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Memo on Pregnancies among Forced Laborers

German occupation authorities announce a new policy dictating forced abortions for pregnant forced laborers.
State Archive of the Russian Federation

By the fall of 1944, there were approximately two million foreign female workers in Germany. The vast majority of these women came from the Soviet Union and Poland and were under the age of twenty-five. Many of them either became pregnant during their labor deployments or arrived in Germany already pregnant.1 Up until 1943, German officials had sent pregnant "eastern workers" (Ostarbeiterinnen) back to their countries of origin, deeming them unfit for work.2 However, in an effort to ease a labor shortage and maintain production levels, authorities changed course and insisted that these women remain in Germany. 

One part of German policymakers' plans3 to improve labor production was the legalization of abortion exclusively for Polish and Soviet women, whose children—according to Nazi ideology—were considered "racially undesirable." This was in stark contrast to policies encouraging German women to have children and laws strictly forbidding abortion for them.4 The policy change encouraged abortions for pregnant eastern European women based on Nazi ideas about racial purity, connecting the party's goals for productive forced labor and the dominance of the so-called "Aryan" race.

In this February 16, 1944 memo, the commander of the Koblenz Security Police Field Office made it clear that all pregnancies were to be reported as quickly as possible. Officially, these women were not required to have abortions. But as this memo shows, German officials were instructed that “such terminations are to be forced in every case.” It is estimated that thousands of women from Poland or the Soviet Union were forced to have abortions while working in Germany. Conditions varied by region, but some of the abortions were performed in the barracks without proper medication or hygiene.

In order to limit potential health risks and allow time to determine the father’s identity, women and their employers were required to report their pregnancies as soon as possible. If local authorities believed that the father was an "Aryan" German, an abortion was not permitted and the child was supposed to be placed with a German family. The featured memo cites the importance of maximizing productivity by performing these abortions, noting that "the female Ostarbeiterin must by no means be lost to the worker deployment program as a result."

While the actual number of pregnancies among foreign workers is unknown, conservative estimates range between 35,000 in 1943 and 40,000 in 1944 with more than 130,000 children born by summer 1944. German authorities became suspicious that women were getting pregnant on purpose so they could be sent home. Those returned to their home countries were not given any supplies or means of caring for themselves. For more, see Ulrich Herbert, Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany Under the Third Reich (Cambridge: Cambridge Univesity Press, 1997) 270–271.

Some women were in relationships with other laborers or Germans, but others were raped. See Anna Rosmus, "Involuntary Abortions for Polish Forced Laborers," Experience and Expression: Women, the Nazis, and the Holocaust, eds. Elizabeth R. Baer and Myrna Goldenberg (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2003), 78.

Reich Labor Minister Robert Ley and Chief of the State Medical Service Leonardo Conti outlined a plan to relieve the burden on the transportation system caused by sending pregnant forced laborers home and at the same time ensure that they missed as few working hours as possible. The plan had four parts: it no longer forced women to return home if they were pregnant, legalized abortions for Polish and Soviet laborers, called for the establishment of maternity hospitals and nurseries, and mandated the separation of those babies from German babies. For more, see Robert W. Kesting, "They Cry No More: A Case of War Crimes Against Newborns," The Polish Review, Vol. 37, No. 3 (1992), 315. 

For more on Nazi policy regarding pregnancies and childbearing among German women, see the Experiencing History item, Brochure for the Lebensborn Program.

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Security Service of the Reichsführer – SS.

SD – Koblenz Section

III B 2 d – B. No. 863/44 Koblenz, February 18, 1944



To All SD (Main) Field Offices

Re.: Pregnancy of Female Ostarbeiter

Case file: N o n e.

It will be well known that the birth of the racially inferior offspring of female Ostarbeiter and Polish women is to be prevented if at all possible. Although terminations of pregnancy are to be undertaken only on a voluntary basis, such terminations are to be forced in every case. Above all, care must be taken to ensure that the reports go out promptly to the Gauärzteführer [the head of the physicians in the region], so that the physician designated for the termination can be authorized to perform it as quickly as possible. The termination must proceed as flawlessly as possible, and the female Ostarbeiter or Polish woman must be treated charitably during this time, so that word gets about among all the female Ostarbeiter and Polish women that this matter is a simple and pleasant one. A procedure that is performed too late can have a fatal result, and this would have inadvisable consequences.

I request that reports be made to me as soon as possible on all issues that arise in this context. This also includes the establishment of homes for infants and small children; the housing of these children by female Ostarbeiter and Polish women who are individually deployed; exaggerated support of pregnant women from the East and, later on, of their children by German nationals [Volksgenossen], involvement of members of the clergy; harboring [of such children] in convents and monasteries etc. In the event that women from the East who are individually deployed have given birth to children, it would be desirable to place the women in a larger plant or factory where accommodation facilities for these children are available. The female Ostarbeiter must by no means be lost to the worker deployment program as a result.

Also of interest is knowledge of where the children of Ostarbeiter were raised up to now, and under what circumstances: in the plants or enterprises, in individual deployment situations together with German children, etc.


The Commander of the Koblenz SD Field Office

Per pro:

Signed, signature.



Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
State Archive of the Russian Federation
RG Number RG 22.014M.0021.00000423
Date Created
February 16, 1944
Koblenz, Germany
Document Type Report
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