Is the Czech Republic a forgotten country
Forgotten places of forced labor in the Czech Republic
“We are investigating the places of forced labor not only in the area of the Protectorate, but also in the border areas. It's a bit difficult to define what forced labor is. All people in the Protectorate have been obliged to work since 1940. The forms of forced labor associated with camp accommodation and guarding primarily affected the ethnic minorities, Jews and Roma, especially at the beginning of the war. Later on, the pressure on the Czech population also increased. There were the famous dispatches or the so-called imperial deployment, with entire years being sent to the German Reich for forced labor. There were also forms in which, for example, Czechs who lived in the Protectorate area drove to the Sudetengau for forced labor as day commuters and back again in the evening. And of course there are forms of forced labor where we are not entirely sure of the definition: In 1944, 150,000 people worked in Prague's industry for the German war industry. They all had to work, the majority of course lived at home, but there were collective shelters for workers in Prague too. "You speak of the general duty to work in the Protectorate since 1940. Did this also apply in other countries that were occupied by Nazi Germany?
“The duty to work is a common feature of the whole of Europe occupied by Nazi Germany. The obligation to work existed in occupied France, in occupied Belgium, in the Netherlands, in all of the occupied territories. "
Were these camps in Czech territory intended for Czechs or for foreigners?
"In the border areas we meet a group of around 250,000 people, made up of prisoners of war from western states to the Soviet Union, but also of civilian workers."
“You have to make a distinction. It was forbidden for foreigners to stay on Protectorate territory during World War II. We only find foreigners in the border areas that were ceded to the German Reich in 1938. And there we meet a group of around 250,000 people, made up of prisoners of war from Western countries to the Soviet Union, but also of civilian workers. The degree of coercion always differed depending on the year in which they started to work. Towards the end of the war, the working conditions were tightened, in particular the possibility of terminating the employment contract no longer existed. Originally civilian workers became forced laborers. "
Were these different categories of workers housed together? Did the prisoners of war and the free workers work together?“The respective categories of forced labor were basically housed separately from one another. Accommodation conditions were also different. For French civil workers, for Belgian civil workers, especially for the Dutch-speaking Vlamen, the conditions were easier. In the beginning, they were still able to look for private accommodation, so some of them lived in their own apartments or sublet with German families. East workers - East workers is a term for people from the Soviet Union - and prisoners of war in particular were always housed in camps - separated by nationality. "
So what nationalities lived on the territory of the Czech Republic?“Among the civilian workers, Eastern workers from the Soviet Union are likely to make up the largest group, followed by Poles. Smaller groups are French civil workers, Belgian civil workers, Dutch civil workers. You can also find relatively 'bizarre' groups: I know, for example, of a group of Greek workers who were deployed in Ústí nad Labem / Aussig. And of course there is a third group in addition to the two groups mentioned, civil workers and prisoners of war: prisoners from concentration camps. It is a larger group, 20,000 to 30,000 people, who of course have suffered the worst prison conditions. "
In which areas were the slave laborers employed?
"In agriculture in the Czech border areas, at least one civilian worker or prisoner of war was employed in every German village."
“It depends on the region. It can be assumed that at least one civilian worker or prisoner of war was employed in agriculture in the Czech border areas in every German village. There was a relatively large group of women employed in households as domestic helpers. A classic group for the North Bohemian region, for the Most / Brüx region, are workers in lignite mining, both in the surface and underground. And since 1943, the armaments industry was the main area of work. At that time there were large relocations of factories from bomb-prone regions from Germany to both the Protectorate and the Sudetengau. The entire industry in the Sudetengau and in the Protectorate was converted to war production, and planes, tanks and parts for the V2 were built from Aš / Asch to Český Těšín / Teschen. But wood was also felled for construction work in agriculture. Zyklon B was produced in Kolín. "
"The entire industry in both the Sudetengau and the Protectorate was converted to war production."
So it was a question of camps in which several thousand people lived and worked, as well as individual fates or individuals who worked somewhere in a household or on a farm ...
“For example, it can be a subtenant who has lived and worked on a farm, and in most cases also under relatively humane conditions. But there are also cases of complaints that the farmer behaved badly towards the slave laborers. Of course it goes up to a scale that is infinite. The largest single camp that I know of is the Litoměřice / Leitmeritz subcamp with an occupancy of 9,000 people. The greatest storage density was probably around the construction of a hydrogenation plant near Most / Brüx. Around 35,000 to 45,000 people were employed on these construction sites, 70 to 80 percent of them foreigners. There is talk of entire camp towns. It is documented that the company administration had its own administration department for the warehouses: The company managed 40 warehouses, each of which consisted of several barracks. "For your exhibition you have selected 18 from the many sites of Nazi forced labor that you are presenting as examples. What was the key to making this choice?
“There were basically two keys. On the one hand, we wanted to cover all groups of victims or show their fate. And on the other hand, there were very practical, technical exhibition reasons: for a very large number of cases, for a very large number of places, no image material has survived. With the expulsion of the majority of the German population, especially in the border areas, the snapshots have also been lost or taken away. There are very few records. The border area in particular is a problem both in the Czech perception and in the perception of German authorities and German archives. Siemens, for example, had several branch offices or branches in the Sudeten region, but these branch offices did not appear in the classic Siemens company history. "
"We have stories about a Catalan, about a French, about several Poles, about several Ukrainians, about an Italian."
Do you also document individual fates and individual life stories of the forced laborers?
“When preparing the exhibition, it was very important to us to always give the places faces and stories. These stories that we give back to the places are rarely Czech or German stories. We have stories about a Catalan woman, a French man, several Poles, several Ukrainians, and an Italian. Many of the stories in our exhibition today are told in English because it is the stories of Jews from all over Europe - they are of Jews from all over Europe who, during their time of suffering, are doing forced labor in the Czech Republic for a few weeks, a few months or a few years had to. These interviews were recorded in different archives in the 1980s and 1990s. You hear wonderful English with a wonderful German accent, but also wonderful American with a Polish accent. "Can you name some of the locations presented in the exhibition?
“Actually, I should be able to name all 18 places. We start in the west at Cheb / Eger. One of our favorites is the hamlet of Melm in the Bohemian Forest, in Czech Jelm, which consists of two houses. The region around Karviná / Karwin and Ostrava / Ostrau, which is very far away from Prague's point of view and which has completely changed due to coal mining, especially after 1945, was exciting for us. It is really difficult there to define the place or to find it again because the topography has partly changed. We all know that Most / Brüx in Northern Bohemia was moved or rebuilt in a new place, but the same fate has happened to the town of Karviná, for example. Those were the places that we had a lot of fun, but also a lot of effort. "
The exhibition “Forgotten Places of Forced Labor in the Czech Republic” will be presented in March at the Flossenbürg Memorial. It will then be shown in the Vítkov Memorial in Prague.
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