Between 1997 and 2001, a broad media campaign occurred in Germany reporting about the widespread use of so-called forced laborers in Germany during the Third Reich period. These people were brought into the German Reich from German-occupied territories allegedly against their free will, and it is claimed that these persons were exploited and treated inhumanely. These media reports followed the general historiographic pattern as it was imposed by the victorious powers of World War II. Germany’s biggest weekly newsmagazine Der Spiegel, for example, adopted this position most emphatically and supported the claims made by certain lobby groups that Germany ought to pay huge amounts of money to compensate the alleged foreign ‘working slaves.’ It is significant that hardly any newspaper reported about the millions of Germans who, after the war, were forced to work for the victorious powers abroad. Apparently, the utmost pitiful working and living conditions of these unpaid German slaves were not even worth mentioning.
He who desires to study this section of history in more detail will discover soon that a real lack of research exists here—also within Revisionism. Up to now no scientific work has been presented which deserves to be called seriously scholarly, not to mention a standard work.
Official Presentation of the Subject
How the complex of the foreign workers in the Third Reich is treated by the official German research can be gathered for example from the article in Germany’s highly renowned newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 16, 1999, with the title “The Million Men Army of the Modern Slave State” and the subtitle “Deported, worn out, forgotten: Who were the forced laborers of the Third Reich and what fate did they await?”, in which Ulrich Herbert, professor for modern history at the University of Freiburg, writes about this topic. Herbert talks about forced laborers, whether it involves concentration camp inmates, prisoners of war (POW’s), or foreign workers:
“The National Socialist ‘employment of foreigners’ between 1939 and 1945 represents the largest case of forced mass usage of foreign workers in history since the end of slavery in the 19th century. In the late summer of 1944, there were 7.6 million foreign civilian workers and POW’s officially registered as employed on the territory of the ‘Greater German Reich.’ Most of them were forcedly brought for work deployment into the Reich.”
Herbert continues that the deployment of Poles led “to a regular man hunt in the so called ‘General Gouvernement’ in spring of 1940”:
“They had to live in barrack camps, which was, however, practically impossible to implement in the country side. They received lower wages, were not allowed to use public installations—from express trains to public baths […]—they had to work longer hours than Germans. […] Within a short period of time, a great number of Polish workers were brought to Germany against their will. […] Until 1941/42, the proportion of ‘voluntary’ workers was relatively large in northern and western Europe.”
Especially bad were the conditions for the so-called east-workers:
“[They] had to live in camps surrounded with barbed wire fences and guarded and were especially exposed to the unpredictability of the Gestapo and the company’s security units. […] Especially in the years 1942/43, the rations for the Soviet forced laborers, officially called ‘east-workers.’ were so low that they were massively malnourished and unable to work already a few weeks after their arrival. […The] Soviet workers, however, received especially fixed wages, which were considerably lower than those of the German and foreign workers—nominally at about 40%, but in most cases probably even lower than that.”
Herbert does not give any evidence to support his claims.
In response to this, Dr. Heinz Splittgerber, author of several historic articles, writes about his personal experiences:
“The Polish agricultural workers in central Pomerania, my home, were properly recruited. They received wages, accommodations, ration cards, medical treatment. They usually arrived ragged, outfitted themselves at our homes, and achieved a living standard which they could not achieve in eastern Poland and northern Ukraine—I know both regions—and which they could never have imagined.” (personal communication to this author)
When it comes to the historiography of the Third Reich period, freedom of speech and freedom of science as well as the equality before the law are no longer guaranteed in Germany, even though this is an open breach of German constitutional law and the U.N. declaration of Human Rights. Even non-public statements are nowadays threatened with severe legal penalties in Germany and the subsequent destruction of one’s professional career. A public prosecutor told the author of this article, an academic historian by profession, during a trial in Germany that he as well must always follow the relevant latest jurisdictions in order to recognize what he as a historian is allowed to say.
