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Forced Labour in Occupied Countries during the Second World War / בעיות עבודת-היהודים בשירות הגרמנים במזרח-אירופה בתקופת מלחמת-העולם השנייה

ישראל גוטמן and I. Gutman
Zion / ציון
Vol. מג‎, חוברת א/ב‎ (תשל"ח / 1978), pp. 119-158
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/23555198
Page Count: 40
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Forced Labour in Occupied Countries during the Second World War / בעיות עבודת-היהודים בשירות הגרמנים במזרח-אירופה בתקופת מלחמת-העולם השנייה
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Abstract

The first part of the article analyses the problem of forced labour in occupied countries during the Second World War. It seems that the primary intention of Nazi Germany was the dispatch of forced laborers to the Reich, foreign and the harnessing of prisoners-of-war for the German war effort. Millions of workers, were sent to Germany and served as a labour force exploited in agriculture or industry. Most of the workers brought to Germany under pressure were from Eastern Europe, mainly Poland and the Soviet Union. The attitude toward forced workers was not uniform, and was based upon racial lines. The Slavs, Poles, and Russians suffered from humiliating and discriminatory treatment in all spheres. Generally, Jews were not sent for forced labour in Germany. In the first months of the war, there was no systematic plan for exploiting the Jewish labour potential in occupied Poland. Eventually, the Germans learned that the Jewish population represented an important labour reservoir, especially of skilled artisans, much in demand by the German army and industry. As a result, the Germans sought to exploit Jewish labour in a more efficient and rational manner. Up to a certain phase — more precisely, until the beginning of the mass extermination of the Jews, with the attack upon the Soviet Union in 1941 — the various Jewish representatives, including the Judenräte, did not regard working for the Germans as a means of saving lives but as a matter of bolstering the economic existence of the Jewish masses in the ghettos. In the first phase of the war, there was no essential difference in the contribution of the Jews and that of the non-Jews of the occupied countries in support of the German war effort. All had to work in order to exist, and all were forced to carry out work actually assisting the Germans in their war. A sudden, decided change in the status of Jewish labour — from both the internal Jewish viewpoint and from the viewpoint of the German authorities — came about upon the commencement of extermination, that is, of "the Final Solution of the Jewish Question". The Jews, including the Jewish leadership, were ignorant of the Nazi decision for the total destruction of the Jewish people in Europe. They assumed that by increasing the proportion of the Jews in war production, it would be possible if not to save everyone, at least to spare the youth and the working element. This attitude became the concept of the Jewish representatives, guiding several of the well-known heads of the Judenräte in Poland and Lithuania. Among the Germans, there were differences of opinion concerning Jewish labour during the period of extermination. The SS authorities and the Nazi Party apparatus, who were responsible for the extermination, consistently sought a speedy and total execution of their murderous task. In contrast, the Wehrmacht and German industrial authorities, who employed Jewish labour, opposed the removal of Jewish workers from the production system. On this background there emerged a controversy, echos of which reached the highest levels of the German Army and the Nazi Party. This controversy did not lead to cancellation of the extermination in general, but did bring about a delay in the extermination of certain groups of Jews who were needed by some German authorities in various production work. The ghettos and the concentrations of Jews were eliminated and a small portion of the working Jews was transferred to concentration camps under the control of the SS. The declared trend was that the Jews were to be exterminated eventually, upon being replaced by other workers. Thus, the Judenräte and those upholding the concept of "salvation through labour" did not succeed in maintaining the ghettos through to the end of the war, nor were they able to bring about any significant saving of Jews. Indirectly, however, their attitude contributed to the extension of life for groups of Jews in the camps. In the autumn of 1944, extermination at Auschwitz was suspended and the direct mass slaughter of Jews came to an end. The heads of the SS, including Himler himself, sought to preserve some Jews as a trump card in negotiations on the brink of the Nazi defeat, and may have sought, by means of these Jews, to save their own necks. One way or another, they brought an end to the exterminations, and this change saved the tens of thousands of Jews remaining in the concentration camps as labourers, and these Jews, who were mostly released in Germany and Austria, comprised the nucleus of the Jewish survivors.

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