Forced labour in the rural district of Wolfenbüttel
For four days, Siegfried Berneis has searched in the archives of the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for the names of forced and civilian labourers who had been employed in the joint community of Schladen located in the rural district of Wolfenbüttel during the Second World War. His tracing endeavour was supported and accompanied by Peter Asmussen who has paid visit to the archives for the third time already. “My intention is to historically appraise the era of National Socialism from my home town’s perspective“, so Berneis. “Many pieces of information from this period have not been dug up; if they are brought to daylight, all the various pieces of the jigsaw puzzle just need to be joined together.”
Having had in-job training in a machine factory in Schladen when he was a young man, Berneis has known for a long time that the works had employed many forced and civilian workers during the Nazi reign. “It was not just that the “Reichswerke Hermann Göring” were located nearby”, he reports, “but the whole region made a name for itself with armaments’ industry.” He did not probe into the subject at the time, though.
Following up on the interest he showed as an adolescent now, the researcher seeks to find answers to questions such as: Where and how many foreign labourers were employed in the joint community in general and in his former training place in particular? “To cast light on this subject, I have started looking through the registration lists of the ‘Allgemeine Ortskrankenkasse’ (public health insurance scheme),” explains Berneis, “and I could put down approximately 400 names of former forced and civilian labourers of various nationalities.”
In the course of his research activities, he realized that the machine factory mentioned had not been the only profiteer by forced labour in his home region. Even a gardener growing seeds, some manors, sugar refineries, farms and the gravel pit of the “Reichswerke Hermann Göring” had exploited the cheap workers. “This is a most ramified and labour-intensive subject”, he stated during his visit. Berneis is sceptical about people claiming that they actually did not know anything about this. “I surely will come and see the ITS quite often”, prognosticates the researcher.
Asmussen had investigated the subject of “Gestapo Lüneburg” at the ITS in the past acting on behalf of the Lüneburg “Vereinigung der Verfolgten des Naziregimes, Bund der Antifaschistinnen und Antifaschisten VVN-BdA” (Society of People Persecuted by the Nazi Regime – Federation of Anti-Fascists). That association has decided to affix to the Regional Court Prison a plate in memory of the more than 2,000 prisoners the Gestapo had kept there in protective custody. Making sure that all data are accurate, Asmussen has re-traced certain prisoners’ fates. “I am still uncertain whether some internees were murdered in labour reform camps, in concentration camps or by the Gestapo directly”, says Asmussen. “Making use of the ITS documentation helps me in my attempt to gain certainty on their fate.”