<p>Prisoners at forced labor in the Siemens factory. Auschwitz camp, Poland, 1940–44.</p>

Forced Labor

More information about this image

Forced Labor In German-occupied areas, the Nazis singled out Jewish laborers for cruel treatment. Jewish laborers were also subjected to humiliating treatment, as when SS men forced religious Jews to submit to having their beards cut. The ghettos served as bases for utilizing Jewish labor, as did forced-labor camps for Jews in occupied Poland. In the Lodz ghetto, for example, the Nazis opened 96 factories. The ability to work could save one's life, but most often only temporarily. Jews deemed unproductive by the Nazis were often the first to be shot or deported. Jewish labor, even forced labor, was considered expendable. The extermination of the Jews became the singular priority of the Nazis.

The Nazis exploited the forced labor of "enemies of the state" for economic gain. Labor shortages in the German war economy became critical especially after German defeat in the battle of Stalingrad in 1942-1943. This led to the increased use of prisoners as forced laborers in German industries. Especially in 1943 and 1944, hundreds of camps were established in or near industrial plants.

Camps such as Auschwitz in Poland and Buchenwald in central Germany became administrative centers of huge networks of forced-labor camps. In addition to SS-owned enterprises (the German Armament Works, for example), private German firms—such as Messerschmidt, Junkers, Siemens, and IG Farben—increasingly relied on forced laborers to boost war production. One of the most infamous of these camps was Auschwitz III, or Monowitz, which supplied forced laborers to a synthetic rubber plant owned by IG Farben. Prisoners in all the concentration camps were literally worked to death.

Key Dates

October 26, 1939
Forced labor instituted for Jews in Poland

As soon as German forces occupy Poland in September 1939, Jews are drafted for forced labor to clear war damage and repair roads. This practice is formalized in October, when the Germans institute forced labor for Jewish men between the ages of 14 and 60 in occupied Poland. Later, Jewish women along with Jewish children aged 12 to 14 are also required to perform forced labor. Forced-labor camps for Jews are established throughout occupied Poland and Jews in the ghettos are required to report to the German occupation authorities for work. Jews generally work 10 to 12 hour days under harsh conditions, receiving little or no pay.

May 21, 1942
I.G. Farben plant opens near Auschwitz

The I.G. Farben synthetic-rubber and petroleum plant opens at Monowice, near Auschwitz, using Jewish forced laborers from the camp. The German conglomerate IG Farben established a factory there in order to take advantage of cheap concentration camp labor and the nearby Silesian coalfields. It invested more than 700 million Reichsmarks (about 1.4 million US dollars in 1942). Auschwitz III, also called Buna or Monowitz, is located nearby to provide forced laborers for the plant. Life expectancy for workers at the giant plant is extremely poor. By 1945, about 25,000 forced laborers have died in the Monowitz plant.

July 11, 1942
Jews in Salonika, Greece, held for forced labor

The Germans require all Jewish men between the ages of 18 and 45 living in Salonika to report to Liberty Square where they are to receive forced-labor assignments. 9,000 Jewish men report. About 2,000 are assigned to forced-labor projects for the German army. The remainder are detained until the Jewish communities of Salonika and Athens pay a huge ransom to the German occupation authorities for their release. As part of the payment, the Jewish cemetery in Salonika is transferred to city ownership. The city dismantles it and uses stones from the cemetery in the construction of a university on the site.