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Zwangsarbeit

Project Team 
„Foreign Forced Labour in Nazi Berlin“

Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt

 

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Since the 1993 ‘discovery’ of the last of more than 700 Berlin camps, a Berlin History Workshop project team investigates the history of foreign forced labour in Berlin and Brandenburg during the Second World War. In 1995 a small open-air exhibition at the Niederschöneweide camp displayed the first research results. Through public commemorative events, press releases and lobbying activities we managed to prevent the demolition of the camp and achieved the barracks’ preservation as a historical monument. Our second aim, however, the setting up of a memorial, information and documentation centre on the history of forced labour in Nazi Germany is still being blocked by the authorities.

Apart from these local activities, we collected literature, cooperated with researchers, with local initiatives founded in many German cities and with former victims and their associations, notably in Holland, Poland, the Czech republic and the former Soviet Union. Dutch survivors gave us their photos and organized commemorative ceremonies with us.

We succeeded in helping the Association of Former Czech Slave Workers in Germany (Svaz Nucene Nasazenych) to show its well documented and illustrated exhibition in a German version in Berlin. For the first time, in 1995 the former victims had the possibility to tell and express their history and experience in Germany themselves.

With the help of other similar organisations we asked Czech, Polish, Ucrainian and Belorussian former forced labourers to tell us about their experiences in war-time Berlin. An unexpected wave of letters - often with photos – reached us between 1997 and 1999 and showed the survivors’ great interest in our work and their enormous expectations that are difficult to fulfil for a small research team. The process of systematisation, analysis and interpretation of this testimonies is still underway. Some selected letters have been published. Meanwhile, first approaches and provisional interpretations of these letters and photos as a historical source have been presented at various conferences; some detailed analyses of various aspects have also been published.

Today, many former forced labourers want to visit the places of their suffering again. For some small groups of them, Berlin History Workshop organized programmes of encounter, commemoration and searching for traces in and around Berlin.

The long-running debate about financial compensation for forced labourers has triggered growing interest into lists of companies that exploited foreign workers during World War II. For the American Jewish Committee, we tried to put up a list of companies. All questions about this list must be directed to the AJC.

Furthermore, we are intensifying our cooperation with other groups and initiatives in Berlin and elsewhere to enhance research and pressure for a faster compensation process.

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