As a result of this situation, only a few politically independent historians dare to walk on stony paths, through the mine fields of a persecutory judiciary. These few historians do not pay attention to expectation imposed onto them by highly questionable censorship laws, but are only bound by the law of truth in order to research with historiographic methods and in accordance with the late German historian Leopold Ranke, who once said that historiography is about describing events “as they actually were.” Nevertheless, surprisingly many corrections of the victor’s version of history have to be acknowledged, as they have become necessary in particular regarding the question of the ‘forced laborers.’
When dealing with historical questions, one has to check first what a common witness of that time with a critical attitude could know about the topic at hand without special knowledge and what is known about the topic today in a normal democratic society with an open exchange of views. Apart from wartime newspaper reports about the employment of foreign workers and their treatment within the framework of official instructions, the inhabitants of large cities, but also those living in rural districts, could observe foreign workers on a daily basis on their way to factories and at their workplace. They could observe the behavior of those workers and how they were treated in public, including their nutritional condition and their external appearance. Already in this regard, most eyewitnesses today vehemently contradict the propaganda picture of the allegedly inhumanely treated and exploited forced laborers. Significantly enough, not a single photo was ever submitted to substantiate such accusations. In June 1998, when the author of this article talked for the first time about the results of his research in a public lecture, more eyewitnesses than ever before during his lecture-activity of 22 years contributed their own experiences to the question of foreign workers, and some of them with remarkable details, confirming the basic content of the lecture.
Regarding documents as the basis for my elaboration, it ought to be mentioned that—apart from official German wartime instructions—there exists a ‘key document’ which was introduced into the proceedings of the International Military Tribunal of Nuremberg by the defence team. It basically refutes the allegations made by the victor’s version of history (KV Vert. P.L. 55). Through intensive search in the states archives in Nuremberg (Staatsarchiv), originals of sworn affidavits were found and could be evaluated in context. These affidavits represent an important supplement to the official German wartime instructions, enabling the development of a more realistic picture of the conditions at that time. The files of the “Gaugerichte” (district courts) which were referred to in the various testimonies, could not be found. These courts tried members of the National Socialist leadership who were accused of various crimes. If found guilty, these leaders were especially severely punished, because according to the opinion of the National Socialist German Workers Party (NSDAP), these leaders were supposed to be examples to the average citizen.
Legal Definitions in the Third Reich
The existing instructions of the German wartime authorities do not confirm the negative picture of today’s media. For instance, a special printing of the Reichsarbeitsblatt (Reich Labor Paper) with the title “Der Einsatz ausländischer Arbeitskräfte in Deutschland,” (The employment of foreign workers in Germany), Berlin 1942, points out on page 22 about social security:
“In principle, foreign workers and employees are entitled to the same German health insurance, accident insurance, and social security insurance (disability insurance, unemployment insurance, retirement insurance) in the same manner as comparable German workers are. Therefore, these insurance contributions have to be deposited following the general legal requirements.”
According to a secret instruction dated from April 1, 1943, which was prepared by the Secret State Police (Gestapo) of Hesse, a special rule applied to workers from countries occupied by German troops. These workers needed some security screening. According to this 67-pages-long document, of which only a few pages were submitted to the IMT (Doc. NO-2907), east-workers were allowed to leave their living-quarters only in order to go to perform their work within the work places:
“East-workers, however, who display a good attitude inside of the camp as well as at work, can be allowed to leave. […] the supervising member of the camp service has to be made responsible that […] the east-workers behave themselves decently and reserved outside as well, and especially that they do not harass Germans and return back to the camp timely. [They are] to be accommodated in closed camps (barracks) with a suitable fence (but no barbed wire). […] In contrast to this, female workers who are employed individually in agriculture or in households can be accommodated individually. […] The use of public transportation as well as swimming pools, restaurants, movie houses, and theaters is not allowed […] exceptions can […] be made. [It] is allowed to listen to German music programs as well as to German official news broadcasts in the Russian, Ukrainian, and White Russian languages. […] the projection of […] movies is allowed. […] 3 camp newspapers appear for the east-workers […] (Ukrainian, Russian, White-Russian).”
