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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Camps and Prisoners in the Nord Pas de Calais

Research for this project has identified several distinctive types of camps and cohorts of prisoners in the Nord Pas de Calais 'Penal Archipelago'. The Nazis used 50,000 slave workers and prisoners on OT building-sites in occupied France, many supplied by the Vichy regime. For a large building project a force of 16,000 men was considered desirable. The physical scale of the work on the Atlantic wall is indicated as it is claimed that construction involved moving 20,000,000 cubic feet of earth, from May 1942 - May 1943. It was officially stated that it took 17,000 cubic meters of cement per single gun of the super-heavy coastal battery, for example at Battery Lindemann. Four of these batteries of the Todt type were installed in 10 weeks with a work force of 15,000 men with 400 trucks.

Organisation Todt Workers. The OT were the main employers of slave labour and Jewish slave labour in Nord Pas de Calais. A great proportion of the Todt Work-force were Ostarbeiters, 'East Workers' and Zwangsarbeiter (forced labours), particularly Russian POWs and press-ganged Russian labour (including children as young as 12 years old), but also included the Jews deported from Belgium and France via Alderney and other Jewish prisoners, as well as 27,000 Spanish Republicans.

SS Baubrigade Prisoners. The SS Baubrigade, 1, 3, 5, was a formation of German political and other convicts from German concentration camps, formed into labour details and loaned to the Army, Air Force and OT and administered by one of the concentration camps. The Baubrigade 1 was also active in Alderney. Treatment of these prisoners were especially harsh.

German Prisoners from the Emsland group of penal camps. This was a Kommando of mostly German prisoners, from the German Army (which included some Jews), with some foreign elements (from Poland, France, Belgium, Holland, Luxemburg and Czechoslovakia) with some civilians, drafted in from the Emsland group of penal camps, some 15 camps administered from Papenburg used from 1933 for political oppression by the Nazis for 'Special Prisoners'. These prisoners had been convicted of desertion, felony, etc, and contained objectors to the Nazi regime and other political prisoners. Some of the prisoners were in 'protective custody' and were awaiting trial for after the war. The British intelligence report notes: 'The camps, therefore, housed every type of man from conscientious objectors, democrats and listeners to the British wireless, to deserters, homosexuals and murderers'. Conditions in these camps around the Ems valley, were severe, with starvation, beatings, murder and mass murder, conditions in the French satellite camps were marginally better.

French Political Internees. Another labour contingent was of French Political internees from French Concentration camps and also of French convicts serving two-year or shorter sentences. The latter were farmed out by the Vichy Government to the OT for 35 Francs a day per capita.

All Jews in France between the ages of 20--33. A further critical component was the inclusion of all Jews in France between the ages of 20 - 23 (July 1943) and all Jews of the 1924 Class (June 1944) were also assigned to the OT. Furthermore, there were deportations of Jews from Belgium to work on the Atlantic Wall in 1942.

Colonial Forced Labour. The Colonial contingent in the forced labour groups is often over-looked and comprised Indo-Chinese (Annamites, Siamese) North Africans (Morrocans, Algerians, Sengalese) who were employed through-out the French Atlantic Coast and the Channel Islands. Some of these were captured components of the French Free Army, taken at the Fall of Dunkirk in 1940.

French 'Volunteer' Workers. There were also 'volunteer' French Workers, working in France and Germany, though the Nuremberg War Trials recognised that most of the French who believed that they had 'volunteered' as labour for the Nazis, did so under duress, 'the voluntary character of this recruiting was entirely fictitious'. There was also the Youth Work Yards (Chantiers de Jeunesse) for young French people who were illegally requisitioned for German labour.

French STO Labourers. Many French workers were forced into service as STOs under the Service du Travail Obligatoire scheme (compulsory Work Service). The STO scheme was created in collaboration between the Vichy and Nazi regimes, such that French labour substituted for German man-power sent to the Eastern Front and in return for each three French labourer one French POW would be returned to France. A total of 738,000 French workers were pressed into compulsory labour service in France alone.

French GTE Workers. The Vichy regime created a xenophobic, anti-Semitic and anti-Communist system of civil labour camps, the so-called 'Foreign Worker Groups' ('Groupes de Travailleurs "trangers', GTE) and from 1941 the Germans tapped into this pool of workers for work in Northern France. This included Jews, Spanish Republicans and Communists.

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