Nord Pas de Calais Camps Trail
(c) Marcus Roberts (2016). We gratefully acknowledge the support of an anonymous foundation and the Muriel and Gershon Coren Charitable Foundation.


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Introduction: The Holocaust and Slave Labour in Nord Pas de Calais

Many people understand the Holocaust principally as the Jews of many European countries being deported from their homes across Europe, either direct to the concentration camps in the east for immediate death in an extermination camp, or to be worked and starved to death over a number of weeks in camps like Auschwitz, or to a ghetto in Eastern Europe for a period of forced labour and starvation, before final deportation to a concentration camp and gas chamber. Alternatively, the 'Holocaust by bullets' for many Jews in Russian territories, is the other major Holocaust narrative.

However, the role of slave-labour and Jewish slave labour camps in the Holocaust is little known. The most recent research by the Holocaust Memorial Museum and others, high-lights the fact that many Jews were also deported and used as slave labourers in a network of 2,400 forced labour camps for Jews in locations all across Europe; the most westerly camps were in the Channel Islands. The prisoners were often detained in a number of slave-labour camps before final deportation to terminal concentration camps like Auschwitz, or extermination camps such as Treblinka. Furthermore, this experience of slave labour was shared by millions of other non-Jews from three continents, some of whom were also designated for death through 'annihilation through labour'. There were incredibly around 43,000 camps, ghettoes and prisons of all types and for all prisoners (not just Jews), across the Nazi empire, including c. 30,000 forced labour camps for civilian workers in Germany and occupied countries.

The experience of slave labour was very important in the Nord Pas de Calais, due to its great military importance. There were a great many slave labour camps used for the construction of the Atlantic Wall and the great V Weapon block houses. The super-human labour carried out by these slaves and other involuntary labour is still witnessed by the hundreds of surviving Nazis concrete constructions, great and small, across the landscape of the Nord Pas de Calais. Many of these slave workers were in fact under the control of Organisation Todt (OT) - Hitler's civil works super-contractor, which was a militarised construction organisation, employing civilians and civilian contractors, as well as the military.

The OT carried out one of the largest scale building programmes since Roman times, in the space of five years. The OT was a supreme expert in constructing field defences and under-ground facilities. The German staff of the organisation never exceeded 350,000, but they 'employed' a force of around 1.5 million German and non-German labourers at their zenith from May 1942 - May 1943, with many in the Nord Pas de Calais. They may also have benefitted from the indirect services of an additional 2 million men and women. The OT was particularly active in the Nord Pas de Calais and the vast scale of the operations of Todt, over-seen by Sauckel and Speer in this area, focused on the construction of the Atlantic Wall as well as on the secret V Weapons sites.

Within Nord Pas de Calais, a great proportion of the Todt Work-force were, 'East Workers' (Ostarbeiter) and 'Forced Labourers' (Zwangsarbeiter) particularly Russians. At one point Field Marshall, Erwin Rommel was in charge of the labour force in the Nord Pas de Calais. As slave labourers, Jews were sometimes working in camps that were only for Jews, or in other cases they were often detained (but segregated), alongside other detainees, political prisoners, convicts, prisoners of war and pressed and slave labourers of multi-national origins, from across Europe, Africa and Indo-China, and whose conditions, while variable, could sometimes, at worst be little different from that the Jews. Russian prisoners of war and pressed Russian labour were treated particularly badly and were expected to die through mistreatment and starvation.

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