Saturday, 7 April 1945

Duty at the risk of death

The last months of the war were marked by signs of disintegration, but also by the increasing danger to life from the air raids. Approximately 14,000 people were constantly engaged in air-raid protection in the imperial capital. It is hardly known that many of them were forced labourers.

Civilian forced labourers, prisoners of war and concentration camp prisoners were used to remove rubble after bomb hits or to defuse unexploded ordnance. They also had to dig up buried persons and bury corpses. Some of the forced labourers even wore the blue or grey uniforms of the "Technische Nothilfe" - they were supposed to replace the Berlin "Nothelfer" (emergency helpers) who were meanwhile deployed at the front.

In the last weeks of the war, more and more forced labourers had to help dig trenches and erect tank barriers, at the risk of their lives. As former forced labourer Euzebiusz Wiktorski reports: "Before the invasion of the RedArmy, the majority of people were sent to dig trenches and do other work outside the factory. Those who remained in the factory dismantled, preserved and sank the better machines in the canal." With a little luck, the forced labourers were able to find food in the rubble, which made this activity seem privileged. At the same time, however, they exposed themselves to the danger of being punished with death as "plunderers".