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Wartime Travesty: A Survivor

A three-month investigation by CBS This Morning Investigative Correspondent Roberta Baskin reveals an untold story of World War II. The third part of her story will be broadcast on This Morning on Wednesday, Nov. 25. The text of some of the newly-discovered documents from the National Archives can be accessed below.

Following is the second of Roberta Baskin's reports:

Hear the wind rustle through the Klieversberg Forest in the middle of Germany. Here, forest ranger Wolfgang Erolmann says the trees still tell the story.

It's the story of an earlier Germany: Hitler's Germany, where brutality passed for law, and where millions were forced into labor camps to work for slave wages.

Forced Laborers

They were building military vehicles and airplanes in German factories - including Volkswagen's - just a short walk from the edge of the forest.

And it was here, more than 50 years ago, that some Volkswagen laborers found time for love. You can see a heart, and the names and initials, carved in the trees. For Maria Krassmann, it was the wrong time to fall in love.

"I was cleaning the kitchen," she recalls. Cleaning the factory kitchen at Volkswagen is what Maria Krassmann was ordered to do. Abducted from her home in the Ukraine, Maria and thousands of others had been hauled off to support the Nazi war effort.

It was there that Maria fell in love and gave birth to a son. Just one day later, she was sent back to work and was forced to turn her newborn over to the "kinderheim," Volkswagen's children's home.

Maria Krassman and Son, Today

Company work rules made it almost impossible for Maria to visit her son: "We could hardly visit the children," she recalls. "I had to get a permission pass from the police to be able to go there."

Volkswagen operated its factory and its children's home by Nazi rules, keeping to its strict policy of racial separation. The eastern Europeans and their children were considered subhuman, and disposable.

Krassman says: "I heard that all the other children died."

Volkswagen's Children's Home

Declassified war crimes documens at the National Archives in Washington confirm what Maria heard.

The children's home was a death trap. The babies were fed sour milk when they were fed at all. Bed bugs bit them day and night. They developed infections and diarrhea.

By the end of the war, almost all of them, some 350 to 400 babies, had died at the Volkswagen home.

Polish Couple Bury Their Newborn

Of her son, Krassman remembers: "He was completely malnourished - only bones and skin."

In the spring of 1945, during the chaos of a bombing raid, Maria seized her opportunity. She broke from the Volkswagen factory and, with bombs falling around her, hiked eight miles along the canal to the children's home.

Fearing for her life, but even more for her son's, she stole him away and ran.

"He couldn't sit...He was one year and five months old and he couldn't speak a word. He was only crying," she says. Maria begged food from farmers, hid in the woods, and slept in barns until allied forces arrived in mid-April.

Today, Maria Krassmann's baby, Waldemar, is 54 years old. He considers his mother a hero: "She was in this case. I wouldn't have survived. I would have died like hundreds of other children. What happened should always be a reminder and should never happen again."

A footnote to this story: Waldemar has worked at Volkswagen headquarters in the same town for the past 37 years. He is not bitter about what happened to him. He's grateful to his mother for rescuing him.

Volkswagen declined a request from CBS This Morning to be interviewed on camera. The company responded with a letter that calls forcing infants to be taken from their mothers "another manifestation of the inhumanity of the Third Reich in World War II." The letter continues: "For the management and employees of the Volkswagen of today, the moral and historical lessons and obligations are clear and direct. We cannot forget the past, but we must learn from it in order that it is never repeated in the future."

The letter points out Volkswagen's multi-million dollar commitment to social projects, from schools to orphanages and homes for the aged, many in the places slave laborers once called home.

[Part 3 of Roberta Baskin's three-part series will air Wednesday, Nov. 25, on CBS This Morning and will be available here on Part 1 of the series, Volkswagen's Wartime Travesty, can be accessed below.]

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 Tyle, Camerman
Adam Haylett, Sound
Kelli Edwards, Press Representative
Jacek Dobrowolski, Warsaw Coordinator
Verena Wolff, American University intern

Resources used:

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"

©1998 CBS Worldwide Corp. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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