Saturday, 14 April 1945

Violence against forced labourers at the end of the war

While defensive installations are being erected in Berlin in great haste, Soviet troops are already standing west of the Oder. In view of the looming defeat, the situation for the forced labourers becomes even worse. Numerous foreign workers and innumerable concentration camp prisoners fall victim to the murderous violence of the last weeks of the war by the Gestapo, SS, Wehrmacht, and in some cases by units of the "Volkssturm".

An order issued by "Reichsführer SS" Heinrich Himmler on April 14, 1945 to the commanders of the concentration camps and heads of the prisons, which is often described as the prelude to the "death marches", has become known: No prisoner may fall alive into the hands of Allied troops. Even if Himmler's central order to murder concentration camp prisoners and foreign forced labourers cannot be proven - at least not in writing - the evacuations of the camps and prisons in and around Berlin are also repeatedly accompanied by massive violence and even targeted executions. Tens of thousands of concentration camp inmates, prisoners of war and forced labourers are set in motion from Sachsenhausen, Ravensbrück and other camps in western direction shortly afterwards. Shortly before the end of the war, the SS clears prisons, such as the Gestapo's house prison in Berlin's Prinz-Albrecht-Straße, and executes the inmates.

Fear of resistance and revenge actions by the civilian forced laborers and escaped prisoners is widespread among the Nazi leadership and the German civilian population. In Berlin, there are repeated violent actions against foreign workers. The former French forced laborer François Cavanna reports: "With our stomachs tightened, we set off again to our wretched construction site. It is located in the Uhlandstraße area. (...) They have rammed roof beams into the rubble. They've tied three girls and a guy to it. Russians. They fired a bullet into each other's necks. Their smashed heads are hanging on their chests."