Especially severe were the rules which forbade intimate relations between east-workers and German women under the threat of the death penalty:
Document PL(A) 55 of the International Court, Nuremberg (IMT Vol. 42, p. 350ff.; click to enlarge)
“[…] After reviewing and assessing the of sworn affidavits by former political leaders […], I confirm that I was given 15,433 sworn affidavits. […]
1. 9243 Political Leaders assured that foreign workers were lodged in an orderly manner.
2. 11421 Political Leaders assured that foreign workers were fed and dressed orderly according to the war conditions, that provisioning was in many cases even better than that of the average German consumer due to the granting of supplements,
3. 12775 Political Leaders assured that foreign workers were treated justly and decently by their employers, that rare cases of transgressions were punished with penalties, that medical care, social, and cultural welfare was regulated as it was generally the case for Germans, […]
Political Leaders emphasized in numerous declaration that foreign workers
A. distinguished themselves especially by volunteering during air raids,
B. Remained at their working places after the surrender in order to protect their employers from lootings and harassments. […]”
“There are no objections against sexual intercourse between male and female east-workers, as long as the discipline inside the camp is not disturbed.”
With restrictions, similar rules applied also for Poles. Poles were thus permitted to freely leave their accommodation during summer time between 5 in the morning and 9 in the evening. The rules for recreation—”For Jews, socializing with the German population is forbidden”—is documentary evidence for the fact that even Polish Jews were employed as foreign workers in the Reich. Czechs were treated like Germans in all areas, with the exception that intimate relations with Germans were forbidden.
If the necessity of restricting measures in wartime is not denied, then neither these rules nor others presented during the Nuremberg trials will be considered to have been inappropriate restrictions. The severe penalties threatened exclusively for intimate relationships between Germans and foreigners become understandable, if one considers that it was pivotal for the German war effort to have a strong link between the home front and the fighting front. One factor contributing to the German soldier’s strong morale was that they could be sure about the rigorous moral integrity of their wives. Not a single testimony, however, came to the attention of this author indicating that even a single death sentence was ever meted out against a non-German offender. On the other hand, various statements report about intimate relationships between foreigners and unmarried German girls, which were tacitly tolerated by the German authorities and which were usually legalized by marriage after the war.
On March 23, 1943, the German authorities decreed a law about the employment conditions of the east-workers, which determined the wages in § 2:
“The same wage and salary conditions apply for east-workers as for all other foreign workers. East-workers will be paid only for actual work performed.”
With this new law, former practices to pay east-workers less than others were outlawed, a fact which Professor Herbert evidently is unaware of. Even before this new law was enacted, the deductions made for east-workers were not as high as Herbert implies, as union representatives confirmed. §5 of the above law confirms that “east-workers receive vacation and home trips to their family”, which by itself renders absurd the thesis of east-workers as ‘slaves’.
Some legal rules of the Third Reich about the social insurance of the foreign workers during the war, generous as no other nation during this time.
From a special printing of the “Reichsarbeitsblatt,” Berlin 1942 (click to enlarge). Copied from the brochure “Deutschland—Schrift für neue Ordnung,” 32(7/8) 1999, pp. 16ff.
