What happened to the foreigners in Germany during the Nazis?

What happened to the foreigners in Germany during the Nazis?

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What was Hitler's plan for foreign nationals of countries not in war against Germany (including the US before entering the war) and living there during the III Reich?

You are asking several questions in your post and the subject line which have to be answered separately:

  • What was the plan for foreigners?
  • What actually happened to them?
  • Did it matter if they were from friendly, hostile, or neutral countries?

The Nazi goal was a world ruled by so-called 'germanic races', with some so-called 'lesser' races put in subservient positions and others exterminated.

As it happened, some so-called 'germanic' nations fought against Germany and were occupied (Netherlands, Belgium, Norway) while so-called 'lesser' nations allied with Germany (Spain, Italy, Japan, Romania, Bulgaria,… ). People from occupied countries also had to make their individual choice to collaborate or resist.

Desperate for manpower, the Nazis actively tried to recruit helpers in the east, despite the fact that these were from 'lesser' races according to the Nazi worldview. They despised these men, but they used them. One cannot know what their fate would have been in case of a Nazi victory, a cruel death or a somewhat honored position?

By comparison, Dutch citizens could get German cizitenship (and a conscription notice) if they lived in Germany. The same applied to Polish and other citizens of German ancestry after the occupation.

There were even a few veterans of the African colonial auxiliary forces in Germany, the Nazis really didn't know what to make of them. Celebrity or dangerous precedent?

Jews in Nazi Germany

The Jews in Nazi Germany suffered appallingly after January 1933.Some rich Jews could afford to leave Nazi Germany (or were forced to) but many could not. Thugs in the SA and SS were given a free hand in their treatment of the Jews. The Jews were frequently referred to in “Mein Kampf” and Hitler had made plain his hated for them. References to the “filthy Jew” litter the book. In one section, Hitler wrote about how the Jews planned to “contaminate” the blood of pure Germans:

“The Jewish youth lies in wait for hours on end…….spying on the unsuspicious German girl he plans to seduce……….He wants to contaminate her blood and remove her from the bosom of her own people. The Jew hates the white race and wants to lower its cultural level so that the Jews might dominate.” “Was there any form of filth or crime…without at least one Jew involved in it. If you cut even cautiously into such a sore, you find like a maggot in a rotting body, often dazzled by the sudden light – a Jew.”

In 1920, Hitler announced to the very small Nazi Party the Five Points of national Socialism. One of these stated:

“None but members of the nation may be citizens of the State. None but those of German blood may be members of the nation. No Jew, therefore, may be a member of the nation.”

Early on in his political career, Hitler continued with his anti-Semitism:

“His is no master people he is an exploiter: the Jews are a people of robbers. He has never founded any civilisation, though he has destroyed civilisations by the hundred…everything he has stolen. Foreign people, foreign workmen build him his temples, it is foreigners who create and work for him, it is foreigners who shed their blood for him.” Speech given in Munich in July 1922.

Once in power, Hitler used his position to launch a campaign against the Jews that culminated in the Holocaust.

Hitler blamed the Jews for all the misfortunes that had befallen Germany

the loss of the First World War was the result of a Jewish conspiracy

the Treaty of Versailles was also a Jewish conspiracy designed to bring Germany to her knees

the hyperinflation of 1923 was the result of an international Jewish attempt to destroy Germany

During the time when Weimar Germany was seemingly recovering under Stresseman, what Hitler said about the Jews remained nonsense listened to by only the few – hence his poor showing at elections prior to the 1929 Depression. During the impact of the Great Depression, though, when people became unemployed and all looked helpless, Hitler’s search for a scapegoat proved a lot more fruitful.

After January 1933, the Jews became the “Untermenschen” – the sub-humans. Nazi thugs stopped Germans from shopping in Jewish shops. By 1934, all Jewish shops were marked with the yellow Star of David or had the word “Juden” written on the window. SA men stood outside the shops to deter anyone from entering. This was not necessarily a violent approach to the Jews – that was to come later – but it was an attempt to economically bankrupt them and destroy what they had spent years building up.

