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Reform through forced labour?

The inmates of the workhouse were given a program of non-skilled physical labour in order to be “accustomed to a regular life.”

At the end of the 19th century a large number of inmates from the Rummelsburg workhouse were put to work on sewage farms and other municipal facilities out­side the city. Their labour constituted the largest source of income for the facility. In 1882 a third of all revenue resulted from work on the municipal sewage farms. The inmates themselves received no payment.

Inmates were also put to work on the workhouse premises themselves, doing low-skilled tasks such as weaving baskets and whips. In the case of female inmate labour, most of the income earned came from sewing and laundering.

This deployment for public services was part of an overall strategy. A report by the workhouse management from 1896 states that the inmates were to “on principle be used only in the interest of the munici­pality, without resulting in competition for the day labourers“.

The management saw the workhouse in terms of a “forced labour and reformatory facility.”

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