Ukrainian ostarbeiters in Germany: How it was 75 years ago

Author : News Agency

Source :

Up to 2.5 million Ukrainians were taken for forced labor to Germany. At first they were lured by deceit, and later military began to use force and raids
23:20, 18 January 2017

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On January 18 Ukraine recalls the forced removal of its citizens to Germany, which began 75 years ago. Since the days of using a slave labor, the forced labor in Germany during World War II was the most widespread use of foreign labor in the individual state economy. Ukrainian Institute of National Memory shares the details of this process and its consequences.

13.5 million of foreign people who worked as forced laborers were prisoners of war, concentration camp prisoners, civilians. 8.4 million civilians were natives of countries of Western and Eastern Europe. Of these, as of September 30, 1944 3 million were removed from the territory of the USSR. Of these, the researchers estimate that - 1.7-2.4 million were Ukrainians.

The first Ukrainians, who found themselves as forced laborers in Austria in the summer of 1939, were natives of occupied by Hungarian troops Transcarpathia. In September 1939, the Galicians - captive soldiers of the Polish Army had to work for the Reich. Volunteers - civilian workers from Galicia district began to travel to Germany in the summer of 1941.

Use of work of civilians from the Soviet Union occupied territories since the beginning of the war had not been planned because of racial prejudice and national security of the Third Reich. The failure of the "blitzkrieg" theory forced the Nazi leadership to reconsider its attitude to attraction of residents of Soviet territories.

Large-scale use of workers from Ukraine began in 1942 and lasted until 1945. On January 18, 1942 from Kharkiv to Cologne went first echelon with 1 117 workers. From Kyiv first workers departed on January 22 (1 500).

At the end of March 1942 the post of General Commissioner of using labor was introduced in the Third Reich, and this position was occupied by Gauleiter of Thuringia Fritz Sauckel. He appointed four campaigns of providing Reich with civilian workers from Europe: April - September 1942; September 1942 - January 1943; 1943; 1944.

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Those who went to Germany until mid-April 1942, may have made it more or less voluntary: they were roughly deceived, but at least not blackmailed or threatened. Since the spring of 1942, the Nazis began to conduct mass raids among the local population, attracting to these actions police and Wehrmacht soldiers.

Foreigners in Germany worked in the mining and manufacturing industry, transport, construction, agriculture and households.

Regulations for the treatment of forced laborers were very strict. RSHA Special Commission (the governing body of the political intelligence and security police of the Third Reich) prepared and on 20 February 1942 Heinrich Himmler approved the "General provisions on the recruitment and use of labor from the East." The paper introduced the term "Ostarbeiter" - Eastern worker. One of the RSHA officials Bernhard Baatz proposed an identification mark for them, especially for those coming from the part of Ukraine, which during the occupation became the "Reich Commissariat Ukraine" administrative-territorial unit.

They were forced to wear a special badge in the form of a rectangle with the letters "OST" on a blue background. The natives of Galicia, for example, had a different legal status and did not wear such badges. For the same requirements ostarbeiters needed to be transported in covered wagons, and work in closed teams, apart from German and other foreign workers, live - in the barracks, which were located in camps, surrounded by barbed wire.

Ostarbeiters received wages which were half or a third of German wages and from this money was deducted the costs of living. Standards of ostarbeiters’s food were the lowest among the other categories of foreign workers in Germany. Severe penalties were envisaged for misdemeanors - from physical punishment to sending to a concentration camp. Sexual relations with the Germans were punished by hanging, with other foreigners – by imprisonment in the concentration camp.

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The life and legal status of ostarbeiters also were determined by other regulations and documents, which could somewhat mitigate the situation. For example, in late 1942, appeared an issue of providing forced workers with clothing and footwear. It was a necessity, because the majority of them started their travel to Germany in haste or was caught during the raids and immediately sent to this country. Only in 1943 appeared an order, stating about providing workers with clothing on the funds deducted from their salary. Then ostarbeiters were allowed to correspond with their families, but also strict censorship took place. However, the forced workers were often able to bypass it.

In late 1943, Ostarbaiters received the opportunity to go outside the camp if the administration agreed. These changes were introduced in 1944, and because of exclusively military needs. In December 1944, officials of the Reich equalized ostarbeiters’ status with the status of forced laborers from other countries. However, these provisions entered into force mainly only on paper.

Being forced laborers, Ostarbeiters worked tediously, were hungry, often sick. Compared to other foreign workers they were more likely to receive injuries, die of infectious diseases and malnutrition. Conditions in the camps were quite different and depended on the administration and camp. Basically, administration had almost no interest in the everyday life of ostarbeiters who often worked up to 18 hours a day. The hardest work waited for laborers at the state manufacture, and for agricultural workers it was easier to get food.

Among ostarbeiters there were more women (51%) and young adults (about 41% of men and 60% ofwomen). In 1943, among them 1210 people were dying every month. In total during the stay at work 100 thousand people died in Germany.

In 1945, the majority of ostarbeiters got to the camps for displaced persons in West Germany. According to the agreements signed at the Yalta and Potsdam conferences, the repatriation (return) to the Soviet Union it was mandatory for citizens who lived there until 1939. Most of the former ostarbeiters returnees have been tested in special camps and transit points of Commissariat of Defense and the NKVD. Thereafter, 58% of them were able to return to the previous place of residence, 19% of men were mobilized into the army, 14% - in the labor battalions, 6.5% - were arrested, 2% - started working in these camps.

The International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg in 1946 found forced labor of foreigners, which was used in Nazi Germany, a crime against humanity and a violation of international law. At the end of 1980, negotiations began between West Germany and the Soviet Union on humanitarian aid payments to former forced laborers of the Reich and the process has already begun in the period of Ukraine’s independence.

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