slave Labour and Shoah: A View from Israel
      (pp. 338-350)
      Margalit Bejarano and Amija Boasson

      The twenty-five former Jewish slave labourers interviewed in Israel were born in twelve different countries: Poland, Lithuania, Hungary, Transylvania, Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia, Greece, Germany, Austria, Holland, Tunisia and Libya.¹ Their common denominator is not the territory of memory but the territory of retrospect; they all look back at their lives and interpret their experiences during the Shoah from an Israeli and Jewish perspective. They feel different from other national groups who suffered the hardships of forced labour but were not doomed to perish. Knowing that for the Jews, slave labour was life on borrowed time, they define themselves as survivors, not...

    • 27 International Slave and Forced Labour Documentation Project: United States, Atlanta, Georgia
      (pp. 351-363)
      Sara Ghitis and Ruth Weinberger

      This chapter is based on ten interviews with Holocaust survivors resident in the United States, conducted between May 2005 and August 2006. The interviews, of which three were recorded on video and seven on audiotape, attempted to explore the lives of slave and forced labourers, their survival and their postwar lives. The following is a synopsis not only of the survivors’ experiences during the Holocaust, followed by their immigration and integration into the United States, but also of the interview process itself and key analytical elements.

      By contrast with our previous oral history experiences, identifying interview subjects for this project...

    • 28 Forced and Slave Labour in the Context of the Jewish Holocaust Experience
      (pp. 364-374)
      Dori Laub and Johanna Bodenstab

      The interviews discussed in this chapter form part of a New Haven–based project that aims at a comprehensive study of the Jewish forced labour experience under the German Reich. The interviews were all carried out in New Haven, Connecticut, with most survivors residing either in that state or in New York. The vast majority of those contacted were very ready and willing to carry out what they felt to be a binding duty to history and their loved ones. Eight had already been previously interviewed by Dori Laub twenty-five years ago within the framework of what has since become...

  7. III

    • 29 A Memorial for the Persecuted, Materials for Education and Science: The Compilation of Biographies of Former Slave and Forced Labourers
      (pp. 377-393)
      Almut Leh and Henriette Schlesinger

      At different levels, planning and conducting the project ‘Documentation of the Biographies of Former Slave and Forced Labourers’ was a challenge for everybody contributing to it. The foundation Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft (Memory, Responsibility, and Future), with its fund ‘Memory and Future’ as the initiator and funder, the thirty-two very different institutions from twenty-seven countries that conducted the research on the ground and the Institut für Geschichte und Biographie (Institute of History and Biography) as the planning and coordinating authority cooperated with the objective of creating a unique compilation of biographical interviews of remembrance that may be used both for...

    • 30 ‘A moment of elation ... and painful’: The Homecoming of Slave and Forced Labourers after the Second World War
      (pp. 394-406)
      Christoph Thonfeld

      The homecoming of former forced labourers was an extremely complicated process that in some cases lasted many years, was contingent on a number of different factors and, for some, was never actually achieved.¹ Memories of family and home constituted for many forced labourers a crucial emotional reference point and a form of mental sustenance. In many ways, packages and letters received from home supplied practical support. Repatriation was the internal vanishing point of a situation otherwise largely determined by external factors. The journey home has lost some of its significance as a life-history event amongst former forced labourers. However, it...

    • 31 Witnesses at the First Auschwitz Trial in Frankfurt
      (pp. 407-425)
      Dagi Knellessen

      In contrast to other subprojects, the common feature among the subjects of this chapter is not the country where the former forced labourers are living today. In this case the point of reference is the German Federal Republic of the 1960s, a period when the dominant elements in West German society evaded the question of guilt for the crimes of the National Socialist past, and notably the Holocaust, by avoiding talking about them at all. In the course of the past forty years the approach to these monstrous crimes, and to the victims and survivors of murder and persecution, has...

    • 32 Twenty-five Years Later: Revisiting Testimonies of Holocaust Survivors
      (pp. 426-440)
      Dori Laub and Johanna Bodenstab

      This essay is based on our participation in the interviewing sessions with Holocaust survivors in the framework of the documentation project for forced and slave labour during the Nazi period. One important objective of our sub-project was to locate survivors who had been already interviewed by Dori Laub in the late 1970s and 1980s¹ for what was to become the Fortunoff Video Archive at Yale University² and to conduct a comparative study between those early testimonies and the more recent recordings. Unfortunately, with time it has become increasingly difficult to locate previous interviewees. Many of them have passed away, or...

    • 33 It Was Modern Slavery: Some Results of the Documentation Project on Forced and Slave Labour
      (pp. 441-484)
      Alexander von Plato

      It is amazing how different history – and particularly the history of persecution – looks, depending on whether it is seen through the lens provided by the archival record or from the point of view of those who experienced it. Sometimes ‘real history’ and ‘experienced history’ even contradict each other. National Socialist Germany’s forced labour, for example – in abstract terms – pursued three overarching goals: first, exploitation of millions of civilians, principally from the occupied territories, for the war economy; second, low-cost accommodation, exploitation and exhaustion to the point of death of prisoners of war principally from the Soviet...

  8. Appendix 1: Interview Guidelines
    (pp. 485-494)
    Alexander von Plato
  9. Appendix 2: Timeline: Forced Labour and Compensation
    (pp. 495-508)
    Joachim Riegel
  10. Appendix 3: Interview Partners
    (pp. 509-522)
  11. List of Contributors
    (pp. 523-524)
  12. Bibliography
    (pp. 525-537)
  13. Index
    (pp. 538-552)