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

By Pieter Lagrou | Go to book overview

10
'Deportation': the defence of the labour
conscripts

Had they been united by working-class solidarity and supported by organised networks of patriotic resistance, the individual workers crushed by war and occupation, abandoned to their fate by collaborating labour administrations would not have left for Germany in the first place. Did their common experience in Germany offer them greater unity? Their geographical dispersion and the great variety of individual working and living conditions made it wholly improbable that the workers would have set up some form of self-help association before their return. Who then would take on their defence, undertake their rehabilitation in the face of moral and patriotic suspicion? In Belgium it was the JOC; in France, Frénay; in the Netherlands, some regrettable clusters of bad advocates who associated their particular cause with that of the workers in Germany at large.

The Belgian JOC had been very active during the war through its 'Service for Workers Abroad', organised in 1942 to shield Catholic workers from moral temptations and spiritual loss, as described in chapter 8. After the repatriation, the post-war challenge was to reintegrate, re-educate and re-Christianise the workers who returned from Germany. A local JOC chaplain declared that the post-war vocation of the organisation was 'to turn them back into the neat human beings they were before they left for Germany three years ago'.1 Given the loss of Catholic influence resulting from the exile in Germany, an explicitly Catholic organisation would find it almost impossible to retrieve these repatriated workers. In addition to this, the post-war challenge was not only a moral and spiritual reconquista, it was also a political reconquista of the working class from the mushrooming Communist Party. The JOC therefore decided to channel all its efforts for the reception of repatriates through an externally neutral National Federation of Deported Workers (the FNTDR). The FNTDR can indeed be described as a 'cryptoCatholic' front organisation, a genre communists were experienced in,

____________________
1
Van Oostveldt (the local chaplain of the JOC in Leuven; he was involved in the reception of workers from Germany), quoted in Coenen, 'De Bierkaai', p. 131.

-167-

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