The exhibition focuses on the ways in which forced labor shaped daily life under National Socialism. Forced laborers were deployed in all sectors of the economy. They were a familiar presence to all Germans, who encountered them in factories, in agricultural work, and on the street. As a result, the exhibition also extends into the everyday sites of contemporary life, from Berlin pubs to the city’s subway system.

In Berlin’s subway stations: Large-format ads (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).

Extracts from regulations to which the National Socialists subjected forced laborers (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).

In-car subway banner displays (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).

Formerly censored postcards of forced laborers to their worrying relatives (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).

The former forced laborers depicted on their photos describe their fate in their own words (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).

Large-format ads in Berlin’s subway stations (Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010).


The introduction to the publicity in Berlin is available here for downloading.


Nazi racial ideology shaped the relationship of Germans to the forced laborers. In the Nazi racial hierarchy, “Aryan” Germans occupied the position of the “master race,” followed by the peoples of northern and western Europe. Poles, Soviet forced laborers (or “Eastern Workers”), and finally Jews and Sinti and Roma occupied the bottom of the hierarchy.

Although – or perhaps precisely because – forced labor penetrated more deeply into daily life during the Third Reich than any other Nazi crime, postwar Germany did not grapple with the topic until the 1990s.

The publicity for the forced labor exhibition tries to make the people who were deported to the German Reich as forced laborers visible. Selections from the countless regulations issued by the Nazi authorities show how forced laborers were subordinated in their daily lives to the racist regime. In addition, the publicity for the exhibition draws substantially on historical photographs – photos which the forced laborers took of each other during their stay in the German Reich. These photos depict forced laborers, who were deported from all over Europe, as self-aware individuals who tried to maintain their identity and dignity in the face of oppressive injustice. The censored postcards, which they sent to reassure their worried families that they were doing well – at least in light of their circumstances – are juxtaposed to later memoir accounts. These recollections help contextualize the seemingly harmless photographs and make evident the suffering and hardship that forced laborers experienced in the German Reich. By contrast, the photographs presented in subway station publicity require no additional commentary. In these photographs, the forced laborers describe their fate in their own words: as the “slaves of the 20th century” who live “without love,” or simply as “those who they won’t catch Christmas 1944.”

The publicity was developed and implemented by the Weimar artist Anke Heelemann.