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Living Conditions of Female Foreign Civilian Laborers

The use of foreign women for forced labor clashed with the National Socialists’ image of women, which reserved for the woman the role of guardian of hearth and home. Ideologically, the use of women had to be justified even more strongly on a basis of their alleged “racial inferiority” than was the case for male forced laborers. This frequently worsened the position of the foreign women in particular, as they were subject to two forms of discrimination: not only racial, but sexist as well. In addition, they were expected to perform the same work as their male comrades. The treatment of the female forced laborers, like that of the men, differed depending on the deployment site, and they, too, were somewhat better off in the countryside. Most difficult of all, especially for the female forced laborers from the East, were the conditions in large industrial firms. For the most part, the women were housed in poorly equipped barracks camps and fed inadequately, while simultaneously expected to perform hard labor, for which they furthermore had not been trained. This was the case, for example, for the “Eastern female workers” at the I.G. Farben construction site in Auschwitz.


In addition, the authorities and the population devoted special attention to “crimes of intercourse,” or GV-Verbrechen (Geschlechtsverkehr-Verbrechen). There was also a general ban on sexual contact between Germans and foreigners. Here, the Nazis’ hierarchy of race was the decisive factor in the punishment. For German men who had sexual intercourse with foreign women, the possible penalties ranged from a warning to imprisonment in a concentration camp. Until December 1942, their partners were sent to a concentration camp or forced to work in brothels. After that date, the regulations were relaxed slightly.


In the beginning, female foreign forced laborers who became pregnant were sent back to their home countries. Consequently, many tried to get pregnant so that they could go home. Therefore the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment, Fritz Sauckel, in December 1942 discontinued the practice of deporting pregnant foreign women and ordered maternity homes and children’s homes to be set up for this purpose. Pregnant “Western workers” were to receive paid leave for a period beginning six weeks before delivery and ending 12 weeks after it. Poles and  Eastern workers” were allowed only two weeks before and six weeks after the delivery date; in addition, during this time they could be given “reasonable”[1] tasks to perform. After birth, the children, too, were classified according to the categories of the “racial hierarchy.” Thus the Nazi bureaucracy made decisions about their future: “Racially sound” children (father of Germanic origin) were taken away from their mother and sent to foster homes to be raised as German children. “Racially unsound” children were taken to “care facilities for foreign children,” more accurately described as “collection camps for dying infants.”[2] The mortality rate in these so-called care facilities, which exceeded 50 percent, was attributable to inadequate nutrition and poor hygiene. The mothers had to leave the maternity ward after a week and were allowed to visit their newborns only after work. They were charged about 25 reichsmark monthly for the upkeep of their children and 15 reichsmark for their burial. To raise these sums, the mothers frequently had to work extra shifts in order to supplement their meager wages. After January 1941, Polish and “Eastern” female laborers were no longer prosecuted for abortion; on the contrary, in many cases they even were forced to have abortions: Such requests could be submitted by the pregnant women themselves, but also by the firms, labor authorities, and police. Frequently the added difficulties of female forced laborers did not end with liberation in 1945. Back in their home countries, the very fact that they had lived unsupervised in barracks often was viewed as reprehensible; on top of that, they frequently were accused of aiding and abetting the enemy.

(SP/BG; transl. KL)


Herbert, Ulrich: Hitler’s Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich. Cambridge/New York: Cambridge UP, 1997.

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.

[1] Mark Spoerer: Zwangsarbeit unter dem Hakenkreuz (Stuttgart/Munich: DVA, 2001), p. 150. (Translated by KL)

[2] Spoerer: Zwangsarbeit, p. 207.