Witness Testimonies during the Post-War Trials
The goal was clear, which the victorious powers of World War two pursued with the IMT trial and the subsequent trials, of which the Nuremberg Military Tribunal Case 4 was the most important, since it dealt with the crimes allegedly committed in the concentration camp system and by the SS. These trials were setup in order to depict the German government and its representatives in general as criminals—sentenced by an apparently irreproachably fair court—and to stifle any discussion of allied war crimes, which were still committed on a grand scale during the time of the trial itself. For this reason, all attempts of the Nuremberg defense team to compare alleged German transgressions with those of the judging allies were always rejected. The defense was allowed to interrogate the interned German Political Leaders (Politische Leiter, P.L.), who were automatically arrested at war’s end, but the evaluation of these testimonies was never presented to the public. The trials were conducted following Anglo-Saxon law, which meant that the prosecution submitted only such evidence which they assumed to be incriminating. In order not to let ‘unfavorable’ facts become public, the defense was refused access to confiscated files and documents in archives under allied control. Thus, this trial was about the cementing of political ‘truth’ rather than about the investigation of historical truth as the basis of a future peaceful European order. Thus, for example, the factual results of the proceedings during the Pohl trial, which was conducted in a basically objective atmosphere, was almost completely ignored in the written verdict.
The key document for our topic is, as already mentioned, Doc. P.L. 55, which is an evaluation of 15,433 sworn affidavits by former German Political Leaders. These documents indicates that the Allied’s claims regarding the treatment of foreign workers in the Third Reich lacked any objective basis. Some of the individual affidavits were preserved through a fortunate coincidence: little more than 1,200 of these affidavits originate from the internment camp Darmstadt. Among other documents, the evaluation of these affidavits is the basis for the present article. In numerous affidavits, the names of the employed foreign workers are listed and it is pointed out that their exonerating testimony about the actual conditions in Germany is also included in the files of the CIC (U.S. Counter Intelligence Corps). We know about their partial content only because some passages of them were quoted.
How little the Allies were interested in the preservation of these important documents of the defense becomes obvious from an internal letter exchange, in which the director of the government archives Dr. Solleder informed R. A Gawlik, who participated in the Nuremberg trials, on August 7, 1951:
“Among the waste paper, designated by the Military Government as trash, we found the original testimonials for the defense of the SS and the Political Leadership and transferred these to the State Archive. […]“
When evaluating the Allies’ attitude toward the defense during these trials, it is not surprising to discover that the Allies intended to destroy undesired material of the defense, which contradicted the political goals of the Allies. It therefore has to be assumed that the important, confirming affidavits by foreign workers as quoted above did not find their way into the Allied archives.
With reference to their own observations, a few Political Leaders did also clearly express their views regarding attempts to twist the historic truth. For instance, the teacher Volkwein from the district of Melsungen in the then ‘Gau’ Kurhessen wrote on June 16, 1946:
“In my opinion, the allegations that foreign workers were mistreated is without any legal basis and are made today only for convenient reasons of certain circles, without being able to prove them. The authorities organizing these trials should turn their attention to the honest part of those who stood in German service during the war. Then they would perceive a totally different picture than the one which is publicized in the world today for propaganda reasons. Those looking for the truth will find it, but those who do not want to see the truth will always be blind, no matter how obvious the truth is.” (P.L. 173 Arb. 834)
Although the German laws and regulations for the employment of foreign workers did not violate any international laws, as even the victors’ post-war trials had to conclude, it nevertheless has to be investigated if the implementation of these rules resulted in so-called crimes against humanity. Such a discrepancy between written rules and laws and their actual implementation is well know for the Soviet Union, where it was common that a humane treatment of prisoners and forced workers was intended by official regulations, but the Soviet camp-reality often was quite the opposite. It would be exactly in this regard that those affidavits would be of tremendous value, since this topic has been totally neglected by modern historiography.
