Slaves from the Sącz Region – Forced Labor in the Occupation Policy of the Third Reich

Maria Molenda

Script for a HISTORY lesson
(for grades 1st to 4th of secondary school)

Class duration: 45 minutes

I. Subject of the lesson: Slaves from the Sącz Region – FORCED LABOR IN THE OCCUPATION POLICY OF THE THIRD REICH

II. The objectives of the lesson: introducing the students to the subject of forced labor as an element of the Third Reich terror policy in occupied Polish lands, especially in the Sącz region. After completing the lesson, the student knows the organizational mechanisms of forced labor / can list the forced labor camps in the Sącz region / has the knowledge about what performing such labor meant for the Polsh people and what for the Jewish people.

III. Methods: lecture / working with the map on the  website / working with source texts

IV. Lesson course:

  1. Greetings and organizational activities.
  1. Subject introduction: Presentation of the title of the class and reading a quote from the work by historian Michael Burleigh “The Third Reich: A New History” (quoted from page 481):
    “The Nazi empire was created by violence, lived by violence and was destroyed by violence.”
    The teacher asks the students to recall what were the goals of the Third Reich policy toward the conquered Poland.
  1. The teacher asks selected students to use the map on the „War-time Nowy Sącz” website and the “Labour Camps in Sącz Region” educational path to learn the number of localities where such camps existed.
  1. The teacher asks students if they know what labor camps were? Who worked in them and why? What were the working conditions in such a camp? During the conversation on the subject, the students should learn the term “labor camp”, as well as learn more about the reality of such camps, on the example of Rożnów and Rytro.

In the period of the German occupation the labor camps were places where people were detained and forced to work for the Third Reich. The prisoners would work in quarries, mines, and the armaments industry and in other places. The German word for labor camp is Arbeitslager, hence the name “lagier” used commonly in the occupied Poland.

Labor camps in the Sącz region, marked on the map, included, for example, the labor camp in Rożnów, created in connection with the dam construction, one of the largest German construction projects in the General Government. It was probably located near the construction site, and operated from 1939 to the end of 1942. In total, over 1000 people worked there in that period, mainly Jewish people from the Nowy Sącz ghetto. The conditions in the camp were terrible, and sick and weak prisoners were executed. The camp was re-activated in 1944 and it was intended to hold Polish prisoners who worked on fortification construction.

The teacher reads to the students a fragment of the memories of the Markus Lustig, a Jew from Nowy Sącz, who worked in the Rożnów camp:

It was at the turn of May and June, [1942] when I received a notice to report at the work office with a suitcase, and some clothes in it. We were put – a group of thirty boys – on a truck and sent to the labor camp in Rożnów. People have already been in the camp for a long time. The camp manager, a Jew, was called Liber Berliner. The camp – a few barracks with beds made of boards and straw – was located next to the dam on the Dunajec River. […] We did various works at the dam, mainly digging four cubic meters of dirt per day. Then I worked unloading cement bags from trucks. Given the conditions, it was possible to survive in the camp. There was enough food and every month we received an envelope with money, at a rate of three zlotys per week of work.

After the Germans deported and murdered the Jewish people from the Nowy Sącz ghetto, Markus Lustig was sent to the labor camp in Rytro, where the sawmill operated:

I worked with a Polish boy on machines cutting wood leftovers. […] We would work twelve hours a day. At first they gave us food twice a day. In the morning w got coffee and a piece of bread, and at noon we got soup and whatever was floating in it. […] On Sunday we did not work in the sawmill, but at the railway station vis-a-vis. We loaded barrack parts on railway cars, which were supposed to go to the German army sent to the east.

The teacher continues recounting Lustig’s memories of his stay in the camp:
Once he was so tired he fell asleep. When the guard found the sleeping boy, he beat his buttocks very hard. For a few days Markus was not able to sit down. For his bad behavior he was chosen to work outside of the camp, where he was exposed to severe weather conditions.

  1. The teacher discusses with the students the significance of forced labor for the Third Reich, providing basic information on the subject:

The Nazis were able to continue the war only by using forced labor in their agriculture and industry. The demand for labor force was increasing as the war lasted longer than expected and expenditures on the armaments production grew.

