Australian
Screen

an NFSA website

Paying For the Past (2000)

A video which normally appears on this page did not load because the Flash plug-in was not found on your computer. You can download and install the free Flash plug-in then view the video. Or you can view the same video as a downloadable MP4 file without installing the Flash plug-in.

Email a link to this page
To:
CC:
Subject:
Body:
clip 'Work or die' education content clip 1, 2, 3

This clip chosen to be PG

Clip description

Slave labourers were used by German industry during the Second World War. Siemens, BMW and Krupp are named. Survivors Kitia Altman and Abraham Biderman recall the horrors of being slave labourers.

Curator’s notes

The testament of the two survivors is quietly related. Their life-long suffering is evident in this clip.

Teacher’s notes

provided by The Le@rning FederationEducation Services Australia

This clip shows that during the Second World War German industry profited from the exploitation of slave and forced labourers, and refers to class action suits that survivors have brought against these companies. It combines voice-over, black-and-white photographs of labourers in factories, interviews with two survivors, Kitia Altman and Abraham Biderman, and footage of Berlin’s industrial sector. The narration says that slave labourers, who included Jews, homosexuals and gypsies, were worked to death, while forced labourers were kept alive 'to fuel the war machine’.

Educational value points

  • About 12 million people worked as slave or forced labourers in Germany and its occupied territories during the Second World War (1939–45), representing the greatest mass use of forced labour since slavery ended in the 19th century. Forced labourers came from occupied countries such as Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland and Russia, but also included prisoners of war from those countries, while most slave labourers were Jews interned in concentration camps.
  • Slave labour was part of the 'final solution’ of Germany’s Chancellor, Adolf Hitler, which involved the systematic extermination people whom the Nazis considered to be subhuman and racially impure, including Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and the disabled. About 6 million Jews and 5 million non-Jews were murdered by the Nazis in work, medical experimentation and concentration camps during the Second World War. This genocide is known as the Holocaust.
  • Kitia Altman worked as a slave labourer making V-2 rockets, an early form of ballistic missile. The rockets were produced near Nordhausen in Germany, in a secret underground factory that consisted of narrow tunnels built by slave labourers, and that was run around the clock by a dreaded SS (Schutzstaffel) military unit. About half of the 60,000 slave labourers who worked there between 1943 and 1945 died.
  • In 2003 the American Civil Liberties Union estimated that 1.25 million survivors of slave and forced labour were still living. Some of these survivors joined in class actions against German companies that profited from their labour. Faced with protracted litigation and negative publicity, these companies acknowledged they had a moral obligation towards former slave and forced labourers, and in 2000 joined with the German Government to provide compensation.
  • In 2000 the German Government and German industry set up a 10 billion deutschmark (about $8.4 billion) fund to compensate slave and forced labourers, who received lump sum payments of up to 15,000 deutschmark (about $12,600). The fund was the result of negotiations between the German Government and the governments of the USA, Israel and several eastern European states, as well as lawyers and groups representing slave and forced labourers.
  • Former slave labourer, Abraham Biderman, who migrated to Australia in 1949, is the author of The World of My Past (1995), a book about his Holocaust experiences and survival that won the inaugural National Biography Award in 1996. Biderman, whose parents and brother were killed in concentration camps, was interned in the Auschwitz, Althammer, Dora and Bergen Belsen camps. The book was inspired by his mother’s last words to him, 'Remember what they did to us’.
  • Kitia Altman migrated to Australia after the Second World War. In 2003 she published Memories of Ordinary People: For Those Who Have No One to Remember Them, a book that portrays her life in Poland before the War, and her experiences as a slave labourer and at the Auschwitz and Ravensbruck concentration camps. A volunteer at Melbourne’s Jewish Holocaust Museum and Research Centre, Altman believes it is important to bear witness to Nazi atrocities.
  • Paying for the Past is an 'expository’ documentary, a style that relies on the spoken word to advance an argument, and that uses images to support the argument. The stark footage of modern industry in Berlin implies that the German companies referred to in the clip are still part of Germany’s thriving industrial sector, and that their success is due in part to the exploitation of slave and forced labourers, who at the time of filming had not received compensation.

Berlin, 1999. Footage of Germany’s modern industrial landscape is intercut with interviews with survivors of slave labour and archival photos of factories which used slave labour.

Narrator This is a story about the biggest class action the world has ever seen. Slave labour, the lifeblood of German industry during World War II, has finally faced a legal challenge. A group of lawyers representing Holocaust survivors are seeking closure on Germany’s dark past.

Kitia Altman, former slave labourer I was sent to work for a munitions factory which produced rockets – Hitler’s secret weapon. It was located 600 metre under the ground. It was a very severe winter. The day started at night, about four, five o’clock in the morning. It was very dark and the only trace of our presence were the traces of our clogs in the snow.

Abraham Biderman, former slave labourer I knew already that my brother has been shot. He was taken to a factory – an munitions factory – and he was selected because they didn’t think he’s good enough to live. He wasn’t worth the food they had to pay for him. He was weak, he couldn’t work. In Germany you had to work or die.

Narrator The cream of German industry profited from exploitation of slave labour – companies such as Siemens, BMW and Krupp. Forced and slave labourers, under the threat of death, helped to build the German war machine.

German industrialists were only too willing to use slave labour. BMW were building engines for the V-1 bomber. By 1944 BMW was using nearly 20,000 slave labourers. One year later only half were still alive. At Krupp slave labourers were given three-quarters of a litre of watery soup for a 12-hour day. Eight out of ten died. Slave labourers in concentration camps were gypsies, homosexuals and Jews. They were worked to death. Forced labourers taken to Germany from occupied territories were kept alive to fuel the war effort.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer 'Work or die' from the documentary Paying For the Past as a high quality video download.

To play the downloadable video, you need QuickTime 7.0, VLC, or similar.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before downloading the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

This clip is available in the following configurations:

File nameSizeQualitySuitability
payingfo1_pr.mp4 Large: 21.3MB High Optimised for full-screen display on a fast computer.
payingfo1_bb.mp4 Medium: 10.0MB Medium Can be displayed full screen. Also suitable for video iPods.

Right-click on the links above to download video files to your computer.

Thanks to the generosity of the rights holders, we are able to offer this clip in an embeddable format for personal or non-commercial educational use in full form on your own website or your own blog.

You must read and agree to the following terms and conditions before embedding the clip:

australianscreen is produced by the National Film and Sound Archive. By using the website you agree to comply with the terms and conditions described elsewhere on this site. The NFSA may amend the 'Conditions of Use’ from time to time without notice.

All materials on the site, including but not limited to text, video clips, audio clips, designs, logos, illustrations and still images, are protected by the Copyright Laws of Australia and international conventions.

When you access australianscreen you agree that:

  • You may retrieve materials for information only.
  • You may download materials for your personal use or for non-commercial educational purposes, but you must not publish them elsewhere or redistribute clips in any way.
  • You may embed the clip for non-commercial educational purposes including for use on a school intranet site or a school resource catalogue.
  • The National Film and Sound Archive’s permission must be sought to amend any information in the materials, unless otherwise stated in notices throughout the Site.

All other rights reserved.

ANY UNAUTHORISED USE OF MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY RESULT IN CIVIL AND CRIMINAL LIABILITY.

Copy and paste the following code into your own web page to embed this clip: