Steve's History Website
my family's journey through time
Part 12 (Nazi Occupation)
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We lived in Nazi occupied Kiev through two winters and two summers. It is hard to recall the sequence of events. There was only school for 1st through 4th grades. The Germans called us “untermenschen” and Asiatics and said we didn’t need to go to school beyond 10 years of age.
I played with the friends I made in my new neighborhood and read all the books in my father’s library. He had a complete set of the Russian classics and translations of English and French literature. My father forbade me to read Bocaccio and Guy de Maupassant so, of course, these were the first ones I read, as well as André Gide. I did not understand everything I read, but forbidden fruit tastes sweet.
The following quote is from the Wikipedia article Untermensch.
Untermensch (underman, sub-man, subhuman; plural: Untermenschen) is a term that became infamous when the Nazis used it to describe non-Aryan "inferior people" often referred to as "the masses from the East", that is Jews, Roma, and Slavs … According to the Generalplan Ost, the Slavic population of East-Central Europe was to be reduced in part through mass murder in the Holocaust, with a majority expelled to Asia and used as slave labor in the Reich.
The following quote is from Heinrich Himmler, Nazi Minister of the Interior and head of the SS. Source: the Wikipedia article Education in Poland during World War II
For the non-German population of the East there can be no type of school above the four-grade rudimentary school. The job of these schools should be confined to the teaching of counting (no higher than up to 500), the writing of one's name, and the teaching that God's commandment means obedience to the Germans, honesty, industry and politeness. Reading I do not consider essential.
Nazi Sympathizers / Ostarbeiters / Ukrainian Partisans
When the Germans came were you happy or sad?
A lot of people were hoping for liberation from the communists. Ukrainians in the countryside, not in the city, were hoping that the Germans would let them have some self-government. Many of them welcomed the Germans and were hoping for the best.
It was in the countryside that the Ukrainians welcomed them with salt and bread –that’s their custom to welcome people. Others said, let the Germans get rid of the communists and then let the British get rid of the Germans. But my parents were more intelligent than that. They felt that no matter how terrible the regime is, you’re governed by your own people, and you don’t know what to expect from someone else.
Communist propaganda was telling us about the Jews being exterminated. At that time nobody trusted what the government said, but the communists did know about it and told us. The communists also told about other things but we didn’t know how much to believe. On the other hand, it was a warning that maybe there is some truth to it. Maybe it was exaggerated, but the truth may be there. So we were quite leery and did not welcome the Germans. Most people in the city felt the same way we did.
But the Germans were so stupid. They began to tell everyone that the Russians were Asiatic and therefore a lower race and were practically uncivilized morons. And then this is what they did with the Ukrainians — the Nazis would come and they would take all the able-bodied people to send away as slave labor. They would raid markets. This is why my mother never went to a market. They would take everybody over fourteen and older. I was very tall for my age, so the second year my mother was very worried about me too. Your child might go outside to play and you’d never see them again. They would be in Germany working in a factory. They called them Ostarbeiter and they had to wear some armbands and they were like slave labor. They were not totally free.
The very same Ukrainian peasants who thought the Germans were going to free them from communists went into the woods and became partisans (guerrilla fighters). They began shooting and bombing and destroying anything to do with the Germans. It helped Germans loose the war. There was a very active Ukrainian underground.
Now the Germans also had something to fear. We had only rumors about how the war was proceeding, but it became obvious in the spring of 1943 that the Germans were retreating. As the front line was approaching the anxiety was increasing. Most people did not like the Nazis, but they were also afraid of the Soviets. The Soviets used to say that there were no prisoners of war, only traitors. There was a rumor that everyone that lived under Soviet occupation would be sent to Siberia.
Ukrainian Nazi supporters. Rena didn't see activity like this but heard about it. Top two photos from: National Digital Archives of Poland
From the English language Wikipedia article Ostarbeiter:
Ostarbeiter (literally "Eastern worker") was a Nazi German designation for foreign slave workers gathered from occupied Central and Eastern Europe to perform forced labor in Germany during World War II. The Germans started deporting civilians at the beginning of the war and began doing so at unprecedented levels following Operation Barbarossa in 1941.
… over 50% of Ostarbeiters were formerly Soviet subjects originating from the territory of modern-day Ukraine.
Ostarbeiter were often given starvation rations and were forced to live in guarded camps. Many died from starvation, overwork, bombing (they were frequently denied access to bomb shelters), abuse and execution carried out by their German overseers.
Woman with Ostarbeiter badge at the Auschwitz subsidiary IG-Farbenwerke.
Source: Bundesarchiv, Bild 146-2007-0074 / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Source: Andreas Jeromin