An ongoing research project at the NTNU is exploring how slave work during WW2 laid foundations for Norway’s economic growth. This article is from Gemini, the online news channel on science and research at the NTNU.
This land was built on slavery
Professor Hans Otto Frøland, Department of History and Classical Studies, converses with the reporter Siv Ingrid Skau Ekra:During World War II 140 000 foreign slave laborers were sent to Norway. Europe had over 12 million slaves, but the highest number compared to population number were in Norway. We conduct research on the impact of slave labor on Norway’s national economy, how Norwegian and German companies used slaves to do the job, as well as the Organization Todt (OT), a paramilitary organization responsible for slave labor. OT was led by engineers and followed in the wake of the Wehrmacht in occupied countries.The National Archives has an OT register which consists of over 15 meters worth of shelves with hitherto untouched index cards. The register is unique because such records were often destroyed in other countries. Slave workers were registered as prisoners but other details such as, enrollment, gender, age, nationality, profession, ethnicity,religion and political views are also recorded. These data are compared with economic data from the archive to find out who the slaves were, how much they cost, how many work teams were put together, and how productive they were. The analysis will also show how racial ideology influenced the Nazi regime’s economic thinking.The slave workers we know the most about are the 100 000 Russian and the 5000 Yugoslav war prisoners. They were in fact slaves, owned by the Wehrmacht and the SS and leased to the OT. We are researching how 35 000 civilian slave laborers who came from all over Europe, most of the Soviet Union and Poland, but many from France and other Western European countries, were controlled by the OT. How were they recruited and how much force was used against them? What was the driving force in those who had more freedom? Many Westerners slave laborers were entitled to vacations and other welfare benefits. The conditions of many so-called Eastern workers resembled slavery. Several thousand slave laborers were women who were set to nursing, cleaning and office work.Already in the summer of 1940 the OT came to Trondheim to plan the submarine facility at Dora. The OT was established in Norway two years later, under the name Einsatzgruppe Wiking, and was the largest contractor.Hitler wanted to build Festung Norwegen because he was convinced that the D-day would be in Norway. The OT was responsible for the construction of airports, docks, fuel facilities, industrial plants, cold storage facilities along the coast, as well as the Nordland Railway line and the current E6 – with the NSB (National Rail Services) and the National Roads Administration involved in the projects.The OT signed contracts with Norwegian and foreign companies, ranging from small paint companies to large construction companies that covered costs and the agreed profit. Payment to the Germans came from the occupation account at the Bank of Norway.We will investigate to what extent the Norwegian companies and government institutions were integrated into the Nazi economy. Many companies were formed to profit from the occupation, and 16 000 cases were investigated after the war for economic treason.
Norwegian economy flourished with the German arms ambitions. Unemployment disappeared in the autumn of 1940. Labour was the bottleneck in the German armaments economy in Europe and the Nazi regime used increasingly forced labour from 1941. Without the forced and slave laborers the arms industry would probably have collapsed in 1942.In Norway, the widespread use of forced labor came about because forced mobilization of Norwegians to work service was unsuccessful. The solution was foreign prisoners of war and civilian forced laborers.Did the companies use forced workers knowingly?How did they relate to them, or did they tried to limit the use? Or, were the companies also trapped in the system? We will find out.
I lead the research project and will myself investigate the German alloy program which caused a sevenfold increase in Norwegian aluminum production in a few years. Not only oxide and smelter would be built, but also power stations and supply lines. The program was a priority because Goering had a need for 50 000 new aircraft a year. The German company Nordag were chosen to implement the program, but failed. The OT therefore took over more responsibility, and supplied forced laborers to companies such as Norwegian Hydro Porsgrunn and the production plant at Årdal, which after the war became Årdal works.The government estimated loss of Norwegian work capacity under German occupation. Economists estimated what the war cost Norway materially, but did not include the contribution of the 140 000 foreign slave and forced laborers. Norway’s claim for war damages from Germany did not say anything about these aspects. It is difficult to determine the economic value of the annual work output of a forced laborer , but we will nevertheless make an estimate.
The research on forced labor economics has many ethical dilemmas, but will move the frontiers of this type of research. The dominating narrative of Norwegian heroism during the war will be challenged. Norway contributed to the extinction of the Norwegian Jews, and Norwegians participated in the extermination war on the Eastern Front. The use of foreign slave and forced laborers in Norway connect us to the Nazi regime’s war of extermination. 17,000 of the 140,000 forced and slave laborers died in Norway, and this is a greater number than the number of Norwegians who died. The suffering was unimaginable.