Everyday life as described in letters

Very important for the survival in a foreign country was the support and help of friends, opportunities for emotional communication. Therefore, photographs with friends who shared the hardships and sufferings in a foreign country are so valuable in family archives. “Let our friendship live and grow like a golden blue cornflower in the grass” – Vira Pavlenko wrote this poem to Martha Redko from Sobicheve village in memory of the joint “work at a coke mine and camp life in one room”.

Postcards from Ostarbeiters to Ukraine show that hard work was not the main challenge. Longing for home caused more suffering. It was letters from relatives and friends that helped keep one’s spirit, keep in touch with family, and describe their lives. Ostarbeiters got official permission to correspond in November 1942. Only postcards were allowed, twice a month in each direction, and parcels weighing 250 grams, only from Ukraine to Germany. In 1943, special three-language postpaid postcards were introduced. Letters from Ostarbeiters were censured first at the camp, then in a special center in Berlin. Therefore, they could not write much about their real life.

Most authors wrote to their families about how important it was for them to receive letters from home.

Natalia Babak from the village of Voronizh conveys the emotions overwhelming her after receiving a letter, “My dear sister Lena! I received your postcard with joy and read with tears. Oh sister, think how hard it is without family.

Vira Nedbayevska reproached sister Olga, “Greetings from Germany to your dear Ukraine from your sisters. I haven’t received anything from you for three months. What this silence means, I do not know…

Vasily Tarasenko wrote to his parents and his wife in the village of Chapliyivka, Shostka district, that he could not send them frequent letters. “I can only send two postcards a month, so tell father not to get offended. Father, if you are allowed to send parcels, then send cereals, tobacco, parcels like that, and crackers. Well, I will now expect a parcel.”

One of the biggest problems in camps was famine and the inability to buy extra food. Yevdokia Antoshchenko wrote about this to her parents in Shostka, “We are allowed to go for walks on Sundays from 12 to 8 pm. There are no markets here like at home, everything is given out by rations. Every 5 days, we get 1.4 kg of bread, twice a week we get 50 grams of margarine and 25 grams of sausage, twice a day we get different kinds of soup”.

Food was scanty and monotonous; it was impossible to taste the seasonal fruits and vegetables so common for life at home. “Senya, for the [Feast of Transfiguration] we ate apples: two were cut down for eight people” (Galina Pankratova wrote to her relatives in the village of Klyshki. 1943).