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Czech forced laborers.

The Czech men deployed in the BMW plant in Munich described their life as forced laborers as the “destruction of their youth.” The forced laborers were lodged in the Karlsfeld camp near Allach.

Source: Národní archiv České republiky, Fond Svaz nuceně nasazených, Prague

Belgian forced laborers.

The Belgian forced laborers on the photograph were deployed in Neustadt an der Waldnaab in the Upper Palatinate. They described themselves as “those who they won’t catch Christmas 1944.”

Source: CEGES-SOMA, Bruxelles

French prisoners of war.

This group of French prisoners of war was interned in the Geolfing camp near Ingolstadt and worked on farms in the vicinity. They were presumably taken prisoner in summer 1940. The photograph in front of the “villa of tears,” where they were forced to live “without love,” was taken on 1 December 1940.

Source: Private collection Clemens Nißl, Obereichstätt

Czech forced laborers in Berlin, 1943.

The photograph depicts Czech forced laborers in the Johannisthal camp of the Ambi Budd steel pressing plant in Berlin, 1943. They describe themselves as the “slaves of the 20th century.”

Source: Berliner Geschichtswerkstatt e.V.

Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010

Photo: Anke Heelemann, 2010

Photographs with Commentary

Men are sitting in a group. Perhaps it’s one man’s birthday, or they are celebrating Christmas. They decide to take a photograph as a memento. But then they realize something is wrong – if they take a photograph, it might appear to be an ordinary souvenir. But nothing is normal or ordinary – quite the opposite.

For these men, in their own description, are the “slaves of the 20th century,” whose “youth was destroyed.” Far from home and their families, they are “without love” and their barracks are a “villa of tears.”

They decide to record their emotions in writing – on a small placard, a bag, whatever they find at hand. And then they finally take the photograph.

Four of these “photographs with commentary” were selected for the publicity for the exhibition. They were taken by forced laborers from Belgium, France and Czechoslovakia, who unlike the forced laborers from Poland and the Soviet Union were permitted to own cameras. With their inscriptions on the photographs, the forced laborers present themselves to present-day Berlin subway passengers as self-aware individuals who are both reflecting upon and condemning their circumstances.