Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany Under the Third Reich

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Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany Under the Third Reich

By Ulrich Herbert
Cambridge University Press, 1997
510 pp. $79.95

In August 1944 more than 7.5 million foreign workers -- almost 2 million war prisoners, and 5.7 million civilian workers -- were employed in German agriculture and factories, one-third of the total labor force. Herbert shows that, due to the expectation of a Blitzkrieg and the ideological concern for racial purity, before 1939 the Nazis had developed no plan for a massive use of foreign labor. However, after the victory over Poland, Polish labor was treated as "spoils of conquest" under very harsh conditions; "intimate sexual contact between German women and Polish men was rendered a capital crime." After the invasion of the Soviet Union, "the propaganda image of the Russian Untermensch" at first inhibited the use of Russian labor in Germany. But as the war grew longer, this use became necessary -- it even extended to the importation of eastern women as servants. Foreign workers had to be given adequate food and training, and attempts had to be made "to integrate them more fully into German everyday life" -- in full contradiction of the "distorted racist stereotypes" of Nazi ideology. In the final months of the war, "an ever more radical wave of persecution of foreign workers set in." On the whole, Herbert concludes, "the vast majority of Germany showed little interest in the fate of foreigners," and little discomfort at discrimination against Russians and Poles. Evil was not so much banal as routine and ordinary.

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