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Forced Labor in the Third Reich

Mark Spoerer
The Norbert Wollheim Memorial

Toward the end of the timeframe in which Norbert Wollheim was working as a forced laborer at the Buna IV plant of I.G. Farbenindustrie in Monowitz, almost 9 million people in the German Reich were sharing the same fate. Approximately 700,000 men and women were, like Wollheim, used for forced labor in concentration camps. Another 2.2 million forced laborers had the legal status of prisoners of war, and almost 6 million were classified as foreign civilian laborers.

Not all forced laborers were subject to such inhumane working and living conditions as those imposed on Norbert Wollheim, but they all had one thing in common: they were forced to work against their will and far from their home for the benefit of Germany‘s wartime economy.

After the first half of the nineteenth century, forced labor was no longer customary in Germany, except in penal institutions. Compulsory enlistment of human beings in labor did not resume until the 1880s, with the economic utilization of the newly acquired German colonies. Whether and to what extent colonial practices had an influence on labor policy in World War I is a topic that has not yet been researched. In any event, Germany put around 2.5 million prisoners of war to work, along with just under half a million foreign civilian forced laborers, mostly from Poland and Belgium. In World War II, the extent of the forced labor attained far greater dimensions.

The Norbert Wollheim Memorial is named for Norbert Wollheim (1913–1998), a survivor of the Buna/Monowitz concentration camp. He had to perform forced labor for I.G. Farben at the construction site in Auschwitz. In 1951 he filed a suit against the conglomerate in a test case seeking compensation. The Wollheim Memorial combines commemoration of the victims of Buna/Monowitz with information about the history of their persecution and compensation.