The history of Völklinger Hütte is one of economic success, technological innovation and social projects. However, Völklinger Hütte also has a dark history involving acts that have been punished as war crimes. This dark history includes the use of forced labourers during the two world wars and Hermann Röchling’s associations with Adolf Hitler and the Nazis.
During the Second World War, around 70,000 foreign workers and prisoners of war worked in the mines, ironworks and factories of the Saar region. A total of 12,393 men, women and children were registered as forced labourers at Völklinger Hütte and its auxiliary plants. These forced labourers included French, Italian and Russian POWs as well as Russian and Ukrainian civilians who had been deported from the former Soviet Union.
It took violence and threats of punishment to force most of these labourers to manufacture munitions that would later be used against their home countries. The working conditions were discriminatory and inhumane, and 261 foreign workers, most of them forced labourers, died. Sixty of these were children and infants.
The main coercive tool was the “work rehabilitation camp” at Etzenhofen, where Röchling Iron- and Steelworks sent workers to be disciplined. After their shifts, “insubordinate” foreign workers were deprived of sleep and forced to do drills. During the day, they were assigned the hardest, most dangerous work.
It is important to note that Hermann Röchling played a leading role in the Reich. As chairman of the Reich Iron Association, he was involved in recruiting and deporting forced labourers from occupied European countries to iron- and steelworks throughout the Reich. Forced labourers from the Soviet Union – known as “Ostarbeiter” (eastern workers) – were subjected to particularly brutal punishment, and as a result they suffered a higher death rate.
The use of forced labourers at Völklinger Hütte was not part of the infamous SS “Extermination through Work” programme deployed in concentration camps. However, forced labourers were most likely exploited, paid less and fed less than their German colleagues, and they were treated as if they were of less value and had fewer rights.
Second World War:
Not documented: 39
Total number of these who were children or infants: 579
Total number of these who died: 261
Total number of these who were children or infants: 60
Forced labourers’ places of origin:
Number of these from Western Europe: 6,999
Number of these from Eastern Europe: 5,310
Origin not documented: 80
Countries of origin: Albania | Belgium | Bulgaria | Denmark | Estonia | France | Italy | Yugoslavia | Croatia| Luxembourg | Lithuania | Morocco | Netherlands | Poland | Serbia | Slovenia | Soviet Union| Czechoslovakia | Ukraine | Hungary
First World War:
According to company records, there were 1,446 forced labourers at Völklinger Hütte during the First World War. Over the course of the war, 143 forced labourers died.