The veracity of these individual affidavits, which were systematically evaluated for the first time, should be considered to be given for the following reasons: First of all, we are dealing with original documents and not with copies, which is quite unusual especially for those post-war trials, which heavily relied on copies and transcripts. Thus, an examination of authenticity is possible, which clearly exists here. Next, the credibility of the statements is very high because these affidavits are declarations made under oath by political leaders (P.L.) who at that time were prisoners of the victorious powers. These prisoners had to expect high penalties in case they were suspected of having committed perjury—quite in contrast to witnesses of the prosecution, who were never accused of anything, even if they were proven to have committed perjury. Also, these prisoners were cut off from their accustomed surroundings. The details given in those affidavits about the local conditions could easily be checked at that time. Thirdly, there were obviously numerous confirmations by foreign workers who were called as witnesses as well, because many of these foreign workers were still in great numbers in Displaced Persons camps in Germany at the time. The declarations also show the official confirmation of an American officer and were prepared in the camp Darmstadt No. 91. In some few cases (P.L. 170 Arb. 1), the U.S. military—evidently often victims of their own propaganda—considered the contents of the sworn statements to be so unbelievable that the Political Leaders who had given these affidavits had to confirm—under oath—the correctness of their statements before a different U.S. officer a second time.
Voluntary Work Employment
Contrary to concentration camp inmates and POW’s, the foreign workers usually came voluntarily to Germany for work. This is not only evident from the official announcements, but also from the confirmation of Political Leaders who were taking care of foreign workers, as well as by statements from officials of the “Deutsche Arbeitsfront” (German Labor Front, DAF). This fact was also confirmed by the volunteers themselves in numerous statements. In over 1,200 testimonies, I found only one single vague indication of a forced work employment, while all the others, insofar as they commented on this question, clearly point out that all foreign workers were employed voluntarily. It was repeatedly stated that the labor efficiency could never have been achieved with forced labor. Dr. Seidl, a defense lawyer during the IMT in Nuremberg, explained in this regard:
“The fact cannot be ignored that even today many hundred thousands of foreign workers live here, who were allegedly deported by force. They refuse now to return to their home lands, even though nobody stops them. Under these circumstances it has to be assumed that the force could not have been so big and the treatment in Germany not so bad as alleged by the prosecution.” (IMT Vol. XVIII p. 172 ff.)
From numerous documents, only two will be quoted. First Oberreichsbahnrat Horn from Berlin:
“That the people in general feel quite comfortable, can be realized by the fact that in railroad-works in Brandenburg, Potsdam, and Tempelhof Ukrainian, Belgian, and Dutch workers agreed to bring with them more voluntary workers after their home-vacation, which they were entitled to.” (P.L. 174 Arb. 1142)
Mayor Kölsch of the German City of Stendal explained the development:
“During the western campaign, I frequently heard the desire of the population in Holland, Belgium, and France to want to work in Germany. During the eastern campaign, the rush in the Caucasus and the Don area to work for Germany was greater than the need for foreign workers. The local employment offices tried […] to stop illegal immigrations to Germany because many persons came secretly across the border on freight trains or with vacationers.” (P.L. 173 Arb. 761)
In order to fill millions of free work places, which became vacant by the widening of the war, the employment of millions of foreign workers was required. Reasonable working efficiency could only be achieved if the working conditions for foreign workers were better than in their home countries. The promises made in occupied countries in official German advertisements had to be kept if one wanted to obtain satisfied workers. And that is exactly what happened, as is shown in the testimonies with many details.These are typical statements about this subject. Many witnesses commented, if the foreign workers were not recruited on a voluntary basis, they would have hardly returned from their home vacations back into the Reich, apart from the fact that they frequently brought with them further volunteers from their circles of acquaintances and friends, which contributed in an avalanche-like fashion to rapidly increase the number of foreign workers in Germany.
