German Forced Labor and its Compensation

A Postwar Problem to Be Finally Resolved


By Prof. Dr. H.C. Emil Schlee
Published: 2004-12-01

The public discussion about the compensation of former concentration camp inmates and forced laborers is not only characterized by covering up facts and raising legends and horror stories to reality. It is far more marked by a partiality and one-sidedness which can hardly be surpassed. As is customary, it is also here again overlooked, that the German people, which has had to pay the bill over the past five decades for the so-called reparation, has itself suffered far more under the unjust treatment by the victors and their Allies. Described below is the injustice of the internationally illegal deportation and forced labor of millions of German men, women and children – uncorrected and not even publicly recognized as such – and a minimal restitution for this injustice is calculated.

German Prisoners of War in:[13]
Great Britain 3,635,000
USA 3,097,000
USSR 3,060,000
France 937,000
Yugoslavia 194,000
Poland 70,000
Belgium 64,000
CSSR 25,000
Netherlands 7,000
Luxemburg 5,000
Total 11,094,000
Of these in the East 3,349,000
Of these in the West 7,745,000
(Without interned civilians)

1. The Burden of “One-sidedness” in the Historical “Coming to Terms with the Past”

Winfried Martini began the introduction of his informative book Der Sieger schreibt die Geschichte (The Victor Writes the History) with the sentence:[1]

“It is part of the fascinating phenomena of our time, to what extent a military defeat influences the historiography and the general awareness of history and how the victor is spared from moral judgments.”

This experience belonged in the 20th century to the everyday life of the Germans. A century, which was not “The German century”[2] according to Prof. Eberhard Jäckel, but as Prof. Arnulf Baring correctly questions:[3]

“Was our century not coined by the rise of the United States to finally become the only world power? […] However one likes to twist and turn it: […] it was not at all ours, neither in good nor in bad.”

But, united in “evil,” an anti-German coalition was created subsequent to the time of the resignation of Otto von Bismarck in 1890, perceived secretly, with an unsurpassable destructive intent and goal, to break up the German Reich of Bismarck, to destroy the German people for all time, and to remove the German economic competition from the world for good. In order to achieve this goal, every means was right.

The central figure of this century with a universal mission was the long serving American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1882–1945), who was acting minister of the navy from 1913–1920, and President of the United States of America from 1933–1945, and who had great influence during the times of both world wars. He organized the largest war machinery in world history,[4] which rolled over the 20th century during two World Wars (also called the “Third Thirty Year War”), regardless whether the rest of the world desired this or not. His troops are still in Germany at the beginning of this 21st century, the Federal republic of Germany is still loaded with numerous dictates, and the victor writes the history.

The latter overloads all Germans with clear one-sidedness of guilt and debt, demands and payments, including compensation for forced labor done in Germany in large numbers, demanded or sued for in courts. Scientific reviews of the prehistory and the actual evolvement of world events during the twentieth century show that it is untenable to place on Germany the exclusive war guilt with all the demands and legal violations resulting from it.[5]

POW Camps for Germans in:
Canada 50
USA 450
USA (in Germany) 463
Norway 97
Great Britain 284
British camps in Germany 160
Poland 1,005
France 650
Belgium 30
CSSR 1,409
Rumania 207
Yugoslavia 1,094
Hungary 112
Italia 97
Bulgaria 25
Algeria 11
Libya 10
Egypt 39
USSR 2,125
Australia 9
Total: 8,327

Besides the fact that the saying “the first victim during a war is always the truth”[6] remained unfortunately as true for Germany after the end of the war as it is today, the general concealment of their own guilt by the victorious powers in connection with the ongoing cynical-hypocritical blaming of Germany indicates an abyss of human failure, which cannot be a base for a peaceful future and will sooner or later be caught up by the historic truth! The German poet and playwright Friedrich Hebbel (1813–1863) noted rightly in the first volume of his well known Tagebücher?[7]

“There is only one sin, which can be committed against the whole of mankind with all its generations, and this is the falsification of history!”

From hundreds of testimonies, documents, and scientific works, which attest against the sole guilt of Germany for both World Wars, only two are mentioned here. The U.S. historian Prof. H.E. Barnes noted with regards to the question of war guilt of the First World War:[9]

“Of all warring powers Germany was the only one which carries no blame at all for the beginning of the war.”

And the Polish States Secretary of the Foreign Ministry, Count Szembek, said on April 11, 1935, to U.S. ambassador W.C. Bullitt:[10]

“We are witnessing an aggressive policy of the world against Hitler, more than an aggressive policy of Hitler against the world.”

