Collection of Post-War Memoirs of Ostarbeiters from Mykolaiv Region: from Informative Potential to Microhistory

Abstract

Despite a large number of publications by both Ukrainian and foreign scholars, the process of attracting narrative information and regional source complexes is still ongoing in historical science to research comprehensively the microhistories of millions of Ukrainians deported for forced labor to the Third Reich and its satellites in the years of World War II. One of the main sources that researchers now actively use is the memoirs of former forced laborers (Ostarbeiters); their collecting began in the mid-1990s and intensified since the 2000s. However, some unique collections of memories created in certain regions as far back as 1945-1946 and being preserved since now have been missed by most researchers. Some of their extracts were used by local historians and archivists in publications, exhibited in online exhibitions, but there is no comprehensive study of all the materials as a whole.

The author’s goal is to analyze the information potential of post-war memoirs of Mykolaiv region former forced laborers and to uncover the main microhistorical facts of Ostarbeiters’ everyday life and the peculiarities of this group of historical sources.

As a conclusion, it is necessary to say that this group of documents is a valuable source for the study of some aspects of pre-war history, the period of Nazi occupation, the microhistories of our countrymen in the conditions of forced or slave labor, and the post-war movement of repatriates. The special thrill of the studied fund is the presence of several unique identification marks («OSTs»), extremely interesting folklore heritage, individual and collective photos, private letters of Ostarbeiters, various German documents that allow to identify visually the authors and additionally illustrate the conditions of everyday life, and emotions of Mykolaiv region population in the conditions of forced labor on the territories of the Third Reich.

The completeness of describing their own forced labor experience and motivation to leave for the Third Reich in this collection of sources undoubtedly depended on the fact that they were written in the conditions of the Soviet leadership and security agencies post-war distrust for the people who went through the occupation and had been outside the USSR, and citizens’ fear of the «system» as well. Because of this, some facts of everyday life in the memoirs of the former Ostarbeiters in the Third Reich were missed.

Prospects for further research: spontaneous or organized resistance of the South of Ukraine population in labor camps; reasons for forced laborers transferring to concentration camps and their survival strategy in slave labor conditions; peculiarities of January-March 1944 deportation (going on foot, mass mortality, etc.); studying of the Soviet ideology, and censorship influence on post-war memoirs, and their comparative analysis with oral evidence collected during the time of Ukraine’s independence.

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Published
05.10.2019
Section
History of Ukraine