slavery during WW II

babcia [bah-b-cha] – grandma in Polish

I’ve called my babcia today. She is 92. We chatted for a while. I don’t even know how it got to the topic, but I started to ask her about the times when she came back from Germany, after almost 6 years of forced labor.

babcia’s hands

During WWII, about 12 million people were taken to Germany for forced labor (slavery), about 2/3 of them from Eastern European countries. It was human trafficking at it’s most organized, legalized form. Hitler’s Lebensraum idea concerned expanding the pure German, Aryan population toward the eastern territories. He considered Slavic (Poles, Russians, Serbs) nations (as well as Jews, Gypsies, Africans, homosexuals, prostitutes, criminals, disabled) as Untermenschen (sub-humans in German), inferior to the German race, and needed to be get rid of.

The sub-human, that biologically seemingly complete similar creation of nature with hands, feet and a kind of brain, with eyes and a mouth, is nevertheless a completely different, dreadful creature. He is only a rough copy of a human being, with human-like facial traits but nonetheless morally and mentally lower than any animal. Within this creature there is a fearful chaos of wild, uninhibited passions, nameless destructiveness, the most primitive desires, the nakedest vulgarity. Sub-human, otherwise nothing. For all that bear a human face are not equal. Woe to him who forgets it. (from a pamphlet “Sub-human” printed and distributed by The Race and Settlement Head Office in 1942 in Germany)

Hitler was determined to enslave and eventually kill all the Slavs, take their territories, and make Germans it’s inhabitants forever. His Generalplan Ost document was a well planned genocide. Extermination of all Poles was carefully planned. It would require about 20 years, from 1941, to wipe out the whole population of about 40 million Poles. By 1952, only 4 million Poles would still be alive as slaves of Nazi Germany.

After invading Poland in 1939, Germans and Russians alike were specifically looking into killing the elites of intelligentsia, political & military leaders and clergy of Poland. From the history of our country, when it ceased to exist for over 120 years in the XVIII-XIX centuries, they knew that what helped Poles survived was our faith, strong family values and underground education. These specific groups were targeted to wipe us out of the map of the world forever.

My grandma was one of those Poles, decided to be used as a slave in a German farm, until she could work. What fate would meet her later, no one knew. She was in her late 20-ties, taken by force to Germany and worked for almost 6 years. She was used to hard work before, her mom died when she was just 9 years old. I don’t know much about the kind of work she had to do. I know that they had one meal a day, worked all day long. After 6 years, they were released to go back to Poland.

She came back with my grandfather, pregnant with my aunt. And this is the story, I never heard before.

When they came to the city of Wroclaw, they were looking for a place to stay. There were Russians and Poles there, who liberated the city, German population who did not have time to escape, Polish repatriates from the East (Russians were given Eastern Polish territories by the decision of Roosevelt and Churchill, who did not protest Stalin in Yalta, in his greed for more civilized land; millions of people had to relocate; Wroclaw was the city, where Germans had to leave in order for Poles kicked out from the East, to live in). There were Polish partisants, wounded German soldiers, Russians and disoriented Poles looking for houses to settle in.

my babcia and my aunt

My grandma and grandpa picked a house on the outskirts of Wroclaw. Unexpectedly they met an elderly German couple still living in one of the apartments upstairs. They did not have time or anybody to help them to relocate, although the decree of deportation was in motion. This elderly couple was pretty scared. Before and during the war they lived in the basement of the house, which was occupied by different people. Their children were not allowed to go to the garden or play in the yard around the house. They were considered poor and not wanted to be seen by the tenants.

My grandma, who just returned from working for Germans as a slave, said that they can live together and help each other. The couple was grateful.

When the time came for her to give birth to my aunt, the couple went to look for a midwife. They walked for a few hours, trying to find her from house to house. A neighbour heard some noise, and seeing my grandma in labor, went out to the street and stopped some Russian truck. There was a Russian medic, who came and discovered my grandmother laying with her newborn baby daughter by her side, with her umbilical cord still attached. They were laying there for 3 hours. He cut the cord and left.

During the next few months, the German couple helped my grandma with the baby, while she was trying to get food and water for all of them day by day.

I listened to this story today and I was stunned. My grandma said only: there are people and not-so-people-like human beings. Wherever you are, you need to help others.

After many years, it was decided that Germany will pay compensations for those who were used in slave labor during WWII and were still alive. In a year 2000, I think, she got about $300.

12 thoughts on “slavery during WW II

  1. Iwka,
    This was so tragic. I am so sorry for not what only your your Grandmother, but also many other people of all nationalities suffered. Is it not amazing that the people that your Grandparents were helped by once returning to their city were….”German”…..that really was the hand of God I feel.
    Not all Germans represented or respected what was and did happen. So Sad. Most of my family left Germany BEFORE WWII…..we feel that their familes “saw the storm” that was coming and got most of them out after WWI.
    I LOVED what your Babcia said…..” there are people and not-so-people-like human beings. Wherever you are, you need to help others.” That was so significant. And shows love and forgiveness as well.
    I’m glad you still have the oppertunity to hear and to learn from your Grandmother….I miss mine dearly. Cherish the time you have left with her and call her often.

  2. My Mother was a forced worker for Nazi Germany but passed away before she was eligible for the $ 300.00.
    The Invasion ( she lived in Warsaw) and her eventual capture affected her for her entire life.
    The sad events of your Grandparents help remind us that these horrific events did occur in history and they affect each one of us as individuals.
    Thank You for for site.

  3. Dear Iwka,
    Thank you for sharing your babcia’s moving story. My mother, Julia Zaba, was 24 years old when Poland was invaded by the Germans. She was used as forced labor on a farm in Germany. I’m researching the WWW and ITS to find this farm and the other Poles who were there with my mother. My mother never wanted to talk much about her experience on the farm or at the DP camp after the war – the chain of events traumatized her too much to talk about her experiences.

    Treasure what your blessed babcia has told you.


  4. nice site,
    i know of my grandfathers brother, who was a young doctor sent to the death camp Auschwitz. he used to hide jews from being killed, and even stole medicine to treat some of them. true story. he died a few years ago in Poland…

  5. My mother was taken at 14 into forced labor in Austria from her village Horod in the Carpathian Mountains. She was worked hard and almost starved to death. She passed away in 1998. I miss her every day. Thank you for sharing your baba’s story. I learned that many of the children taken into forced labor did not survive and after hearing our mama’s story I don’t know how she survived?

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