FORCED LABOR IN NAZI GERMANY

People in German-occupied Europe were compelled to work in Germany. Between 1941 and 1945, between 10 and 12 million people were forced to leave their homes and were transported to work in Germany (Stephenson 2001, 121–124). In August 1944, women constituted one-third—1.9 million—of the 5.7 million foreign forced laborers in Germany (Herbert 1997, 296). With its male workforce depleted by conscription and unwilling to compel its own women, who employed many strategies to avoid unpleasant labor, to do industrial or agricultural work, the Nazi regime was dependent on foreign labor. Women from Western Europe were not normally compelled to work in Germany, although many volunteered to do so. This was not the case with Eastern European women, who were forcibly removed to Germany and, after the ordeal of transportation, were subjected to harsh conditions and grinding exploitation. Women from Eastern Europe, predominantly from Soviet territory, constituted 87 percent of foreign female workers in Germany (Herbert 1997, 296). Western European female workers were paid wages, could rent rooms, and were free. Eastern European women, assigned to industry, were housed in barracks and were under police control. If they became pregnant, they might be forced to submit to abortion or were forced to work until delivery and to return to work immediately. Children with supposedly Aryan characteristics were placed in the Lebensborn program to be raised as Germans. Others were warehoused in institutions where they usually perished from neglect and malnutrition. Eastern European women often suffered sexual abuse. Some were forced into prostitution to service the bordellos established for foreign workers. Women workers assigned to agriculture, particularly in southern Germany, often fared better than those in the cities.

References and Further Reading

Herbert, Ulrich. 1997. Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University.

Homze, Edward L. 1967. Foreign Labor in Nazi Germany. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University.

Stephenson, Jill. 2001. Women in Nazi Germany. Harlow, England: Pearson Education.