Taking Care of the Foreign Workers
The care of the foreign workers was both in the hands of the DAF (German Labor Front), which made sure that the official promises were kept, and the trustees of the various nationalities, who discussed all occurring difficulties with the authorities and pushed satisfying solutions for their compatriots. The district administrator for work deployment of the DAF for the district Kurhessen, Karl Rulff, explained about this:
“In case of all positions occupied in my district office, I had the following personnel at my disposal: 1 district administrator for work deployment, 1 district representative for camp care, 1 district representative for community supplies, 1 district cooking instructor, 1 district representative for leisure time activities, 1 legal advisor for foreign workers, 1 district representative for female community camps, also additionally office assistance staff and typists as German co-workers. The foreign liaison offices were occupied as follows: […] e) district office for east-workers: 1 district liaison man, 1 woman in charge of female east-workers, and 1 German shorthand writer.” (P.L. 170 Arb. 4)
The larger political goal of the foreign work deployment program was briefly described by Regierungsrat Fritz Neidhardt (among others confirmed by K. Knöchel, district office for ethnic questions in the district of Pranken):
“The circular of the main office for ethnic questions of the Reich’s leadership of the NSDAP […] contained […] an instruction for the treatment of foreign workers. This directive decreed that foreign workers—under preservation of the dignity of their own people—shall be treated decently and justly so that they take back good impressions of the German people and its institutions when returning to their home country and informing their compatriots in this sense.” (P.L. 204 o.Nr.)
Many restricting regulations were quietly ignored, because they burdened the good relationship between foreign workers and the German people; for example, visiting German leisure facilities and the use of German public transportation was soon permitted in wide parts of the Reich.
The Sauckel Case
Although it certainly would have been advantageous for many party leaders after the war, while they were in allied custody, to blame everything on Gauleiter Sauckel, the Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment (Generalbevollmächtigter für den Arbeitseinsatz, GBA), there is not in a single testimony saying anything negative. On the contrary, numerous testimony stressed that Sauckel constantly intervened to improve accommodations and provisions for foreign workers and that he threatened with severe punishments should foreign workers be mistreated. The testimony of Landrat Recknagel from Schmalkalden may be seen as representative for many other statements:
Declaration under Oath by Prof. Wilhelm Wagner (KV-Verf., P.L. 170). This is one example of the more than 15,000 affidavits assuring that foreign workers were treated decently in Germany during WWII. (Click to enlarge)
“After Gauleiter Sauckel became GBA, during all official meetings in Weimar, where all office leaders and district officials as well as higher government officials were present, he made it compulsory that foreign workers are always treated and accommodated decently, and he demanded to immediately interfere against injustice or, if no remedy was possible, to inform him instantly so that he could interfere. When the east-workers arrived in large numbers, he declared during one meeting that east-workers, who had committed a misdemeanor, must not be beaten under any circumstance, but that the concerned must be handed over to the police for an investigation. For every case of beating a foreign worker that came to his knowledge, he would demand the most severe punishment of those responsible for this mistreatment.” (P.L. 173 Arb. 828)
Only because of these measures, the recruitment of foreign workers from German-occupied countries was such a success that at the end of the war there were more workers from abroad working in the Reich than there are foreigners in Germany today. It is indisputable that Sauckel was innocent; from today’s perspective, his execution in Nuremberg clearly was a political murder, and his posthumous rehabilitation by the responsible powers should be a matter of course—similar to the abolition of unjust judgments of the Soviet Union in today’s Russia.