On buses, trains and park benches, Jews had to sit on seats marked for them. Children at schools were taught specifically anti-Semitic ideas. Jewish school children were openly ridiculed by teachers and the bullying of Jews in the playground by other pupils went unpunished. If the Jewish children responded by not wanting to go to school, then that served a purpose in itself and it also gave the Nazi propagandists a reason to peddle the lie that Jewish children were inherently lazy and could not be bothered to go to school.

In 1935, the Nuremberg Laws were passed. The Jews lost their right to be German citizens and marriage between Jews and non-Jews was forbidden. It was after this law that the violence against the Jew really openly started. Those that could pay a fine were allowed to leave the country. Many could not and many shops refused to sell food to those who remained. Medicines were also difficult to get hold of as chemists would not sell to Jews.

The campaign against the Jews stopped for a short duration during the Berlin Olympics – but once the overseas press had gone, it started up again. It reached a pre-war peak in 1938 with Krystalnacht – The Night of the Broken Glass.

In November 1938, a Nazi ‘diplomat’ was shot dead by a Jew in Paris. Hitler ordered a seven day campaign of terror against the Jews in Germany to be organised by Himmler and the SS. On the 10th November, the campaign started. 10,000 shops owned by Jews were destroyed and their contents stolen. Homes and synagogues were set on fire and left to burn. The fire brigades showed their loyalty to Hitler by assuming that the buildings would burn down anyway, so why try to prevent it? A huge amount of damage was done to Jewish property but the Jewish community was ordered to pay a one billion mark fine to pay for the eventual clear-up. Jews were forced to scrub the streets clean.

Clearing up after Crystal Night

The Second World War – and the chaos this brought – gave Hitler even more freedom to bring death and destruction to Jewish communities throughout Europe.

Historians are still divided over whether the Germans supported these Nazi actions or whether fear made them turn a blind eye. In the immediate aftermath of Krystalnacht, an anonymous German wrote to the British Consul in Cologne stating that “The German people have nothing whatsoever to do with these riots and burnings.” Christopher Isherwood, a British writer living in Germany, witnessed the arrest of a Jew in a cafe by the SA where everybody simply looked away – but to create a scene would have provoked a violent response from those doing the arresting. The fear of the concentration camps was such that most felt compelled to remain silent despite the fact that they did not approve of what was going on.

What History Didn’t Tell Us about the Nazi “Super Baby” Breeding Program

If there was one subject that could ever truly capture my attention at school, it was the monster story that was Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime. I’ve admittedly always been a ‘bad reader’, but outside of class I devoured books on the war as a teenager and still to this day, there seems to be no end to its disturbing secrets buried beneath history’s hidden rocks. Today, I fell into another dark pool of World War II’s repressed footnotes by discovering the details of the Lebensborn breeding program … a story that I would only recommend for those who, like myself, have that insuppressible desire to learn history’s most uncomfortable truths.

Lebensborn, meaning “fount of life” was an SS-initiated program that encouraged anonymous births by unmarried “racially pure” women who were selected to breed with Nazi officers and secure the future of a “super race” for the German Reich. The program expanded into several Nazi occupied countries including Norway, France and Belgium, resulting in a shameful post-war ostracism of surviving Lebensborn mothers and the mistreatment of their displaced children across Europe after Germany lost the war.

Frida Lyngstad of ABBA was a survivor of the Lebensborn

An estimated 8,000 children were born in Lebensborn institutions in Germany, up to 12,000 children in Norway and countless others across occupied countries where “super babies” had been selected become part of the German master race. The most famous of the surviving Lebensborn children is Frida Lyngstad of the iconic Swedish pop band, ABBA (pictured third from left).

With their blue eyes and blond hair, Norweigans were regarded by the Nazi regime as especially Aryan. Heinrich Himmler, the head of the SS and the creator of the Lebensborn, favoured Norwegian women for his perverted program and set up the majority of its institutions in Nazi occupied Norway.

To counteract falling birth rates in Germany, and to promote Nazi eugenics, leaders of the League of German Girls were also instructed to recruit young women with the potential to become good breeding partners for SS officers.

Young women who could prove their Aryan ancestry were given incentives for bearing Aryan children, including financial support and privileged treatment in maternity homes. For many Norwegian women, it became a survival strategy during the war, when their country was one of the poorest places in Europe. At a time when abortion was illegal, they could also have the option of leaving or donating their children in the Lebensborn’s special homes, where the child would receive special nutrition and an upbringing and education which reflected the Nazi way of thinking. The Iron Cross award was given to the women who bore the most aryan children.

