Forced labour - expropriation during the Nazi era

Forced labour in the Nazi context means that people were forced to work for racist, national, ethnic, religious and/or political reasons and, in particular, were subject to discriminatory working conditions. The lives of people, who were forced to work for the Nazis, were influenced by various factors such as racist hierarchies, types of hard work, material supply, food supply and accommodation, working hours, wages and treatment by superiors. Circumstances were further aggravated by punishment and forced abortions for women.

More than one third of the people working in trade and industry in 1944 were foreign civilians. The main fields of work were the building sector and construction of the Reichsbahn. Prisoners of war were primarily employed in agriculture and forestry and later on in skilled trade and industry, especially in the construction industry. The 40 external camps of the Mauthausen concentration camp located in various parts of the country and 13 smaller external camps of the concentration camp Dachau in the western part of Austria were built for the purpose of life-threatening forced labour. After 1942 concentration camp inmates were seen as a last labour reserve for the German war industry. In the early summer and autumn of 1944 at least 55,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to eastern Austria to do forced labour. Disastrous working and living conditions (especially along the Südostwall, a last attempt to fortify the border against the Russians) claimed the lives of thousands of people. As the front moved closer Jews were forced on death marches towards the concentration camps Mauthausen and Gunskirchen (in Upper Austria) and many places became the scenes of terrible massacres.


In contrast to forced labour in industry, there was a larger scope for different types of "good" or "bad" treatment in agriculture. Even though there was a large number of different situations, we can generally say that forced labourers in agriculture and forestry had far better food supply and their accommodation was in no way worse than that of other forced labourers. Farmers and producers had their delivery commitments and made very little profit with forced labourers. Forced labour did, however, secure the continuous operation of many businesses, and farmers also benefited from personal services.

Industrial businesses

Due to the working conditions the productivity of forced labourers was probably far lower than that of local workers. Employing foreign labourers was of no immediate advantage to industrial enterprises. However, soviet prisoners of war, in particular, often worked under conditions local workers would not have endured. Without forced labourers industrial enterprises would have had to step down production or close down altogether.

The state

The Nazi regime benefited in many ways from forced labour as it helped to maintain the war industry and contributed to social stabilisation. Forced labour also played a major role in infrastructure investments and in the implementation of various projects (housing construction, power stations). The values thus generated certainly proved a great benefit to the Austrian economy after 1945.

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