The story of sixteen Shostka locals at the Eibia GmbH powder factory, located in Lower Saxony between the villages of Steyerberg and Libenau, contains more details than other stories in the museum. This powder factory employed more than 11,000 foreign workers. Most were Poles, Belgians, Frenchmen, and people from the Soviet Union, mainly from Ukraine. The exposition contains a letter from the Chief of Army Equipment and Commander of the OKH Reserve Army to the Minister of Armaments and Munitions dated August 7, 1942, with a complaint of ill-treatment of recruited workers at the Reich enterprises. In particular, it says that “about 700 Russians from Shostka had been brought to work at this powder plant by the Army Command. The only hot food they get is boiled fodder turnips or [simply] turnips. In addition to working at the factory, these Russians have to walk 18 km every day from the camp to the factory, which is becoming more and more impossible with the food described above.” This document launched the search for forced labor witnesses in Shostka. By the time the Family Memory Museum was opened in 2015, we had found eight former forced workers whose materials are now on display.
The factory complex covered an area of over 12 square km, production bunker buildings, partly underground, their roofs covered with trees and shrubs. Pelageia Chubun (Struk) from Ivot said about the plant, “Everything was disguised. Such deep roads, the size of electric cars that brought produce to the shops. And these ditches were all over the factory… In general, there was no plant on the surface. It was all down in the ground.”
Factory workers were held half-starved. Vira Pischik described her daily diet as follows, “Turnip ground on beet graters, not like ours in the kitchen, the small ones, but big ones as for pigs, rough ones. And 200 grams of bread. Take it and go with God. Food was given once a day. One comes from work, takes a bowl or pot, and goes to get the food… And tomorrow again, until evening. So, once a day.”
Insufficient nutrition pushed new employees (especially men) to steal from the Bauers. For this, they were punished with labor at the Libenau “correctional labor camp”. According to Maria Dotsenko, most of them did not return from there.
By 1945, more than 2,500 women and men had died at the plant from physical exhaustion. Another resident of Ivot, Tetiana Osnach, who was in the camp with her sister Pelageia, fell ill with tuberculosis. We found her letter to her younger sister Maria written in 1943, in the State Archives of the Sumy region. “I decided to write you, my white-headed sister. I can’t even describe how much I would like to see you. I would tell you a lot of things.” Tetiana never saw her sister, she died of tuberculosis in July 1945. Neither did her last letter reach her addressee. We gave its copy to her niece, Vira Kurilenko, in 2012.
Germans were not the only policemen over the Ostarbeiters; forced laborers who agreed to collaborate with the Germans also supervised workers in the camp. For this, they got separate rooms, were allowed to get married and have children, got better food. These camp officers nearly killed Volodymyr Korotkov from Shostka. Upon arrival at the factory, the young man started to protest and sabotage the production process, destroying machines and tools. He was repeatedly punished for this, and once he was assigned 25 stick blows. Camp policemen, including his fellow countrymen, took part in the punishment. Volodymyr barely survived, was ill for a long time, and had hearing problems for the rest of his life.
When the Allies entered Germany in 1945, the Germans fled the factory. Captives who suddenly found themselves without control, revenged their traitor compatriots. According to Maria Dotsenko, one of them was shot, another strangled, and only the third survived because for three years he always tried to protect and help his countrymen.