German armies are occupying territories beyond their national frontiers in eastern and western Europe. German leaders meanwhile are increasingly seeing this war as one in which the victor will be the one who makes the most effective use of the resources available to it. As such Germany’s leaders are looking to extract what they can from their occupied territories in order to advance the war effort. In their time as Eastern Front commanders, Hindenburg and Ludendorff had already begun to exploit the territories controlled by OberOst. Now these efforts are intensified and applied across the territories occupied by the Germans.
One resource extracted from the occupied territories is food. Germany’s own food situation is precarious, thanks to a fall in agricultural production, an inability to source food imports from overseas (thanks to the British navy) and the disruption brought by the war. The Germans attempt now to improve their own food situation by looting the food supplies of the lands they are occupying. Poles see their rations collapse to two-thirds of the official ration prevailing in Germany (and, unlike the Germans, the Poles are mostly too poor to supplement their diet on the black market).
Another resource the Germans are keen to exploit is labour. They have begun to press-gang men and women from the occupied territories into labour battalions, set to do work supporting the war effort. The members of these labour battalions are paid a pittance and inadequately fed, living in conditions akin to slavery.
In Poland the Germans prioritise the recruitment of Jews into the labour battalions. They have hopes of reconstituting Poland as a German client state after the war and hope that especially targeting Jews for the labour battalions will mollify relations with ethnic Poles. Their harsh treatment must come as a bitter disappointment to the Jews, as many of them had looked to the Germans as deliverers from the brutality the Russians had been serving out to them.
Belgians forced to work in Germany (1914-1918 Online)