Module H: Dimensions of Forced Labour between 1933 and 1945 and Compensation Practices in Germany after the War

Christian Hartz


Target groups
Trainees and employees in public administration, armed forces personnel, information disseminators, advanced secondary school pupils, higher education students as well as teachers and participants of history courses


Themes and goals
In this module, we discuss the dimensions and economic benefits of forced labour under the Nazis and look at the practice in Germany of compensating former forced labourers.


We begin the seminar by looking at forced labour in relation to society as a whole and in the context of the economic situation during the Nazi era. In our exploration of the dimensions of forced labour and its economic benefits, we discuss themes which often play only a minor role in history lessons, but which still are of key importance for understanding the Nazi regime. We discuss the deployment of roughly 14 million forced labourers and several million POWs within the territory of the German Reich as well as the widespread involvement of society, public administration, companies, the armed forces and Nazi organisations in the Third Reich. As examples, we look at the private armaments factories located on the grounds of the Neuengamme concentration camp as well as the satellite camps built by companies on their own grounds.


In this module, the following questions are analysed:

  • How many forced labourers were there under the Nazis?
  • How were they recruited?
  • Where were they deployed?
  • What kind of work were they forced to do?
  • To what extent was their deployment based on economic rationality?
  • What were the conditions of their daily lives?


The goal of this seminar module is to teach participants just how dependent the Nazi regime was on forced labour. We also shed light on the dimensions of forced labour by looking at the number of people deported to Nazi Germany for forced labour purposes and the areas where they were deployed.


We also discuss the Federal Republic of Germany’s practice of compensation, particularly for forced labour, and ask the following questions: 

  • How did the treatment of different groups of victims change over time in West Germany?
  • What stages can we identify in history?


After the Treaty on the Final Settlement with Respect to Germany (the so-called Two Plus Four Agreement) and the subsequent German reunification had resulted in a peace treaty between Germany and the former Allies, a number of compensation claims were filed against Germany and German companies. One important result of this was the compensation of former forced labourers through the newly established foundation Remembrance, Responsibility and Future (Erinnerung, Verantwortung und Zukunft). We discuss the difficulties and shortcomings of compensation for the many different groups of victims who had to compete with each other because they were not treated equally by the authorities in charge of compensation. The goal of the module is to engage participants in an investigation of the different interests of those involved. If desired, we can also talk about the special interests and working methods of the institutions involved in matters of compensation.