Ukrainian Boy Ostarbeiter, 1944

From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 61-62:

As I attempt to detail the events of long ago, some of them stand out in sharp contrast to the overall dreariness and depression that characterized those years. My arrival at the labor camp in early Fall, 1944, was one such event. I had just turned eleven and felt very grown up.

The camp lay a few kilometers away from the castle at the end of a wide, graveled drive lined with chestnut trees. It consisted of two brick buildings and three barracks. The camp was fenced in, but there were neither guard towers nor a permanent guard at the gate.

I was let in by a shifty-eyed and tough-looking little Russian who evidently was in some position of authority. I was issued an enameled gray bowl, a spoon, and a brown blanket. I was shown my barracks and admonished to get up in time for roll call, not steal, not talk back to any Germans, and to work hard. Then everyone ignored me.

I spent that first day wandering around, exploring the camp, and feeling sorry for myself. I felt, however, a strong sense of elation at being away from my father. I think I am one of the very few people who were actually liberated by the Nazis. Whatever it was that the Germans did to me, it was done by strangers who were enemies, supposedly for lofty patriotic and philosophical reasons. Consequently, it was much easier to accept than the pointless cruelty that had been so freely dispensed at home. Furthermore, whenever I was struck by a German (with the exception of kids), they always had a clear reason for it. I was treated by them much as I used to treat my dogs, except I wasn’t fed as well or shown any kindness or given any medical attention.

They did, however, teach me punctuality, diligence, and a sense of responsibility.

Towards noon of that first day, I was told to bring my bowl to one of the brick buildings, which turned out to be the kitchen. There I received a ladleful of potato soup and a slice of black bread. The soup was made from bits and peels of potato that had been boiled for many hours. It was a potato starch sludge with lots of salt added. The bread was very dark, sour, and wet. I can’t recall ever having tasted anything so delicious, but probably that was a result of my constant, gnawing hunger.

Every morning we received half a loaf of that bread. In addition, for lunch and dinner, there was a bowlful of some sort of sludge, usually potato soup. On Sundays, we had vegetable soup with actual potatoes and carrots in it and an occasional piece of some sort of animal sinew or gristle. If I spend too much time describing this cuisine, it is because during my stay at that camp, food was my main preoccupation, as it was for everyone else in that place.

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Filed under Austria, food, Germany, labor, migration, nationalism, slavery, Ukraine, USSR, war

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