• Germany's news in English
 

East German prison labour claims spread

Published: 04 May 2012 17:27 GMT+02:00

Former prisoner Tatjyana Sterneberg told the paper she was forced to make bedclothes for two years while in the notorious Hoheneck women’s prison in the mid-1970s.

“It was terrible,” she said. “In 1974 there were more than 1,600 women in a prison designed for 650 prisoners. My cell was 30 square metres – and had 24 sleeping places. There were three taps and just one toilet.”

She said she had contacted Quelle years ago asking for an apology, but had not received an answer.

“I think it is outrageous that these western companies enriched themselves on the backs of political prisoners in East Germany. That is a scandal,” she said.

Ikea chiefs are working through documents they have requested from the East German secret police archives, which reportedly show that East German prisoners were put to work making things for the home furnishings giant.

While they do so, Dieter Ott has told the Handelsblatt he would be pushing for compensation for the work he did for the company while a prisoner.

“Ikea should be honest and say how many forced workers were used," he told the paper. "If the company got commercial advantage from this arrangement, then one should also be talking about compensation.”

He was jailed in 1986 for applying to leave East Germany, desperate to fulfil a wanderlust.

“Had I known that the cupboard door hinges, door handles and chair casters we were making were destined for Ikea, I would probably have thought it was wonderful. I absolutely wanted to go to the west – working for a western company would have excited me. But no-one told us.”

He said the conditions under which he and the other prisoners worked for Mewa, a state-owned firm, were inhumane.

“The bus which took us to the Ikea work had bars on the windows. We drove through a big metal gate and as soon as we were in the building, there was only neon light. No window, no sunshine.” He said he did not receive any earnings.

Claims were made this week that Cuban political prisoners were also used to make Ikea products during the 1980s after a Swedish television programme aired the claims about East Germans.

The Local/hc

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

18:14 May 4, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Nothing new here. How many well known German companies were using forced labour during the Nazi era. Even today they scour the world for cheap labour and whilst it may not be so easy at the moment to find free labour like they would like they have come up with the idea of internships to compensate themselves with that loss. Not to mention the falling salaries in real terms for the working and middle classes. Has it ever been any other way during the last hundred years with German government after German government being in cohoots with big German firms.

Look back over the years and make a list of all the top companies who have been caught out but are still in operation today after only receiving a slap on the wrist at most. I won't mention any of them myself for fear of libel. Libel being the course of action they use to stiffle freedom of speech when it does not suit themselves.
20:19 May 6, 2012 by MeinSchwanz
You do realize, that it is the GOVERNMENT that is enslaving its people, and forcing them to work for almost nothing. Whatever money is earned by these workers, does not go to the workers, it goes to the Greedy GOVERNMENT! Same thing happens in the USA, Workers make license plates or make sales calls for pennies a day. The Government picks up the profit.

Think of forced prostitution... WHo Worse? Or MOST guilty?? The person who imprisons another, takes away their freedom to earn, and forces them to provide sexual services for little or no money? Or the person who has sex with that prostitute? Surely, neither is morally just, however, it is clear that one is FAR WORSE than the other. But most of you have your heads so far up you collectivist asses, that you can't see things for what they are anyway. And in your opinion a morally corrupt John is the worst thing on the face of the planet.
23:01 May 6, 2012 by Berlin fuer alles
Without supply there would be no demand and without demand there would be no need for supply. All in all, the governments that supply are as bad as the companies that exploit this human resource. Companies have no morals when it comes to making profit and until the controlling minds of these companies who are responsible for exploitation such as this are made account for themselves then governments will continue to do this.
11:00 May 7, 2012 by HeidiD
Not only prison inmates had to perform forced labor. And indeed, the issue of forced labor is not one of former East Germany exclusively.

Former institutionalized children have performed forced labor for years. In the Federal Republic of Germany!

Already pre-school children were forced to work for their own bed and food, they forced them into doing this by deprivation of food and/or sleep, by beatings and by psychological terror. Childred slaved in hot mangles and large laundry facilities, in places owned by the orphanages, boarding schools or reformatories, they were ¦quot;loaned" to local farmers as well as brought to work companies (like Ikea f.e.)

