Photo: Hamburg, 1936; during the celebration for the launch of a ship. In the crowd, one person refused to raise his arm to give the Nazi salute. The man was August Landmesser. He had already been in trouble with the authorities, sentenced to two years hard labor for marrying a Jewish woman. We know little else about August Landmesser, except that he had two children. By pure chance, one of his children recognized her father in this photo when it was published in a German newspaper in 1991. How proud she must have been in that moment.
The German Nazis were responsible for the Holocaust, the killing of approximately 6 million Jews (overwhelmingly Ashkenazim), as well as 2.5 million ethnic Poles, and 4 million others who were deemed “unworthy of life” (including the disabled and mentally ill, Soviet prisoners of war, homosexuals, Freemasons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Romani) as part of a programme of deliberate extermination. About 12 million, most of whom were Eastern Europeans, were employed in the German war economy as forced labourers.
In addition to Nazi concentration camps, the Soviet gulags (labour camps) led to the death of citizens of occupied countries such as Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia, as well as German prisoners of war (POWs) and even Soviet citizens who had been or were thought to be supporters of the Nazis. Sixty percent of Soviet POWs of the Germans died during the war.
Richard Overy gives the number of 5.7 million Soviet POWs. Of those, 57 percent died or were killed, a total of 3.6 million. Soviet ex-POWs and repatriated civilians were treated with great suspicion as potential Nazi collaborators, and some of them were sent to the Gulag upon being checked by the NKVD.
Japanese prisoner-of-war camps, many of which were used as labour camps, also had high death rates. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East found the death rate of Western prisoners was 27.1 percent (for American POWs, 37 percent), seven times that of POWs under the Germans and Italians. While 37,583 prisoners from the UK, 28,500 from the Netherlands, and 14,473 from United States were released after the surrender of Japan, the number for the Chinese was only 56.
According to historian Zhifen Ju, at least five million Chinese civilians from northern China and Manchukuo were enslaved between 1935 and 1941 by the East Asia Development Board, or Kōain, for work in mines and war industries. After 1942, the number reached 10 million.
The US Library of Congress estimates that in Java, between 4 and 10 million romusha (Japanese: “manual laborers”), were forced to work by the Japanese military. About 270,000 of these Javanese labourers were sent to other Japanese-held areas in South East Asia, and only 52,000 were repatriated to Java.
On 19 February 1942, Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066, interning about 100,000 Japanese living on the West Coast. Canada had a similar program. In addition, 14,000 German and Italian citizens who had been assessed as being security risks were also interned.
In accordance with the Allied agreement made at the Yalta Conference millions of POWs and civilians were used as forced labour by the Soviet Union. In Hungary’s case, Hungarians were forced to work for the Soviet Union until 1955.