World War II in Ukraine:

Ostarbeiter Slave Labor

Andrew Gregorovich

Ostarbeiter Slave Labor

Germany faced a crisis at the end of 1941 because after it had mobilized its massive armies, a shortage of workers developed in Germany to support the war industry. Hermann Goering at first thought "the best thing would be to kill all men in Ukraine over fifteen years of age" but then realized working them to death was more useful for the German Reich. He decided to bring in people from Ukraine, called Ostarbeiter (east workers), to work in German war industries. A recruiting campaign in Ukraine was carried out in January 1942 by Fritz Sauckel for workers to go to Germany. "On January 28th the first special train will leave for Germany with hot meals in Kiev, Zdolbunov and Peremyshl" offered an announcement. The first train was full on January 22.

"Germany calls you! Go to Beautiful Germany! 100,000 Ukrainians are already working in free Germany What about you?" ran a Kiev newspaper ad on March 3, 1942. But in the end word got back of the slave conditions for Ukrainians in Germany and it failed to attract sufficient volunteers so forced recruitment and forced labor were needed. They were forced to wear a badge OST (East) on their clothes. Because the Germans considered the Ukrainians Untermensch (sub-humans) they were "inferior humans" who had to be kicked, beaten, terrorized and killed at their least transgression. Starvation rations and primitive accomodation were given to these unfortunate Ukrainian slaves in Germany. Most probably died in Allied bombing raids. Only a few were able to get released and return to Ukraine to tell their story. One girl chopped off her fingers in a machine to get back home.

Over 2.3 million Ukrainian women and men were taken as Ostarbeiter slave laborers to Germany during World War II. In the photo Ukrainian women of Kiev are being loaded into freight cars by German soldiers.

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Copyright © 1995 Andrew Gregorovich

Reprinted from FORUM Ukrainian Review No. 92, Spring 1995

since March 1st 1997