The Legacy of Nazi Occupation: Patriotic Memory and National Recovery in Western Europe, 1945-1965

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

7
Labour and total war

Workers constituted the bulk of the populations displaced by Nazi Germany during the Second World War, totalling about eight million individuals. Nine out of ten Dutch DPs and three out of four Belgian DPs were employed as civilians in Germany. For France, if the annexed departments are excluded, more than half of the national DPs were workers, including one-quarter of transformed PoWs. The numbers involved made forced economic migration one of the major social facts of the second World War.

Historians examining war and social change have often attributed a determining influence to the deportation of workers to Germany. Some of them go so far as to explain much of the course of post-war social and economic history through the mobilisation of the work force of occupied countries.1 As part of their strategy of total war, Germany and Japan decided to spare their own populations as far as possible from hardships and social unrest, and shifted the social costs of warfare on to the populations of their conquered foreign territories. The wartime experience as Herrenvolk also spared the German and Japanese population from radicalisation in the post-war era, providing the foundations for a disciplined social climate and an unparalleled economic recovery. In the occupied countries, the brutal exploitation of the work force radicalised the masses, polarised the social and political climate and provided the raw material for the success of powerful communist parties, bringing social unrest, political instability and, in comparison with the German and Japanese miracles, disappointing economic achievements.

Ulrich Herbert's path-breaking research largely substantiates this view.2 Throughout its time in power, the Nazi regime struggled with the

____________________
1
See Gabriel Kolko's 1990 preface to his Politics of War. The World and United States Foreign Policy, 1943–1945 (New York, 1990 [1968]), pp. xvi–xx.
2
Herbert, Fremdarbeiter. Politik und Praxis des 'Ausländer-Einsatzes' in der Kriegwirtschaft des Dritten Reiches (Berlin and Bonn, 1985); Geschichte der Ausländer-Beschäftigung in Deutschland, 1880 bis 1980. Saisonarbeiter, Zwangsarbeiter, Gastarbeiter (Berlin and Bonn, 1986); Europa und der 'Reichseinsatz'. Ausländische Zivilarbeiter, Kriegsgefangene und KZHäftlinge in Deutschland, 1938–1945 (Essen, 1991). For the English translations, see A History of Foreign Labor in Germany (Ann Arbor, 1990) and Hitler's Foreign Workers. Enforced Foreign Labour in Germany Under the Third Reich (Cambridge, 1997).

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