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Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

Article about: by A.J. Zawadzki Hi Stefan, yes, very perceptive of you. Definitely the efforts of a left leaning group. You'll quickly spot the less-than-subtle hammer and scythe imagery on the cover: Atta

  1. #51

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    Thanks GFC for this fascinating new (to me) information
    That's what I like most about this forum
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  2. #52

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    Another studio photo-postcard for the family back home in Poland.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection  
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  3. #53

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    Polish forced worker ID for Focke-Wulf Flugzeugbau GmbH located in Posen (Poznań) where the FW-190 was being built.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection  
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  4. #54

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    A letter sent from Polish forced labour camp (Polenlager) HASAG (Hugo Schneider Aktiengesellschaft-Metalwarenfabrik) plant at Leipzig, Germany.

    HASAG Leipzig factory produced the "panzerfaust" anti-tank weapon the 'Fliegerfaust' weapon. During WWII HASAG remained a privately owned company and was the third largest employer of slave labour after I.G. Farben and the Goring Werke. HASAG was run by Paul Budin, a highly placed member of the Nazi party.

    HASAG operated four other slave lanour camps in Czestochowa, Poland. The largest of which was HASAG-Apparatexbau held approximately seven thousand Jewish prisoners and operated the Nazi policy of Vernichtung durch Arbeit ("extermination through work") Regular "selections" were carried out and those not able to work through sickness or injury were murdered. During late 1944 to early 1945, HASAG transferred most of its plant and Jewish workers from in occupied Poland back to Germany. The HASAG labour camps were satellite camps of KZ Buchenwald. More women were employed than men as the HASAG company paid the SS less for female forced workers than male workers.
    Attached Images Attached Images Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection 
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  5. #55

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    1943 Arbietskarte (Workcard) for the HASAG-Apparatexbau labour camp in Częstochowa (renamed Tschenstochau by the Germans), Poland.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection   Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection  

    Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection  
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  6. #56

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    1941 Work card for Polish financial book-keeper working for German firm in Warsaw.
    Click to enlarge the picture Click to enlarge the picture Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection  
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  7. #57

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection

    It’s great to see this very interesting thread going strong thanks to Stefan’s efforts. Well done. Amazing collection!

    All thoughts and opinions expressed are those of my own and should not be mistaken for medical and/or legal advice.

    "Tomorrow hopes we have learned something from yesterday." - John Wayne

  8. #58

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection



    I have in front of me a twenty-page green booklet, half the size of a school exercise book. It has the German eagle with a swastika on its hard cover, the inscription DEUTSCHES REICH on top, and below ARBEITSBUCH FÜR AUSLÄNDER, or the foreigner’s work book.

    Trying to remember what happened thirty years ago, I reached for a dusty file of personal documents where, among all sorts of certificates, student identity cards and diplomas, I found my Arbeitsbuch. I have been keeping all these papers in the hitherto vain hope that one day they may come in handy, or at least refresh my memory. And so now I decided to write about my forced labour in Germany, if only to bear witness to those times of humiliation and to remember my murdered fellow slaves.

    I don’t think that I had ever before looked so thoroughly at my Arbeitsbuch. It was issued on 23rd December 1943, when I was employed by old Wilk in Wirów near Gryfin. I remember that at that time I had received a message about my mother’s serious illness and asked my boss to get me a permit to go home. Old Wilk took some food, as a bribe, with him and we went immediately to Gryfin’s Arbeitsamt. They refused to grant me leave, but at least, after lots of footwork, issued me with the Arbeitsbuch. This was, indeed, a great success, as – so they explained to Wilk – I was on their black list as a “notorious criminal” and such people were never given any documents. It is only due to the efforts of that decent man, Wilk, that I am now in possession of this small book.

    On the inside of the cover is an introduction which in translation reads approximately as follows: “Both German and foreign workers in the Great German Reich will contribute with their hands and with their minds to the rebuilding of Europe and to the struggle to improve the standard of living and the general wellbeing of the European nations. A foreign worker must always bear this task in mind, as his contribution and achievements at work as well as his attitude will depend on this.” Bearing in mind this guiding principle of the “General Commissioner for Labour” I fully understood why the Gryfin Arbeitsamt placed me on their black list. I was a dumb oaf, totally unaware of my role; I had no intention of contributing to the “better and happier future of nations”. This attitude and the absence of a correct way of thinking prevented me from reaching the designated targets, made me a “Schwarzpole” (a black-listed Pole), prone to “criminal activities”, such as attempting to escape. Old Wilk was perfectly aware of my attitude towards officialdom and must have been of a similar frame of mind, as he was always so well disposed towards me. It is unfortunate that he is placed sixth, i.e. last, in my workbook.

    The honorary first place, entered on 18 February 1941, belongs to Heinrich Alisat, Neubarnimslow, Kreis Greifenhagen (the village of Barnisławiec near Szczecin). He was a German well aware of the tasks that Poles were meant to carry out in the Great Reich. It was he who taught me what slave labour and persecution of Poles in Hitler’s Germany were all about.

    As most Poles, I was brought here against my will, in spite of what the Nazis were telling everyone. I am not sure whether this lie was meant to protect the “good name of the German nation” or some other bit of their propaganda, but the Germans went to a lot of trouble of trying to prove that they did not use slave labour, but that hundreds of thousands of Poles had actually volunteered for work in Germany and remained free employees. Signatures were collected by policemen in the regions with methods which brooked no opposition. In spite of it, particularly where there were large numbers of Poles – especially prisoners of war with their strong feelings of solidarity – there were people who refused to sign. But those were transferred to the penal camp in Police, where any resistance would be successfully overcome. I was forced in similar circumstances to sign a false statement. It is true though that a very small number of Poles did volunteer to work in Germany – mostly because they needed to escape from worse persecution by the occupier at home.

