Forced labour camp Schoneweide

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Forced labour camp Schoneweide

Berlin had a lot of forced labour camps during the Second World War. The history of the forced labour camp in Schoneweide, also known as ‘Baracke 13’ probably is the strangest. It is situated in the middle of the Berlin district Schoneweide and is surrounded by apartments and urban gardens. Nearly 500 Italian soldiers were forced to work here, as well as young women.


Baracke 13

Adolf Hitler wanted to make Germany strong. He did this by forcing occupied lands to give Germany cheap goods and forcing its people to work for him. There were countless forced labour camps abroad, and in Germany. Berlin had a lot of those camps as well. The forced labour camp in Schoneweide came into existence in 1943/1944. When you walk in the area you can see it’s surrounded by a lot of buildings. The people living in the district of Schoneweide literally had the camp on their doorstep. The 13 barracks have a strange history. Before the war started, the grounds the barracks are on, were owned by two Jewish brothers: Kurt and Willy Mannheimer. But then the war started and the nazis invented all sorts of laws to make live very miserable for the Jewish community. Kurt and Willy Mannheimer, for example, were no longer the owners of the grounds. During the war, Hitler was. He, and his upperarchitect Albert Speer gave orders to Hans Freese, the later rector of the Tech Uni in Berlin, to build the forced labor camp in Schoneweide.

5_Zwangsarbeit_als_MassenphaenomenItalian camp in Schoneweide

In 1944 Italian military internees were forced to work at the newly build camp. Such as Ugo Brilli, at the time a young recruit stationed in North Italy. When Mussolini and the Italian army turned against the fascists in 1943, the Germans didn’t like this very much. Their revenge: they arrested their former brothers in arms, such as Ugo Brilli. He felt the poke of a gun in his back and saw he was surrounded by German soldiers. After a train ride that lasted 14 days, he arrived in Berlin. First, he had to clear away rubble. It was tough work and he was afraid he was going to die soon. Some cigarettes saved his life. The ciggies bought him a job in the kitchen of camp Weissensee, and later, camp Schoneweide. He was just over 40 kilograms when he entered the kitchen for the first time. The other 435 Italian soldiers weren’t so lucky. Some died during the hard work.

Burning battery acid

Other forced labourers were not military. About 250 came from western and eastern Europe and they were forced to make ammunition. 200 mostly female inmates from a satellite camp of Sachsenhausen concentration camp might even be less lucky. They were forced to work at the Petrix battery factory, that is now known as Varma. They had to work in two shifts that lasted for 12 hours. But those long hours were not the worst. The women had no protection whatsoever when they produced the batteries. Every day there hands became burned because of the acids that were used to make the batteries.

Gelaende_Dokumentationszentrum_NS-Zwangsarbeit_Foto_Hoffmann-2006_Nazi forced labour documentation centre

When the nazis were beaten in 1945, the Red Army used the former forced labour camp to stash materials. After that the buildings were used as small workshops, car dealers, a sauna, a day care centre for kids and a place where the GDR government manufactured vaccines. When the Berlin Wall fell, this industrial area deteriorated a bit. Plants were no longer used, or got a different function. In 1993 the area was under renovation. And then they discovered the hidden history of the 13 barracks. Nobody really talked about the function of the forced labour camp when it ceased to exist in 1945. After a thorough renovation it became a Nazi forced labour documentation centre, where you can learn about what happened at this particular camp, and forced labour camps in general. The documentation centre came into existence, partly because of a large gift from a wealthy German family with a very troubled past. The Quand family became so rich because grandpa used the strength of the forced labourers from Italia, Poland and other European countries to earn a lot of money. The Quand family largely owns the Varta company. The battery company that was better known as Petrix, during WWII. The factory where the young girls burned their hands when they came into contact with the acid. The young members of the Quand family that were born after the war felt obliged to learn from the past, and helped create the documentation centre in the 13 remaining barracks. So the sad history of these camp is never forgotten.

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