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Important Terms for Nazi Forced Labor

Important terms for Nazi forced labor are explained here.  Further explanations (in German) can be found in the glossary of the educational software “Video Testimonies for School Education”.

Forced Labor ("Zwangsarbeit")

Work that an individual is forced to do against his will and under threat of penalty. Forced labor under the Nazi regime refers particularly to the abduction and exploitation of more than twelve million foreign concentration camp prisoners, POWs and foreign civilian workers in Germany. Forced labor also occurred in ghettos, labor education camps and other camps throughout occupied Europe and affected in total approximately twenty million people. German Jews and German prisoners also performed forced labor. In addition, in many occupied countries the general civilian population was required to perform compulsory labor. This labor should be differentiated from the work duties of the German population (Reich Labor Service, service obligation, country year), which took place under very different conditions.

Foreign Workers ("Fremdarbeiter")

Common term for foreign civilian slave laborers in Nazi Germany. However, the term foreign workers ("Fremdarbeiter") obscures the compulsory nature of the work. Even the initially voluntary foreign workers, i.e. those who came to Germany out of economic necessity, were later not allowed to leave their jobs. Although the expression foreign workers is rarely found in original sources, its use became more widespread after 1945 in order to distinguish the Nazi use of foreign labor from the guest workers ("Gastarbeiter") program of the Federal Republic. In political debates, migrant workers are still occasionally referred to as "Fremdarbeiter".

Non-Germans ("Fremdvölkische")

Nazi term for people who were not of Germanic origin and who therefore did not count as part of the national community. All foreigners who did not come from Germanic countries such as the Netherlands or Scandinavia were considered non-German ("fremdvölkisch"). Slavs were considered particularly racially inferior. At the bottom of the Nazi racial hierarchy were Jews, Roma and people of color; they were considered “fremdvölkisch” even if they were German.

Slave Laborers ("Sklavenarbeiter")

Modern term for workers completely deprived of their rights, particularly inmates of concentration camps. Although the term slave laborers was used at the Nuremburg trials for anyone who had been abducted and forced to work under the Reich, in the compensation debates of the 1990s it was used only to describe groups of concentration camp prisoners who had been forced by the SS to work at either private and public companies and had been extremely exploited (extermination through work). The comparison of Nazi forced labor with slavery in other eras that this term suggests is considered controversial. more »

Civilian Workers ("Zivilarbeiter")

Modern term for forced laborers who were not prisoners of war or concentration camp inmates. In the summer of 1944, there were about 5.7 million civilian foreign workers in the German Reich. They were employed by private companies, government agencies, farmers and families who also provided them with accommodation and kept them under surveillance. POWs, however, were under the control of the Wehrmacht, while concentration camp prisoners were under the SS.

Eastern Workers ("Ostarbeiter")

Nazi term for civilian workers from the occupied territories of the Soviet Union. After the initial recruitment of volunteers, there soon followed the forcible deportation of 2.1 million Soviet men and women to Germany. The Eastern workers had to wear discriminatory "OST” badges and were usually housed in special camps and treated far worse than forced laborers from other countries. After liberation, many of them were discriminated against in the Soviet Union and persecuted for their alleged collaboration. more »