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After 1945 - Background Information

After the war the forced laborers became “forgotten victims”.

Despite the ruling handed down in the Nuremberg Trials, Nazi forced labor was characterized by West German policy and courts as a common concomitant phenomenon of war and occupiers’ domination and so rarely taken into account and not recognized as a specific Nazi crime. Non-German victims had no voice in post-war Germany.

Liberation and Homecoming

After their liberation, the forced laborers deported to Germany lived in camps as displaced persons and waited for their repatriation to their home countries or to the West. For many, particularly for Soviet forced laborers, 1945 was not yet the end to their suffering. At home, they were suspected across the board of collaborating with the Germans; some disappeared in Stalinist camps. Most of the survivors, especially those in old age, still suffered from the psychological and physical consequences of the “Totaleinsatz” (total appointment order). They live today in many Eastern European countries on the verge of the existence minimum.

Forgotten Camps

The camps, too, have become “forgotten camps”. The barracks were cleared away or continued to be used after the war as housing for refugees or “guest workers”. For example, the Red Army built new special camps in Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald and a barrack in Ravensbrück. Dachau was used by the US army; the site of the former concentration camp Neuengamme near Hamburg was used as a prison. Many camps were used for commercial purposes up into the 1990s, for instance, the forced labor camp Berlin-Schöneweide or the prisoner-of-war camp Sandbostel.

Places of remembrance and Initiatives

Although shortly after 1945 in several places, especially in cemeteries, the first memorials for Nazi victims were built, most of them are without specific reference to the former forced laborers. Not until the 1980s did numerous local remembrance initiatives begin to create awareness about the ubiquity of the camps and the individual fates of the forced laborers in the German war society.

Everywhere studies were being done, traces searched for, and encounters with contemporary witnesses undertaken, often with the dismissal of the local and university establishment. Motivated by national remembrance debates, an extensive network of local and regional places of memory is being created, to name a few examples, the “Neue Wache” in Berlin, redesigned in 1993 under Helmut Kohl; the Central Holocaust Memorial inaugurated in 2005; or the compensation for former forced laborers. The forced laborers could then gradually come forth and leave behind their status as “forgotten victims”. 

Further Information