Table of Contents
Forced Labour – Arbeitseinsatz
Hendrik (Henk) Hoogendoorn was born on the 1st of February 1921, my grandfather was just 19 years of age when the German paratroopers dropped down from the sky on the 10th of May 1940 and marked the start of the Second World War in the Netherlands.
He lived in Gouda as a musician and met my grandmother at the music school. As the war progressed during the years the German armies were slowly pushed back and the need for raw materials and labourers increased. At first the German occupiers lured men to work for them in their factories in Germany. An unsuccessful endeavour.
Shortly after they summoned everyone between a certain age to report at the local employment agency.
My grandfather had to report himself on the 14th of May in 1943 as the proclamation reads and was send to Germany to work for the Third Reich’s war industry.
At first he was send to Mannheim Germany to register and from there he was send to annexed Poland.
To the village of Gross Kunzendorf N.L. (N.L. = Niederlausitz) near the town of Sorau south west of Berlin.
Both are German names, their original Polish names are the village Kunice Żarskie and the town of Żary.
Gross Kunzendorf and the Sigla Sicherheitsglas factory in Poland
After arrival at the Gross Kunzendorf train station it was a short walk to the glass factory.
The Sigla Sicherheitsglas G.m.b.H. company or just Sigla, was situated in a Polish region that housed glass factories for some centuries.
Sigla manufactured Safety glass or Panzer glass for the Focke Wulf plant stationed in Sorau some 5 kilometres north east from Gross Kunzendorf.
KUDO was made in Gross Kunzendorf. KUDO represents KUnzendorf DOppelglas. Kudo is laminated safety glass. It is made from two glass sheets with an adhesive layer in between, which reduced the splinters of flying glass enormously upon breaking.
Besides windshields for the FW 190 fighter planes they fabricated windshields for Ju87 Stuka dive bomber and prisms for viewing devises used in the German Panzers.
The number of employees in Kunzendorf was somewhere between 250 and 280, making the plant in Kunzendorf number 6 of the 9 largest glass factories in the German industry. Besides forced Dutch employees they forced Russian woman to work for the glass industry as well. Most probably they used French and Belgium labourers as well in the Sigla glass factory.
Forced labour in Germany during World War two was roughly divided in three categories.
– Prisoners of war
– Foreign workers
– Political prisoners
My Granddad was a foreign worker from the Netherlands which they classified as an Arian country, like most of the western European countries. Therefore he had more privileges as a POW, Political prisoner or forced labourer from the East.
Besides hard labour, bad nutrition and low hygiene they could leave the barrack compound without reprisals and they earned some money. With this my granddad could buy a little present for my grandmother or watch a movie like the Baron from Munchausen in the theatre at Sorau. They were allowed to send letters back home, which he did as often as he could.
Granddad took his guitar with him to Poland or made one in Kunzendorf during his stay, after the war he made a few more and I guess he entertained his fellow labourers with a tune or two.
More than once he travelled with other forced labourers to a mountain ridge in the south, the Riesengebirge or Giant mountains, to climb the Schneekopfe – Snow Peak mountain. They weren’t supposed to leave the barrack compound but they did anyway.
At first the German war industry was much more centralised which made fabrication and assembly more effective.
Due to the extensive bombing campaign of the allied forces, which found the industry an easy target, the Germans decided to disperse their plants over a wider region and move it away from England.
This is how my granddad ended up near the Polish border, some 850 kilometres away from his hometown.
The Focke Wulf plant in Sorau consisted of 8 smaller factories in the region. Most of them had forced labourers as employees some even up to 50% of the working force. This to compensate the German work force which was called upon service and enlisted in the army. It is presumable that some plants used political prisoners from the Gross Rosen concentration camp nearby, but it is unlikely that they used prisoners of war from the Stalag Luft III camp 18 kilometres down the road which held Allied prisoner of war (Stalag luft III became famous for the great escape movie).
The Focke Wulf 190 was a nasty challenge for the Allied long range fighter escorts on the bomb runs.
For obvious reasons this made the Focke Wulf plant at Sorau a target in the Allied strategic bombing campaign.
On 11 April 1944 an Allied bombing run consisting more than 100 American B17 bombers left England with P51 Mustangs and P47 Thunderbolts escort fighter planes to attack the Focke Wulf plant in Sorau.
On the 29 of may 1944 they attacked the plant for the second time. The Sigla plant was hit as far as we know but it kept manufacturing glass and prisms until the arrival of the Russian army made the employees flee to safety.
Nutrition for the forced labourers consisted mostly of cabbage soup. They slept in barracks with wooded staple beds in an open room. Another barrack housed the toilet room, just a hole in a piece of board.
Once a week they were allowed to shower, this was something to look out for because on this day they could chase the Russian female Forced labourers out the shower room.
When writing letters back home to my Grandmother he didn’t mention the hardship, he only spoke of small things and kept the conversation light hearted.