Due to destruction and widespread cover-up of Lebensborn records, it cannot be confirmed whether young girls were forced to mate with Nazi officers, despite strong suggestion that they were (sexual assault was almost official policy within the Third Reich). The program was undoubtedly however, a system of supervised selective breeding, and recently discovered records show that “some SS men did sire children in Himmler’s Lebensborn program”.

Just to remind us, I took the liberty of pulling up the definition of ‘sire’ : the male parent of an animal, especially a stallion or bull kept for breeding.

In 1939, membership of the Lebensborn stood at 8,000, of which 3,500 were SS leaders.

Heinrich Himmler pictured with his daughter in 1938 in Berlin. (AP-Photo)

On 13 September 1936, Heinrich Himmler had written the following to members of the SS:

The organisation “Lebensborn e.V.” serves the SS leaders in the selection and adoption of qualified children. The organisation “Lebensborn e.V.” is under my personal direction, is part of the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, and has the following obligations:

1. Support racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable families with many children. 2. Placement and care of racially, biologically and hereditarily valuable pregnant women, who, after thorough examination of their and the progenitor’s families by the Race and Settlement Central Bureau of the SS, can be expected to produce equally valuable children. 3. Care for the children. 4. Care for the children’s mothers.

It is the honorable duty of all leaders of the central bureau to become members of the organisation “Lebensborn e.V.”. The application for admission must be filed prior to 23 September 1936.

Relationships between German soldiers and Nordic women in occupied countries were strongly encouraged, provided both parents were proven to be “racially valuable”. The program also accepted women of Aryan descent who were already pregnant or had already given birth and were in need of aid. About 60% of the mothers were unmarried and the Lebensborn allowed them to give birth secretly away from home without social stigma. In most of these cases, the mothers agreed to adoption, but not all were informed that their children would be sent abroad to Germany.

One of the Lebensborn institutions

The first of more than 20 Lebensborn homes opened in 1936, in a tiny village near Munich in 1941, the first institution abroad was opened in Norway.

A Lebensborn house in France

In northern France, a home was opened in the town of Lamorlaye in 1944 where an estimated 200 children were born. The building (pictured above) now houses a branch of the Red Cross. The Lebensborn facilities included an on-site orphanage and offered adoption services. They were often established in confiscated houses and former nursing homes owned by Jews.

While the program initially excluded children born to foreign women and common (non-SS) soldiers for reasons of racial purity, the Lebensborn later expanded into countries with Germanic populations where parents and children were usually examined by SS doctors before admission. But in an even darker twist to the Lebensborn program, the strict requirements of racial purity were practically abandoned altogether by Heinrich Himmler when he took his mission to unimaginable extremes…

In 1939, under Himmler’s direction, Nazis began kidnapping thousands of children regarded as “Aryan-looking” from foreign countries, most notably Poland and Yugoslavia, but also from Russia, Ukraine, Czechoslovakia, Romania, Estonia, Latvia, and Norway – for the Lebensborn program.

Himmler reportedly said, “It is our duty to take [the children] with us to remove them from their environment… either we win over any good blood that we can use for ourselves and give it a place in our people or we destroy this blood”.

The policy of the Lebensraum had essentially given birth to the Nazi ideology of German expansionism and the regime’s plan for the genocide and ethnic cleansing on a vast scale. This was the real crime of Lebensborn, a seemingly helpful, almost innocent welfare solution for struggling women. How easily evil can disguise itself…

A Nazi nurse shares the light rays as scientists try vainly to lighten the hair coloring of Super Race children

An estimated 200,000 children were stolen from their parents in Poland, Russia and several Eastern European regions for the purpose of ‘Germanization’. They were categorised into groups from the “most desirable” to the least Aryan-looking. If they couldn’t be of use to help build Hitler’s master race, they were discarded and sent off to concentration camps. If a child was considered “acceptable” they would begin indoctrination, spending time at ‘re-education camps’ before being fostered out to German families or boarding schools where they could become culturally German. They were given new German names and forced to forget their birth parents and ancestry. Any children who fought against their indoctrination or resisted, met a tragic fate.

