The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre mourns the death of Ugo Brilli. The last survivor of the former forced labour camp in Berlin-Schöneweide, which now houses the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre, died on 17 June 2021 in his native Tuscany at the age of 99.
At the age of 21, the Tuscan farmer and woodcutter Ugo Brilli begins a two-year period of suffering as a young prisoner of war and forced labourer. In September 1943, Italy withdraws from the alliance with Nazi Germany. The Wehrmacht then takes Italian soldiers prisoner, deports them to the German Reich and declares them military internees.
Among the total of 650,000 Italians is Ugo Brilli, who had been drafted into military service by Italy's army only a few months earlier. The radio operator stationed on the border with Slovenia first ends up in a collection camp in Luckenwalde in Brandenburg. From there, like around 30,000 comrades, he arrives in Berlin as a forced labourer. At first he had to clear rubble at Siemens, later he had to work in a carpentry workshop.
Ugo Brilli is released from captivity in 1944. However, he has to remain in Berlin as a civilian forced labourer. He is placed in forced labour camp No. 40 in Berlin-Weißensee. There he bribes the German cook in the camp kitchen with cigarettes, which he exchanges for bread on the black market, for example. In this way he secures a comparatively better job as a kitchen assistant and a little more food for himself and some of his comrades.
He survives a bombing raid on the forced labour camp on 7 May 1944, in contrast to 53 Italians who die in the camp's anti-splinter trenches. Brilli never forgets that day for the rest of his life. "Before I die, I want a memento of those poor comrades who died there," he says in a television interview in 2017.
This memento has existed since May 2021. On the initiative of Ugo Brilli, an information and memorial plaque erected by the Pankow Memorial Plaque Commission and the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre now commemorates Ugo Brilli's killed comrades at the former camp site in Weißensee. He takes great pleasure in this new memorial sign, which is so important to him, on the basis of photos sent to him of it. He is no longer able to travel to Berlin for the inauguration.
There are several reminders of Brilli in Schöneweide. At the end of 1944, Brilli was sent from Weißensee to camp no. 75/76, the present site of the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre. He worked again as a kitchen helper.
Brilli spent the last days of the war in 1945 mainly in one of the air-raid shelters there. After the liberation by the Red Army, he initially had no choice but to search for food supplies in the cellars of the surrounding houses in order to survive.
After the end of the war, the Russians put him to work dismantling a factory outside Berlin.
In September 1945, Ugo Brilli, who weighed only 48 kilograms and was seriously ill with typhus, was finally able to return to his family in Tuscany. Back home, the former military internee builds a new life for himself without any compensation or recognition for his imprisonment in Germany. He works in the forest again, marries and has two children.
Later he visits Germany and returns several times to the historical site of the former forced labour camp in Schöneweide. On 7 May 2013, for example, he speaks about his fate at the opening of the first permanent exhibition, "Forced Labour in the Daily Round 1938-1945". He shares his memories with school classes in both countries. In recognition of his valuable contribution to a common culture of remembrance in Germany and Italy, Brilli will receive the Federal Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on 9 December 2019.
Now Ugo Brilli, the last contemporary witness who was able to tell so perceptively and pointedly about his time of suffering as a prisoner and forced labourer in the Second World War, has died at the age of 99 in Campi Bisenzio near Florence.
For the second time we are organising an online study camp "Searching for Traces of Forced Labour" in cooperation with Service Civil International Germany.
The main idea of the project is to prepare a digital photo exhibition on the topic of Nazi forced labour and modern forms of free and unfree labour.
You will be invited to search for traces of forced labour in your home country and to document the results with the camera.
No prior knowledge in photography is necessary. You will get an introduction by a professional photographer.
We'll meet online (Mon-Fr) between 12-23 of July, Mon-Fr, for max. 3 hours a day 10-13 CET.
You can read more about the project here:
You can see the exhibition from last year's study camp here:
To register, please contact your local SCI branch or Tanja Vaitulevich at vaitulevich(at)topographie.de.
The Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe and the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre commemorate a hitherto little-known chapter of the Holocaust with the short film "Karya 1943". The film highlights the deadly forced labour of Jewish men in the mountains of central Greece on the Athens - Salonika railway line in 1943.
80 years ago, the army of the Kingdom of Greece capitulated to the Wehrmacht, which had invaded the country. Years of plundering, starvation and mass murder followed under German occupation. This included the almost complete annihilation of Jewish life.
Near a village in Karya, a level siding was to be literally hammered into the rock to make it easier for waiting trains to start again in the future. The work was carried out under great time pressure in shifts. The approximately 300 Jewish prisoners received only mouldy food and hardly any water. Working clothes were not provided. Sadistic foremen and supervisors, Germans, Croats and Romanians, beat them.
More than 15 years ago, the Greek collector Andreas Assael - himself the son of a Jewish survivor - acquired a photo album at a Munich flea market that shows numerous photographs of forced labour in Karya. He succeeded in finding contemporary witnesses and researching details of the operation. In cooperation with Andreas Assael, the Foundation Memorial and the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre are now working on the concept of a German-Greek travelling exhibition, which is to open in both countries in 2023. The Federal Foreign Office funded a pilot project in 2020/2021 to further research the crime and locate the mass grave near the site.
