Allied forced labor question.

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Klaus Yurk
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Allied forced labor question.

Post by Klaus Yurk » 31 Mar 2005 12:40

I have no idea where this question belongs...so I'll ask it here and the moderators can move it to where ever they think it belongs.

The question is about the rationale and policies of the Western Allies and the policy of "forced labor," indentured servitude," "temporary slavery," whatever you want to call it. Does anyone know of any books or iformative websites, etc. on the subject.

I ask because my father was a German soldier and, after four years on the Eastern Front, he was transfered to France and there surrendered to the Brits and French at Lorient after the surrender. He spent two years in a POW camp, whacking barnacles and rust off of ships. Then in 1947, he was released to "voluntary service," but it was hardly voluntary. He was "given" to a French farmer for two years of forced labor. For free of course.

This gentleman rarely fed my father, tried to work him to death, gave him no clothes in winter, and let him sleep on the ground. The breaking point came one night when the Frenchman got drunk and tried to beat him to death with a club. Dad didn't strike back because he knew what would happen if he hurt the guy. He avoided most of the blows, and, later that night when the farmer passed out or went to sleep, ran away. Since Dad spoke French, he hitched, rode trains, and walked back to Germany.

There he was caught by Allied MPs and was scheduled to be returned to fulfill his two years. Only the intervention of the town mayor and a hurried up wedding to my mother (appently they weren't sending married men back) got him off the hook.

That's our family story. Does anyone on this site know of books on the subject? I know that many of the German POWS in forced labor in America were treated very well. Sadly, this was not Dad's case. So I'm interested in the subject. Especially the broader rationale for this kind of program. Not wishing to be incendiary, but weren't Germans hanged for for using "forced labor?" Interesting dicotamy.

Just questions. I'd appreciate civil answers. Thank you in advance.

Klaus

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waldorf
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Post by waldorf » 31 Mar 2005 14:29

Klaus,

Here is a link which lists POW camps found in the U.S. during WWII. You are able to "click" on some of the camps to get more detailed information on what went on in them. http://vikingphoenix.com/public/rongsta ... xispow.htm

W.

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Post by David Thompson » 31 Mar 2005 15:34

Klaus -- There is a fairly lengthy official account of US use of POW labor at:

The US and POW Labor in WWII
viewtopic.php?p=359155

Herbert A. Werner, in his book Iron Coffins: A Personal Account of the German U-Boat Battles of World War II, gives additional details of the experiences of some German POWs in French captivity after WWII.

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Post by JamesL » 31 Mar 2005 16:52

Was you father a paratrooper or SS man?

An acquaintance of mine was a German paratrooper who was captured at Brest. He was sent to the USA. After the surrender he was then sent to Great Britain where he stayed until 1948. Only then did he return to Hamburg.

He told me that paratroopers were considered 'hard cases' and were deliberately kept from returning home for awhile. They had to perform work while in GB.

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Post by Klaus Yurk » 01 Apr 2005 01:01

JmesL,

Sorry, he was neither. He was a pretty ordinary grunt. A corporal. The only extraordinary thing was that he had originally lied about his name. He was a Volga-German originally, drafted into the Soviet Army. Defected to the Germans and, as such, he had a bullet with his name on it if the Soviets got a hold of him. He forged some documents and lied about his name to prevent being repatriated. When the Allies stopped that policy, Dad came forward with his real name and rank and where he spent most of the war, in the 322IR in the area of 18th Army, Army Group North. Maybe they held the lying against him, but his real service record should have convinced them that he was not a Nazi. Who knows.

Anyway, thank for the help, gentlemen.

Klaus

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 01 Apr 2005 03:59

After 1918 200,000 or so German prisoners were kept in France for 'reconstruction' purposes.All of the prisoners were repatriated by 1920.This post WW1 experience acted as the basis for a similar programme run in France after 1945.

POWs were paid an allowance(however inadequate) but the programme was also open to abuse:

It then came out that the French Government was hiring the men out to French employers at an average of 150 francs per day per man. Out of this the government paid each prisoner-of-war 10 francs, and stood the extra daily cost of upkeep estimated at 40 francs. It was making a profit of 100 francs per slave per day, and this over 50 billion francs a year from German prisoner-of-war slaves.


Chicago Tribune,March 1946.

Complaints from the IRC,the US Congress,Press and Labor Organisations soon followed.

