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Berga: Soldiers of Another War
Stories of Berga What Would You Do? Timeline & Maps Berga and Beyond War Crimes
Intro Prisoners of War Civillian Prisoners
Civilian Prisoners
Intro The Civilian Camp System Extermination Camps Labor Camps Transit Camps The Berga Camp

Labor Camps
Camp guards

Three Slovakian guards at the Novaky labor camp.

Prisoners working

Concentration camp inmates at forced labor hauling cartloads of earth for the construction of the "Russian camp."

In Germany, the iron gate outside the concentration camp of Dachau, the first of the infamous Nazi detention centers, is adorned with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" -- work makes freedom. By the fall of 1944, the Nazi war machine depended on the work of roughly 8 million forced laborers. Part of a policy of punishing individuals who challenged the political and racial goals of the Nazi regime with hard manual labor, this work force was mostly composed of civilians, often from Eastern Europe, a region whose inhabitants the Nazis considered racially inferior. Prisoners of war, particularly from the Soviet Union, were also conscripted in large numbers, as well as concentration camp inmates -- both political prisoners and, especially, the Jews.

Prisoners at Dachau were greeted with with the words "Arbeit Macht Frei" -- work makes freedom.

The first group of Jewish forced laborers began work at Mauthausen concentration camp on May 16, 1938. Soon, legislation was passed allowing for the systematic exploitation of Jewish labor. The March 4, 1939 Decree Regarding Employment of Jews led to the forced labor of Jews in Germany. Soon after the invasion of Poland in September of 1939, the first ghettos were established and Jews were deported from Austria and the "Protectorates" (Germany's imperial holdings) and forced labor was implemented for Jews in the Generalgouvernement (occupied Poland). On October 26, 1939, a law was passed mandating work for all Jewish males between the age of 14 and 60.

By August of 1942 there were nearly 100 factories within the ghetto at Lodz. Starting in the spring of 1940, large forced labor camps for Jews were constructed in occupied Poland. A total of 437 such camps were eventually constructed. The largest such camp was Belzec (later an extermination camp), where thousands of Jews constructed fortifications and anti-tank ditches along the new German-Soviet border in occupied Poland.

Early in 1942, as part of the Final Solution, the Nazis implemented a policy of physical destruction through work -- Vernichtung durch Arbeit -- in which the Jews would be temporarily spared execution so that they could be put to hard labor. The goal was to work these prisoners to death. The plan was implemented in coordination with German businesses that would then integrate camp labor into their industries. Dachau, for instance, established over 30 satellites near armaments factories in southern Germany, employing 30,000 prisoners in the production of armaments.

As mentioned, the Jews weren't the only people exploited to fuel the Nazi industrial effort. Civilians from all over Europe were conscripted to work for the Nazis. Between 1939 and 1945, at least 1.5 million Poles were sent to hard labor. Millions of Soviet citizens, including roughly 3 million males of military age, were forcibly removed from their country and sent to work for the Nazis. In September of 1942, the Nazi policy of physical destruction through work was expanded to include non-Jewish concentration camp prisoners: Roma (Gypsies), Russians, Ukrainians, Poles sentenced to more than three years in prison, and Czechs and Germans with sentences more than eight years in length.

-- John Uhl

A prisoner of the Poniatowa labor camp is beaten by guards (left). Jewish members of a Hungarian work party (right).

© 2003 Educational Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved.

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