All records of these mass kidnappings were destroyed in the final stages of the war, which made it near impossible to locate and identify children or even know exactly how many were taken. The Polish government has claimed that less than 15% of 10,000 children were returned to their biological parents.

Of the Norwegian children that were born into or indoctrinated under the Lebensborn program, the Norwegian government was able to recover all but 80 after the war. Local communities who had lived in starvation for most of the occupation, sought revenge on both the mothers and children of the Nazi maternity homes where members had received the best treatment available.

The press reported on the unusually well-fed “super babies” that had received two baths a day. Lebensborn mothers were publicly beaten, shamed, ostracized and often sentenced to slave labour. The “superior” children who had effectively become German under the Third Reich’s program, were considered outcasts and placed in orphanages or even in insane asylums where they would be relentlessly bullied and abused. The Norwegian government itself even attempted (unsuccessfully) to deport the Lebensborn children to Germany, Brazil, and Australia.

Sweden took in several hundred unwanted children from Norway, including future ABBA singer Anni-Frid Lyngstad, whose father was a German sergeant. Her widowed Norwegian mother escaped persecution after the war and took Anni-Frid to Sweden, where their personal history could not be traced.

In 2008, a group of survivors brought a case before the European Court of Human Rights to fight the Norwegian government into admitting complicity in their mistreatment, revealing shameful details of the program’s aftermath. The case was dismissed with a compensation offering of £8,000 from the Norwegian government.

Associations have since been formed to help survivors identify their origins through documents administered by the International Tracing Service and the German Federal Archives.

There are so many facets of war that have been under-reported, swept under the carpet and left out of the history books, in large part due to the fact that we find them uncomfortable to talk about. I consider this sort of taboo historical knowledge as further education a most fundamental one, that can help us identify dangerous patterns in society and recognise early on when history might be dangerously close to repeating itself.

A good part of the treasure still missing

According to Joseph Goebbels, the head of Hitler’s propaganda, guilty of placing the national treasure in the hands of the Allies was Funk’s “criminal negligence in office.” The Führer had approved the initiative to evacuate the remaining reserves. In fact, the author of the plan had been the officer in charge of his personal guard, a police colonel named Friedrich Josef Rauch.

He suggested that 6.83% of the official gold reserves remaining in the Reichsbank was sent to Bavaria for shelter. The gold ingots and coins to be sent would have been worth $ 150 million today.

Over the next few months, Allied bombing disrupted communications, and individual initiatives created a complicated scenario that was never satisfactorily elucidated. The currency was loaded into two trains, while a convoy of trucks was prepared to carry the gold ingots and coins.

In the chaos of a crumbling empire, trains took two weeks to travel the 800-kilometer route to Munich. Along the way, Dr. Funk’s colleague Hans Alfred von Rosenberg-Lipinski ordered that the bags of currency be taken from the train and transferred to the convoy of trucks.

Eventually, the trucks took the money, gold coins, ingots, and foreign currency to a small town in the Bavarian Alps, while the trains headed for Munich. Meanwhile, Rosenberg-Lipinski detained a bag of foreign currency and five small crates “for certain reasons.” It is not known what their fate was, but it is possible that, given the imminent collapse of Nazi Germany, the bank official prepared a comfortable future.

Others who were part of the Nazi party or under their service before it’s collapse did the same thing. Trucks loaded with treasure often traversed the wooded Karwendel Mountains to an infantry training camp. As the harassed officers debated where to hide what was left of the nation’s treasury, it appears that Emil Januszewski of the Reichsbank took two gold bars (worth nearly half a million dollars today).

Meanwhile, the rest of the gold reserves had been buried in well-protected hiding places near a small secluded alpine hut known as the Forest House. The banknote currency had been divided into three deposits and hidden on three different mountain tops. Subsequently, the two recovered gold bullion and a large amount of currency ended up in the care of a certain Karl Jacob, a local official.

They’ve never been seen before. Several lower-ranking Nazis involved in hiding the treasure, including distinguished soldiers, apparently did not resist the temptation. Dr. Funk and other prominent Nazi officials were soon arrested by Allied forces, but none testified that they knew where the missing gold reserves were hidden.