Competing Foreign Workers
Although during wartime it became very difficult for companies especially in German cities to ensure suitable accommodations for the foreign workers as a result of the destruction of residences by the allied carpet bombings, the results of the joint efforts by the German authorities and company managements was astounding. Apart from a small fraction of workers who lived in private residences, most foreigners lived in barracks, which were established according to the camp-instructions of the Reich’s labor minister of July 14, 1942. The district labor deployment administrator of that time, Karl Rulff, explained:
“Despite some lack of material, the companies upgrade their camps in many cases better and more attractively” than was prescribed by official directives. “A large part of the foreign workers was accommodated in huge camp complexes, for example in camp ‘Herzog,’ Hess. Lichtenau, about 2,000 workers—Germans and foreigners— resided in clean, first-class rooms with bed and living rooms, large community and eating hall with canteen, theater and radio. A woman camp ‘Waldof,’ Hess. Lichtenau, for about 1,000 German and French women had the same arrangements. Camp ‘Steimbel,’ Neustadt, District Marburg, accommodated 1,400 foreign and German workers. There were similar accommodations, including an eating hall where everybody ate together, including the navy units which were stationed there. A large hall with a stage was also available for running events. It was one of the most beautiful and largest halls in the district of Kurhessen. But also the barrack camps were often real treasure trunks.” (P.L. 170 Arb. 4)
Several testimonies mention a camp contest, during which a prize for the most beautiful camp of the district and its areas was awarded on an annual basis. DAF-employee Walter Lotze in Thuringia reported:
“The camp of Zellwolle A.G. Schwarza—’Schwarza-Pearl in Schwarzburg,’ could almost be compared with a vacation home, and the prize which the camp for east-workers ‘Iwan’ in Erfurt (Fa. BEM-Erfurt) received was a holiday for its foreign workers, who in return expressed their gratitude by giving presents to the camp leader and company supervisors.” (P.L. 170 Arb. 3)
When camps were destroyed through air raids, government officials and the management of the firms, together with the foreign workers, tried to build new accommodations as fast as possible and to replace the goods lost by their workers. The gratefulness of those foreign workers was also expressed when they organized occasional collections for the National Socialist People’s Welfare (Nationalsozialistischen Volkswohlfahrt, NSV), which were handed considerable amounts.
Concerning food rationing, foreign workers were basically equal to German workers, which lead in many cases to jealousy among the German population because the average German consumer did not obtain extra allocations, which foreign workers received due to special assignments. It is therefore not surprising that the German population noticed the well-nourished appearances of foreign workers who had been working in Germany for a while, a fact which must have been well known to the enemy as well through their spies. The firms attempted to give their workers additional food, which was often to a considerable extent successful in spite of official restrictions.
The situation of foreign workers in rural areas was of course especially good in this regard if they were assigned to farms, where they were rated as self-supporters, which means that they were much better fed than normal consumers. Especially in rural areas, efforts for good provisioning of foreign workers sometimes resulted in odd excesses, when farmers had an ambition to ensure that ‘their’ foreign workers fared best within the village.
Contrary to the allegations of Prof. Herbert, east-workers in the Third Reich usually arrived in pitifully bad conditions, ragged, shabby, and poorly nourished, as is reported in the quoted testimonies over and over again, and they had to be nursed back first for several weeks before they could be reasonably employed. Workshop supervisor Wolf from the district Hammelburg describes the changes:
“[…] thus, within a short period of time, the picture was quite different. Everyone gave clothes and shoes—myself also—and soon these fellows and girls could no longer be distinguished from the village youth. The girls either got urchin cuts or had their hair crimped.” (P.L. 174 Arb. 1015)
Insufficient clothes, especially those of east-workers and Poles, were complemented by old clothes collected by local groups, companies, and private citizens. This was confirmed by mayor Slanina of the district of Rothenburg, among others, about a small town in Lower Silesia:
“[…] As the leader of the district economy office of the district of Rothenburg I confirm also that large quantities of clothes and underwear from collections were given to the employed foreign workers.” (P.L. 170 Arb. 1017)
Foreign workers received the same wage for their work as their German colleagues, including all extra payments like separation pay and vacation pay as well as reimbursement of travel cost. When in some cases wages paid to foreigners in agriculture were somewhat lower than those paid to Germans, this was adjusted through additional benefits, like presents. Especially in rural areas, it turned out to be impossible to implement the initially existing reduced wages for Poles and eastern workers, similar as most companies operated according to the motto ‘equal wage for equal work.’ Thus, through their diligence in piece-work, many foreign workers earned more than German workers. By so doing, they pedantically obeyed the regulations of their recruitment contracts. In one case, for example, Dutch workers received higher wages than the Germans, as accredited engineer Paul-Hans Bonhagen described:
