Forced Labour and Other Forms of the Nazi Terror and Exploitation in the Permanent Exhibition of the Museum of the Second World War in Gdańsk

The Museum of the Second World in Gdańsk (www.muzeum1939.pl) is scheduled to be opened at the end of 2016. It is a museum of the war, but not a military museum. The experience of civilians is the crucial one for its content and message. The topic of the forced labour is a part of the most important and largest section of its permanent exhibition, which is devoted to various forms of terror, genocide and exploitation. Apart from the forced labour, this section presents the following topics: system of repression against subjugated nations, deportations, concentration camps. Adjacent sections contain extermination of mentally and physically handicapped and the extermination of Jews. This reflects a deliberate approach that various forms of Nazi terror and exploitation were inter-related, influenced each other and should be presented jointly if one wants to explore their roots and dynamics.

The part devoted to the forced labour emphasizes a mass scale and multi-national character of this phenomenon. A key exhibit which shows these features of the slave labour in the Nazi system are Adrema plates used by the Germans for registering forced labourers. Those presented at the exhibition in Gdańsk were used during the war in the shipyards and other industrial plants in the area. The museum has got in its collection 1700 Adrema plates containing names of workers from many countries.

On the other hand the Museum wants to show individual stories of forced labourers. This goal is achieved by exhibits related to individual people, such as photographs, tools, armbands, cloth badges, diaries. The exhibition focuses as well on various aspects of everyday life of forced labourers. It is depicted by means of many original photographs. Among them the special role play taken by Zdenek Tmej, a Czech journalist and photographer, who in 1942-1944 was a forced labourer in Wrocław (Breslau).

The exhibition will also include topics of segregation between German population and forced labourers and reprisals. The latter issue will be presented by photographs of executions of forced labourers and also by film footage from a small Silesian town, showing a public humiliation of a German man and a Polish woman, who was a forced labourer. They were accused of having an intimate relationship and both punished. The man by sending him to the Eastern front, the woman by arresting by the Gestapo and sending to a concentration camp.

 

Paweł Machcewicz, historian and political scientist, graduated from the Department of History at the Warsaw University. He is currently professor at the Institute of Political Studies of the Polish Academy of Sciences and director of the Museum of the Second World War (under construction) in Gdańsk.

Dr. Paweł Machcewicz, Museum of the Second World War, Gdańsk

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