> Adler­wer­ke His­to­ri­cal Site (Foy­er)
> Geschichts­ort Adler­wer­ke (Foy­er)

> A crime that beca­me a part of ever­y­day life
> Zwangs­ar­beit – ein Ver­bre­chen mit­ten im Alltag

> The for­ced labour system
> Sys­tem Zwangsarbeit

> The con­cen­tra­ti­on camp in the factory
> Das Kon­zen­tra­ti­ons­la­ger in der Fabrik

> Clearan­ce and death march
> Räu­mung und Todesmarsch

> Con­flicts over labour, remem­bran­ce, compensation
> Kon­flik­te um Arbeit, Erin­ne­rung, Entschädigung

 A crime that became 

 a part of ever­y­day life 

During World War II, some 20 mil­li­on per­sons from near­ly all over Euro­pe had to per­form for­ced labour in the Ger­man Reich or in occu­p­ied coun­tries. In Frank­furt the­re were about 50,000 for­ced labou­rers. They repla­ced the Ger­man workers who had been cal­led up for mili­ta­ry ser­vice in the Wehr­macht. Their work gua­ran­te­ed the living stan­dards of the Ger­mans during the war years. It was thanks to them that the peop­le could be pro­vi­ded for and arma­ments pro­duc­tion main­tai­ned. For­ced labour was one of the foun­da­ti­ons of the war. With it, the indus­try was able to incre­a­se pro­duc­tion. Ger­man employees were pro­mo­ted to fore­man posi­ti­ons and put in char­ge of the for­ced labourers.

The term “for­ced labour” descri­bes the situa­ti­on of for­eign workers, whe­ther civi­li­ans, pri­so­ners of war, or con­cen­tra­ti­on camp inma­tes. They gene­ral­ly had no say in the loca­ti­on of their work­place, the type of work they were assi­gned to, or the dura­ti­on or pur­po­se of their employ­ment. Nazi racism defi­ned the Ger­mans’ rela­ti­ons­hip to the for­ced labou­rers. The lat­ter had no place in the Natio­nal Socia­list indus­tri­al or “people’s” community.

The­me box: Man­power from abroad 

“Ali­en workers”

In the Nazi peri­od, the Ger­mans used the term “Fremdarbeiter”—“alien workers”—to refer to civi­li­an for­eign workers. In the post-war era, the term ser­ved to obscu­re the invol­un­ta­ry natu­re of many employ­ment rela­ti­ons­hips bet­ween 1939 and 1945.

“Guest workers”

The term “guest workers” was rare­ly heard in the Nazi peri­od. Star­ting in the 1960s it was used to refer to migrant workers. The Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties assu­med that they would remain in Ger­ma­ny for only a limi­ted time. “Guest worker” was con­si­de­red a friend­lier term than “ali­en worker”. The­re was also an effort to avoid any asso­cia­ti­on with the histo­ry of for­ced labour.

“For­eign civi­li­an workers”

During the Nazi peri­od, the admi­nis­tra­ti­on refer­red to for­ced labou­rers employ­ed by civi­li­an com­pa­nies or government agen­ci­es as “for­eign civi­li­an workers”. The use of this term made it unclear whe­ther the workers were employ­ed vol­un­ta­ri­ly or by for­ce. In the ear­ly pha­se of the war, for­eign civi­li­an workers were recrui­ted on a vol­un­ta­ry basis. As the figh­t­ing con­ti­nued, the con­di­ti­ons for for­eign workers worsened radically.

“Eas­tern workers”

The Nazi admi­nis­tra­ti­on used the term “Eas­tern workers” pri­ma­ri­ly to refer to for­ced labou­rers from the coun­tries of the Soviet Uni­on. Star­ting in 1941, ent­i­re groups of per­sons born in a cer­tain year were con­scrip­ted at once and trans­por­ted to the Ger­man Reich. From 1942 onwards, “Eas­tern workers” had to wear a badge with the let­ters “OST” (east) on their clot­hing. Accord­ing to Nazi race theo­ry they made up the lowest rank. Only per­sons per­se­cu­t­ed as Jews or “Zigeu­ner” (dero­ga­to­ry term for Sin­ti and Roma) ran­ked lower. Spe­cial laws that went into for­ce in 1942 rob­bed the “Eas­tern workers” of near­ly all their rights.