The ILO Forced Labour Covention of 1957 has outlawed this practice.

http://www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/32.htm

The Geneva Convention of 1949 has this to say on POW labour:

http://www1.umn.edu/humanrts/instree/y3gctpw.htm

LABOUR OF PRISONERS OF WAR

Article 49
The Detaining Power may utilize the labour of prisoners of war who are physically fit, taking into account their age, sex, rank and physical aptitude, and with a view particularly to maintaining them in a good state of physical and mental health.

Non-commissioned officers who are prisoners of war shall only be required to do supervisory work. Those not so required may ask for other suitable work which shall, so far as possible, be found for them.

If officers or persons of equivalent status ask for suitable work, it shall be found for them, so far as possible, but they may in no circumstances be compelled to work.

Article 50
Besides work connected with camp administration, installation or maintenance, prisoners of war may be compelled to do only such work as is included in the following classes:

(a) Agriculture;

(b) Industries connected with the production or the extraction of raw materials, and manufacturing industries, with the exception of metallurgical, machinery and chemical industries; public works and building operations which have no military character or purpose;

(c) Transport and handling of stores which are not military in character or purpose;

(d) Commercial business, and arts and crafts;

(e) Domestic service;

(f) Public utility services having no military character or purpose.

Should the above provisions be infringed, prisoners of war shall be allowed to exercise their right of complaint, in conformity with Article 78.

Article 51
Prisoners of war must be granted suitable working conditions, especially as regards accommodation, food, clothing and equipment; such conditions shall not be inferior to those enjoyed by nationals of the Detaining Power employed in similar work; account shall also be taken of climatic conditions.

The Detaining Power, in utilizing the labour of prisoners of war, shall en sure that in areas in which prisoners are employed, the national legislation concerning the protection of labour, and, more particularly, the regulations for the safety of workers, are duly applied.

Prisoners of war shall receive training and be provided with the means of protection suitable to the work they will have to do and similar to those accorded to the nationals of the Detaining Power. Subject to the provisions of Article 52, prisoners may be submitted to the normal risks run by these civilian workers.

Conditions of labour shall in no case be rendered more arduous by disciplinary measures.

Article 52
Unless he be a volunteer, no prisoner of war may be employed on labour which is of an unhealthy or dangerous nature.

No prisoner of war shall be assigned to labour which would be looked upon as humiliating for a member of the Detaining Power's own forces.

The removal of mines or similar devices shall be considered as dangerous labour.

Article 53
The duration of the daily labour of prisoners of war, including the time of the journey to and fro, shall not be excessive, and must in no case exceed that permitted for civilian workers in the district, who are nationals of the Detaining Power and employed on the same work.

Prisoners of war must be allowed, in the middle of the day's work, a rest of not less than one hour. This rest will be the same as that to which workers of the Detaining Power are entitled, if the latter is of longer duration. They shall be allowed in addition a rest of twenty-four consecutive hours every week, preferably on Sunday or the day of rest in their country of origin. Furthermore, every prisoner who has worked for one year shall be granted a rest of eight consecutive days, during which his working pay shall be paid him.

If methods of labour such as piece-work are employed, the length of the working period shall not be rendered excessive thereby.

Article 54
The working pay due to prisoners of war shall be fixed in accordance with the provisions of Article 62 of the present Convention.

Prisoners of war who sustain accidents in connection with work, or who contract a disease in the course, or in consequence of their work, shall receive all the care their condition may require. The Detaining Power shall furthermore deliver to such prisoners of war a medical certificate enabling them to submit their claims to the Power on which they depend, and shall send a duplicate to the Central Prisoners of War Agency provided for in Article 123.

Article 55
The fitness of prisoners of war for work shall be periodically verified by medical examinations at least once a month. The examinations shall have particular regard to the nature of the work which prisoners of war are required to do.

If any prisoner of war considers himself incapable of working, he shall be permitted to appear before the medical authorities of his camp. Physicians or surgeons may recommend that the prisoners who are, in their opinion, unfit for work, be exempted therefrom.

Article 56
The organization and administration of labour detachments shall be similar to those of prisoner of war camps.

Every labour detachment shall remain under the control of and administratively part of a prisoner of war camp. The military authorities and the commander of the said camp shall be responsible, under the direction of their government, for the observance of the provisions of the present Convention in labour detachments.

The camp commander shall keep an up-to-date record of the labour detachments dependent on his camp, and shall communicate it to the delegates of the Protecting Power, of the International Committee of the Red Cross, or of other agencies giving relief to prisoners of war, who may visit the camp.