The short film by Berlin-based director Stefan Auch introduces this important German-Greek reconciliation project.
Dr. Ulrich Baumann, Foundation Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Tel: +49 (0)30 26 39 43 - 27, ulrich.baumann(at)stiftung-denkmal.de
Dr Kay Kufeke, Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre, Tel: +49 30 6390 288 13, kufeke(at)topographie.de
In August 2020 the International Youth Meeting Centre hosted its first digital study camp “Searching for Traces of Forced Labour” in cooperation with Service Civil International Germany. Twelve participants from Bangladesh, China, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Serbia, South Korea, Spain, Turkey and Ukraine searched for traces of forced labour in their home countries. They focused on Nazi forced labour and other examples from the Second World War period but also on modern forms of forced and unfree labour. In less than two weeks they created a digital exhibition “Forced and Unfree Labour. Our Point of View” where they presented their visual stories.
The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre will reopen the historical site of the former Nazi forced labour camp on Tuesday, 12 May. For the time being, access is restricted to a maximum of 50 visitors, subject to the rules of distance. From Tuesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., visitors can inform themselves about the history of the Berlin-Schöneweide forced labour camp in the extensive outdoor area.
The exhibition of the Berlin regional museums "Forced Labour in Berlin 1938-1945" is still accessible without restriction, regardless of the opening hours at the outer fence to Britzer Straße.
The date for the reopening of the two permanent exhibitions as well as the opening of the planned special exhibition "Ausgeschlossen. Archäologie der NS-Zwangslager" will be announced in time.
The current online project for the liberation of the camps in Berlin will be continuously expanded until the end of May with new information and voices of surviving forced laborers: https://www.zwangslager-berlin-1945.de/en/
In February, the four-day podcast workshop "Story(s) in the ear, pictures in the head" took place at our documentation center. Xenia and Florian dealt with the topic of forced labor under National Socialism, interviewed visitors and talked to Corinne Douarre, daughter of a French forced laborer, about musical memory work.
You can listen to the (German) result of their recordings here.
We are currently not allowed to let guests into our exhibitions, so we bring an exhibition to the guests. From April 13, the exhibition "Forced Labor in Berlin 1938-1945" will be on the fence of the Documentation Center Ns-Forced Labor along Britzer Strasse.
Who were the people who had to do forced labor in Berlin, where did they come from and under what conditions did they have to live and work? Who were the profiteers and who organized and administered the use of forced labor? What was the post-war fate of the survivors? What traces did the mass deployment of forced labor leave behind in the Berlin urban space and in the memory of the Berlin population? These and other questions are explored in this exhibition, which was developed on the basis of regional research conducted by eleven regional museums and institutions in 2002.
When the city of Berlin surrendered to the Red Army on 2 May 1945, there were approximately 370,000 forced labourers in the entire city area. Prisoners of war, concentration camp prisoners and so-called civilian workers. Most of them were still in their places of work and in the camps at the end of the war. The weeks of April and May 1945 were marked by hunger, desperation, fear, resistance and hope.
Many former forced labourers from Western and Southern Europe were still able to return to their home countries in summer 1945, either alone or with the help of Allied repatriation transports. Other liberated persons tried to resist the repatriation. Particularly in the Soviet Union, those returning were long suspected of treason and collaboration with the Germans.
The history of the liberation of the Nazi forced labour camps in Berlin has not yet been comprehensively reappraised. In commemoration of the end of the war, we take the 75th anniversary as an opportunity to turn our attention to the former forced labourers. How did they experience the last weeks of the war? What was their first contact with the Allies like? What happened to the liberated camps?
On our blog zwangslager-berlin-1945.de we document eyewitness reports, diary excerpts, letters and memories from the Berlin area.
You can also find information on our social media channels at #Zwangslager1945 #75Befreiung #75liberation
The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre, like all Berlin memorial sites, will be closed from 13 March until further notice for current reasons.
Unfortunately, no public guided tours or events can take place during this period.
We ask for your kind understanding.
Dr. Christine Glauning and the team of the Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre
On October 25, 2019, Vera Friedländer died at the age of 91. The National Socialists had persecuted the Berlin woman as a "half-Jew". At the age of 16 she had to do forced labor in various companies, including a shoe repair shop of the Salamander company in Kreuzberg.
Later, the Germanist became involved and emeritus professor for the reappraisal of forced labor. This year she visited the Documentation Centre for Nazi Forced Labor again and talked to young people about her history of persecution.
Mrs. Friedländer's voice will be missing. She understood that people listened to her and thought about her words. We, employees of the Documentation Centre, were also influenced by her visits.
21 August - 27 October 2019
The installation GE-SCHICHTE_N by the artist Jolanda Todt invites visitors to look at the German occupation of Poland 1939-1945 - literally touching history. The artwork consists of 60 concrete panels on which various materials have been applied: modern photographs, historical documents, and excerpts from a contemporary witness interview. Each concrete slab opens up a different approach to history. The fragments can combine with individual prior knowledge and associations. Only by carefully analysing the materials can visitors learn that the spread of history also conceals a personal story. The more visitors deal with the material, the narrower the framework within which the information can be interpreted.