Daily Archives: 16 July 2020

Soviet Intellectual Ostarbeiters, 1944

From The Long Vacation, by Alex Panasenko (Iris, 2020), Kindle pp. 63-64:

Almost everyone in the camp smoked heavily. Since there was no cigarette ration, the main preoccupation of these people was to find something to smoke. Thus cigarette butts were worth considerably more than their weight in gold. I saw starving men barter away their bread rations for something to smoke. I saw them break down and cry when someone stole their hoarded tobacco. Probably the only reason I did not see them kill for it was that most of these people were intellectuals and thus had the fighting potential of a herd of guinea pigs.

These people had all survived Stalin’s purges. The purges had carried off everyone who had any character whatsoever and thus was able to take any kind of stand. These pathetic people were unable to take themselves seriously, and they disdained everyone else. They had been conditioned into informing on one another by the Soviet system, so now they sought to gain favor with the Germans through informing. But there was nothing concrete for them to report, and the Germans did not give a rat’s ass for ideological differences in their slaves.

Incapable of fighting or any meaningful resistance, the intellectuals turned to acts of petty bitchiness and viciousness. They were made even more pitiful by their moral ugliness. This weakness bred other vices. Aside from being informers, they also stole, lied, gossiped, and hated everything and everyone with a powerless, burning intensity. Their only claims to humanity and self-respect were their contributions to their professional lives, which were useless and pointless in the present situation. Thus we had a skinny, redheaded doctor of something-or-other who had done some work on Tamerlane’s tomb. He kept talking about it. I asked him who Tamerlane was and learned he had been a great leader.

“As great as Hitler or Stalin?” I asked.

Although I did not realize it at the time, my question had put the doctor in a quandary. We were within hearing range of several of his peers, and to have given me a truthful answer would have resulted in his being informed on. He muttered something and moved away.

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