Millions of Soviet civilians were brought to Germany as forced laborers from 1941 to 1944. Before they could enter the country, however, they underwent a screening process. This 1942 film documents the transport of a large group of forced laborers from the Soviet Union to a border station and army processing point in German-occupied Lithuania.1 The clip was filmed by an unknown German soldier and was not widely distributed, though its specific purpose is unclear. It captures the arrival of the laborers at a transit and supply facility run by the German army.2
For many, departure from their homes and the journey to Germany could be chaotic and difficult. While some went willingly, others were captured by German forces or their collaborators on the street or in the market and loaded into trains. It is unclear how the passengers in this transport were chosen or whether they came from the same village or town, but at least some of them were given enough notice to pack a bag or trunk.
Upon their arrival, the workers were provided food, bathed, and sprayed with disenfectants.Their belongings and clothing were boiled or treated with chemicals. Doctors evaluated their physical and mental health and categorized them according to Nazi ideas of perceived race and fitness for work. From this inspection point, laborers were sent to factories, farms, and camps. The papers pinned to their shirts would be replaced by badges reading “OST” (east) to indicate their inferior status as eastern workers.3 Those deemed unfit to work or found to be pregnant were returned, although not always to their home villages.4
As they departed for Germany, most of these laborers had no idea what their destinations were or what conditions awaited them—although German propaganda promised secure work and good wages. The trains they boarded, like those seen in this clip, usually were built to hold cargo or livestock and were not equipped to carry passengers. The train wagons had no toilets and were furnished only with straw. The workers captured here glance and laugh nervously at the camera, most of them likely leaving their families and hometowns for the first time.