Depor­ta­ti­on from Jan­ko­wo sta­ti­on in Poland to Ger­ma­ny for for­ced labour
Pro­pa­gan­da pho­to, March 1943
Ger­man Federal Archi­ves, image 183-J22099, pho­to: Krombach

For­eign workers 

The­re had also been for­eig­ners working in Ger­ma­ny bet­ween 1933, when the NSDAP (Nazi par­ty) came into power, and 1939. In 1938 they num­be­red 375,000; many of them were sea­so­nal labourers.

Star­ting in 1939, Ger­man sol­di­ers occu­p­ied lar­ge are­as of Euro­pe. Now peop­le were brought from far and wide to per­form labour in the Ger­man Reich. They were recrui­ted, con­scrip­ted, or depor­ted. Of the five mil­li­on who came, only 200,000 did so voluntarily—according to Fritz Sau­ckel, the Gene­ral Ple­ni­po­ten­tia­ry for Labour Deploy­ment, in 1942.

Bea­ring the sta­tus of for­eign civi­li­an workers, pri­so­ners of war, or con­cen­tra­ti­on camp inma­tes, the­se per­sons were assi­gned to labour in indus­try, the tra­des, agri­cul­tu­re, and muni­ci­pal insti­tu­ti­ons. Their living con­di­ti­ons and whe­ther or not they were sub­jec­ted to vio­lence dif­fe­red wide­ly depen­ding on whe­re they were from, their gen­der, sta­tus, and place of work. The Nazis deploy­ed them for for­ced labour based on racist principles.

The “guest worker model” 

Workers from Ita­ly (until its capi­tu­la­ti­on in 1943), Croa­tia, Slo­va­kia, Hun­ga­ry, Bul­ga­ria, and Roma­nia came to Ger­ma­ny vol­un­ta­ri­ly. The Ger­man Reich was allied with the­se coun­tries. Peop­le were lured to sign up for labour ser­vice by recruit­ment agen­ci­es in the cities and Sunday adver­ti­sing cam­pai­gns in the coun­try­si­de. Often more pro­mi­ses were made than kept. After signing con­tracts, the peop­le were trans­por­ted to Ger­ma­ny on spe­cial trains.

The­re were also recruit­ment agen­ci­es in the occu­p­ied Netherlands.

“Prosperity in your family through work in Germany! Sign up at the regional employment offices.” NIOD, beeldbankwo2, no. 193513

“Pro­spe­ri­ty in your fami­ly through work in Germany!
Sign up at the regio­nal employ­ment offices.”

NIOD, beeldbankwo2, no. 193513


Per­sons from the Soviet Uni­on and Poland were sub­ject to espe­cial­ly har­sh discri­mi­na­ti­on. In the “Polish decrees” issued on 8 March 1940, the regime intro­du­ced the first badge requi­re­ment for the pur­po­se of ost­ra­ci­zing a group of the popu­la­ti­on, the “P” badge. The yel­low star for Jews fol­lo­wed in 1941, a year later the “OST” badge. The “Eas­tern worker decrees” of 20 Febru­a­ry 1942 pro­vi­ded an admi­nis­tra­ti­ve frame­work for the explo­ita­ti­on, discri­mi­na­ti­on, and ost­ra­cism of over two mil­li­on Eas­tern workers. Labou­rers from Poland and the Soviet Uni­on recei­ved fewer rati­ons than Ger­mans and other for­eig­ners. A spe­cial tax was impo­sed on their meag­re wages. They were not per­mit­ted to lea­ve the town or vil­la­ge whe­re they worked. The Gesta­po had the aut­ho­ri­ty to com­mit them direct­ly to a “work edu­ca­ti­on” or con­cen­tra­ti­on camp. They were not per­mit­ted to use public trans­port or bicy­cles, go to restau­rants or pubs with Ger­mans, or attend wor­s­hip ser­vices. They were for­bid­den to cul­ti­va­te pri­va­te con­ta­ct of any kind to Ger­mans. Sexu­al con­ta­ct to women fre­quent­ly ended with con­cen­tra­ti­on camp impr­i­son­ment for the woman and a death sen­tence for the man.

Badge for Polish forced labourers, Dokumentationszentrum NS-Zwangsarbeit / Collection Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt

Badge for Polish for­ced labourers
Doku­men­ta­ti­ons­zen­trum NS-Zwangs­ar­beit / Collec­tion Ber­li­ner Geschichtswerkstatt

Badge for “Eastern workers”, Dokumentationszentrum NS-Zwangsarbeit

Badge for “Eas­tern workers”
Doku­men­ta­ti­ons­zen­trum NS-Zwangsarbeit

Under pressure 

In the are­as occu­p­ied mili­ta­ri­ly, the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties initi­al­ly tried to attract workers through adver­ti­sing and pro­mi­ses. For the most part, howe­ver, Wes­tern Euro­peans were unwil­ling to go to Ger­ma­ny to work.

