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Film of Forced Laborers in Transit

This 1942 film documents the transport of a large group of forced laborers from the Soviet Union to a border station and army processing point in German-occupied Lithuania.
Österreichisches Filmmuseum

Millions of Soviet civilians were brought to Germany as forced laborers from 1941 to 1944. Before they could enter the country, they had to go through a screening process. This 1942 film documents the transport of a large group of forced laborers from the Soviet Union to a border station and army processing point in German-occupied Lithuania.1 The clip was filmed by an unknown German soldier and was not widely distributed. It is unclear why exactly it was created. The film captures the arrival of the laborers at a transit and supply facility run by the German army.2

For many people, departure from their homes and the journey to Germany was chaotic and difficult. While some went willingly, others were captured by German forces or their collaborators on the street and loaded into trains. It is unclear how the passengers in this transport were chosen or whether they came from the same village or town. The film reveals that at least some of them were given enough notice to pack a bag or trunk.

Upon their arrival, the workers were provided with food, made to bathe, and sprayed with disenfectants. Their belongings and clothing were boiled or treated with chemicals. Doctors evaluated their physical and mental health and categorized them according to Nazi racial ideas and their apparent fitness for work. From this inspection point, laborers were sent to factories, farms, and camps. The papers pinned to their shirts would be replaced by badges reading “OST” (east) to indicate their status as eastern workers.3 Those deemed unfit to work or found to be pregnant were returned, although not always to their home villages.4

As they departed for Germany, most of these laborers had no idea what their destinations were or what conditions awaited them—although German propaganda promised secure work and good wages. The trains they boarded—like those seen in this clip—usually were built to hold cargo or livestock and were not equipped to carry passengers. The train wagons had no toilets and were furnished only with straw. The workers in the featured film clip glance and laugh nervously at the camera. Most of them were likely leaving their families and hometowns for the first time.

The station was located in Kretinga (Kröttingen), a town on the border between East Prussia and Lithuania. German and Lithuanian security police carried out one of the first large-scale massacres of Jews in Kretinga in June and July of 1941.

While motion picture cameras were relatively rare, German soldiers often took photographs with the cameras they carried with them in the field. For example, see the related Experiencing History item, Photograph of Prisoners in a Greenhouse.

For more on badges that forced laborers were required to wear, see the related item in Experiencing History, Oral History with Rose Brunswic.

For more on pregnancies among forced laborers, see the related items in Experiencing History, Memo on Pregnancies Among Forced Laborers and Report on the Rühen Home for Children of Forced Laborers.

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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
Österreichisches Filmmuseum
RG Number RG-60.7084
Accession Number 4452
Date Created
Duration 00:06:34
Time Selection 01:40–08:54
Sound No
Soviet Union (historical)
Kröttingen, Germany (historical)
Kretinga, Lithuania
Moving Image Type Raw Footage
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