The names of the companies that these children and adolesence worked for for a pittance (not even that was paid to them, however!), are known. Most large, well-known names of today are among them!

However: No one speaks of compensation in this particular context! All, the former children ­ forced to labor, tortured, violated ­ can hope for today in Germany is a low level compensation for the pension, now that they are old and many of them living in misery and poverty.

No robbed wages, no compensation for hunger, sleep deprivation, torture, rapes and humiliations...

The former prison inmates have a right to get compensated ­ no doubt!

And no doubt, the former children in institutional care have the same right!

So: Return a bit of our dignity, let us have at least some quality of life now that we are old!

Compensate us!

A survivor of Germany's children's hells
14:00 May 7, 2012 by langolier
So I am not convinced that we have proved that Quelle and Ikea knew of the conditions or the workers making the products were prisoners. I would caution before we embark on a witch hunt to get as much facts and information as possible. We know how the DDR operated. I have no doubt that Ikea was getting a deal by using DDR labor but it would make sense that a communist country could produce cheaper goods because the profits would not have to be as high to pay massivly inflated CEO's. Its possible the DDR leadership played upon this and used prison labor to pay for their fancy retreat houses in the mountians or to secure hard currency to buy things not produced in the DDR.
Today's headlines
Greece crisis
Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion
Angela Merkel and Alexis Tsipras. File Photo: DPA

Berlin's tough line splits European public opinion

A study released on Tuesday shows that Germany's firm stance on Greek reforms has split European public opinion. But of all the main parties to the negotiations Berlin still fared best in the polling. READ  

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot
Photo: DPA

Woman tries to take pony abroad in a car boot

A woman from Lower Saxony was stopped by police on Tuesday – for trying to carry a Shetland Pony out of the country in the boot of her Fiat Panda. READ  

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38
Photo: DPA

Hamburg bunker blast and fire injure 38

UPDATE: A fire and explosion in a World War II-era bunker injured at least 38 people in Hamburg on Tuesday morning. READ  

Local list
Germany's top refreshing summer drinks
Photo: DPA

Germany's top refreshing summer drinks

Just like countries all over Europe, there's no shortage of multinational cola and other global thirst quenchers to be had in German shops. But what do you sip when you want a little local flavour? Read on to find out... READ  

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be
File photo: DPA

Forest tragedy as best man kills groom-to-be

A family outing turned into tragedy on Monday, when a best man in Thuringia accidentally killed the groom-to-be just days before his wedding. READ  

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists
A humpback whale breaching. Photo: Wwelles14/Wikimedia Commons

Slash CO2 emissions to save oceans: scientists

German scientists said on Monday that carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions must begin falling immediately if mankind is to have any hope of preserving Earth's oceans as we know them today. READ  

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers
Sun shining through an apple tree in Düsseldorf. Photo: DPA

Weekend heatwave to follow Tuesday showers

Germany can expect a cooler Tuesday with heavy showers in the west of the country before returning to high summer conditions over the weekend, the German Weather service said. READ  

Merkel's office hunted journalists' sources
Photo: DPA

Merkel's office hunted journalists' sources

The scandal around an investigation into journalists reporting on classified information deepened on Tuesday as new information showed that officials from the Chancellery and the Interior Ministry tried to uncover reporters' sources. READ  

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol
Image: Fremantle Media/YouTube

'Hot Boy from Germany' wins Vietnam Idol

A 22-year-old from Hanover has become the latest winner of Vietnam Idol – bagging $27,000 along with his new title. READ  

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public
If you want to rest in place while you're still alive, a car park isn't the place place to choose. Photo: DPA

Man promises to stop coffin naps in public

When a man walking his dog alerted police to the fact that a black coffin was lying in the middle of a public parking place, the cops were surprised to find someone inside. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Business & Money
Start-up helps new Berliners short cut bureaucracy
National
The 1,000s of Germans massacred after the Second World War
Sport
Germany star scores own goal with PR gaffe
Features
'Women-only' parking: sensible or sexist?
Politics
Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
National
13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

7,161
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd