Voices of child forced labourers in National Socialist German occupied Europe
Examining the experiences of young victims and perpetrators, Professor Johannes-Dieter Steinert has conducted the first comprehensive study of young forced labourers in National Socialist Germany and German occupied Eastern Europe.
Based at the University of Wolverhampton, the research project – entitled Child forced labourers in National Socialist Germany and German occupied Eastern Europe, 1939-1945 –has already influenced global public services through work with the United Nations.
Professor Steinert was invited to contribute his research to deliberations of a United Nations Academic Advisory Board that would, in turn, "contribute guidance, based on academic research, to the objectives of the Office".
He was contacted by Ms Radhika Coomaraswamy – Special Representative of the Secretary-General at the United Nations (2006-2012) – who wrote to him, stating that Professor Steinert and the UN "must work closely together to develop new ideas and approaches to enhance the protection of children during armed conflict".
Ms Coomaraswamy’s successor at the United Nations, Ms Leila Zerrougui, underlined this statement when she confirmed at the start of a conference in 2013 that "strengthening this partnership" was a UN aim.
Professor Steinert’s research has also greatly impacted the political work of the Polish ‘Association of Children of the War’, which promotes the rights of all former child forced labourers who remained at home in Poland during the Second World War.
In the past, both the German and Polish governments have denied these children any form of the compensation (social and economic benefits) afforded to the forced labourers who were deported to Germany. The Association of Children of the War regards Steinert’s research to be of “great importance in getting the same national and international rights and privileges as enjoyed by forced labourers deported to Germany”1. The Association honoured Professor Steinert’s efforts with its highest decoration, the Blue Cross of Merit, in 2012.
The research project has also contributed to the emerging field of studies on German occupied Eastern Europe, and has opened up new research questions on forced labour outside the German Reich in general and on the role of children in particular. This has been acknowledged in numerous book reviews, including an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ) on 14 July 2014, and has inspired a new collaborative research project by Professor Steinert, entitled “Child forced labourers in occupied Poland: Experiences, resilience and post-war discourses”, funded by the Foundation “Remembrance, Responsibility and Future" (German acronym EVZ) in Germany.
Additionally, this project has contributed to several conferences, co-organised by Professor Steinert and Imperial War Museums, London, entitled “Beyond camps and forced labour: Current international research on survivors of Nazi persecution”. These tri-annual conferences have been greatly enhanced by the new research to have emerged from this project. A further conference in this series is upcoming and will take place in 2018. Professor Steinert has also organised (in association with the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict) three conferences entitled “Children and war: Past and present”.
1 Letter, Stowarzyszenie Dzieci Wojny w Polsce to Prof Caroline Gipps, Vice-Chancellor, University of Wolverhampton.