Forced Labour

From the start of the Second World War the mobilisation of thousands of workers for the front line meant that the belligerents lost a large part of their workforce. In order to fill the gap Allied countries opted for an increase in working hours and the employment of women while Nazi Germany and the Japanese Empire turned to forced labour. Within the Third Reich, German workers were deprived of their rights and from 1933 had to submit to obligatory work.  Several repressive measures also allowed the Nazi regime to exclude Jews and other associated groups from the workforce.

During the war, Germany forced millions of prisoners of war to work, the three largest groups were the French who were taken prisoner from 1940, the Soviets from 1941 (of which 3 million died in the Stalags where conditions were appalling) and the Italians who refused to fight with the Wehrmacht from 1942. Other European nationalities in occupied Europe were also represented. International law as applied to prisoners of war was applied according to the racial ideology of the Nazi regime: the Geneva Convention was only respected for Anglo-Americans. The Belgians, the Dutch and the Scandinavians were considered to be 'Germanic peoples' and were quickly freed. Walloons, the French and the Italians were qualified as 'auxiliary people' and were put to work. Polish and Serb nationals were without any protection. They were turned into civilian workers, forced to work in the Reich's factories and could be punished by deportation to a concentration camp. Right at the bottom of the pile were the Soviet prisoners of war who were treated by the Nazis as untermensch. According to sources, the number of European prisoners of war put to work by Nazi Germany has been estimated at four and a half million, out of a total of ten million prisoners in all.

Other than prisoners, the Nazi regime requisitioned thousands of workers from occupied Europe. The policy of forced labour for foreigners was dominated on the one hand, by Nazi ideological racism, and on the other by economic necessity. Half the agricultural workforce and one third of manufacturing workforce of the Third Reich was composed by foreign workers in 1944.
Source: Thesis Peter Gaida

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