The former Foreign Secretary Henry J. Kissinger also revealed in Die Welt am Sonntag on March 1, 1992:[11]

“America waged war [on Germany] twice within the period of only one generation, because the American presidents were convinced that the dominance of a single hostile nation in Europe would be a threat against the American security and economical interests. Nothing has changed of this reality.”

In an interview with the Berliner Zeitung on January 3, 1997, author Gore Vidal, a cousin of former U.S. vice president Al Gore, explained frankly:[12]

“We started in 1945 to conquer the globe. NATO was not established to protect the poor Europeans from the Russians, but to obtain total control over Western Europe.”

Today, Germany is still without a peace treaty, and it feels the burden and provocation of this restraint! This situation also explains the continuous demands for compensation from all over the world against Germany, which herself does not oppose this at all.

2. There were also Millions of German Forced Laborers!

Number of Days of Imprisonment of German POWs and Deported Civilians[8]
Year In Eastern Internment In Western Internment
1941 2,422,000 1,740,000
1942 40,050,000 6,383,000
1943 65,154,000 32,800,000
1944 158,647,000 140,111,000
1945 644,725,000 1,538,093,000
1946 502,850,000 736,463,000
1947 396,794,000 325,965,000
1948 265,645,000 65,747,000
1949 116,842,000
1950 12,763,000
Total 2,205,892,000 2,847,302,000

Contrary to the subject “Forced Labor in the Third Reich,” there are hardly any investigations about “Forced Labor of German POWs and Civilian Internees in Foreign Countries” (see the tables).[13]

It is shocking to observe the one-sidedness, with which topics like war guilt, the German Wehrmacht, plans for world domination, and now also the subject of “Forced Labor and Compensation” are dealt with. It is conspicuous to observe the missing attempt to view the specific topic of “forced labor” in a contemporary frame in the sense of similar events in almost all countries, which participated in the war. The starting point is always the claim that Germany is exclusively guilty for everything, even though this has been refuted for quite some time now. Most historians have still not noticed major changes of the historiography on the world wars.

The army of German forced laborers of almost twelve million German soldiers and 1.7 million deported German civilians in twenty different countries, sometimes with forced stays of more than ten years in these countries, appears to them to be no subject at all. They talk about one of the biggest Nazi crimes, of which reparations have not yet been made, “although already during the Nuremberg trials one of the four main charges was ‘slave labor’.”[14] But nobody seems to notice that the judges of these tribunals come from countries, where such “biggest crimes” were unfolding simultaneously.

Number of Work Days of German POWs and Deported Civilians 1941–1956
Year In Eastern Internment In Western Internment Total
1942 23,013,600 23,013,600
1943 33,052,875 2,339,475 35,392,350
1944 81,989,325 10,964,700 92,954,025
1945 317,337,375 118,856,700 436,194,075
1946 340,344,150 257,233,500 597,577,650
1947 286,095,300 170,410,575 456,505,875
1948 196,648,425 32,463,150 229,111,575
1949 90,246,150 90,246,150
1950 9,643,875 9,643,875
1951–1956 28,731,600 28,731,600
Total 1,407,102,675 592,268,100 1,999,370,775

Or take Prof. Dr. Ulrich Herbert (Freiburg, Germany), who, in a full page essay with the title “The Million Army of the Modern Slave State. Deported, worn out, forgotten: Who were the forced laborers of the Third Reich, and what was the fate ahead of them?” writes thoughtlessly:[15]

“The National Socialist deployment of foreigners between 1939 and 1945 is the biggest case of forced mass utilization of foreign labor in history since the end of slavery in the nineteenth century. By the late summer of 1944, 7.6 million foreign civilian workers and POWs were officially registered as employees within the area of the ‘Großdeutsche Reich,’ who were mostly brought into the Reich by force.”

This article gives the impression that the “slave state of the Soviet Union” did not exist at all, where Siberia from the Ural Mountains to the Bering Strait became a gigantic international cemetery of the dead from more than 28 nations.[16] Also during the time in question, from 1939 to 1945 and until 1956, the “Soviet foreign employment,” which included the German POWs and civilian deportees, continuously “employed” a two-digit million number. These slaves had to perform their slave labor in more than 2,000 work and death camps, partly under the most primitive living and camp conditions (e.g.Workuta).

