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Suing For Justice

A three-month investigation by CBS This Morning Investigative Correspondent Roberta Baskin late last year revealed an untold tragedy of World War II, the story of the children of Polish and Russian people forced to work in German factories. The story and its accompanying documents appeared on in November 1998. Following is an update on the story of the "kinderheim" where these children were sent.

Documents include a Nazi official's letter asking whether the children should be killed. See A Life Or Death Question for a translation.

Half a century ago, it was Adolph Hitler whose attempt to ethnically cleanse Europe nearly succeeded.

While Hitler sent millions of Jews to their deaths in concentration camps, he also forcibly uprooted hundreds of thousands of Christians from their homes in Poland and Russia and shipped them off to German factories to oil the Nazi war machine.

Anna Snopczyk was 19 years old when the Nazis forced her to leave Poland. "When you walked down a street here, they would catch you," she says. "They would immediately take you for forced labor."

She worked as a slave laborer at the Volkswagen factory, which still operates today. "I worked gluing the bombs and three people would do it," she says. "You couldn't wash hands until you finished it."

But Anna developed an allergic reaction to the glue, so she was sent to work on a nearby farm.

The farm was better, for a while. Anna fell in love with another Polish worker and had a baby they named Jozef. "I gave birth to the child in the seventh month, but he was a healthy one," she says.

Anna still wasn't allowed to leave the farm. "I worked all day from dawn to dusk. The child laid by itself. There was no one, no one to take care of him," she remembers. "So the farmer's wife said that I should give him to the children's home. There was no other way."

Hitler wrote to the head of Volkswagen about the use of forced labor. See
A Memo From Hitler
for a translation.
Within two weeks, Jozef was taken to a home for the children of slave laborers, the kinderheim established and operated by Volkswagen. Anna and hundreds of other mothers soon discovered the home was a slow, painful death trap for their babies, full of filth and neglect.

Says Anna, "In the evening, right away, the bugs would show up. Cockroaches, beetles, they all came out. He had a green bely, so they must have added something to the food. When I would leave he would cry."

When we first told you the story of the kinderheim last November, another forced laborer, Sara Frankel, described the conditions she saw the one day she worked at the home. In her words, she saw "bugs...filth...sores."

Anna Snopczyck, who we visited with in Poland just last month, told us her son Jozef lived only two months. They never told her what happened. "They just said he died, that's it," says Anna.

Michael Hausfeld says he knows: "It was genocide."

Hausfeld, a lawyer who has represented victims of the Holocaust, has records from the Volkswagen children's home. They show nearly 400 infants died there, almost all within a few months of their arrival. For more than 200, the cause of death was listed as "feebleness" or "too weak to live." There was seldom a medical diagnosis.

Says Hausfeld, "They killed them."

And, he asserts, it was intentional. "It's not that they didn't care about the Polish children. They did. They cared to kill them," says Hausfeld. "They did not want them living. According to national socialist policy, the Poles were subhuman."

Nazi nurse, Ella Schmidt.
Dr. Hans Korbel, the doctor in charge of the children's home, was tried and executed. Ella Schmidt, the Nazi nurse in charge, served an eight-year prison sentence for intentionally neglecting the babies. Then she returned to work at Volkswagen as a social worker.

On Wednesday, Michael Hausfeld will file a lawsuit against Volkswagen, charging that the company is guilty of genocide, and is responsible for the murders of some 400 infants at the children's home, including Anna's son, Jozef.

Hausfeld says this not a case about back wages: "It's about justice. It's about Anna and the others being able to tell their story. Being able to get out of their minds and off their hearts, the cruelty they experienced."

However, at the Polish German Reconciliation Foundation in Warsaw, dozens of Poles line up every day, hoping for compensation for the years they spent as slave laborers. Anna Snopczyk got her compensation seven years ago, $400 for the four years she labored. Now 78 years old, she lives in a small house that has no plumbing. She lives alone. She never had any more children.

Anna kept the wartime birth and death of her son Jozef a secret all these years. Does she still think about Jozef? "I try not to think," she says. "At times it comes back. It is a painful memory."

Docments show that the mothers not only had to pay to keep their babies in the home, they also had to pay funeral expenses. In fact, there were no funerals, only a mass burial in a grave used as for a dumping ground for the tiny bodies.

The home run by Volkswagen was not the only children's home kept by the Nazis. It turns out there were hundreds of such homes with brutal conditions across Germany. In part two on Thursday, CBS This Morning investigates what happened in some of those other homes.

See the previous stories in this series:
The Kinderheim Story, Part 1.

The Kinderheim Story, Part 2.

The Kinderheim Story, Part 3.

Al Berman, Executive Producer
James Segelstein, Sr. Producer
Doug Longhini, Producer
Audrey Latman, Associate Producer
Francois Bringer, Associate Producer
Bob Davis, Editor
Linda Fields, Producer
Vim deVos, Cameraman
Buddy Tyler, Camerman
Adam Haylett, Sound
Kelli Edwards, Press Representative
Jacek Dobrowolski, Warsaw Coordinator
Verena Wolff, American University intern

Resources used:

Beata Pawlak at "Gazeta" in Warsaw, Poland
Volker Steinhoff at ZDF's "Panorama" in Germany
Therkel Straede, Historian, Georgetown University
Dr. Klaus-Jorg Siegfried, Archivist and author, Wolfsburg
Dr. Hans Mommsen, author, "Das Volkswagenwerk und seine Arbeiter im Dritten Reich"
Miriam Kleiman, Senior Researcher, Cohen, Milstien, Hausfeld and Toll Gisela Ruhl, Wolfsburg organization to support former forced laborers,
Pastor Hans Hohnsbein, Goettingen, Germany
Horst Weiss, German-Polish Society
Warsaw Journalism Center
Henryk Kubiak, Interpreter
Dr. Tomasz Kranz, Interpreter
Dr. Greg Bradsher, Director, Holocaust-Era Assets Records Project, National Archives
Henry Mayer, Chief Archivist, Holocaust Museum
Dr. Martin Dean, Historian, Holocaust Museum
Henk T'Hoen, Interpreter for U.S. Army War Crimes
National Archives in College Park, Maryland
Polish Embassy to the United States
"Main Commission to investigate Crimes Against the Polish Nation & Institute of National Memory"

©1999 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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