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Transnational perspective on forced labor

Forced labor in the historical context and from a transnational perspective: in August 2016 young educators from Germany and South Korea met at the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Center in Berlin to discuss this topic. Akim Jah, Research Associate in the Pedagogy and Education Branch of the International Tracing Service ITS, presented the institution and its documentary holdings on forced labor. He also showed how to use the documentation in educational contexts.

The exchange of ideas about new teaching practices on the subject of forced labor before and during World War II was the focus of the seminar ‟Forced Labor during World War II as a Transnational Phenomenon / German-South Korean Seminar for Educators”. The second half of this two-part seminar, jointly organized by the Nazi Forced Labor Documentation Center in Schöneweide and Sogang University, Seoul, will take place at the beginning of April 2017 in South Korea. In addition to didactic issues, the seminar aimed at developing a deeper understanding of forced labor from a transnational perspective and encouraging the 16 participants to initiate joint transnational partner projects.

Up until the Nazi surrender, some 13 million people from all across Europe had to do forced labor in the ‟German Reich” and on German occupied territories. With the brutal and systemic exploitation of forced laborers the National Socialists managed to keep a semblance of an economy running, from food supplies through to armaments production. It wasn’t until many decades later that the public began reassessing these mass crimes, a process that finally enabled the victims to receive compensation. For many years, South Korea, too, had been silent about the crimes of the Japanese Army, about forced labor and the so-called ‟comfort women”. Prior to and during World War II thousands of girls and young women had been abducted to work in Japanese war brothels and forced into sexual slavery.

As an invited speaker, Akim Jah from the ITS addressed the subject of forced labor during the National Socialist era, and gave an overview of the extensive forced labor holdings in the ITS archive, including, among others: workbooks, medical files, insurance papers as well as information from authorities, health insurance companies and employers. Until very recently the ITS had made efforts to acquire documents of this nature, thereby expanding the archive. Within the compensation program for forced laborers launched by the German state in 2001 and continued until 2007, the ITS received hundreds of thousands of inquiries, and used the above-mentioned documents to issue certificates on the fates of former victims of deportation and exploitation. The talk in Schöneweide was followed by a workshop that acquainted the participants with specially chosen documents from the ITS. Guided by learning impulses, they scrutinized the different aspects of forced labor the documents shed light on.