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Forced Jewish Labor

During the Second World War, From the initial stage of the Second World War, the Nazi authorities exploited the residences of occupied territories as a source of slave labor for the Reich. This policy of exploitation was applied mainly towards the population of the Gouvernement-General in Poland. Here was the area where all the Polish Jews, the Jews deported from other European countries and all the "non-Aryan" Poles were concentrated. From October 1939 all the people between the ages of 18 to 60 had to report to the Labor Department of the Gouvernement-General for public labor assignments. The population was occupied in road building, farm works and public works projects.

The Jewish population of the Gouvernement-General territory were given a different and harsher treatment in respect to the slave labor policy. The Jewish forced labor was placed under the supervision of the German Elite Guard Schutzstaffel and the State Police. The period allocated for forced labor was set to two years and could be extended indefinitely. The age for forced labor was set for boys of 14 to men of 60. By a special command of General Frank, Jewish Community Councils - Judenrat, were formed. The committees' main function was the continuous supply of able bodied Jews to the labor camps. They controlled the registration of any male Jew from the age of 12 and assigned capability labels to all potential slave laborers. Non-able bodied people that could not perform in a labor camp environment were assigned less demanding duties according to their capabilities. Failure to register, attempt to escape service or collaboration or assistance with such an act would have resulted in ten years of hard labor (that for all practical purposes meant death).

Almost the entire Jewish population in Poland were drafted for hard labor by April 1941. The obligatory slave labor policy against the Jews enforced by the German occupying forces, were implemented in three different methods. Jews were employed in work shops, were drafted to work battalions or were sent to labor camps.

  • The workers of labor camps ranked the lowest. These camps uphold a great resemblance to concentration camps. Due to the harsh conditions, physically demanding work, lack of food and cruelty of the German and Ukrainian guards, most of the Jews that had been taken to labor camps never returned. People in labor camps were building fortifications, digging anti tank ditches, working in mines constructing roads and more.
  • Work battalions workers were ranked above their fellows in labor camps. The fact that they could keep residing in their homes enabled them to maintain better nutrition. The Jews in work battalions were cleaning streets, removing debris of damaged buildings, repairing bridges, roads and working in factories. Most of these men were transferred later on to labor camps.

  • Workshop laborers were considered to be the privileged ones. This people used to work in overcrowded manufacturing facilities twelve hours a day producing goods for the German army and the German civilian market. The workers enjoyed some privileges regarding food rationing and were considered more secure1 than other people because of their vitality to the war efforts. Workshops were formed in many ghettos like Warsaw, Lodz and Bochnia. In a later stage entire ghettos were converted into a labor camp (like Lodz and Bochnia). Workers in the workshops were labeled productive and were provided with a special documentation to indicate that status. During selections (of people to be sent for extermination) in a ghetto the non productive people were selected first (most of the times) however the fate of the productive Jews was not any different except that their extermination was deferred by a limited time. The Nazi authorities used to pay the Judenrat for the final products produced in the workshops. The Judenrat was using the money to purchase food for the ghetto. If the workers increased their production quotas the Nazis immediately responded by lowering the payment for the goods in order to maintain the food rationing as before.

By the summer of 1941 there were more then 85 Jewish labor camps in Gouverner-General territory. Most of these camps were located along the separation line between the soviet and German forces. The number of Jews held in labor camps swelled to hundreds of thousands within the first year. The Germans considered the inmates to be disposable and used to execute any worker that showed the slightest physical deterioration. Periodically the local Judenrats were requested to keep the flow of new recruits for the dwindling manpower in the labor camps. On top of that the Jewish community councils had to support the workers in the labor camps with pre-determined food quotas. Typically the fund for these food quotas was collected from the Jewish people that were not physically capable of performing hard labor. For the privilege of being released from this duty these people had to pay the Judenrat a sum of money in the form of a tax.

The Gouvernement-General devised a system of forced labor that was financed entirely by its own victims, the Jews. The Jewish community provided the workers and covered their expenses. The Germans, who profited from this labor, rewarded the workers with inhumane treatment and conditions. Many laborers were murdered in the process and new victims were sent automatically from the waste pool of Jews in Poland. The whole system was a pre-planned method of mass murder of Jews while exploiting their physical force to the limit. Obviously this method of extermination was not fast enough for the Nazis and as a result the extermination camps were erected. Although the initial official intent of the Nazis authorities was to use the labor camps workers for a pre-determined time period2 , any person that came back from a labor camp duty was very lucky indeed.

1 The sense of security was proven to be unfounded when even the existence of the workshops was decided by the local SS authorities.
2 The decree restricting the hard labor period to two years was changed later to allow indefinite incarceration in labor camps for Jews

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