Article 57
The treatment of prisoners of war who work for private persons, even if the latter are responsible for guarding and protecting them, shall not be inferior to that which is provided for by the present Convention. The Detaining Power, the military authorities and the commander of the camp to which such prisoners belong shall be entirely responsible for the maintenance, care, treatment, and payment of the working pay of such prisoners of war.

Such prisoners of war shall have the right to remain in communication with the prisoners' representatives in the camps on which they depend.


But I assume these provisions cease at the end of hosilities and the 'speedy' release of Pows is expected.

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Klaus Yurk
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Post by Klaus Yurk » 01 Apr 2005 06:43

But I assume these provisions cease at the end of hosilities and the 'speedy' release of Pows is expected.


Peter,

Thank you. Very informative. The above cut begs the question....what is speedy release? Dad surrendered in what...May of 1945? He worked on ships in Lorient environs until Nov. of 1947. He said he ever saw a penny. Or a Franc, as the case may be. (Maybe someone in France owes us some money :lol:. Maybe they are holding it for us :P ) Maybe it was one of those deals where they charged for food just exactly what you earned. :( Then, in 1947, he was sold, or turned over, to the French farmer for two more years of "voluntary" service. Which he never volunteered for. And at the same great rate of pay, of course. Had he not run away, he would have worked about five years for...... not one penny. And, but for the hasty marriage, the good old American MPs would have certainly returned him to finish out his term of slavery. Or whatever you want to call it.

Speedy release? Excuse me if I'm cynical. :roll:

Well anyway, thanks for your help. Appreciate it.

Klaus

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Peter H
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Post by Peter H » 01 Apr 2005 07:06

Klaus,
I was refering to the Geneva Convention of 1949,Article 118:

Prisoners of war shall be released and repatriated without delay after the cessation of active hostilities.


The 1945 experience must have influenced this new Article.


The 1929 Convention(which applied in WW2) has this to say:

Article 75.
When belligerents conclude a convention of armistice, they must, in principle, have appear therein stipulations regarding the repatriation of prisoners of war. If it has not been possible to insert stipulations in this regard in such convention, belligerents shall nevertheless come to an agreement in this regard as soon as possible. In any case, repatriation of prisoners shall be effected with the least possible delay after the conclusion of peace.

Prisoners of war against whom a penal prosecution might be pending for a crime or an offense of municipal law may, however, be detained until the end of the proceedings and, if necessary, until the expiration of the punishment. The same shall be true of those sentenced for a crime or offense of municipal law.

On agreement between the belligerents, commissions may be established for the purpose of searching for dispersed prisoners and assuring their repatriation.


I think the French(as in 1919-20) maximised the conditional terms stated above to enjoy the fruits of Pow labour after the war.

Peter

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Post by David Thompson » 01 Apr 2005 15:49

Klaus -- Here is some more information on the treatment of German POWs by France:

http://home.arcor.de/kriegsgefangene/france/france.html
(See the links to documents at bottom of page)

http://www.zum.de/whkmla/region/france/ ... 949ec.html
http://barthes.ens.fr/clio/revues/AHI/r ... eguer.html (in French)

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Post by JamesL » 01 Apr 2005 16:40

David - thanks for the Gen. Ramcke link. Fascinating letter!

My acquaintance fought under the General and held him in high esteem. He would almost snap to attention at the mention of Gen. Ramcke's name.

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Post by David Thompson » 01 Apr 2005 16:51

JamesL -- You're welcome. Ramcke's surrender to American troops is the subject of a well-known military painting, which can be seen at:

http://www.militaryartgallery.com/HTML/ ... ntials.htm

There is a brief bio sketch of Ramcke at viewtopic.php?p=277222#277222

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Post by Klaus Yurk » 01 Apr 2005 19:59

A sincere "Thank You!" to all, especially you Mr. Thompson. You have given me lots of material to read.

I'm working on a book of my father's life, partly done, incorporating most of the "war stories" he told me when he finally, and briefly, began to talk about his life during the war. As kids, we knew he had been a soldier, had a picture of him in uniform in the house, but he never spoke at all about it. When pressed, he'd say, "You wouldn't understand."

Finally, when I was in my 30's, he began for the first time to tell me about the war. And I was really the only one of his children he ever spoke to about it. Puting down oral history from 20 + year old memories is tough. I want to be sure of my facts and place them in the proper order.

He's deceased now, and if I don't write this material down, his life, his story, will disappear from the face of the earth.

So, again, gentlemen, a sincere thanks to you all.

