Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany Under the Third Reich.
This book is a translation of Ulrich Herbert's Fremdarbeiter: Politik und Praxis des "Auslander-Einsatzes" in der Kriegswirtschaft des Dritten Reiches (1985), which has been slightly revised, losing some of its original footnotes. Because the German edition received less anglophone attention than it deserves, Cambridge should be praised for at last making this work available in English. In this book, Herbert includes the abundant detail and close analysis of foreign labor between 1939 and 1945 that were not appropriate in his earlier English language synthesis on foreign labor, A History of Foreign Labor in Germany, 1880-1980: Seasonal Workers/Forced Laborers/Guest Workers (1990).
Herbert begins by meticulously tracing the evolution of the seasonal agricultural labor of Poles in Germany before 1914 and the forced labor of Belgians and Poles during the First World War. In this broader historical context, Herbert argues that the Third Reich's reliance on forced foreign labor was not without antecedents but was definitely unprecedented in its extent and severity. Moreover, he shows with exhaustive documentation that "foreign labor deployment was not predetermined by a long-term and long-cherished plan of the National Socialist leadership for a program of mass forced conscription of foreign workers, which was then progressively implemented," (p. 383) however much Nazi notions of race facilitated the exploitation of supposedly lesser peoples by Germans. In fact, the use of foreign laborers in both agriculture and industry initially presented real dangers for the Nazis. For Nazi ideologues, the presence of foreigners in German work places might encourage liaisons that could threaten the purity of the German race. To a large extent, this was the lesser of two evils for the Nazis. Herbert reveals how the need for labor caused Nazi leaders to choose the employment of foreign labor over the employment of German women, which would have represented a different but no less important threat to the German race by diverting German women from motherhood.
According to Herbert, Nazi officials realized that the Anschluss and the annexation of Czech territories provided Germany not only with raw materials but also with a sizeable voluntary labor force, badly needed for German industry and agriculture, in the latter case to replace agricultural workers lured by higher wages in armaments factories. After the invasion of Poland, Poles also came voluntarily (an ambiguous term given the state of the Polish economy) to Germany to find work. But in late 1939, in dire need of labor, the regime began forced recruitment. In 1940, mass recruitment began, expanding to other conquered territories over the next two years. Economic needs and Nazi fears of racial contamination were resolved already in 1939-40 by the legalization of Slavic separation and inferiority, including most notably "the death penalty for Poles convicted of sexual intercourse with German women," (p. 389) decided by Hitler himself. Increasingly, civilian laborers were treated in much the same way as prisoners of war, as they were underfed, housed in camps, at times surrounded by barbed wire as well as guards. Throughout the war, treatment of forced laborers depended on a host of factors, of which the most important was nationality. In real terms, forced labor came to embody the Nazis' "functional national hierarchy based on racial criteria: Germans on top, foreigners underneath, graded from the French above[,] all the way down to the Russians at the bottom. Here was a Nazi vision of the future, a foretaste of a German-dominated, racially stratified Europe after a German victory." (p. 389)
In general, this book has held up well in the twelve years that have lapsed since its first publication. Its only oversight, exacerbated by time and the work of Robert Gellately and Ian Kershaw among others, is the way in which German public opinion is summarily referred to as passive, conditioned by past experience with foreign laborers, and later capable of separating forced foreign labor from other Nazi crimes. Public opinion of forced labor, mostly unexamined, is thus construed as a block without the diversity of popular attitudes historians of Germany have come to expect. This is a minor criticism of an already long and very detailed book, but it does reveal just how much scholarship on Nazi Germany has evolved since the mid-1980s.
In the preface to the English edition, Herbert writes that this edition is destined not just for researchers but for surviving foreign laborers as well. Despite its price, one would hope for an even larger audience. Forced foreign labor is no footnote in European history, particularly not during the Second World War. One in three members of the German work force was foreign in 1944. The peak occurred in August 1944, when 7.8 million foreigners were working in Germany, of whom 5 million were civilians and the remainder prisoners of war. This book should be read not only by historians of Germany but also by students of modern and contemporary Europe more generally, especially given current interest in immigration and the complexities of immigrant integration into relatively homogeneous European societies.
Stephen L. Harp University of Akron
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|Author:||Harp, Stephen L.|
|Publication:||Journal of Social History|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 1998|
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