zur Hauptnavigation zum Servicemenü direkt zum Inhalt

You are here: Homepage » History » Foreign Work Force under National Socialism » Definitions, Figures, Responsibilities

Logo der Stiftung Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft

Empire and Weimar Republic

Foreign Work Force under National Socialism

After the War: Displaced and Repatriated Persons

Definitions, Figures, Responsibilities

In the course of the scientific debate in recent years it has been shown that a classification of forced labourers into the following groups is appropriate (cp. for the following: Spoerer, Zwangsarbeit, p. 9 ff., 223):

  1. Foreign civil forced labourers: They entered the German Reich either voluntarily or were forced to enter the German Reich or were deployed for work in their home country or in one of the countries that was occupied by the Germans. One of the groups which was particularly deprived of their rights, were the so-called "Ostarbeiter".
  2. Prisoners of war: After some initial hesitation these were intensely used for hard physical labour. Formally, they were subject to the protection of the Geneva Convention. Through the forced transfer of entire units into the civil status, they could for example also work in the defence industry.
  3. Prisoners: The deployment of prisoners of concentration camps and "Arbeitserziehungslager" was of major importance for the territory of the Reich. In the occupied territories ghetto prisoners and prisoners held at special forced labour camps for Jews were added. They did not have any legal protection whatsoever.

Especially in group 1 there were huge differences in the living and working conditions, which were primarily based on the national origin of workers. If one largely excludes those belonging to the allied countries, who could leave Germany easily and without objection once their labour contracts had expired after a term of six or twelve months, the following characteristics of forced labour can be noted:

  1. Indissolubility of the employment relationship in legal respect
  2. Slim chances of taking significant influence on the working conditions in social respect,
  3. Increased fatality rate, which indicates heavy workloads combined with emotional and physical stress malnutrition and poor medical care.

The imprisonment in a concentration camp meant forced labour under extreme conditions as a prisoner without any rights and without any hope of ever being released or even improving the situation. This form of forced labour, which affected all concentration camp prisoners, regardless of their background, had already been described as “slave labour“ by the Nuremberg Military Tribunal and was highlighted as a serious crime of the National Socialist regime. The expression "slave labourer" in association with National Socialism today describes mainly prisoners of concentration camps and the like as a specific group of forced labourers.

Altogether, approximately 13.5 million foreign workers and prisoners of concentration camps and similar places of detention were deployed in the Greater German Reich during World War II. Taking into acount their repeated change of status these were made up of 8.4 million civil workers, 4.6 million POWs and 1.7 million concentration camp prisoners and "working Jews". 80 to 90 % of them can be categorized as forced resp. slave labourers according to the above mentioned definition. Figures on the use of forced labourers outside the Greater German Reich have so far not been compiled yet.

Forced labourers were used in every sector of economic life: In the mining and defence industry, in agriculture and forestry, in the municipal services, administration, in trade, in private households and so on. Almost every big and small business employed at least one foreign worker. Employers were primarily companies in the private sector, state-run operations of the SS and the organisation Todt, local governments, farms, churches as well as families with many children. Their assignment was made by the employment offices. The deployment of civil foreign manpower was made on top level by the Commissioner of the Four-Year-Plan (Hermann Göring), the Employment Minister of the Reich (Franz Seldte), since 1942 in particular the General Representative for the Deployment of Labour (GBA) (Fritz Sauckel), furthermore the Minister for the Occupied Eastern Territories (Alfred Rosenberg) with the Commissioner for the "Ostland" (Hinrich Lohse) and Ukraine (Erich Koch) as well as the "Reichssicherheitshauptamt" (Reinhard Heydrich, Heinrich Himmler, Ernst Kaltenbrunner).