Forced labourers from abroad

In World War II forced labourers from abroad, male and female, were also part of every day life in Mannheim. They had to work at companies like "BBC" (now ABB), "Lanz" (now John Deere) and "Daimler-Benz" (now Daimler), as well as to do clearance work after air raids and built new air-raid shelters.

It was not unusual for the forced labourers had to help farmers as a contemporary witness reported:

Our neighbours had a form. One day my neighbour said to me: 'If you need someone to do some work for you, we have an Italian here who will do it for you.' He came then and dug our gar den. Afterwards I gave him something to eat.

(Mrs. M. on 16 March 1984)


Chosen for Daimler-Benz in Mannheim

When the number of German workers diminished towards the end of World War II, Daimler-Benz, like many other big armaments factories in the Third Reich, feil back on prisoners from concentration camps.

In the late summer of 1944 the management of Daimler-Benz had probably demanded from the Main Economic and Administrative Office (Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt) of the SS in Berlin that the Natzweiler concentration camp should make prisoners available for the Daimler-Benz plant in Mannheim.

Since lst October 1944 the plant in Mannheim employed at least 1060 prisoners. They had been chosen by a delegation of Daimler-Benz Mannheim in the Dachau concentration camp and brought to Mannheim where they were accommodated by the then Friedrichschule.


The Working Conditions at the Daimler-Benz Plant

In order to control the prisoners of each individual Workshop more easily, they received coloured patches in addition to the tagging used in the concentration camps. With the help of these patches they could be assigned to the various working areas. It was as well usual that the prisoners had to fall in regularly for the roll call on the factory premises.

Until Christmas 1944 there were at least two shifts each day. The day shift in which the majority of the prisoners worked, started at 6.00 a.m. and ended at 6.00 p.m., the night shift began a 6.00 p.m. and ended at 6.00 a.m. However, the working day did not always last 12 hours, so that the prisoners had to work sometimes "only" 10 hours. Probably the prisoners had to work 6 54 days a week. On this matter there are varying testimonies of witnesses.

The forced labourers came under extra pressure because they had to meet the work rate that was expected of them. Moreover there were foremen at Daimler-Benz who sympathized with the SS and treated the prisoners accordingly.

We were treated in a very bad manner while we were working at Daimler-Benz, especially by a German foreman who supervised my fellow workers and me working on the assembly line. He was a fall, slim man who wore always a party badge on the breast pocket of his jacket. He always yelled at and beat the prisoners when they could not work as fast as the assembly line moved.

(Contemporary witness J. Kubicki)


Working in various fields

The forced labourers worked almost everywhere: on the assembly line, operating machines, in the foundry and the paint shop. Some of them who had a flair for graphics worked as tracers in the office. Those who worked in the company-owned garden as a member of the gardening commando(" Gärtnerkommando") were extremely lucky because for them it was relatively easy to tuck in some extra food.


The Way to Work

Every morning the prisoners had to walk six kilometres (about 4 miles) to the Daimler-Benz plant situated in Mannheim-Luzenberg. If the Situation allowed it, the forced labourers were taken in wagons to Daimler-Benz, if not they had to manage to get there on foot in their clogs.

The snow stuck to the wood of the clogs, we slipped and feil onto the road, and the marching pace of the column was slowed down.

(Diary excerpt from J. Kubicki)


The Payment

The cash up between the concentration camp and the employing Company, in this case Daimler-Benz, was conducted via the Main Economic and Administrative Office (Wirtschaftsverwaltungshauptamt) in Berlin. The SS demanded 6-8 Reich mark for a skilled worker and 4 Reich mark for an unskilled worker per working day.
The working day lasted about 11 hours. The forced labourers were of course not paid for their work, it was not intended that they would receive payment.


Contacts with other factory employees

Before their first working day on 28l Sept. 1944 all prisoners had to line up on the factory site. A deputy manager held a "welcoming speech" in which he emphasized strongly that forced labourers were not allowed to talk among themselves or to other workers. They were only allowed to talk to foremen if their work required it.

Moreover the prisoners were not allowed to

  • accept something from someone, e.g. food
  • to leave their workplace without permission
  • to smoke
  • to work slowly. This was considered Sabotage and was punished by the death sentence.

Although right at the beginning strict rules were drawn up regarding the dealings with foreign workers. The German workers did not always want to follow these bureaucratic regulations as shown in the following testimony of a contemporary witness:

There were comrades who worked together with Germans and were given food by them. I was not so lucky.

(K. Zbrzeski on 05 Sept. 1989)