The Ger­mans the­re­fo­re began to incre­a­se the pres­su­re. In Poland, the occu­p­ied ter­ri­to­ries of Wes­tern Euro­pe, and the Soviet Uni­on, the Ger­man admi­nis­tra­ti­ons brought indus­tri­al ope­ra­ti­ons to a standstill. They pre­ven­ted the sup­ply of pre-pro­ducts or orde­red the factory’s shut­down. The workers lost their jobs. Tho­se who fai­led to regis­ter with the employ­ment office ris­ked the reduc­tion or depri­va­ti­on of food stamps and social secu­ri­ty bene­fits. Many of the unem­ploy­ed were con­scrip­ted for labour ser­vice in Germany.

As a result, many youn­ger per­sons, most­ly sin­gle, regis­tered for labour deploy­ment, even if it meant being sent to Germany.

The­re was resis­tance against con­scrip­ti­on for labour ser­vice in Germany.

The Ger­man occu­p­iers reac­ted to the theft of index cards for the regis­tra­ti­on of workers by impo­sing cur­fews and re-regis­tering all men born bet­ween 1917 and 1924.

Pri­so­ners of war 

Thousands of for­eign sol­di­ers were sent to Ger­ma­ny as pri­so­ners of war. Tho­se of them fit to work were hired out to busi­nes­ses and com­pa­nies by the employ­ment offices.

This was initi­al­ly the pro­ce­du­re for Soviet pri­so­ners of war. The Wehr­macht trea­ted per­sons from Eas­tern Euro­pe dif­fer­ent­ly for racist rea­sons. During the initi­al mon­ths of the Eas­tern Cam­pai­gn, the Ger­man Reich let some two mil­li­on Soviet pri­so­ners of war star­ve to death. It was only after the Ger­man advan­ce came to a standstill in late Octo­ber 1941 that they were depor­ted to the Ger­man Reich for labour service.

Ita­ly ended its col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with the Nazi regime on 8 Sep­tem­ber 1943. In respon­se, the Wehr­macht depor­ted some 600,000 Ita­li­an sol­di­ers to the Ger­man Reich and occu­p­ied are­as to work. As “Ita­li­an mili­ta­ry internees” (IMI) they were denied the pro­tec­tion gran­ted pri­so­ners of war under inter­na­tio­nal law. The arma­ments indus­try pro­fi­ted from this new man­power. Tens of thousands of them lost their lives to hun­ger, for­ced labour, dise­a­se, and bom­bing attacks.

Arrival of the first Polish prisoners of war at Ziegenhain station, from there they proceeded to the Ziegenhain POW camp on foot, September 1939, Gedenkstätte und Museum Trutzhain

Arri­val of the first Polish pri­so­ners of war at Zie­gen­hain sta­ti­on, from the­re they pro­cee­ded to the Zie­gen­hain POW camp on foot, Sep­tem­ber 1939
Gedenk­stät­te und Muse­um Trutzhain


In order to bring enough man­power to Ger­ma­ny, the Ger­man occu­p­iers incre­a­sed the pres­su­re: Ent­i­re groups of per­sons born in a cer­tain year were con­scrip­ted at once. In many regi­ons the Ger­man aut­ho­ri­ties sti­pu­la­ted the num­ber of workers to be recrui­ted and the local admi­nis­tra­ti­on was assi­gned to select them. Else­whe­re, peop­le were roun­ded up at assem­bly points and depor­ted to Ger­ma­ny. The Polish and Soviet for­ced labou­rers were trans­por­ted in clo­sed goods wag­gons. The jour­ney took several days during which they had not­hing but a bucket in the cor­ner of the wag­gon in which to relie­ve themselves.

Raid in Rotterdam: On 10 and 11 November 1944 more than 50,000 men between the ages of 16 and 40 were arrested in Rotterdam and deported to eastern Holland and the German Reich to perform forced labour. NIOD, beeldbankwo2, no. 83431, photo: H.C.L. van der Werff – Burwinkel

Raid in Rot­ter­dam: On 10 and 11 Novem­ber 1944 more than 50,000 men bet­ween the ages of 16 and 40 were arres­ted in Rot­ter­dam and depor­ted to eas­tern Hol­land and the Ger­man Reich to per­form for­ced labour.
NIOD, beeldbankwo2, no. 83431, pho­to: H.C.L. van der Werff – Burwinkel