The plans to use the members of the enslaved nations in the Nazi state economy were created even before the German aggression against Poland. Almost 100.000 Austrian citizens were forced to work in the Reich after the country’s in the so-called Anschluss in March 1938. After the seizure of the Czech Republic, Moravia and Cieszyn Silesia, in March 1939 the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia was established with the  collaborating government, and soon 70.000 workers ended up in Germany. After the victory over France in 1940, about 1.200.000 French prisoners of war were forced to work in agriculture or at construction sites.
In total, during World War II, more than 12 million foreigners were forced to work in the Third Reich. Forced labor was one of the forms of extermination of the populations of the lands conquered by the Nazi Germany.

  1. The teacher discusses the forced labor of Polish people with students and provides basic information on the subject.

The Germans used the people from the Sącz region to work both in the Third Reich and in the General Government.

The obligation to work was imposed in the General Government on persons of 14 to 60 years of age. However, the age limits were not respected by the occupant, and both older people and children would be forced to work.

The local office, the so-called Arbeitsamt would organize workers for the Third Reich. This office would also decide where in the Reich there will be sent to.

RSHA or the Reich Security Main Office developed strict rules, by which the racially unwelcome laborers were to be isolated from the general German population. Foreigners working in the Reich were to be divided according to racial criteria, which affected their treatment and work assigned to them.

The first forced laborers were prisoners of war. As soon as October 1939, 46.000 Polish POWs were working for the Third Reich. In order to go around the requirements for the treatment of prisoners of war introduced by the Geneva Convention, the Germans used a trick, proposing the soldiers to be “released” from captivity, which led to staying in the Reich as a civilian “free worker”.

The workers were obtained by force by the Germans: in September 1939 the first Polish civilians were taken away for forced labor. The occupants would organize round-ups. The Germans created the population register very quickly and the German work offices would send summons for work; refusals were met with severe punishment, including concentration camps or repressions against ones family. On the General Government territories, the Germans ran a campaign encouraging voluntary applications for labor. But the actual conditions of the promised work differed significantly from the image painted by the propaganda.

The teacher reads a description made on the basis of the account of Józefa Lewicka (the whole testimony can be heard at the website):

Józefa Lewicka née Radziszewska was born in 1934 in Limanowa. During the war, she worked on building fortifications outside Stary Sącz. She remembered that she worked on building trenches. Although she was a child and was not even 10 years old, she had to take up work because her parents were not able to do it (Mrs. Józefa’s mother was seriously ill). Mrs Józefa mentions that the village head had the list of the names of people appointed to work, and the Germans would check whether the parents really could not work themselves. Mrs. Józefa, together with her sister Aniela, 3 years older than her, took their parents’ place. Working on the trenches took whole day, the girls would bring turf from the field and mask the trenches, which were being dug mainly by men. In the evening, the sisters would be very hungry, so they were force to engage in petty theft in the neighboring houses to get something to eat, usually fruits, such as pears, plums or anything else. While working on the trenches the only thing they could get was some marmalade from Tymbark and a piece of bread. Once a month, they received a food stamp for half a kilogram of groats and a loaf of black bread, apart from that they did not receive any pay. The work was carried out under the constant supervision of soldiers who were violent toward the workers. Aniela was brave and would rebel for which she was beaten. Once she lost her little shovel, which she used at work. After the day was over, they were supposed to turn the tools over; when Aniela reported that she does not have hers, the German wanted to shoot her for it. Aniela was saved by a man who was translating for the Germans, who offered his life in exchange for hers. In the end, the soldier did not shoot anyone. Forced labor lasted almost 3 years and was done in the cold. Józefa did not have suitable clothes, and she would wear clogs on her feet, wrapped in rags. No one was bothered when she and her sister fell sick. Józefa’s house was extremely poor, she and her siblings were always hungry. After her mother’s death it was even worse. The family could not count on the help of the sisters of the deceased, because they were taken to work in Germany. At the end of the war, the Germans withdrew from the area where Józefa used to work, taking the forced workers hostages for a some time.

  1. The teacher summarizes the class with the students, and asks the students about their thoughts. The etacher asks whether they can name any modern countries that create labor camps.
  1. End of lesson.