Forced Labour of Soviet POWs

The project “Forced Labour of Soviet POWs within the Wehrmacht Camp System in Lower Saxony (1941–1945)” was funded by the Lower Saxony Ministry for Research and Culture through the PRO*Niedersachsen programme. It looked at the system of POW camps (stalags) and their satellite camps and work details that were run by the Wehrmacht, the German civil administration and private businesses and enterprises. During WWII, POWs were deployed to work in agriculture, construction or industrial production in almost every city, town or village in Germany. This system significantly contributed to the German wartime economy. The conditions under which the Soviet POWs were deployed were in breach of regulations set out in the Geneva Convention. Maltreatment, lack of food and dangerous working conditions led to a high death rate among the POWs.

Project objectives

Geographically, the project examined the area under the authority of the Lower Saxony labour office in Hanover as of 1941/1942. The prisoners’ work deployment was organised from the stalags (main POW camps for enlisted personnel) at Bathorn, Fallingbostel, NeuVersen, Nienburg, Oerbke, Wietzendorf and Sandbostel. Up to 65,000 Soviet POWs had to work on the different work details and in the satellite camps and work details belonging to these camps.

Key questions

In the project’s first phase, the extant source material on forced labour of Soviet POWs has been evaluated and made accessible through a database and a published collection of materials. The knowledge of these sources allowed further conclusions about the basic structure of the system of forced labour. The main questions in this respect has been: How was the system of camps, satellite camps and work details organised? What were the conditions there? What were the interests of the national and local authorities in the system of forced labour, and how much room for manoeuvre did they have? What role did racist ideological concepts play compared to economic and pragmatic considerations? How far were the POW camp system and the concentration camp system intertwined?

A data base with information on the individual work details for Soviet POWs has been compiled, and an annotated collection of source materials has been published in the spring of 2013. During the second phase of the project, individual studies into particular aspects of the subject were conducted.

For more information, please visit the project pages on the Lower Saxony Memorials Development Department site (German only):

Dokumentation Kriegsgefangenenlager