FORCED LABOUR IN THE THIRD REICH
Between 1939 and 1945 there were about 12 million forced labourers in the Third Reich. They can be divided into several distinct categories: foreign civil workers, prisoners of war, KZ inmates and so-called “Arbeitsjuden” (“working Jews”; this term was used for people kept in ghettos and Jewish KZ prisoners). The status of these persons could be subject to change, however: for example, prisoners of war were declared to be foreign civil workers so that the protection offered by the Geneva Conventions no longer applied to them; foreign civil workers often became KZ inmates; other foreign civil workers who had initially come to Germany of their own free will were later officially assigned to compulsory services, effectively turning them in to forced labourers.
Forced labour is defined by two major criteria: the fact that a worker cannot leave his job for an undetermined period of time and the inability to influence one’s working conditions in any noteworthy way. Within this broad and very general definition of forced labour, many varieties and different degrees of oppression are possible. Therefore, four categories of forced labour have been established in historical science when it comes to the Third Reich:
1. Foreign civil workers who had voluntarily come to Germany could leave the Reich after their contract had expired (workers from nations allied with Nazi Germany such as Italy, Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary, Slovakia, Croatia, Denmark and Spain; workers from West or South Europe; most of them had come to Germany during the first half of the war).
2. Compulsory labourers: They had only a very limited influence on their working conditions and their mortality rate was only slightly higher than that of normal workers (civil workers from occupied territories which did not belong to Poland or Soviet Russia; prisoners of war from Great Britain, Belgium, France and Yugoslavia).
3. Forced labourers with limited influence on their working conditions and a significantly higher rate of mortality (civil workers from Poland and the Soviet Union, non-Jewish Polish prisoners of war and Italian Military Internees; Italian Military Internees (“Italienische Militärinternierte” or IMI) were Italians who refused to fight on Hitler’s side as Mussolini did. They were not counted among the prisoners of war so that they would not be protected by the Geneva Conventions).
4. Forced labourers with absolutely no influence on their working conditions and a drastically higher mortality rate (prisoners of war >from the Soviet Union and Polish Jews, KZ prisoners, inmates of work/re-education camps and so-called “working Jews”).
After 1941, the manpower shortage in the German economy was immense. Fewer and fewer foreign civil workers volunteered to go to Germany, and a growing number of German workers were sent to the frontlines of the war. Therefore, more desperate measures in the recruitment of foreign workers were taken, eventually resulting in the deportation of people from the occupied territories. The German economy only held its ground because of foreign workers and the exploitation of KZ prisoners.
KZ inmates were used as forced labour right after the implementation of the KZ system. From 1933 to 1936, forced labour was primarily seen as a means of punishment and humiliation, however. Starting in 1937 – when after a brief period of full employment the shortage of labour set in –, the SS tried to gain its own foothold in German economy by exploiting the inmates as a cheap source of labour. In 1942, the SS began to lend workers to the armaments industry and several other branches of industry on a grand scale. Most of the fees the industry paid to the SS for getting the prisoners actually came from the budget of the Reich Ministry of Finance. Modelled after the camps that had been built for the prisoners of war, so-called “Außenlager” (subcamps) were built to ensure that the forced labourers were kept in close vicinity to their respective work places. The camps were guarded by members of the SS. Living and working conditions in these satellite camps varied greatly. The SS did not pay attention whether the prisoners of the satellite camps lived in acceptable quarters. Food rations for the inmates were reduced twice in 1944; the food supply for Jewish prisoners was particularly bad. A cruel method to increase the efficiency of individual inmates was the so-called “Leistungsernährung” (or “efficiency diet”) – if a prisoner worked more efficiently, he was handed out additional food; food that was in turn taken from the rations of other, less efficient inmates. The longer the war raged, the harder it became to supply the prisoners with clothes, and the sanitary arrangements in the satellite camps were also horrible. Even after the liberation of the KZ and their subcamps, many former inmates died from the long-term consequences of forced labour.