    * * *

    At the end of January 1941 my family was deported from Gniezno. We were first taken to the transit camp in Łódź, in Łąkowa Street if I remember rightly, where I was forcefully separated from my family and taken to Germany. As one of about twenty Poles I was taken under guard to Szczecin. In the local Arbeistamt a kind of cattle market was held. We were mustered along the wall of a building where farmers came to evaluate us, feeling our arm and shoulder muscles to asses our fitness for hard work. The first to be selected were tall, strong men. I was small and of slight build; there were no buyers for such a weakling. All the other Poles already left with their “owners”, while I remained unclaimed. Naïve that I was, I thought this might be a lucky outcome, perhaps I would get some light work, in a shop or an office.

    Suddenly a tall, stout official called me. First name, surname, date of birth… When asked for my occupation I answered proudly: student. The man filled in his form, congratulated me on my German and reassured me that I would get a good job with Herr Alisat. Soon a thin, bald German appeared in the door, stretched out his arm in a Hitler greeting and reported to the official in an obsequious way. Having been told that I was assigned to him he looked disdainfully at my slight build and asked whether I was acquainted with agricultural work. My hopes for light work were gone. My explanations that I had never worked on the land made no impression, on the contrary, brought only abuse. I had to follow my master straight away.

    We went by train to Kołbaskowo and from there three kilometres on foot. It was bitterly cold, I was frozen, hungry and so tired that I would have gladly lain down in a snow drift and fallen asleep. The road seemed to be endless. At last we arrived. I saw three identical farms, fairly close to one another; the first one on the left belonged to Alisat. We entered the kitchen from the yard.

    While the family inspected me with unconcealed disapproval, the farmer, echoed by his wife, gave me a lecture on the subject of my duties, and what was expected of me and what was forbidden. Reveille at 5 a.m., then looking after the livestock, breakfast at 7 a.m., followed by work in the fields or farmstead, lunch, work, livestock etc… My boss was to be called “Herr” and his wife “Frau”. I was to eat in the kitchen by the chest of drawers; I was not to share the table with Germans. And what was even worse, I was not allowed to leave the farm without permission nor to let in any other Poles.

    I stood there, helpless, in the midst of this German family, listening to the children’s contemptuous whispers of “Pollacke!” Tired and hungry, I could hardly stand up, but the farmer took me straight away to the barn, stable and pigsty. There were 10 cows, three old horses, three foals and a number of pigs, all waiting to be fed and their premises to be cleaned. My boss told me to find a fork and get rid of the muck. I found it hard just to bring in the empty wheelbarrow – it was heavy and too large for my thin arms, unused to physical labour. The huge fork would not fit my hands and however hard I tried, I could not lift the trodden down rotten and tangled straw mixed with cow manure. Sweat was pouring down my face, I could hardly stand up with fatigue, while the German kept shouting angrily, swearing and egging me on.

    During supper my boss threatened that if I didn’t start working properly he would be obliged to beat me or send me to a punishment camp. He would not listen to my explanations that I had never done such work before, that I was weak after a night without sleep and a whole day without food. He decided that I was lazy and that my performance amounted to sabotage.

    They gave me a thin blanket, a sheet, a pillow, an admonition to rise as soon as I was called, following which the farmer went to show me the place where I would be sleeping. Steep stairs led straight to the loft and on top of them was a concrete landing, roughly 2m X 6m. On the right hand side, under the slope of the roof, stood a plank bed taking up the whole space between the only wall (behind which was a room) and the banister surrounding the stair-well. Under the left slope of the roof lay a heap of corn. A sharp wind blew from the ill-fitting small window above the stairs and from the slits between the snow and ice covered roof tiles. I put down my bedding, looked at my filthy trousers, my water-soaked thin shoes and dripping socks and was overcome with a terrible loneliness. I desperately longed for my home, for my family, for my country. This feeling never left me through all the days of the war and of my torment. Within one day my whole life was turned upside down in a way difficult to imagine and I could not quite grasp that this was my reality and not some terrible nightmare. With a faint hope that the Germans would lose the war before the spring, wearing my jacket and my cap drawn over my ears, I lay down under my thin blanket with my coat on top of it, trying to sleep.

    I could not foresee at the time that I would spend two winters in this forsaken attic. What I later learned to do was to leave my wet-through clothes in the stables, where they would at least have a chance of getting partly dry, and put a sack of straw in my bed. That little corner became the only place of peace and quiet, where I could get away from the hateful German eyes.

    All the year round I was getting up at 4 a.m., sometimes even earlier. To begin with, Alisat would roar: “Aifstehen! Vier Uhr!” – get up, it’s four o’clock – but later I would rouse myself without it. By seven a.m., having seen to the livestock and eaten breakfast, I had to be ready for work in the fields or on the farmstead itself.

    Already on my second day my master hit me in the face and from that time on he kept beating me with whatever and whenever he fancied. I could not even defend myself. He was tall and powerful and I just about reached his shoulder. One day Alisat burst into the cowshed screaming: ”You damned Pole, you haven’t fed the horses"! It’s sabotage! I’ll have you sent to the camp!” he kept cursing me, beating me all over with the fork. In fact the horses had been given their usual feed, which they had eaten before he came to look. I tried to explain it after breakfast, saying also that I was doing my best, but that if he was not satisfied he could send me back to the Arbeitsamt. Even before I finished he hit me several times in the face, grabbed me by the collar and dragged me to the stables. Three large, lean horses stood there. Alisat drew his finger over their rumps and declared: “They are covered in dust! Remember, my horses have to shine, they have to be cared for. I am a non-commissioned officer of the German cavalry and I’d be a fool if I did not make a proper groom out of you.”
    Thus another task was added to my schedule. Every morning, while looking after all the animals, I had to polish his nags to a gloss, which was not actually possible, as old, ill-fed horses develop dandruff – and this gave the German another excuse for tormenting me.