Eventually, the U.S. military recovered some of the Reichsbank’s gold worth about $ 14 million, as well as German gold from other government agencies worth $ 41 million, but the Forest House treasure did not. could be found. For four years, U.S. investigators have been trying to solve the mystery, but eventually, had to report that about 3.5 million (46.5 million today) in gold and about 2 million (12 million today) in banknotes were gone without a trace.

The "New Germany" on the Olympic Stage

In August 1936, Germany hosted the summer Olympic Games. The international event gave the Nazis a chance to show the world the “new Germany,” and they took full advantage of the moment. To prevent criticism from foreigners, the signs that read “No Jews Allowed” were taken down and Germans were warned to be respectful of visitors regardless of their “race.”

Americans Charles and Anne Lindbergh were among the visitors to the Olympics. He was a world-famous aviator, the first to fly solo nonstop between the United States and France she was a noted author. The Nazis welcomed the couple with tours of German aircraft facilities and dinners with top officials. In a letter to her mother, Anne described the “shock of seeing in person” the bias in “the strictly puritanical view at home that dictatorships of necessity are wrong, evil, unstable, and no good can come of them, combined with the funny-paper view of Hitler as a clown.” She wrote: “In truth, there is no question of the power, unity, and purposefulness of Germany. It is terrific. I have never in my life been so conscious of such a directed force. It is thrilling when seen manifested in the energy, pride, and morale of the people—especially the young people.” 1

And yet Anne Lindbergh did have some reservations. The unity she admired was in the hands of one man. And she also pointed out a number of things she disliked about the new Germany, including “their treatment of the Jews” and “their brute-force manner.” But on the whole, she insisted that Germany could be “a force for good in the world” if only the world would accept Germany’s new rulers so they could turn “in the right direction.” 2

For the Nazis, the Olympics also presented an opportunity to show the superiority of the “Aryan” race. German athletes won medal after medal at the Olympics. And yet the most admired athlete that year was not a German but an African American. Max von der Grün, who was ten years old that summer, recalled:

Although it was drummed into our heads every day that anything or anyone non-German was completely worthless, a black man became our idol. . . . In the playing field we used to play at being Jesse Owens whoever could jump the farthest or run the fastest or throw some object the greatest distance became Jesse Owens.

When our teachers heard us, they forbade us to play such games, but they never replied to our question of how a black man, a member of an “inferior” race, could manage to be such a consummate athlete. 3

Marion Freyer Wolff was also ten that summer. As a Jew living in Berlin, she was particularly struck by the changes the Olympics brought to Germany:

Hitler was so eager to have them in Germany that he was willing to make some minor compromises: stores and restaurants removed their We Don’t Serve Jews signs for the duration of the event, and Jewish athletes participated in the games. Three Jewish women, representing Hungary, Germany, and Austria, won medals in fencing and received them from the hand of Hitler himself! . . .

The success of the Jewish athletes received no notice in the German press, but nobody could hide the fact that Jesse Owens, the black American sprinter, had earned four gold medals. I wondered how Hitler, who fancied himself a member of the super race, must have felt when he met this “inferior” non-Aryan again and again in the winner’s circle. To the Jewish kids of Berlin, Jesse Owens became an instant idol and morale booster. 4


The banning of the Communist party following the Reichstag fire on 27th February gave the Nazis a clear majority in parliament. The Enabling Act passed in March 1933 gave Hitler the power to make laws without consulting parliament.

During 1933 all political parties other than the Nazi party were banned, membership of the Hitler Youth was made compulsory for all teenagers, local government was taken over by the Nazis and trade unions were banned. The secret police, The Gestapo were also formed. One year later the Night of the Long Knives saw the murder of all SA leaders who disagreed with Hitler’s policies.

Following the death of President Hindenburg in August 1934, Hitler combined the post of Chancellor and President to become Fuhrer of Germany. From this point until the Nazi downfall in 1945 it was Hitler as Dictator rather than the Nazi party that held true power. Members of the Nazi Party retained their positions so long as they remained in the favour of Hitler.