There were still more than 20 million forced laborers in the fall of 1955.[17] After the war, the “people’s democracies” of the east reached a record high in deportation for forced labor. Secret Soviet orders existed to arrest, for example, 27,000 Germans who were able to work below ground in the area of communist East Germany and to exchange them for German POWs who were no longer able to work in the Soviet Union.[18]

Destruction of Health: German Returnees Unable to Work[8]
Country detained in Date of Return No. of Returnees % unemployable Transit or Discharge Camp
Great Britain 1948 Mar-Nov 11,499 0 Hammelberg
France 1947 May-Jun 370 28 Ulm-Kienlesberg
1948 Feb-Mar 310 44 Ulm-Kienlesberg
Jul-Aug 1,408 6 Ulm-Kienlesberg
Oct-Nov 5,615 0.1 Ulm-Kienlesberg
1949 Jan-Aug 2,541 0 Ulm-Kienlesberg
Soviet Union 1946 Aug 24,126 66 Friedland
Sep-Oct 12,260 83 Fiedland
1947 Mar-Jun 90 Friedland
1948 Feb-Dec 16,794 62 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Mar-Dec 70,955 85 Hof-Moschendorf
Dec 54 Friedland
1949 Jan-Dec 21,427 67 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Jan-Feb 390 36 Hof-Moschendorf
Jan-Feb 40 Friedland
May-Jun 9,202 48 Hof-Moschendorf
Oct 7,076 43 Hof-Moschendorf
Dec 15,587 68 Hof-Moschendorf
Dec-1950 Apr 70 Friedland
Jan 6,060 64 Hof-Moschendorf
Jan 2,391 58 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Apr 1,729 69 Hof-Moschendorf
Feb-Sep 1,159 99 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Poland 1948 Nov-Dec 446 70 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Dec 1,446 86 Hof-Moschendorf
1949 Feb 1,421 77 Hof-Moschendorf
May-Jun 2,016 51 Hof-Moschendorf
Oct 419 82 Hof-Moschendorf
Feb-Dec 1,380 68 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
1950 Apr-May 109 100 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Apr 138 65 Hof-Moschendorf
Jun 17 80 Hof-Moschendorf
1951 Apr 85 60 Hof-Moschendorf
Czechoslovakia 1948 Sep-Dec 1,421 46 Hof-Moschendorf
Dec 121 43 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
1950 Feb 113 86 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
1954 Jan-Mar 221 87 Hof-Moschendorf
Yugoslavia 1948 Nov-Dec 2,309 48 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Dec 196 18 Hof-Moschendorf
Dec 4,485 46 Ulm-Kienlesberg
1949 Jan 2,494 50 Ulm-Kienlesberg
Jan-Feb 650 58 Hof-Moschendorf
Jan-Feb 915 58 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
Feb 17 33 Ulm-Kienlesberg
Aug 19 74 Hersfeld-Waldschänke
1950 Apr-Jun 220 9 Ulm-Kienlesberg

Of the Western powers it was especially France, which employed German POWs against the international laws for forced labor. Thousands of Germans perished or suffered horrible mutilations in French captivity while clearing mines.

The real gain from reparations did not come from Germany’s industrial installations, noted the US newsmagazine Life, “but from the German brain and the German research results.” Scientists were partly “forced with point blank pistols or with threats of war crime trials” to work for the victors. There were 523 German scientists in the USA in 1947; their number was to be increased to 1000.[19]

3. Summary and the Request for Equal Treatment of German Forced Laborers.

  1. The excessive wave of demands for reparations for forced labor in Germany during the Second World War in the final phase of the 20th century is on one hand the consequence of the missing peace treaty with Germany and on the other hand a sign of insufficient sovereignty and legal defense capability.
  2. The latter is a result of the re-education, but also becomes obvious by the one-sidedness of scientific research, which deals especially predominantly with the forced labor problems in Germany during the “Third Reich,” but barely with the rather difficult problem of forced labor of Germans in foreign countries. This should obviously be corrected.
  3. The form, extent, and motivation of this one-sided and quickly spreading “wave of demands for compensation for forced labor” against Germany in several areas is provocative, especially because the nations making such demands often behaved against German forced laborers neither less illegally nor less ruthlessly.
  1. The whole process becomes controversial when one considers how Germany was pillaged and robbed after the capitulation of the German Wehrmacht on May 8/9, 1945, during a continuation of the state of war in the West until 1951 and in the East until 1955. This was a rape and plunder of an entire nation unparalleled and unprecedented in every regard, which people who have the “merci of late birth” (former German chancellor Helmut Kohl) can hardly imagine.
  2. All governmental politicians in Germany have to swear an oath following article 56 of the German Basic Law, which requires them to avert damages from the German people. It is time that they take this oath seriously, meaning for example, that they should file class action suits against employers and nations on behalf of the German forced laborers in the spirit of equality before the law of the nations.