Klaus

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Barry Graham
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Post by Barry Graham » 02 Apr 2005 08:58

It seems the Allied approach to prisoners of war varied from country to country.
I wonder how many of the Italian prisoners held in Australia returned among the 350,000 Italians that entered this country when Australia opened it's doors to European migration after the war.


About 25,00 prisoners of war were held in Australia during World War II made up of 1600 Germans, 18,000 Italians and 5500 Japanese prisoners in camps guarded by Citizen Military Force reservists.
There were a number of escapes, the most serious being the Cowra breakout of Japanese prisoners in 1944.

The POWs were not repatriated immediately after the war because of a shortage of shipping, but all except a small number of escapees had been sent home by January 1947.

By far the majority were Italians who had surrendered in vast numbers to the Australians in the Middle East. (presumably their love for life exceeded their love for Mussolini's fascist regime).
Eventually the Italian POWs weren't considered a threat and their imprisonment descended into farce.

The following is part of an article about the Rowville Camp near Melbourne.
The complete article can be read here:-
http://www.rlcnews.org.au/stories/army_ ... y_camp.php
Sources are quoted on the site.

In 1944 the American troops moved out of the camp and in December 1944 the Rowville hostel was established with one hundred Italian prisoners of war, one officer and seven other ranks.
The number of prisoners was increased to one hundred and fifty in January 1945. Although there was no increase in the number of military staff, later that year the number of prisoners grew to approximately three hundred.
The role of the camp was changed to that of a staging camp on 5th June 1945, with an increase in military staff which consisted of one officer and fifteen other ranks. This meant that all prisoners being moved from centre to centre around Victoria were dispatched through the Camp at Rowville. Prisoners were kept until there was sufficient justification for them to be sent to other camps around the State and used as farm labourers.
According to the Australian Archives, Italian prisoners of war were also used on military works at salvage depots, Fisherman's Bend, the Engineers Depot at Oakleigh and the Military Camp at Watsonia. Altogether a total of two thousand six hundred prisoners of war passed through the Rowville Camp until the government inquiry in 1946.

The Rowville Camp was a very low security area in semi-rural uncleared land. Around the perimeter was an ordinary wire fence, a little over a metre high, capable of keeping grazing cattle out rather than prisoners in. The camp had no sentries on the gates and there was nothing to stop an ordinary individual getting in or out, either by jumping over or crawling under the wire fence or just walking through the unguarded entrances of which there were four off Stud Road and one off Wellington Road.

Local residents' recollections of the prisoners varied greatly. Those who used them as farm labourers found them friendly, harmless men, other locals were not so happy with them working along the country roads in their 'crimson pyjama suits.' Many false stories were made up to discredit and make trouble for both the prisoners and the Italian farmers who had moved into the area. The latter were always raided whenever there was an escape as it was suspected that the prisoners were hiding there.

During January 1945 with about three hundred prisoners of war in the camp and only fifteen guards to control them, six prisoners of war escaped. As these men were without weapons, they were not considered to be a threat to the local community, but their escape caused considerable controversy because of the lack of security at the camp.

A newspaper article in the Dandenong Journal on 21st February 1945 recorded that residents at a public meeting of the Council were perturbed by the wanderings of the prisoners of war from the Rowville Camp. It was mentioned that groups of prisoners had been seen wandering the roads at 10 o'clock at night, and on one occasion fourteen prisoners had approached the doorkeeper and sought to be admitted to the dance at Mulgrave.

The degree of supervision of the prisoners was not unduly restrictive. They were allowed to go within one mile from the camp but were not supposed to cross over the Dandenong Creek. They were also forbidden to have any personal contact with local residents and to generally conduct themselves beyond reproach.

Because of the general lack of supervision prisoners continued to escape believing that by doing so they could remain in Australia instead of being repatriated to Italy. This belief was offset to a certain extent by some camp Commanding Officers who pointed out that prisoners of war who escaped and were found after repatriation had been carried out would also be deported from Australia because at that time they would be regarded as prohibited immigrants.


And this story from a website promoting travel in Central Victoria.

On the Midland Highway about 16km south-west of Shepparton in north-western Victoria, the Tatura district was the host to a swag of the 18,000 Italian prisoners of war who languished in this country during the early 1940s.
The guards at Italian POW camps - including the one at Murchison, about 26km down the road - were not noted for their diligence. In fact one prisoner managed to escape for long enough to become salesman of the month for a cosmetic company in Melbourne.
In another incident, guards of a day-release work gang got so drunk that the prisoners had to drive themselves back to camp.


The escape by the Japanese prisoners from Cowra has been well documented but I can't find much on the history of German prisoners in Australia.

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