    One Sunday, after I finished all my tasks in the stables, cowshed and pig sty, my master graciously allowed me to meet some other Poles working in Kołbaskowo. As on wings I flew to the village on a path carved in knee-deep snow. I met some other Poles on the way and they took me to their place. The room was pleasantly warm, with a red-hot iron stove. I took the opportunity to get my clothes dry out properly; sitting there in my underpants I was happy as a child to be among welcoming fellow countrymen. We were so busy talking that we forgot about everything and meanwhile my shoes standing on the hot pipe began to smoke; luckily someone noticed it in time and saved them from going up in flames. All the same, the kind Poles gave me a pair of clogs, much too large, but I could wear them after winding some old sacking around my feet. Thanks to them I survived the winter unscathed, as Alisat did not pay me, telling me that he would buy me whatever I needed. But when I asked him to get me a cheap pair of clogs, he replied that I had not earned them yet. He also screamed at me and beat me for using torn old sacks as foot cloths.

    In time my physical condition improved and I learned to work, yet I could never satisfy my boss. He only addressed me rudely, with curses such as verfluchte Schwein – damned swine, Hund – dog, Pollacke etc., beat me regularly and, worst of all, did not allow me to leave the farm. I was only allowed out to the fields to work and even then he kept checking that no other Poles came up for a chat. Over eighteen months I was allowed to go to the village only a few times. Even when another Pole working on a neighbouring farm came to see me, he would chase him away.

    My first harvest on the Alisat farm began. Day after day, week-days and Sundays, I worked from dawn till dusk. And the nights in the stuffy attic under the hot tiles did not bring much relief. I wanted to sleep in the barn, but my boss would not let me, probably because I might have felt more comfortable.

    I knew that I couldn’t count on conditions here getting any better, so I spent a lot of time contemplating chances of escape. And yet – contrary to all my careful planning – I was to act on impulse and not very wisely.

    One autumn day the farmer beat me up badly during the morning jobs. I just could not stand it any longer – I dropped the fork and ran as I stood. Alisat did not even bother to chase me. How far could I get the way I was dressed, in trousers and shirt filthy with manure? I was so desperate that I did not give it another thought and just walked straight to Szczecin. It was only when I found myself in town that I realised that I did not know anyone here, that there wasn’t even any place where I could wash my hands. The very way I looked would arouse suspicion. I went to the Polish workers’ camp situated in an empty factory in Pomorzany, I looked around hoping to meet another Pole, but at this time of day people were either out working or asleep. I could not stay there any longer, as any minute now a policeman could come and arrest me. I walked aimlessly around for a bit longer, thinking how to get myself out of trouble, but found no satisfactory solution. Finally I decided to go to the Arbeitsamt and ask for a transfer to another farmer.

    The same official who had dealt with me the first time round greeted me in a way which I should have foreseen: he shouted, he swore at me, and finally called a policeman to take me to the Gestapo.

    By evening I was already in the penal camp in Police. According to the custom here, before a newcomer was registered, he was met by a ‘welcoming committee’, i.e. he had to pass through a narrow corridor on both sides of which stood SS-men and kapos, armed with whips, beating the victim all over his body. In the office one was given a number and assigned to particular quarters, where one had to report to the orderly, from whom one could expect another beating.

    In the camp I was to some degree lucky; I was not treated any worse than the majority of prisoners, I might say that I preferred it to working for my farmer. But after the three weeks of my sentence were over, I was sent back to Heinrich Alisat.

    And yet I could not stop thinking of escape. The time of the year was not suitable though, and I decided to wait till spring and meanwhile I did not stop planning. First of all I needed suitable clothes. With that in mind I wrote to various relatives. In the early spring an uncle sent me a striped navy blue suit. I managed to wheedle some money from my farmer and bought myself a small hat with a cord round it, as worn by local Germans. One of my Polish acquaintances, Heniek, nicknamed “Marynarz”, sailor, arranged for a German worker to buy me a railway ticket.

    I did not go out for weeks, spending all the evenings and Sundays on the farm, usually working. I truly worked for two, gaining even Alisat’s approval; he was convinced that he had at last broken my opposition and brought me up to be a loyal slave. My tactics of throwing him off his guard proved so successful that he even tried to encourage me to become a Volksdeutsche; he considered me now as deserving of such an honour and, according to him, my name and place of birth denoted my German ancestry. I did not correct his misapprehension, as I needed his goodwill at this stage.
    One Sunday my farmer asked me to deliver a letter to the burgomaster of Barnisław. On my return I told him that I met there a Pole who intended to become a Volksduetsche. This was of course untrue, but I needed an excuse to ask for a whole day off to visit someone in a location at least as distant as Barnisław. Alisat swallowed my lie and even kept encouraging me to visit this ostensible traitor. I pretended that I preferred to rest on the farm rather than walk such a distance and delayed my visit till Whitsun.

    Heniek arrived on the Saturday before, telling me that everything was ready and that I could leave the following day. His German contact was to go to Szczecin in the morning to buy the ticket and bring it to Kołbaskowo where I could catch my train. To avoid any pitfalls while changing trains, I memorised the time table. I arranged with my boss that I would spend the whole day in Barnisław.

    On Sunday I got up early, finished all my tasks on the farm and even brought some alfalfa from the field, and was ready to leave by 7 a.m. I unstitched the patch with the letter ‘P’ from my jacket and fastened it with pins, so it could come off at a moment’s notice. Wearing a decent suit and a German hat I started on my way to Barnisław, but past the hill I turned right instead of left to bypass the village and walk through the fields to the train station in Kołbaskowo. As arranged, the kindly German waited there with the ticket.

