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Forced labour in forestry

Prisoners of war and forced laborers in the Harz forests of the Lower Saxony State Forests

Triggered by the discovery of the workbook of a Soviet-Russian culture woman who had to do forced labor in the former forestry office in Langelsheim (Knolle 2007), the sparse literature available on this subject was researched and contemporary witnesses were interviewed.

The work book of a forced laborer found in Langelsheim who worked in the Langelsheim forestry office until the end of the war (Archiv Trace Search Harz Region e.V.)

The former head of the Andreasberg State Forestry Office, forest director Kurt Reulecke, who died in 2010, reported to the author on January 26, 2002 that he caught a French prisoner of war poaching in the Walkenried Forstamt while on leave from the front during World War II. When he reported the case to the police, the officer asked, "Why didn't you just shoot him?"

Lower Saxony State Forests

Curious in this way, inquiries were made in 2002 to the Lower Saxony State Forests as to whether further documents were known on this subject. The answers made it clear that although information is available, no one had previously dealt with this topic systematically and that this was apparently not planned at the time.

In contrast to the processing of this dark chapter of the history of the Harz Mountains in many companies, municipalities and other employers of the Nazi era, the Lower Saxony State Forests regrettably only hesitantly made their contribution to brightening up this period from 2015 onwards.


This processing deficit of the state forests became widely public when the 70th anniversary of the Lower Saxony Forest Education Center (NFBz) was approaching. It was founded in 1936 in Münchehof near Seesen on the edge of the Harz Mountains as a "training camp for German forestry work".

In the jubilee brochure of the Lower Saxony State Forests "A successful model turns seventy" from 2006, the Nazi history was presented completely uncritically - only the dates were given, not a single comment referred to the brown past.

There was even a photo of a Nazi functionary with a clearly visible swastika on his arm (minister, later Generalforstmeister Alpers) - but all without depicting the historical reference.

A circular letter from the Reichsforstmeister from 1943 was also shown as a facsimile – also without comment. But the following quote from the Braunschweig daily newspaper about the beauty of the NS architecture of the training center was obviously important: "... beautiful half-timbered building based on old craftsmanship, which ... has nothing in common with the word camp other than the term."

Page 4 of the withdrawn anniversary brochure of the Lower Saxony State Forests "A successful model turns seventy" from 2006

At the time, this led to an embarrassing scandal for the state forests - politicians from the Greens asked in the state parliament,

Prime Minister Wulff apologized and had the brochure confiscated.

But even after that, the state forests, incomprehensibly, did not initially address the issue.

State of knowledge

In the course of the research, there were more clues on the subject than initially expected - it can be seen that practically every forestry office in the Harz had its own prisoner of war camp, because wood was a raw material that was important to the war effort.

Baranowski (1995), Gattermann (2003), Fiedler & Ludewig (2003) and Artelt (2004) gave isolated indications of the use of prisoners of war in today's state forests as well as in the municipal and other forests of the Harz Mountains.

Gebhardt (2004) lists the following camps:

Altenau - 25 men

Bad Harzburg, Radautal outdoor camp - 50 Russians

Badenhausen, Room Restaurant Kaiser, commando 1208

Braunlage, Schützenhaus - 80 French

Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Schützenhaus and camp Sonne - max. 40 men, mostly Serbians

Clausthal-Zellerfeld, Neue Mühle - max. 65 men (Upper Innerstetal, camp of the Grund forestry office)

Göttingerode, camp 3381

Hahnenklee - 40 men.

Herzberg, Lonauer Hammerhütte

Hohegeiss - 30 men

Lauterberg, Kupferhütte/Augenquelle

Lindthal - 20 men

Lonau, Langfast - 35 Russians


Oderhaus, cattle barn - 20 men

Oderteich, ski hut of MTV Goslar - 30 men, initially French, from 1942 Russians



Sankt Andreasberg, Samson mine - 35 Russians

Scharzfeld, train station


Schulenberg, sawmill Bramke - 30 Russians

Seesen, Schützenplatz, Commando 1207 - 25 Russians

Sieber, Gropenborn - 25-30 Russians


Walkenried - 70 men of all nations

Wienrode, the woods of Duke Ernst-August

Zorge - 26 French

According to Hein & Küpper-Eichas (2006), in 1941 mainly French and Serbian prisoners of war were employed in the Harz Mountains, from 1942 more Russian and from 1943 Italian prisoners were added.

From 1944 - 1945 the use for logging took place under the direction of the Organization Todt. Accommodation was in separate camps.

In order to prevent escapes, shelters that are rarely or not used should be dismantled. If prisoners of war were found without supervisory personnel, firearms could be used.

The forestry offices often complained that the prisoners of war were not adequately equipped with clothing and shoes, and the Landesforstmeister Hildesheim stated in a note by December 16, 1942:

"The medical examination of all the managers in the district (...) showed that, with a few exceptions, the nutritional status of the managers employed in the forest is particularly bad, even worse than in the industrial plants".


French prisoners of war in front of a barracks in the “Donnershagen” camp, Knobben forestry office in Solling, probably 1943.

Source: Uslar city archive, Schreckenbach collection

NS forced labor: municipal forest office

From November 1942 to August 1944 (probably) 2 to 3 (French) prisoners of war were employed by the municipal forestry office in Herberhausen and from September 1943 to July 1944 6 to 10 Soviet prisoners of war.

However, we only know for sure that in September 1943 a total of ten Soviet prisoners of war (six for ten months, four for eight months) were transferred from the Schulenberg forestry office in the Upper Harz to the Herberhausen forestry office for logging and that in March 1944 - i.e. still within projected deployment time of these prisoners - two Soviet prisoners of war escaped from their camp in the Roringer inn Hippe.

The guards immediately took up the pursuit - but initially unsuccessfully.

However, due to the use of all the gendarmerie posts and militias in the area, the fugitives were discovered the next day in a hayloft in Roringen. The escape attempt most likely brought the two prisoners to concentration camps.

Report about the failed escape attempt of two Soviet prisoners of war

Incidentally, on the question of the use of forced laborers in the municipal forest, the files contain a message from Oberbürgermeister Gnade at the council meeting on March 31, 1944, that the forest workers' question had been solved "brilliantly" for the municipal forest, they "had Russians and prisoners". and the felling could have been carried out on time.

Unfortunately, the phrase "Russians and prisoners" is relatively ambiguous: either civilian "Eastern workers" and Soviet prisoners of war were meant, although there are no indications of the continuous deployment of "Eastern workers" in the city forest in the very incomplete files elsewhere.

Or Gnade meant Soviet prisoners of war and prisoners of war of other nationalities, so probably French.

This is conceivable because the diaries of the city forestry office for the period from November 1942 to August 1944 show regular, albeit not particularly high, payments to the Fallingbostel prisoner of war camp.

However, these payments could also have been made for Soviet prisoners of war.

Without finding more sources, this question cannot be decided. However, the small amount of the payments, from which - since the number of working days is not specified - cannot be reliably inferred from the number of prisoners used, shows that there could have been a maximum of two to three French prisoners of war, who probably were not paid every day worked for the forest service.

Civilian forced laborers were also used by the municipal forestry office: In April 1942, the city set up a "labour camp" for nine Slovenes in Bösinghausen for 1,500 RM, of which 500 RM were billed to the Slovenes for clothing and boots deducted from their meager wages.

It is not known where and for how long they worked for the forestry department. In the racist hierarchy of the National Socialists, Slovenian civilian workers were on an equal footing with Poles.

Polish forced laborers from agriculture were temporarily made available to the forestry office in the winter of 1943/44 (from the end of September 1943 for four months).


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