Leading Members of the Nazi Party

  • Adolf Hitler – Fuhrer
  • Rudolph Hess – Deputy leader (captured in 1941)
  • Hermann Goering – Minister for Air, Commander of the Luftwaffe
  • Heinrich Himmler – Head of the SS, Chief of Police
  • Josef Goebels – Propaganda Minister
  • Reinhard Heydrich – Head of the Gestapo (assassinated 1942)
  • Joachim von Ribbentrop – Foreign Minister

Prewar Policy and Pacts

From 1933–1938, Konstantin von Neurath, a conservative career diplomat, served as German foreign minister. During his tenure, Germany followed a revisionist policy aimed at overcoming the restrictions imposed on Germany by the Treaty of Versailles and seizing the diplomatic initiative from Britain and France.

During Neurath’s term, Germany withdrew from the League of Nations signed a nonaggression pact with Poland reacquired the Saar territory through a plebiscite reinstituted the draft and openly rearmed signed a naval pact with Great Britain remilitarized the Rhineland militarily assisted the supporters of Francisco Franco in the Spanish Civil War formed the “Rome-Berlin Axis” coalition with Italy and concluded the Anti-Comintern Pact with Japan.

Radio in Nazi Germany

Radio broadcasts played a major part in the Nazi propaganda machine. In an era before mass television, radio, newspapers and cinema all played their part in putting over to the public Hitler’s messages. Propaganda was placed in the hands of Joseph Goebbels and it was his idea to make cheap radios available to the German public.

Goebbels believed that radio was the most effective way of putting over a message. The public had to leave home to go to the cinema while some simply did not read a newspaper and Goebbels was less confident that newspapers were the perfect form of spreading the message.

“”What the press has been in the Nineteenth Century, radio will be for the Twentieth Century.” (Goebbels)

During the era of Weimar Germany, radio broadcasts had been controlled by the Postmaster General’s office. In March 1933, Goebbels transferred this power to the Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda with himself at the helm. This remained the way until the end of World War Two.

While Goebbels had the final say in radio broadcasts, he placed the day-to-day running of radio broadcasts in the hands of Eugen Hadamowsky who became head of the Chamber of Radio. Hadamowsky was charged with ensuring that German radio fitted into the National Socialist mould and that anyone who was against this stand had to be removed from their position. On August 16 th 1933, Hadamowsky reported to Goebbels about the progress he had made:

“We National Socialists must show enough dynamism and enthusiasm coupled with lightning speed to impress Germany and the whole world. Party comrade Dr. Goebbels ordered me on July 13 th to purge German radio of influence opposed to our cause. I can now report that the work has been thoroughly done.”

Radio broadcasts played home the Nazi ideals – national pride, patriotism, pride in Hitler, Aryan pride etc. All households that possessed a radio had to pay 2 marks a month to cover the cost of radio broadcasting. However, to ensure that all households could have a radio, Goebbels arranged for the production of two cheap types of radios priced at 35 and 72 marks that were known as ‘People’s Receivers’.

Goebbels also used radio broadcasts to spread the word of Nazism abroad. He wanted to convey to the world the idea that Nazism was an acceptable political idea and his first radio broadcasts were performances by some of Germany’s top orchestras and opera singers. Once this approach had bedded down, he introduced a system whereby little messages were broadcast piece by piece – spreading the words of Hitler in a minimalistic way at first. The broadcasts covered all of Western Europe and a huge broadcasting station at Seesen, near Berlin, ensured that broadcasts could be heard around the world. By 1938, shortwave broadcasts were being transmitted 24 hours a day in twelve different languages.

However, Germany was not immune from radio broadcasts from abroad and this proved a real issue for Goebbels in World War Two. Radio transmitters throughout Eastern and Western Europe had been destroyed but this was not so in London. Goebbels knew that it was impossible to know what every household with a radio was listening to. Therefore, true to course, the Nazis made it a treasonable offense to listen to oversees broadcasts. Anyone caught doing so faced a spell in a feared concentration camp and in the first year of the war alone, 1500 Germans were imprisoned for listening to London-based broadcasts.

During the war, Soviet experts found a way of infiltrating the official Nazi transmission system – Deutschlandsender – and interrupting broadcasts with what they claimed was the truth about what was happening in the war. The USSR also broadcast on shortwave a programme that was simply a list of German names – men captured by the Russians and held as POW’s. Listening to such programmes was highly illegal but regardless of the dangers, they were very popular.

