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Finnish auxiliary workers' barracks and the labour question during the Continuation War

  • Finnish auxiliary workers' barracks and the labour question during the Continuation War. Photo: A. Torvinen

    Finnish auxiliary workers' barracks and the labour question during the Continuation War. Photo: A. Torvinen

Finnish auxiliary workers' barracks and the labour question during the Continuation War

According to German drawings, this was the site of a barracks for Finnish auxiliary workers, Finnische Hilfskräft, built in November and December 1943. The barracks, called Polar, was about eight by twelve metres in size and made of prefabricated plank wood elements. It was supplied by Puutalo Oy, a joint company formed by Finnish timber companies. It took a couple of days for Finnish carpenters to install and considerably longer for prisoners. This barracks building housed perhaps ten to twenty Finnish workers employed by the Germans. Most likely, they were out-of-town residents because separate barracks were built for them. Local workers from Rovaniemi lived in their own homes, of course. The inhabitants of this barracks may have been Luftwaffe laundry workers who had been forced to evacuate from the war zone. The laundry was located on what is today Yliopistonkatu.

Despite the war, both the number of wage earners and the town's tax revenue grew exponentially. Many Rovaniemi residents who had lived in near-poverty were able to improve their standard of living. In the labour market, the presence of Germans had a notable impact. For the first time in the history of Finland, there was an employee's market. Because so many young men were at the front, there were plenty of jobs for women and non-military age men in transport, logistics, forwarding, construction, trade and services. The Germans needed men for forestry, fortification, airfield and construction work, firewood and charcoal factories, road construction and maintenance, and freight transport. There were plenty of jobs for women in canteens, offices, hospitals, kitchens, sewing shops and laundries.

Due to the severe shortage of labour, the wages paid by Germans to skilled workers were sometimes two, even three times higher than in the rest of Finland. In general, the wages paid by Germans were at least 25% higher than those of Finnish employers. Especially in the rural municipality of Rovaniemi, many employees and companies were left with large back taxes as they made money faster than they could pay taxes. Labourers also travelled to Lapland from other parts of Finland. In the summer of 1942, the Germans employed more than 10,000 workers in Lapland, some of them under the table or through Finnish companies, resulting in labour shortages for many Finnish employers and delaying many work sites. The Finnish authorities had plans to reduce the number of workers employed by the Germans in half. To this end, the local authorities tried to get Germans to hire employees through Finnish middle-men instead of from the free market.

Naturally, the Germans were not especially pleased with attempts to ration the workforce, and continued to hire Finns even against the orders of the authorities. This struggle for labour was fought throughout the Continuation War by capping the level of wages. The Finns also appealed to the German high command to rectify the matter, and Generalfeldmarschall Wilhelm Keitel issued an order for German troops to reduce the number of Finnish workers. The quota was set at 4,000 workers, 3,000 for the Luftwaffe and 1,000 for the Heer or German Army.

By the spring of 1943, however, the number of Finnish workers employed by the Germans had decreased to roughly the quota. This was due not only to mandatory call-ups to work, but also to increased raids on illicit labour. The decrease in the supply of Finnish labour meant that Germans had to make up for the shortage by other means. Help came from the workforce of the Organisation Todt, workers imported from other countries, hired employees and, of course, prison labour. The number of German prisoners in forced labour in Lapland grew to about 30,000. Citizens of numerous areas occupied by Nazi Germany worked in the engineering organisation as more or less forced labourers.

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  • Viewed: 804
  • Latitude: 66.4994848458488
  • Longitude: 25.7572506221513

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