    It was an anxious journey, but I negotiated all the control points and train changes and found myself in Gniezno by the evening. This was, according to my plan, only the first stage of my escape. I intended to proceed to Kraków, where my parents were living at the time.

    I stayed in Gniezno for two months ad left taking with me a 15 year old boy, threatened with deportation to Germany. We had to change trains in Września, but there was a two-hour delay. Just as we were about to board the train we were stopped by the police and that was the end of the second stage of my escape.

    As nothing else came to my mind, I admitted that I had escaped from Germany, but justified it by the fact that Alisat did not pay me at all for my labour.

    I spent two months in prisons in Września, Poznań, Berlin and Szczecin. On 2nd September 1942 I regained my “freedom” and was assigned to my next employer in the village of Widuchowo.

    * * *

    From my collection of Polish forced labour memoirs not previoulsy published in English.
    Last edited by StefanM; 03-15-2010 at 05:57 PM.
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  9. #59

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection



    The years of the German occupation, and particularly the years 1943 – 1945, marked the hardest time of my young life. In the spring of 1943 I was working for a German in Kępno as a painter. One day my employer told me that the Arbeitsamt has selected me, as well as two fellow workers, for deportation to Germany as forced labour. I was very upset and anxious, as I had no idea where they might take me. Mother cried on hearing that I would be taken away. I was the eldest of four siblings and not very robust.

    Father had been working away from home since 1941 and mother looked after my younger brothers and our sister, the youngest of us all, who was being at the time clandestinely tutored by a retired teacher of the local secondary school.

    I said good-bye to my siblings and mother accompanied me to the granary in Kępno, which was the departure point of the transports to Germany. I was told that I was to travel to Poznań in a group of 100 Poles. We travelled in designated wagons and on the way another group of Poles, from Ostrzeszów, joined us. Even though we did not know what awaited us, the general mood was pretty good. We believed that fate would not be too unkind to us. In charge of our transport was the local manager of Arbeitsamt by the name of Plochowitz, a local German, born in Kępno, and now in charge of the deportation of Poles in the whole region.

    We arrived in Poznań in the evening. Trams were waiting for us at the station and, escorted by two uniformed guards, we were taken to Górczyn, to a Durchgangslager, a transit camp. I saw the huge number of barracks behind barbed wire, the manned guard-towers, and for the first time I broke down. I was truly shocked by what I saw. About two thousand Poles were waiting here, young and old, mothers with children, entire families, to be sent to an unknown destination in Germany. The following morning another transport arrived, this time just of mothers with children.

    The sanitary conditions as well as food were terrible in this camp. We slept on bunk beds without any bedding. In the morning all we got was one slice of bread and for the main meal a bowl of water with cabbage, thickened with flour. Everyone had to undergo a sanitary quarantine or disinfection. About a hundred people at a time were taken to a particular barrack, where one had to take off all one’s clothes. Those were taken away on trolleys to be disinfected, while we had to go under showers, where each of us had our private parts smeared with lysol by an orderly with a brush. It all had to be done on the run.

    It dawned on me what a huge Nazi organisation was engaged in the extermination of the Polish nation. I kept wondering whether the world knew what Hitler’s Germany was doing to us. And that was only the beginning of our martyrdom.

    After three weeks in this camp we were mustered in rows – each of us called by name through loudspeakers – and marched out of the camp under escort. I knew by now from one of our guards that we would be working in Poznań in the Focke-Wulf aircraft factory. We were lodged in the factory camp in Łazarz.

    The discipline, imposed by stick-wielding guards, was here as rigorous as in the transit camp, except that one was allowed to leave if in possession of a pass. The food, given twice a day, was not much better.

    The following day all the formalities were concluded, our photographs – with the personal number on our chests – taken and after several days’ training in the Poznań Fair halls I was transferred to the ‘Werk’ in Krzesin. Here I was assigned to the paint-shop, which I was happy about to begin with, as it had been my previous occupation, but which later proved to be one of the worst departments. We were taken by train to Krzesin every day in the early hours. Already on my first day I was shaken by what I saw. The sight of the Reich’s huge war machine was hard to take in. The only consolation was the fact that thousands of Poles were sharing my fate in this place.

    In the fuselage painting section of the paint-shop I was instructed by the German foreman what to do and how to use the equipment. The following day I was expected to work on my own, assisted by three Polish girls. In the first few days I wasn’t yet quite up to it and it was then that I found out what a German foreman was like. As soon as he saw me, he hit me several times in the face, screaming that I could perform my task in his presence, but once his back was turned my work deteriorated. I tried to explain that I was new to the job and have not yet acquired the skill, but all I got in return were more insults and more threats. I tried to avoid his abuse and did my best to master the job. The foreman’s name was Schumann and everyone in the department feared him, in particular Poles, who knew his reputation as a Pole-hater. We nicknamed him ‘Viper’. The other man we feared was the head foreman, König. This one always carried a bamboo stick, striking his knee-high boots with it, as was the custom of Gestapo men.

    We worked hard for twelve to fifteen hours per day, often on Sundays too. I slept no more than three or four hours a night. At that time several Poles developed a lung disease. Even young men were quickly affected by working for so many hours surrounded by poisonous paint fumes and on a starvation diet.

    After some time I was moved from the Poznań camp to the factory camp in Krzesiny. In the square between the barracks stood three gallows, left over from the time when this was the Jewish ghetto and Jews were made to build this mighty plant. I could not bear to look at the gallows, I had to leave this place. I had a heart problem (I suffer from it to this day) and went to the works doctor and received a certificate that I was not fit for hard work and for being kept in a camp. I was allowed to leave the camp and found myself accommodation with people I knew in Poznań, Wiktoria and Jan Śliperski. They let me stay with them, even though it meant that their whole family had to share one room.

