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Youths as Forced Laborers

In view of the persistent labor shortage in Germany, children and teens from Poland and the Soviet Union were increasingly used to supplement the workforce in the agricultural sector, and later in industry as well. They were openly discriminated against and excluded from the provisions of the German law for the protection of children and youth. In 1941, a statute made Polish youths between 14 and 18 subject to the work regulations governing adults. The deportation trains from the East, however, frequently included children who were clearly younger than that. There was, of course, a directive of the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment, Fritz Sauckel, dated January 1944, that banned work by children under 12 and allowed 12- and 13-year-olds to perform only light tasks, for no more than four hours per day. In practice, however, its enforcement usually looked quite different, and in agriculture not even these theoretical restrictions existed. The foreign children and teens were not allowed to attend school, and their wages were minimal. Only Baltic children were on an equal footing with German children and could claim the same rights. Youths under the age of 16 from the other occupied countries almost never came to Germany for work.


Those who fared the worst were the Jewish children and teens who were confined in ghettos and concentration camps; in some camps, children as young as 5 and 6 had to do heavy labor.

(SP; transl. KL)


Hoffmann, Katharina: “Zwangsarbeit in der Landwirtschaft.” In: Ulrike Winkler, ed.: Stiften gehen. NS-Zwangsarbeit und Entschädigungsdebatte. Cologne: PapyRossa, 2000, pp. 130–147.

Spoerer, Mark: Zwangsarbeit unter dem Hakenkreuz. Stuttgart/Munich: DVA, 2001.