East German prison labour claims spread
Published: 04 May 2012 17:27 GMT+02:00
Updated: 04 May 2012 17:27 GMT+02:00
East German political prisoners were not only making furniture for Ikea but also sewing bedclothes for West German companies such as Quelle and Neckermann, according to new claims in Friday's Handelsblatt newspaper.
- Ikea 'also used Cuban prison labour' (03 May 12)
- Ikea investigates Stasi prisoner labour claims (01 May 12)
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.