    In Krzesiny work proceeded at a cut-throat rate. And we were persecuted at every level: from the foremen, through various informers, down to the guards. Any absence from the place of work, like going to the toilet, was scrupulously observed by the foremen, watch in hand. The guards also watched us and if anyone spent too long in the toilet, a number of them, furious, sticks in hand, would rush in and beat their victim black and blue. The keenest of them all was a Ukrainian collaborator, a one-eyed guard. I had felt his fists on my own skin.

    In the spring of 1944 the Germans brought a group of Soviet prisoners of war from the aircraft factory in Bremen destroyed by allied air raids. The guards were particularly careful to prevent any contact between them and Polish workers. I was very sorry for them, so obviously starved and miserable, but there was no way I could help, deprived as I was myself. We tried to communicate with them in the toilets. Some Poles gave them bits of tobacco, I once gave a prisoner a piece of bread, for which he thanked me with tears in his eyes.

    Work in the wing section was somewhat easier. More Poles worked here and apart from Lindemann, the foreman, there were two overseers, one a young German and one a Pole. Exhausted and intimidated, I was not working well. All that kept me going was my belief in the end of the war and the defeat of the Third Reich.

    The thought of sabotage has been going round my mind for quite some time. While the German overseer who watched us with an eagle eye as we painted the fuselage was out, I omitted the undercoat, painting directly with the camouflage top coat. I forgot, though, about the German controller who checked every job. He asked me whether I had used the undercoat; I told him that I did. The man took out a pocket knife and scraped the paint – this was my downfall. Irritated, he asked me rudely for my name. Some hours later I was called to the office. Here the head foremen König and Lindemann, having first talked between themselves, asked me why I had omitted the process. Worried, I told them that it was a simple mistake. They ordered me back to work. I was anxious, I did not know what would happen next, yet hoped that I might get away with it.

    I was called to the office again the following morning. Two plain clothes policemen were waiting for me. They told me to get dressed and took me in a police car to the Poznań police prison. My first interrogation by a uniformed policeman came few days later. First he asked me whether I had many acquaintances in Poznań and I replied in the negative. A minute later two men in prison garb were brought in and I denied having ever met them before. I was suspected of sabotage and contacts with the underground movement. As I found out later a number of members of the PPR were arrested at the time in another plant.

    In July 1943, after three months in prison, I was released and taken back to Krzesiny. From then on I was under a special ‘care’ of foremen and controllers. Any function I performed had to be very thoroughly checked by controllers; the latter kept changing, as did my work.

    The spring of 1944 arrived. The German personnel of the plant became confused and anxious. Work on camouflaging the grounds was started, antiaircraft guns were placed all around them, obviously air raids were expected. Poles began to hope that the Germans would at last get the taste of their own medicine. The first air raid came during Easter. Allied planes flew over the factory, but did not bomb it. In a panic, pushed by the guards, we had to leave the grounds. From then on the vigilance of the German personnel grew form one day to another. Particularly oppressive and intimidating were the factory guards. These have been recruited from renegades of various nations: Volksdeutches, Ukrainian followers of Własow and the so called Baltendeutsche . They all understood Polish and one had to be particularly careful of them.

    The evacuation of the main part of the works began in a hurry. Machines were taken by the narrow gauge railway to buildings prepared in the Gądki forest. It was done at an incredible speed over a dozen or so days, Poles were made to work to exhaustion without any food and the forest terrain was patrolled by large units of German police. Poles were excited – something important was taking place.

    At last what they were hoping for, happened. On the afternoon of the first day of Whitsun squadrons of allied planes appeared in the cloudless sky, undeterred by the antiaircraft fire. Bombs were coming down, the whole plant was going up in flames. Chaos reigned.

    For the next few days the Germans were treating us less harshly, but it did not take long for the guards, informers of various kinds and police to go back to their old tricks. One day I went to the office to hand in my stamped work card, when the only person present there, a Polish secretary, warned me that I might be arrested again. It did not take me long to decide: I left the plant during the night shift and decided to go into hiding. I went to my digs, packed my clothes, said good-bye to Mrs. Śliperska and asked her to tell the police, should they come looking for me, that she had no idea what happened to me. I left Poznań illegally and went to Kępno, but kept away from my family in order not to expose them, moving from place to place. I intended to join the partisans in the Wieluń region.

    It was only in September 1944 that I got the opportunity to join a group of Poles being taken for trench digging to the Wieluń area. A school mate was on that transport, but my suspicion was aroused by a German also present amongst us. No one knew him and I noticed that he kept scrutinising us. He did not wear the lapel badge which Germans habitually wore and did not open his mouth even once all the way. We wondered why a German would be travelling together with Poles. It was only after we reached Wieluń that he introduced himself as Weber and said that he came from Osiny near Kępno. That was our first verbal contact, but I did not relax, as he was obviously German. As we were being taken to Mierzyce and later to Orzegów, Weber never left our side and became more loquacious. I had a feeling that he was trying to gain our confidence.

    After the whole group was taken to their lodgings in Mierzyce near Wieluń, Weber was told by operatives of the Todt organisations that as a German he could lodge in the German quarters, which offer he however declined, joining us in the barns we had been assigned to. After we were organised into work groups he became our group leader, wishing to remain with Poles. As we were marched to work he always kept pace with me and whenever he saw a uniformed German he would get excited and curse the Nazi regime.

    Our group of about 100 men marched to work in formation, always singing Polish songs, as this kept up our spirits. While digging the trenches, each group had a given sector. Weber whispered to me not to dig to the end and to take frequent breaks, promising to keep an eye on the supervisors. He said the same to others in our group. When some people had finished their quota and were going back to their quarters, Weber told us to do the same, leaving the work undone.

    This brought us closer together and I asked Weber who he really was. He told me that he was a German communist and, like us, an enemy of Nazism. One day after work Weber took me and my mate aside and to prove what he said showed us his German Communist Party card. I remarked that he ought to be more careful, but he replied that he knew whom he could trust. Most Poles got to like Weber and he too liked to be among us and even shared his food ration with us, though he was receiving the same amount.

    When Weber came to trust me and my friend unreservedly, he suggested that we visit Kępno, saying that he had a contact there. I agreed, though I was anxious, aware that the Nazi police were looking for me. Weber reassured me and gave me a counterfeit pass and his friend’s address. As I found out, he was in touch with an underground communist group, particularly active in Kępsk and co-operating with a left-wing partisan group in the region of Radomsk. As soon as we arrived in Kępno we went to the address Weber indicated, in the Market Place. We found another German, Brockmann, there, also a member of the Communist party. There were a few other men in Brockmann’s flat. Covert meetings were taking place here.

    Brockmann, a bricklayer by trade, joined the Kępno police as ordered by the Communist party and with a particular task in mind. Following a brief talk he gave us a packet of illegal publications and leaflets and several letters for Weber. Risking our lives, we took the whole dangerous parcel to Weber who came out to meet us in the fields. He in turn embraced us and congratulated us on being true patriots, ready to join the fight against fascism. The leaflets we brought were directed to Germans, calling them to desert the Wehrmacht, to engage in sabotage and to join the underground struggle with the Nazi regime.

    Weber was one of the emissaries of the German Communist organisation in Moscow. Already suspected by the Gestapo of left-wing activity, he planned to cross the front line to the Soviet side. In view of this, we suspended our activity for a while. Only when sure that we were not watched, we went to fetch the next packet from Brockmann.

    It was January 1945 when the front began to get close. The Nazi functionaries of the Todt organisation began to panic. Half way through the month the Germans lost all interest in us and we began to go home one by one. I went back to Kępno on my own. The atmosphere in the town seemed to be peaceful, even though the front was getting close and artillery shells were exploding here and there. The streets were empty, apart from groups of disorientated German soldiers seeking ways to escape. I found my whole family at home, except for father, who was working in Wieluń, and who returned later, to the already liberated Kępno.

    Next morning, the 21st January, I and other inhabitants of Kępno, greeted the first Soviet soldier to enter our town. He just asked for directions to Syców and proceeded that way. We were happy to be free of the Nazi yoke. By noon of that day I ran out to greet the Soviet armoured columns. I hardly believed my eyes when I noticed Weber, my friend and companion from the trench-digging, riding on one of the tanks. He noticed me, leapt off the tank and embraced me. Weber kept repeating one word over and over again: Freiheit! – Freedom!

    * * *

    From my collection of Polish forced labour memoirs not previoulsy published in English.
    Last edited by StefanM; 03-15-2010 at 05:58 PM.
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

  10. #60

    Default re: Polish Forced Labour (Zwangsarbeiter/Fremdarbeiter) collection



    On 23rd February 1943 I came to share the fate of the thousands of Poles deported to Germany for forced labour. I was 19 years old. I was taken from the village of Nadolany in the Sanok region of the General Gouvernement. In our locality the deportations were not based, as in other places, on street round-ups, but the village headman would be given the list of names of people selected for work in Germany and was obliged to provide the required contingent. The Germans threatened to set houses on fire and confiscate the livestock, should the quota not be met.

    My father, Jan Dębicki, was not a farmer, but a shoemaker. He had 10 children and a sick wife. I was his sixth child and the fifth daughter to be sent to Germany. Only the youngest siblings and my poor, sick mother who worried about us all, remained at home. She had already experienced the pain and despair of parting, when before the war in Poland her oldest son had to serve a two and a half year prison sentence for communist activity. That same brother, Tadeusz, was hardly ever seen at home in the years of occupation. The Germans were ceaselessly searching for him and, being unable to lay their hands on him, were taking, one by one, those of us who had reached adolescence. Two of my sisters, Józefa and Władysława, found themselves thus in Berlin and my 17 year old brother, Zygmunt, was in Hanover. Another sister, Genowefa, had been deported to a health resort in the Harz mountains, but managed to escape after two years and return home. Not long after, the Germans deported her again, but she ran away for the second time, this time jumping from the train in Jasło. The police were seeking her, but to no avail, while she managed to stay at home in hiding. She was helping our sick mother to cope with all the problems that daily life brought in occupied Poland.

    The moment of parting arrived, and with it the family’s despair and my fear of an uncertain future. I was taken to Sanok and from there to Jasło. We were mostly young men and women, but there were also people in their thirties. We were being taken to Kraków, but when on the way the train stopped near Ojców, few dare-devils jumped off the poorly guarded train and ran towards a nearby forest. The Germans began shooting, but the fugitives disappeared in the thick vegetation. The thought that some people don’t give in whatever the circumstances, filled me with new courage.

    In Kraków they kept us imprisoned for about three days. We slept on wooden bunks and were given black coffee, bread and ersatz honey once a day. They also carried out a disinfection and delousing; we had to take off all our clothes, including underwear, and these were taken away for processing. Meanwhile we had to stand naked, in groups of four, while the male guards kept leering and taunting us. We were greatly shocked, but this performance was to be repeated again in Germany. I also remember a nasty incident in Kraków. There were amongst us some Highland girls of outstanding beauty. Two of them went mad, crying, screaming, pulling their hair. The Germans took them away and we never learned what happened to them.

    During the journey from Kraków through Silesia we passed huge glowing lights, looking alarming against the night sky. They were steelworks, which I, a country girl, had never seen before.

    We arrived in Ulm and were led to barracks across the town. I noticed on the way a huge church steeple and it was only years later that I learned that it was a world famous cathedral. The worst moment came in the barracks. These were huge halls, former warehouses or stores with a concrete floor, on which lay smelly, disgusting pallets for us to sleep on. It was incredibly cold and we had to put all our clothes on in layers, one on top of the another. In addition we had to keep running and exercising to keep warm, it was after all a very cold February. And again we had to undergo the process of disinfection, the same as in Kraków.

    Next they loaded us into cattle wagons together with men; we all had to stand, there was so little room. After a long journey they left our wagon in a siding for 10 hours. Tired out, I could no longer stand, the pain made me grind my teeth. We tried to maintain some dignity, but locked in this car we could not refrain from satisfying our basic needs. It was a great relief when our car was attached to another train and we were on the move again.

    We found ourselves in Überlingen, the capital of the administrative district in Baden, and on arrival were taken to the Arbeitsamt. I am writing “we”, in plural, as I found myself together with my school mate, Władysława, or Władka, Dąbrowska. She had lived not in Nadolany, as I did, but in Nowotaniec, where our school was. She had been in tears all through our journey into the unknown and I, unable to cry, was trying to console her the best I could. Now we reached the end of our travels. Local farmers, notified by the authorities, began to arrive and pick their labour. One of the deportees acted as interpreter. She mentioned that one farmer required two women workers. I did not want to miss this chance, I grabbed my friend’s hand and said: ”Come on, we shall be together and at least we shall not be made to work in a factory.” I was terrified of air raids and of hunger in a town, besides I was used to country life.

    A young German put us on his cart and we rode with him for several hours, until we reached his farm in Hohenbodman. It was evening by then and we were exhausted by all our travelling and the nervous tension of the last few days. As we soon discovered, there was already one Pole working here – he was Antek Padoł, a boy of 18, from the Kraków district. He could already speak German, so the farmer’s wife had no difficulty in communicating with us. She took us to the kitchen and, following a quick wash and meal, showed us to a tiny room on the other side of the corridor. It had no means of heating. In spite of the cold we went to bed straight away, at last being able to rest after the long days of torment and fear of what the dreaded future had in store for us.

    At 5 a.m. a knock on our door accompanied by “Guten Morgen” pronounced in a drawn-out throaty way got us out of bed. We dressed quickly and joined Antek waiting for us in the corridor, and followed him to the stables. Our German mistress instructed him that we were to milk the cows, which was not a problem, as we were used to this kind of work. Władka was better at it than I, as her family owned a cow. Once we got into the stride, we quickly milked three or four cows each, even though our wrists ached to begin with. There were ten cows altogether and all the milk, apart from a small amount left in the house to be drunk with coffee, was taken to the dairy.

    It became one of my duties to take the large churns of milk in a hand-drawn cart the 100 metres to a particular point, where all the milk from the village was collected and taken to Überlingen. After our morning tasks in the cowshed, pigsty, stables and chicken coop were completed, we sat down to breakfast. We were, surprisingly, sharing the table with the whole household, consisting of the farm owners, Maria and Wilhelm Föll, both in their forties, their little daughter Bärbel, an old German farm worker by the name of Mesner, and the three of us Poles. I was shocked by the way breakfast was served: we all ate from one saucepan containing what looked like noodles made of rye flour, with melted butter. This was accompanied by bread and milky coffee.

    After breakfast they asked us, again with Antek’s help, where we had come from. But no respite was given us in spite of our nightmarish journey and we were sent straight away to our multiple tasks.

    We were free in the evenings, in the winter after 8 p.m. and in the summer later, depending on the seasonal work, such as haymaking or harvesting. We were on our feet all day, sitting down only for meals. And so our days were filled with labour, often beyond our strength, with sorrow at our hopeless fate, with longing for our families and homeland. Letters were our only comfort; I wrote them in the evenings, I described my longing, I waited impatiently for replies. I corresponded with my parents and friends at home, with my siblings deported to Germany and with the boy left behind, my darling, the first shy love of my young life. Longing was a kind of illness, as I learned during those hard years.

    Apart from my difficult, sad daily life, there was another side to the struggle: I had to maintain my dignity, my dignity as a human being and my dignity as a Pole. To begin with it must have been an unconscious battle, but later, provoked by Frau Föll who became aware of my hostility, it became quite open, though I paid a rather high price for it. We had come to this farm as a twosome and Maria Föll did everything to create a rift between me and my friend. She openly favoured Władka, giving her all the easy jobs, the household ones in the winter, while I had to perform all the nasty, cold and dirty ones, like cleaning the pigsty and taking the dirty litter out by wheelbarrow, collecting potatoes for fodder, cooking them, etc. Back in the house after my outdoor work I tried to be particularly nice to Władka, pretending I did not notice our mistress’s manoeuvrings.

    An incident took place during haymaking in the spring of 1943. It was a sweltering day. Together with Frau Föll I was spreading the mowed grass to dry. I tried to work fast, but in spite of it I could feel the prongs of the German’s fork constantly pricking my bare heels. My pace changed, I was now almost running. Panting with heat and the speed of work, bathed in sweat, I felt I could not hold out much longer, but my slave driver did not give up, jabbing me again and again with her fork. Finally I could bear it no longer. I stood up, aimed my fork at her, and swore at her in Polish: “You bloody old witch, I shall skewer you if you don’t stop!” The woman jumped to the side having guessed the gist of my words, then took my place and I took hers. We continued working as if nothing had happened. Władka and Antek were horrified. “What have you done? Don’t you understand, it may cost you your life if she denounces you to the police.” She didn’t. I think that she was testing me and by her magnanimity wanted to abate my hostility towards her. This incident was to help her in the future, while haymaking was always linked for me with it.

    A major headache in my daily life was the problem of clothes. The ones I brought with me were wearing out with the hard work in the fields and even more so in the stables. I did not know any Germans who would be willing to sell me things. I was paid a small monthly wage, but as a forced labourer I had no right to purchase clothes in shops. So I spent my money on writing paper and some trivia, reasoning that marks would not be worth anything when the war ended. I wrote home, as well as to my sister in Berlin, asking for any old garment, and they did help to a degree. But I lacked everything, from underwear to warm outer clothing for the autumn and winter.

    Winter was the worst time for the paupers that we were, working outdoors in the cold for hours. For instance one had to load and push wheelbarrows full of beet as fodder for the cows. This often brought tears to my eyes. I was stiff with cold in my inadequate attire, my arms ached from the heavy loads – and this had to be done twice a week, at least 20 barrow-loads each time.

    Some Polish prisoners of war were also working in our village and in the neighbouring ones. They had been thrown out of their prisoner of war camps, deprived of their prisoner of war status and made to work for local farmers. Having been brought to Germany soon after the outbreak of the war, they had mastered the language by now and managed to listen to radio broadcasts and shared the news with us. It helped to keep our spirits up. We used to meet on Sunday afternoons in a barn where one of the men had his lodgings. The German owners of farms, fearing reprisals from their own authorities, were generally not happy about groups of Poles getting together. But this barn was not too close to the farmer’s house, we were not too visible, so we continued to meet there.

    The men had belonged to all kinds of social groups and were of different ages. There were also some young boys deported in the same way that we had been. They had their own band and were delighted to have us, girls, to dance with. But though we did not really enjoy dancing, exhausted as we were by the hard daily work, we did not know how to excuse ourselves – thus even the entertainment felt as if forced on us. There were also three Russian girls working in the village. One of them, a Muscovite, used to be a university student.

    Meanwhile things were happening in the wider world. The allies were ever more frequently bombing German towns and cities. Many people dislocated by the devastation were being sent to the country and thus a family of five came to stay on Wilhelm Föl’s farm. They were a middle aged couple, with their mother and two teen-age children. The Germans were beginning to feel threatened now, but did not want foreign workers to see it, particularly as their despair was our joy. Our mistress was increasingly bad-tempered and we were an easy target.

    There was a lot of work in the summer, both in the fields and in the house. Planting potatoes and beets, haymaking and harvesting followed one another and kept us busy from 5 a.m. till 9 or 10 p.m. With washing, mending our clothes and letter writing we hardly ever went to bed before midnight, thus never getting more than five or six hours sleep.

    I shall always remember my first haymaking. The heat was unbearable and we would go home for lunch about midday. Frau Föll would choose Władka to help in the kitchen, while I would be sent to spread the grass in the loft to dry. I could hardly breathe under the scorching roof and was so exhausted after an hour’s work in this blazing hell that I was not even able to eat. My mistress screamed at me in fury: “You have to eat, you damned girl, or you’ll be too week to work!”

    In the evening, after a day’s work in the fields, we had to look after the livestock. One day, following a hard day’s haymaking, I went to milk the cows, when I was overcome by a serious nose-bleed. They lay me down and put a cold compress on the back of my neck.

    I actually often longed to be taken ill and be given some rest. Once I was off work for three days. Following a cold, I developed a huge abscess and had to stay in bed. My mistress herself treated me with hot linseed poultices, so that I would again be fit for work. I dreamed of a time when I could dispose of my own time, do what I fancied, rest when I chose. Instead I was made to work all hours of the day in the fields, the woods, the orchard and the house.

    The only recompense was the beauty of the area. Baden, lying in the foothills of the Alps, looked like a backdrop to an enchanted dream.

    I was becoming more and more the object of Frau Föll’s persecution. One day a whole ham left to cure in the cellar disappeared. I suspect that the woman lodger took it for her family. But I was accused of stealing it, sending it to my sister in Berlin, and was threatened with the police. I complained to my Polish friends and one of the boys who worked for the village headman repeated the story to him. The headman called my mistress and told her that I had lodged a complaint. This blew over, but not for long.

    One day, while busy doing the laundry, Władka and I noticed with glee how much dirtier the Germans’ bed linen was than ours. But Frau Föll grabbed a pair of my knickers and started laughing: “And where did you get these? They are men’s underpants, not ladies’!” I replied that my sister had sent them and that only their cut was similar to men’s. An increasingly vicious exchange followed. In the end she, of course, won and as punishment forbade me to share the warm room in the house. I had to stay in my unheated room, with hoarfrost on the walls, writing letters sitting in my bed with all my clothes piled on top of me. No wonder that both Władka and I developed rheumatic pains. Maria Föll took us to the doctor in Überlingen. He gave us some painkillers, but the rheumatism continued to plague me in various stages of my life.

    One wet day old Mesner and I were sent to spread some artificial fertiliser. I don’t remember its trade name, but the instructions required the wearing of masks and protective clothing, which we did not have. Soon I felt a burning sensation in my hands and eyes. The drizzle changed the dust on my face into a hard crust. I cried, but did not stop working. Back in the house I was told to wash my face with olive oil, but the crust remained unbroken and my eyes looked terrible. The crust on my face changed into a scab and remained unbroken for over a month. Luckily it left no permanent scars.

    It was now 1945 and the 9th May of that year was the happiest day for millions of people – myself amongst them.

    We were liberated by the Foreign Legion on 5th May. There were Poles and sons of Poles among them, they spoke our language, and kept asking us how badly treated by the Germans we had been.

    But none of us were looking for revenge.

    * * *

    From my collection of Polish forced labour memoirs not previoulsy published in English.
    I collect, therefore I am.

    Nothing in science can explain how consciousness arose from matter.

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