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Child Forced Labour under Nazi reign

Over the past week, Professor Johannes-Dieter Steinert was carrying out research into the subject of “Child Forced Labour in National Socialist Germany and German occupied Eastern Europe from 1939 to 1945” at the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen. For two years, the Professor for Contemporary European History and Migration Studies at Wolverhampton University has been gathering information for his book. At the ITS, he scrutinized among others documents originating from the camps of Lebrechtsdorf (Potulice) and Litzmannstadt (Łódź).

“For my research project, I intend to make use of and evaluate a wide range of official documents and former juvenile forced labourers’ testimonies in National Socialist Germany, but in particular in Eastern Europe”, reports Steinert. The forced labour accomplished by Polish, Jewish and other children of so-called “minor or inferior race” was an instrument of National Socialist policy during World War II.

Children and adolescents were compelled to work under inhumane conditions in industry, agriculture and the construction trade. Often, they were not fed for days and stayed in shacks without sanitary fittings, beds or ovens. “My research project aims to assess the total number of children and juveniles, their age and sex, their ethnic, national and regional origins, and the geographical and professional areas of their employment,” relates Professor Steinert. “Special consideration will be given to the working and living conditions of these adolescents, their treatment by employers, colleagues, the civil population and other forced labourers.”

Another important focus of Steinert’s research is the question how people deal with traumatising experience after having been liberated. Survivors have come to terms with the memory they have of forced and slave labour in manifold ways. “Jewish children often remember completely different things than non-Jewish children, they find it especially important to look back at their family unit,” so Steinert’s experience.

At the ITS, the historian viewed and examined correspondence, lists of names, general information on camps and correspondence files. “There is much material available at the ITS that is helpful for my work, such as compilations from the so-called “Umwandererlager” (migrants’ camp) Lebrechtsdorf, or the Litzmannstadt camp housing juvenile Poles. These records yielded new details for my research,” concludes the 54 years-old Professor.