Goebbels also used radio to broadcast to the UK during World War Two. The most famous programmes were those done by William Joyce, ‘Lord Haw-Haw’, who always started his broadcasts with “Germany calling, Germany calling”. It was said that anyone listening in the UK would find out more about the war than the UK government was willing to admit to.

ɽisbelief and dismissiveness'

But their story has largely been untold - and it has taken Ms Asante 12 years to get her account of the period on to the big screen.

"Often there's a form of disbelief, of questioning, sometimes even a dismissiveness of the difficult lives these people led," she told the BBC about the reaction she received from some when she spoke about her research for the film.

The African-German community has its origins in the country's short-lived empire. Sailors, servants, students and entertainers from present-day Cameroon, Togo, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Namibia came to Germany.

Once World War One broke out in 1914 this transient population became more settled, according to historian Robbie Aitken. And some African soldiers who fought for Germany in the war also settled there.

But there was a second group whose presence went on to feed into the Nazis' fear of racial mixing.

As part of the treaty that was signed after Germany's defeat in World War One, French troops occupied the Rhineland area of western Germany.

France used at least 20,000 soldiers from its African empire, mainly North and West Africa, to police the area, some of whom went on to have relationships with German women.


Hitler's policy of Lebensraum (room for living) strongly emphasized the conquest of new lands in the East, known as Generalplan Ost, and the exploitation of these lands to provide cheap goods and labour for Germany. Even before the war, Nazi Germany maintained a supply of slave labour. This practice started from the early days of labour camps of "unreliable elements" (German: unzuverlässige Elemente), such as the homeless, homosexuals, criminals, political dissidents, communists, Jews, and anyone whom the regime wanted out of the way. During World War II the Nazis operated several categories of Arbeitslager (labour camps) for different categories of inmates. Prisoners in Nazi labour camps were worked to death on short rations and in bad conditions, or killed if they became unable to work. Many died as a direct result of forced labour under the Nazis. [1]

After the invasion of Poland, Polish Jews over the age of 12 and Poles over the age of 12 living in the General Government were subject to forced labor. [8] Historian Jan Gross estimates that “no more than 15 percent” of Polish workers volunteered to go to work in Germany. [9] In 1942, all non-Germans living in the General Government were subject to forced labor. [10]

The largest number of labour camps held civilians forcibly abducted in the occupied countries (see Łapanka) to provide labour in the German war industry, repair bombed railroads and bridges, or work on farms. Manual labour was a resource in high demand, as much of the work that today would be done with machines was still a manual affair in the 1930s and 1940s – shoveling, material handling, machining, and many others. As the war progressed, the use of slave labour increased massively. Prisoners of war and civilian "undesirables" were brought in from occupied territories. Millions of Jews, Slavs and other conquered peoples were used as slave labourers by German corporations, such as Thyssen, Krupp, IG Farben, Bosch, Daimler-Benz, Demag, Henschel, Junkers, Messerschmitt, Siemens, and even Volkswagen, [11] not to mention the German subsidiaries of foreign firms, such as Fordwerke (a subsidiary of the Ford Motor Company) and Adam Opel AG (a subsidiary of General Motors) among others. [12] Once the war had begun, the foreign subsidiaries were seized and nationalized by the Nazi-controlled German state, and work conditions there deteriorated as they did throughout German industry. About 12 million forced labourers, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in the German war economy inside Nazi Germany throughout the war. [13] The German need for slave labour grew to the point that even children were kidnapped to work in an operation called the Heu-Aktion. More than 2,000 German companies profited from slave labour during the Nazi era, including Deutsche Bank and Siemens. [14]


A class system was created amongst Fremdarbeiter ("foreign workers") brought to Germany to work for the Reich. The system was based on layers of increasingly less privileged workers, starting with well paid workers from Germany's allies or neutral countries to forced labourers from conquered Untermenschen ("sub-humans") populations.