4. Forced Labor of POWs and Deported Civilians

The whole forced labor after the war, which amounts to at least 90 percent of the work shown here, was an infringement of international law unprecedented in scale in the history of mankind. To this day, the forced labor issue has unfortunately not been completely evaluated by any German public authority. It is here for the first time correctly displayed from an economic point of view.[20]

Days of Forced Labor Imprisonment
(A) POWs 3,502,452,000 (3.5 billion)
Performed by 11.094 million POWs – in eastern countries 3.349 million POWs – in western countries 7.745 million POWs. Of these, 1.5 million died while in captivity, of these 1.335 million in eastern countries. In total, every seventh POW died while in captivity. Two of five prisoners died in the east in death camps. The last prisoners returned home from the Soviet Union in 1956, eleven years after the end of the war!
(B) Civilian Deportees 3,805,000,000 (3.8 billion)
Performed by 1.7 million Germans deported in 1945. Of these, 580,000 died up until 1950 in eastern death camps every third deportee.
Total of Forced Labor Days 7,307,452,000 (7.3 billion)
Hours Worked 73,074,520,000 hrs (73 billion)
The prisoners had to work at least ten hours per day, which resulted in the above number of performed forced labor hours.
Cost of Labor: $365,372,600,000 (365 billion U.S. Dollars)
This compensation for forced labor is derived using the 1999 U.S. hourly minimum wage of $5.

This amount is practically unimaginable. For comparison: All companies with more than 20 employees of German industry during 1985 with a total of 4,769,000 employees, performed 7,910,100,000 (7.9 billion) working hours. The total of all wages for this was 167.559 billion deutschmarks or roughly $56 billion U.S. Dollars (the median hourly wage was app. 21 deutschmarks or $7).[21]

The German forced laborers, POWs, and civilian deportees had to produce therefore almost ten times the yearly output in 1985 of all the workers of the West German industry!

The forced labor of the civilian deportees from the Soviet occupied areas of the German Reich proper and Austria could not be determined. There were more than 100,000 Germans who were deported for political reasons and who were almost without exception murdered during imprisonment. The same goes for the more than 100,000 people, who were held in Russian concentration camps of the Soviet occupied zone. The German media reported during a visit of former head of State of communist Germany Erich Honecker in West Germany that in Buchenwald concentration camp alone 80,000 prisoners were murdered after 1945 by the Soviets or their German communist lackeys.[22] A total of more than ten percent of the German population had to perform forced labor for years against all international laws.[23]


First published in Deutsche Militärzeitschrift, Nr. 18, 1999, pp. 21–26; pictures: Archive Prof. E. Schlee.

