NS-Forced Labor - New Commemorative Plaque Unveiled at Kaprun Power Plant

9/4/2003Wien

VERBUND as the operator of the power plant in Kaprun is putting up a visible sign today by unveiling a commemorative plaque not only in memory of the forced labourers and prisoners of war who died in the construction of the “Tauern Power Plant”.

The intention behind this gesture is to express that VERBUND is aware of the tragic historical circumstances of the first building phase between 1938 and 1945, during the Nazi era.

First plans for the exploitation of the water power in the Hohe Tauern region existed already at the end of the 1920s. In view of the gigantic scope of the project they were highly controversial, however, and came to nothing, not last on account of the Great Depression. A few weeks after the “Anschluss” in 1938, ground was broken on a site on which the power plant was not built in the end. First specific plans were presented half a year later. In the subsequent years more than 6,300 civilian forced labourers and up to 4,000 prisoners of war were used at the major building site. So - like other hydroelectric power plants in Austria - the power plant in Kaprun goes back largely to the Nazi wartime economy and use of forced labourers, prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates. In the years of the war the construction material became increasingly scarce, but the construction of the “Tauern Power Plant” went ahead slowly. From 1943 on only an emergency program could be carried through. The first hydroelectric generating set in the Kaprun power house was started up on November 17, 1944.

After World War II the fate of the forced labourers and prisoners of war fell into oblivion - there was no room for it in the history of the “myth of Kaprun”. The “Tauern Power Plant” became the symbol of the Austrian patriotic reconstruction.

It was the discussion on forced labour and the uncompensated material losses of property and capital at the time of the Nazi rule as well as the “class actions” filed against a number of Swiss, German and Austrian companies in the USA that triggered off the research project on forced labour under Nazi rule. VERBUND was immediately willing to make a contribution to the “reconciliation fund”. VERBUND did not consider meeting a financial obligation sufficient, however, but also wished to contribute to a historical investigation into the situation and the extent of forced labour in the construction of the power plants it owns today (Kaprun, Ybbs-Persenbeug on the Danube, and the power plants on the rivers Drau and Enns).

The historians Oliver Rathkolb and Florian Freund, sponsored by VERBUND, looked into this chapter of the history of Austrian energy. The resulting study was presented in book form (published by Böhlau Verlag) last January and is a substantial contribution to the efforts to put the warped view of history straight.