The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

Slave Labour Policy
(Part 1 of 2)

[Page 56]

Article 6 (b) of the Charter provides that the "ill- treatment or deportation to slave labor or for any other purpose, of civilian population of or in, occupied territory" shall be a War Crime. The laws relating to forced labor by the inhabitants of occupied territories are found in Article 52 of the Hague Convention, which provides:--

[Page 57]

"Requisition in kind and services shall not be demanded from municipalities or inhabitants except for the needs of the army of occupation. They shall be in proportion to the resources of the country, and of such a nature as not to involve the inhabitants in the obligation of taking part in military operations against their own country."

The policy of the German occupation authorities was in flagrant violation of the terms of this convention. Some idea of this policy may be gathered from the statement made by Hitler in a speech on the 9th November, 1941:

"The territory which now works for us contains more than 250 million men, but the territory which works indirectly for us includes now more than 350 million. In the measure in which it concerns German territory, the domain which we have taken under our administration, it is not doubtful that we shall succeed in harnessing the very last man to this work."

The actual results achieved were not so complete as this, but the German occupation authorities did succeed in forcing many of the inhabitants of the occupied territories to work for the German war effort, and in deporting at least 5 million persons to Germany to serve German industry and agriculture.

In the early stages of the war, manpower in the occupied territories was under the control of various occupation authorities, and the procedure varied from country to country. In all the occupied territories compulsory labor service was promptly instituted. Inhabitants of the occupied countries were conscripted and compelled to work in local occupations, to assist the German war economy. In many cases they were forced to work on German fortifications and military installations. As local supplies of raw materials and local industrial capacity became inadequate to meet the German requirements, the system of deporting laborers to Germany was put into force. By the middle of April, 1940, compulsory deportation of laborers to Germany had been ordered in the Government General; and a similar procedure was followed in other eastern territories as they were occupied. A description of this compulsory deportation from Poland was given by Himmler. In an address to SS officers he recalled how in weather 40 degrees below zero they had to "haul away thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands" On a later occasion Himmler stated:

"Whether 10000 Russian females fall down from exhaustion while digging an anti-tank ditch interests me only insofar as the anti-tank ditch for Germany is finished .... We must realize that we have 6-7 million foreigners in Germany .... They are none of them dangerous so long as we take severe measures at the merest trifles."

During the first two years of the German occupation of France, Belgium, Holland, and Norway, however, an attempt was made to obtain the necessary workers on a voluntary basis. How unsuccessful this was may be seen from the report of the meeting of the Central Planning Board on 1st March, 1944. The representative of the defendant Speer, one Koehrl, speaking of the situation in France, said:

"During all this time a great number of Frenchmen was recruited and voluntarily went to Germany."

He was interrupted by the defendant Sauckel:

"Not only voluntary, some were recruited forcibly."

To which Koehrl replied:

"The calling up started after the recruitment no longer yielded enough results."

[Page 58]

To which the defendant Sauckel replied:

"Out of the five million workers who arrived in Germany, not even 20,0000 came voluntarily"

and Koehrl rejoined:--

"Let us forget for the moment whether or not some slight pressure was used. Formally, at least, they were volunteers."

Committees were set up to encourage recruiting, and a vigorous propaganda campaign was begun to induce workers to volunteer for service in Germany. This propaganda campaign included, for example, the promise that a prisoner of war would be returned for every laborer who volunteered to go to Germany. In some cases it was supplemented by withdrawing the ration cards of laborers who refused to go to Germany, or by discharging them from their jobs and denying them unemployment benefit or an opportunity to work elsewhere. In some cases workers and their families were threatened with reprisals by the police if they refused to go to Germany. It was on the 21st March, 1942, that the defendant Sauckel was appointed Plenipotentiary-General for the Utilization of Labor, with authority over "all available manpower, including that of workers recruited abroad, and of prisoners of war"

The defendant Sauckel was directly under the defendant Goering as Commissioner of the Four Year Plan, and a Goering decree of the 27th March, 1942 transferred all his authority over manpower to Sauckel. Sauckel's instructions, too, were that foreign labor should be recruited on a voluntary basis, but also provided that "where, however, in the occupied territories, the appeal for volunteers does not suffice, obligatory service and drafting must under all circumstances be resorted to." Rules requiring labor service in Germany were published in all the occupied territories. The number of laborers to be supplied was fixed by Sauckel, and the local authorities were instructed to meet these requirements by conscription if necessary. That conscription was the rule rather than the exception is shown by the statement of Sauckel already quoted, on 1st March, 1944.

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