  • Gastarbeitnehmer ("guest workers") – Workers from Germanic and Scandinavian countries, France, Italy, [15] other German allies (Romania, Bulgaria, Hungary), and friendly neutrals (e.g. Spain and Switzerland). This was a very small group only about 1% of foreign workers in Germany came from countries that were neutral or allied to Germany. [1]
  • Zwangsarbeiter (forced workers) – Forced labourers from countries not allied with Germany. This class of workers was broken down into the following designations:
    1. Militärinternierte ("military internees") – Prisoners of war. Geneva Conventions allowed captor nations to force non-officer prisoners of war to work within certain restrictions. For example, almost all Polish non-officer prisoners of war (c. 300,000) were forced to work in Nazi Germany. In 1944, there were almost 2 million prisoners of war employed as forced labourers in Germany. [15] Compared to other foreign workers, the prisoners of war were relatively well-off, especially if they came from western countries that were still at war like the United States or Britain, as the minimum standards of their treatment were mandated by the Geneva Conventions. Their working conditions and well-being were subject to supervision by the International Red Cross and, in cases of mistreatment, retaliation against German prisoners held in the US, Britain and Canada (who were performing similar forced labor) was almost certain. However, the treatment of these workers varied greatly depending on their country of origin, the period, and the specific workplace. In particular, Soviet prisoners of war were treated with utter brutality as Nazis did not consider them subject to protection under the Geneva Conventions, which had not been ratified nor implemented by the Soviet Union.
    2. Zivilarbeiter ("civilian workers") – ethnic Poles from the General Government. [15] They were regulated by strict Polish decrees: they received much lower wages and could not use conveniences such as public transport, or visit many public spaces and businesses (for example they could not visit German church services, swimming pools, or restaurants) they had to work longer hours and were assigned smaller food rations they were subject to a curfew. Poles were routinely denied holidays and had to work seven days a week they could not enter marriage between themselves without a permit they could not possess money or objects of value: bicycles, cameras, or even lighters. They were required to wear a sign: the "Polish P", on their clothing. In 1939, there were about 300,000 Polish Zivilarbeiter in Germany. [1][15] By 1944, their number skyrocketted to about 1.7 million, [15] or 2.8 million by different accounts (approximately 10% of occupied Poland's prisoner workforce). [16] In 1944, there were about 7.6 million foreign so-called civilian workers employed in Germany in total, including POWs from Generalgouvernement and the expanded USSR, [15] with a similar number of workers in this category from other countries. [1]
    3. Ostarbeiter ("Eastern workers") – Soviet and Polish civil workers rounded up primarily in Distrikt Galizien and in Reichskommissariat Ukraine. They were marked with a sign OST ("East"), had to live in camps that were fenced with barbed wire and under guard, and were particularly exposed to the arbitrariness of the Gestapo and the industrial plant guards. Estimates put the number of OST workers between 3 million and 5.5 million. [17][18]

In general, foreign labourers from Western Europe had similar gross earnings and were subject to similar taxation as German workers. In contrast, the central and eastern European forced labourers received at most about one-half the gross earnings paid to German workers and much fewer social benefits. [1] Forced labourers who were prisoners of labour or concentration camps received little if any wage and benefits. [1] The deficiency in net earnings of central and eastern European forced labourers (versus forced labourers from western countries) is illustrated by the wage savings forced labourers were able to transfer to their families at home or abroad (see table).

The Nazis issued a ban on sexual relations between Germans and foreign workers. [19] Repeated efforts were made to propagate Volkstum ("racial consciousness"), to prevent such relations. [20] Pamphlets, for instance, instructed all German women to avoid physical contact with all foreign workers brought to Germany as a danger to their blood. [21] Women who disobeyed were imprisoned. [22] Even fraternization with the workers was regarded as dangerous, and targeted with pamphlet campaigns in 1940–1942. [23] The soldiers in the Wehrmacht and SS officers were exempt from any such restrictions. It is estimated that at least 34,140 Eastern European women apprehended in Łapankas (military kidnapping raids), were forced to serve them as "sex slaves" in German military brothels and camp brothels during the Third Reich. [24] [25] In Warsaw alone, there were five such establishments set up under military guard in September 1942, with over 20 rooms each. Alcohol was not allowed in there, unlike on the western front, and the victims underwent genital checkups once a week. [26]


In the late summer of 1944, German records listed 7.6 million foreign civilian workers and prisoners of war in the German territory, most of whom had been brought there by coercion. [15] By 1944, slave labour made up one quarter of Germany's entire work force, and the majority of German factories had a contingent of prisoners. [15] [27] The Nazis also had plans for the deportation and enslavement of 50% of Britain's adult male population in the event of a successful invasion. [28]



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