Darling It is me again with a few words. Saturday night I went to the movie “Ein man für eine Frau”. Sunday I saw the movie “Baron von Munchausen” and last night I watched “Ein tolle nacht”. You must be thinking, Henk sees a lot of movies at the cinema, but I have to, because there is nothing else to do here, and I do not feel like sitting in the barracks the whole god dam days brooding on nothing. Most likely we, “Mr. Slagboom”,” Mr. van Leest”, “Mr. Boone” and myself, are giving it another try to climb the snow head / snow peak mountain again in two weeks. We have to reach the top before we definitely are going home, I’ll try to get my hands on some postcards from the mountain, it is always great fun for a later day to recall the memory, and I truly believe we’ll make it this time. I also received a letter today from you and from my mother, and if I might ask; you amused yourself in Vlaardingen? (Dutch Town). “Mr. Wannaar” is shaving himself at the moment and the soap flakes are flying through the room. The one laughs the other is cursing. “Jopie“ I’m starting the end of the letter because this small piece of paper can only hold so much letters. So darling, be safe and in my thoughts I’ll give you a kiss, your loving forever Henk, bye darling. Henk is my Granddad Jopie is my Grandmother “Slagboom”,” van Leest”, “Wannaar” and “Boone” are other forced labourers from the Netherlands, his buddies from the barracks.
Escape to Dresden in Germany
The Russian armies closed in on the region somewhere in February 1945.
The factory stopped producing and the Labourers were on their own from this point on. Employees and civilians tried to get to safety, some walked for miles on end towards the German border.
My granddad climbed on a train and travelled along in between carts and ended up in Dresden.
Back in Gross Kunzendorf Mr. Hollex, an engineer in the Sicherheitsglas factory was one of last to get out of town. He was picked up by an Sd.kfz.251 halftrack of the German army on the 13th or 14th of February 1945. They rode out of town as the Russian army entered on the other side.
Back in Dresden granddad found himself in city with lots and lots of people. The city was packed with civilians who fled for the Russian armies and housed many Arbeitseinsatz refugees (forced labourers).
He couldn’t pick a worse place to be at this moment in history. The roar in the skies foretold the upcoming storm. The bombing of Dresden, huge firestorms, more than 1200 bombers and tens of thousands of deaths.
He survived the onslaught in Dresden between 13 and 15 February 1945, he was in one part of town when the other part was bombed. When he reached the bombed part of town to help out, the part he just left was bombed. Afterwards he left Dresden and managed to get to Austria in hope of a better live.
Austria a new hope
The family always considered Austria to be the end of his hardship, these were the good times. Until I send a letter to Austria and received quite a different answer.
Somewhere on his journey he was picked up and send to the Arnsteiner – Blizzard factory in the Austrian town of Mittersill some 650 kilometres away from Dresden.
Before the war Arnsteiner – Blizzard was a furniture factory but during and after the war they produced ski’s.
My Granddad met Toni Dietsch over here or somewhere sooner on his journey. Toni Dietsch was an Austrian and recently lost his brother on the Eastern front. My Granddad also met Peter Millgrammer and his wife of course Austrian as well. Both Peter and Toni Dietsch became friends to him. Peter was from Mittersill and Toni from the town of Sellrain.
Toni Arnsteiner was the son of the director of the factory and recently came home wounded from the Russian front before my granddad and Toni Dietsch arrived at the factory. We heard that the Arnsteiners did not the like forced labourers at all and rather see them starve to death instead of feeding them. My granddad and Toni Dietsch secretly got food from the Millgrammer family which kept them alive during their stay in Mittersill.
In my granddads postcard collection we found a postcard from Peter Millgrammer, his family send the postcard to him while he was enlisted in the Austrian army in 1943. He was enlisted with the 1th Company Mountain Pioneer Reserve Battalion 83 and stationed in the city of Schwaz in Austria. Unfortunately we do not no more of him but he did share his food with people in need.
When the Americans entered Austria a forced Labourer was hot evidence you needed to get rid of.
My Granddad and Toni Dietsch fled from the Arnsteiner – Blizzard factory and tried to reach the Americans.
Somewhere on the run they lost track of each other, Toni Dietsch probably tried to get home to Sellrain his hometown. My Granddad succeeded and met American troops which meant liberation, finally liberation.
On his voyage home he travelled to Munich, Mannheim, Maastricht, Hasselt, Eindhoven, Amersfoort and back home in Gouda, a long way to get home.
After the war, my family met up with the Millgrammer family and Granddad send a box of cigars every year to “uncle” Peter. After my Granddad died in 1994 my Grandma took over the tradition and kept on sending cigars until uncle Peter died in 2005, aged 99. My granddad hardly spoke of the war afterwards, he only mentioned the shower story and the Russian females and besides disliking the Germans for what they did during the war, he was angry with the English as well, for in Dresden they destroyed his guitar.
The story above has taken me 15 years to complete.
I could never done this on my own, I thank everyone who has taken part in this story, given information and helped me out with translations and archives, gave me hint and tips and supported me morally.
A Big Thank You to:
Johanna Hoogendoorn (my Grandmother)
My Family (Netherlands)
Fabian Hutz (Austria)
Doris Preining (Austria)
Ms. Elmer (Austria)
Marcus Hollex (Peru)
Rafal Szymczak (Poland)
Arek Prokopowicz (Poland)
Piotr Maciej Ruliński (Poland)
Iwona & Marita & Ewa (Netherlands – Poland)
Another Forced Labourer who worked at Sigla (Netherlands)
Verzets Museum Gouda (Netherlands)
Flachglas Werner – Köblitz (Saint Gobain Sekurit glass factory), the Sicherheitsglas company today
Dutch Red Cross (Netherlands)
Landeshaubtarchiv Brandenburg (Germany)
Bundesarchiv Berlin (Germany)
Zielona Gora Archives (Poland)
Groene Hart Archives (Netherlands)
International Tracing Service ITS Arolsen (Germany)
Axis History Forum
And of course my Granddad, Hendrik Hoogendoorn
Rafal Symcak made a broadcast on this story on the local Zary TV, in Polish of course with English subtitles.