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Forced Laborers in the Third Reich: An Overview

  • Ulrich Herbert (a1)

Abstract

In 1944, more than eight million foreign forced laborers were employed in the German war economy inside the Reich. This essay investigates the origins, character, and effects of the employment of foreigners on the German war economy. The principle characteristic of this employment of foreigners was the contradiction between the economic interest in exploiting as many foreigners as possible and the ideological principles of National Socialism, which sought to protect the Volk from mixing with “foreign blood.” From this contradiction there developed a rigidly hierarchical racist system for the treatment of forced laborers. Without the use of foreign labor, the agricultural and industrial production of Germany would have collapsed in 1942 at the latest. The German war economy therefore had no choice but to depend on the employment of millions of forced laborers. The second part of this essay traces the history of the refusal to offer compensation to the former forced laborers from 1945 to 1999. Two factors are most important in explaining this refusal. First, the German government tried to represent forced labor as an atypical Nazi injustice and thus to avoid compensation. Second, the West, above all the United States, opposed allowing any payments to the states of the eastern bloc during the Cold War. With the reunification of Germany and the Two-Plus-Four Accord, these efforts and interests collapsed.

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Forced Laborers in the Third Reich: An Overview

  • Ulrich Herbert (a1)

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