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Empire and Weimar Republic

Foreign Work Force under National Socialism

After the War: Displaced and Repatriated Persons

Voluntary Forced Labourers? Expanding West

After the rapid capture of the Netherlands, Belgium and France in spring and summer 1940 mainly POWs from Belgium (approximately 65,000) and France (approximately 1.3 million) were made available to the German defence industry and agriculture.

Belgium and the Netherlands

While the Commissioner of the Reich for the Netherlands kept tightening the compulsory measures with respect to the deployment from February 1941 until autumn 1944, the occupying forces in Belgium and France were primarily relying on willing workers volunteering for work. In June 1940 it was agreed with Belgium authorities that Belgians were not to be forced to work in Germany and that volunteers were not to be deployed in the defence industry, an agreement the German administration only adhered to until 1942. That way some 189,000 Belgians came to Germany volunteering for a compulsory employment.

A year later the obligation to work was introduced. Now every male between 18 and 50 years and every unmarried woman between 21 (later 18) and 35 years could be conscripted to work in the German Reich. Finally, complete birth cohorts were obligated to work. The number of Belgians working in the Reich during World War II was around 375,000, the number of Dutch people was around 475,000.


Großansicht des Bildes

Recruitment office for French workers in Paris, February 1943

Source: Federal Archives, Bild 183-2002-0225-500

Neues Fenster: Großansicht des Bildes

In occupied France a great number of men was quickly violently forced to join the Organisation Todt and subsequently deployed in Northern France. The German occupying forces were initially mainly relying on volunteers.

In the spring of 1942 some 845,000 Frenchmen were working for the Organisation Todt, the German Armed Forces and the defence industry within France. At that point in time the German labour policy towards France saw a fundamental change. In September 1942 work became obligatory for all men and women here as well. In order to obtain the workforce ordered by the Reich, the Service du travail obligatoire (STO) was established, which placed the required manpower into Germany by conscription of entire birth cohorts, which was by no means on a voluntary basis. Merely as part of the agreed actual and apparent exchange of POWs against civil workers, at least 390,000 French civil workers, amongst them numerous skilled workers, entered the Reich until 1943. The number of POWs, however, declined rather insignificantly through releases and returns home, more so by transfers into a civil status or deceases. The total number of French civil workers throughout the entire war was slightly more than 1 million people.

"I would seriously like to draw your attention to the following, my dear deployment officers: The "Führer" expects from us and I expect from you that human transports keep rolling. From now on your work will be assessed according to the number of thousands of workers entering the Reich every day, since the Reich needs them." (Fritz Sauckel, Chief Representative for the Deployment of Labour speaking to advisors and Leaders of Deployment of Labour in Paris on 18 March 1944)

However, the status of Western European workers was still significantly different to that of the workers from the East, namely the Poles and Czechs. They were generally better accommodated and fed, they were paid better and had to adhere to regulations which were a lot less harsh with respect to the interaction with Germans. The causes for the betterment of Dutch, Belgians and Frenchmen was both in the National Socialist racial ideology, according to which these nations were of higher rank but even more in the centuries old, traditionally rooted conceptional pattern and empathies towards these nations within the general German public. Nevertheless, they did not reach as far as completely ruling out any discriminations and special regulations. The longer the war lasted, the more the forceful character of these employment relationships became evident.

Allied and Friendly states

Those who belonged to the countries, that had friendly relations with Germany the so-called "friendly" states like Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Albania and Italy until its surrender in summer 1943 and the Croatians working in the Reich were in comparison better off. Having come as voluntary workers they had in many cases the opportunity to leave Germany after the contract term had expired on the grounds of which they were able to have a say in their living and working conditions so that their deployment can only to some extent be called forced labour.