[1] W. Martini, Der Sieger schreibt die Geschichte. Anmerkungen zur Zeitgeschichte, Munich 1991, p. 10.
[2] E. Jäckel, Das deutsche Jahrhundert. Eine historische Bilanz, Stuttgart 1996; similar also Chr. Graf v. Krockow, Die Deutschen in ihrem Jahrhundert 1890–1990, rororo-Sachbuch 9195, Reinbek 1991.
[3] A. Baring, Wem gehört das Jahrhundert?, book review of E. Jäkkel, Das deutsche Jahrhundert, op. cit. (note 2), in: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Jan. 29, 1997, p. 12.
[4] See D. Bavendamm, Roosevelts Krieg 1937–45 und das Rätsel von Pearl Harbor, Munich, Berlin 1993; D. Kunert, Ein Weltkrieg wird programmiert. Hitler, Roosevelt, Stalin: Die Vorgeschichte des 2. Weltkriegs nach Primärquellen, Kiel 1984; C. B. Dall, Amerikas Kriegspolitik. Roosevelt und seine Hintermänner, Tübingen 1972; B. Colby, Roosevelts scheinheiliger Krieg. Amerikas Betrug und Propaganda im Kampf gegen Deutschland, Leoni 1977; H. Fish, Der zerbrochene Mythos, F. D. Roosevelts Kriegspolitik 19331948, Tübingen 1982; E. Schlee, Deutschland und die Kriegsschuldfrage. Die Behauptungen der Alleinkriegsschuld Deutschlands sind überholt, Rosenheim 1999; E. Schlee, Wessen Krieg war es denn nun eigentlich? Eine kleine Kriegsschuldfrage-Dokumentation; in: R. Uhle-Wettler, (Hg,), Wagnis Wahrheit. Historiker in Handschellen? Festschrift für David Irving. Kiel 1998, pp. 97–121.
[5] Ibid; also: E. Schlee, Friedensbemühungen Deutschlands im Zweiten Weltkrieg, in: Deutsche Militärzeitschrift No. 17 (March 1999), pp. 14–19.
[6] U.S. Senator Hiram Johnson; in: M. Baham, Kriegstrommeln. Medien, Krieg u. Politik, Munich 1996, p. 36.
[7] Fr. Hebbel, Tagebücher, vol. I, Vienna 1885; quoted in: K. Peltzer, Das treffende Zitat. Gedankengut aus drei Jahrtausenden und fünf Kontinenten, Thun 1974, p. 259.
[8] Statistisches Bundesamt, in: VdHD e.V. (ed.), Die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges, Bonn-Bad Godesberg. 1989.
[9] Quoted in: Ztschr. Nation Europa, 5, 1954, p. 4.
[10] Quoted in: E. Maier-Dorn, Alleinkriegsschuld, Großaitingen 1970, p. 149.
[11] H. A. Kissinger, “Die Einigung Europas darf nicht auf Kosten der NATO erfolgen. Die Prämissen, aus denen die Atlantische Allianz ihre Existenzberechtigung ableitet, brechen zusammen,” Welt am Sonntag, no. 9, March 1, 1992, p. 5.
[12] Gore Vidal in an interview with der Berliner Zeitung, no. 2/1997, Jan. 3, 1997.
[13] In: Ruhrwort, 21(23), Juni 9, 1979, p. 3; Was Heimkehrer nie vergessen werden. In Bochums “Dankeskirche” bleibt die Erinnerung wach, Special print, Bistum Essen.
[14] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of March 31, 1999, p. 51.
[15] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, March 16, 1999, p. 54.
[16] D. Friede, Das russische Perpetuum Mobile, Würzburg 1959; see chapter “28 Nationen in den Zwangsarbeitslagern:” “Die Zahl der Sklaven ist achtstellig geworden.” “Die Sklaven-Reservoirs”; of great importance are the 22 documentary volumes of the Wissenschaftlichen Kommission für deutsche Kriegsgefangenengeschichte, from 1957 to 1974, edited under the directorate of Prof. Dr. Erich Maschke: E. Maschke, (ed.), Zur Geschichte der Deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges, Bielefeld 1962; introduction in vol. pp. VII–XX.
[17] D. Friede, ibid., p. 68; see also: St. Courtois, Das Schwarzbuch des Kommunismus. Unterdrückung, Verbrechen und Terror, Munich, Zürich 1998; G. Schirmer, Sachsenhausen – Workuta. Zehn Jahre in den Fängen der Sowjets, Tübingen 1992; P. Carell, G. Böddekker, Die Gefangenen. Leben und Überleben deutscher Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht, Darmstadt 1980; G. Frey, Deutschlands Ausplünderung, Munich 1993; Verband der Heimkehrer, G. Berndt, Die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges. Ein geschichtlicher Abriß in Fakten, Bonn-Bad Godesberg 1989; Deutsches Rotes Kreuz-Suchdienst (ed.), Zur Geschichte der Kriegsgefangenen im Westen. USA – Großbritannien – Frankreich – Belgien – (Schweden), Bonn 1962; L. Peters, Das Schicksal der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen. Wir haben Euch nicht vergessen!, Tübingen 1995 (I took some illustrations from this for my article, pp. 394, 476); H.H. Meyer, Kriegsgefangene im Kalten Krieg. Die Kriegsgefangenenpolitik der Bundesrepublik Deutschland im amerikanisch-sowjetischen Machtkampf von 1950–1955, Osnabrück 1998.
[18] A.E. Epifanow, H. Mayer, Die Tragödie der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in Stalingrad von 1942–1956 nach russischen Archivunterlagen, Osnabrück 1996, p. 204.
[19] See G. Frey, op. cit. (note 17), p. 240.
[20] Numbers from: Zur Geschichte der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges, vol. XV, pp. 191 ff., Verlag Ernst und Werner Gieseking, Bielefeld 1974, and Gerhard Reichling, Die Deutschen Vertriebenen in Zahlen, Kulturstiftung des Deutschen Volkes, Bonn 1986. The statistical data are calculated using reasonable economic methods.
[21] Statistisches Jahrbuch für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland 1986, p. 178.
[22] Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Sept. 12, 1987.
[23] Karl Baßler, “Die Ausraubung des Deutschen Volkes,” Huttenbriefe, issues 1–3, 1988, Stockstadt.
This entry was posted in History.

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