“The Dutchmen were originally contracted to Wilhelmshaven, where a higher wage-rate was paid. When they were employed elsewhere, they kept the pay for which they had contracted.” (P.L. 174 Arb. 1199)
A large part of the foreign workers transferred their wage in part or completely to their families abroad. The legal consultant Gössel explained:
“The DAF always made sure that foreign workers regularly transferred certain amounts of money to their families at home. […] Polish workers came regularly on Sundays in large numbers from the city and district of Hersfeld by railroad, bicycle, or by foot to Hersfeld for church service without being hindered.” (P.L. 170 Arb.6)
The model character of the treatment and support of foreign workers in the Third Reich does not only emerge from the amount of existing testimony, documents, and photos, but even more so from the fact that in those few cases, where shortcomings were recognized, effective remedies were implemented very quickly. The principal merit for this admirable performance is due to the DAF (German Labor Front), which, with great commitment and based on its experience gained during the years of peace, performed this gigantic task exceptionally well. In the existing documentation, no trace can be found of an alleged ‘master-race’ thinking, as the victors accused the Germans after the war, but a general social sensitivity in order make it easier for those foreigners to adjust to their new way of living. That still today these facts are stronger than the victor’s political propaganda, can be derived when former foreign workers revisit Germany, or when one gets a chance to talk to them abroad. For instance, a pharmacist from Aalen informed this author how he, in 1998 in Taganrog (Black Sea, Russia), was suddenly addressed by an unknown person who identified him as a German, based on an overheard conversation, and enthusiastically raved about his time as a foreign worker in Aachen during the war.
Vacation, Health Care, Leisure Activities
The foreigners’ mail exchange with their home countries, their vacation trips, and last but not least their considerable possessions, which they proudly presented at home, ensured that contradicting propaganda by resistance fighters was generally ignored in the German-occupied areas, especially in the far east, where the population knew how to assess the extent of the false propaganda of the Soviets. Until the end of the war, the announcement of special trains for foreign vacationers at the offices of the DAF was more convincing than the enemy propaganda.
When today Jewish professor Fritz Stern phantazises without proof about “almost 6 million murdered forced laborers” (Deutsche National-Zeitung, May 7, 1999), then this has nothing to do with reality. Numerous testimonies pointed out the severe penalties which were imposed by the German government upon those who transgressed against foreign workers. The commercial employee Gehlen reported for example about such a case in the company Rheinmetall in Sömmerda, where a warehouse supervisor and a shop foreman, who had beaten foreigners, were punished on March 17, 1943, with 5 and 2½ years imprisonment respectively, loss of honor, and expulsion from the NSDAP. Death cases of foreign workers, which were lower than the German civilian average, were usually caused by air raids, accidents, or severe illnesses.
It should also be mentioned that the medical care for foreign workers was the same as that enjoyed by the German population. During child delivery, pregnant foreign women received the same social benefits as German women.
It is surprising to read reports about leisure activities of foreign workers, which describe artistic and other events in detail, as they were performed by the DAF through a “Kraft-durch-Freude” program (strength through joy). Groups of artists from German-occupied countries were contracted to offer their compatriots a cultural program in their own language. At times of war economy, goods which were otherwise no longer available were still distributed to those groups. The DAF employee Karl Carius confirmed such efforts:
“I want to mention that I, among others, had the following musical instruments manufactured and distributed only to foreign workers: 5,000 guitars, 5,000 mandolins, 5,000 balalaikas, 200—300 violins.” (P.L. 170 Arb. 2)
This concerned the welfare office of the DAF in Berlin.
What is also forgotten in today’s descriptions—beyond those absurd assertions about the allegedly bad situation of the foreign workers at that time—is the immediate benefit which foreign workers received for their future life through their often expensive training in German factories.
When disregarding the minor daily irritations, especially when considering the difficult situation caused for the German economy during the war, one has to conclude that already in those years a sense of a common destiny developed. This feeling was not formed by hate, but by mutual understanding and respect, by working together peacefully for years. This was also an essential part, which helped to establish today’s European Community.