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March 8, 1940: Polish Decrees

The Poland Decrees, introduced on March 8, 1940, were aimed at the racist discrimination and exploitation of Polish forced laborers.

In the following audio play, three contemporary witnesses tell how the Poland Decrees affected their lives as Polish forced laborers. Kazimierz B. worked at the Henschel aircraft factory in Berlin, Janina Halina G. at AEG in Hennigsdorf, Karol S. in a market garden in Upper Silesia.

8. März 1940: Polen-Erlasse. Ausschnitte aus den Interviews mit Janina Halina G., Kazimierz B. und Karol S. Archiv „Zwangsarbeit 1939-1945", Dauer 09:57 Minuten, Konzept und Schnitt: Ewa Czerwiakowski, Cord Pagenstecher und Tobias Kilgus, © Freie Universität Berlin 2015

The Polish Decrees

During World War II, nearly three million people from Poland were deported to Germany for forced labor. When Heinrich Himmler's Reich Security Main Office issued the so-called Poland Decrees on March 8, 1940, there were already nearly one million Polish forced laborers in Germany. The purpose of the decrees was the economic exploitation and racial exclusion of the Poles from the German "Volksgemeinschaft".

This was served by the compulsory marking with the letter "P" on clothing, the first visible stigmatization of people in the Reich. In addition, there were prohibitions. The Polish forced laborers were not allowed to leave their assigned place of residence, they were not allowed to use public transportation, and they were forbidden to go out in the evenings. In some places, they were even forbidden to enter certain streets. They were not allowed to visit churches, restaurants, cinemas, theaters or cultural events.

Rigorous regulations governed labor relations. Polish forced laborers received less rations than Germans and other foreigners. A special tax was deducted from their small wages. They were not subject to criminal justice, but directly to the Gestapo. Without a solid reason, they could be sent to a so-called labor education camp as punishment.

All private contacts between Germans and Poles were forbidden. Intimate relationships not infrequently ended in concentration camp imprisonment for the women from Poland and even the death penalty for the men. The number of those executed for "the crime of love" has not been researched to this day. For Upper Palatinate and Lower Bavaria alone, 22 such cases have been proven.

The Polish decrees were binding for employers and local authorities. The NSDAP and its party comrades propagated racist attitudes among the German population. Poles were treated accordingly: as inferior human beings reduced to mere labor. Their daily experience included humiliation, fear and hunger.

Biographical Data

Kazimierz B.

  • born in 1926 in Stęszew (Poland)
  • until 1939 elementary school in Poznań
  • 1939 father's escape to the Generalgouvernement
  • 1941 Forced training in a metal factory in Poznań
  • 1942-1945 Forced labor at Henschel aircraft factory in Berlin-Johannisthal, then in Berlin-Schönefeld
  • 1945 Liberation and return to Poland
  • New start in the former German town of Sulechów
  • Marriage, birth of children
  • Further education and work in a socialist cooperative
  • Move to Olsztyn and professional advancement
  • from 1990 activity in the "Association of Poles Damaged by the Third Reich
  • Interview za186 »
  • Duration: 3h 34 min, Date: 3.7.2005, Language: polish

Janina Halina G.

  • born in 1926 in Łódź (Poland)
  • until 1939 attendance of elementary school and entrance examination for commercial high school
  • 1941 to 1943 work as a minor in Łódź.
  • 1943-1945: deportation and work in an AEG armaments factory in Hennigsdorf near Berlin
  • 1945 brief arrest for helping concentration camp prisoners
  • April 1945 liberation and return home
  • Studies and work as managing director
  • 1987 to 1993 work in the "Association of Poles Damaged by the Third Reich
  • 1995 visited Berlin and Hennigsdorf
  • 2014 died in Łódź

Karol S.

  • 1924 born near Oświęcim (Poland)
  • until 1939 elementary school and start of training as gardener
  • January 1941 deportation for forced labor
  • until 1945 work as a gardener in Reigesfeld (today Polish Bierawa) in Upper Silesia
  • March 1945 liberation and return home to Oświęcim
  • Catching up on education
  • 1948 marriage, birth of children
  • Work as an agricultural teacher, then in the administration of the Oświęcim Chemical Works.
  • 1980 co-founded the trade union "Solidarność"
  • 1984 retired 
  • Interview za235 »
  • Duration: 2h 14min, Date: 15.8.2005, Language: polish