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Letter from Antonina Sidielnik Intercepted by German Authorities

In the featured letter to a family member working in Germany, a Ukrainian woman named Antonina Sidielnik described a raid by German forces on her home village.
International Tracing Service Archive

Following the invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, Nazi Germany began to face a significant labor shortage. Nazi leaders had not prepared to keep German soldiers in a long conflict away from their fields and factories at home.1 In response, German authorities launched a massive campaign to bring workers from the occupied eastern territories to Germany in order to work in factories, on farms and construction projects, or as domestic laborers.2 Roughly 10–13 million people were deported to Germany as forced laborers between 1941–1945.3

Some Soviet citizens—especially in Ukraine—initially volunteered to go to Germany for work. By 1942, however, word of the terrible conditions endured by eastern European workers in the German Reich discouraged volunteers.4 In response, occupation authorities launched violent raids and kidnapped young people off the streets, from marketplaces, and even from their homes to send them to the Reich and other German-controlled territories.

In a letter written to a family member named Raissa working in Germany, a Ukrainian woman named Antonina Sidielnik described one such raid on her home village of Bilozerka. On October 1, 1942, Bilozerka authorities received an order to provide 25 workers to be sent to Germany. But when the local police arrived to register the recruits, they had already fled. The next day, members of a local German militia came to the village and burned several houses to the ground in retaliation. In the featured letter—to a family member who was already in a labor camp in northern Germany—Sidielnik described the terror the village experienced as people watched their homes and farms destroyed. The people rushed to put out the flames but the German forces held them back, beating and arresting several of them. While the houses burned, the militia searched neighboring villages for laborers and arrested several villagers.5

As the featured letter shows, the consequences for defying German demands were harsh. German authorities destroyed villages that refused to cooperate. In one Ukrainian region, villages were burned, and the relatives of those who refused to go were arrested and deported in their place. Some German policymakers worried that this violence would turn the local population against the German occupiers, but the raids continued.  

Sidielnik concluded her letter with doubts that it would ever reach Raissa. Correspondence between those living at home in the occupied territories and those working abroad in the Reich passed through the hands of German censors, limiting the ability of forced laborers and their loved ones to share accurate information about the realities they faced.

Between June 1941 and May 1944 the German army (Wehrmacht) lost, on average, 60,000 men every month on the Eastern front, Adam Tooze, Wages of Destruction: The Making and Breaking of the Nazi Economy (New York: Penguin Group, 2006), 513.

Karl C. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2004), 253. This was a controversial policy because Nazi racial ideology labeled Slavs as inferior. Some German officials viewed their recruitment for labor in Germany as a violation of German racial purity.

Historians estimate that there approximately eight million foreign workers in Germany in August 1944. This number is a snapshot of one month and does not include people who had already been returned or who had still not come. Ulrich Herbert, Hitler's Foreign Workers: Enforced Foreign Labor in Germany under the Third Reich, trans. by William Templer (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 1.

In Ukraine, people volunteered for a variety of reasons, often in response to widespread food shortages and harsh life under occupation but also as a result of a propaganda campaign by Nazi occupation authorities promising high wages, free housing, and free medical care for recruits. Karel Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair: Life and Death in Ukraine under Nazi Rule (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2008),  253–256; There was starvation throughout eastern Ukraine in particular.

These deportations were referred to as recruitment drives in German policy. Fritz Sauckel, the General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment and the official in charge of these raids, set specific targets for each territory. In the Ukraine, for example, he ordered that 225,000 people be sent to Germany in the first four months of 1943 alone with daily targets of up to 6,000 people. By late 1943, rather than targeting a specific number of people, everyone born within a given year—1926 and 1927—was required to leave for Germany. Berkhoff, Harvest of Despair, 259.

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Group VIII of the Censorship Office Berlin I.D. number: III/32[?]   Date: Oct. 30, 1942

Re: Wehrmacht – Policy – Economy

To Central Censorship Office Berlin

Also to:  Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories [R. M. Ost]  

Wehrmacht High Command, Foreign I (?), for the attention of Colonel W. Kenschitzki or representative in office


Sender: Antonina Sidielnik

Bilosirka, Lunowtze, Dubno / Ukraine [Bilozirka, Lanivtsi]

Addressee: Raissa Sidielnik, Women’s Labor Camp


Date of letter: Oct. 13, 1942 Enclosures:

Registered Mail Wischnowitz 365  [Vyshnivets’]


Evaluation result: Original letter: postage paid, censored

Information about German measures in the course of the recruitment of labor in the Ukraine


Sender writes (translated from Ukrainian):

“On October 1 a new collection of workers took place, but this one can’t be compared to the one back then. I’ll describe for you only the most important part of what has happened. You just can’t imagine this bestiality. One has to have seen it to believe it possible. You surely remember what we were told under Polish rule about the Soviets; it’s just as incredible now too, and we didn’t believe it in those days.

The order came to provide 25 workers. People from the employment office [Arbeitsamt] came from Kremenetz [Kremenets] and specified the relevant people; recruitment cards were delivered to them, but no one came forward, they all had taken flight. Then the German Gendarmerie came and started setting fire to the houses of those who had fled. Svidrow’s [Svidrov’s?] house was set ablaze first, and right after it the Walouschas’ [Valushas’] house. The fire burned very fiercely, because it had not rained for two months, and in addition, the haystacks were standing in the yards. You can imagine what went on there. People ran up to put out the fire; they were forbidden to do so and were beaten and arrested. As a result, 6 farms burned to the ground. Here the flames are raging, and the Gendarmes go around setting other houses on fire. The people fall on their knees and kiss the Gendarmes’ hands, but the Gendarmes start beating them with rubber truncheons and threaten to burn down the whole village. I don’t know how it would have ended if Iwan Sapurkany [Ivan Zapurkany] had not intervened. He promised that workers would report by the following morning.

During the fire, the militia went through the adjacent villages, seized the workers, and took them into custody. Wherever they found no workers, they locked up the parents until their children appeared. Thus they caused havoc all night long in Bielosirka [Bilozirka].

The same thing took place in other villages too, such as Schuschkiwzi [Shushkivtsi], Molotjkiw [Molotkiv], Osnyky, Moskaliwka [Moskalivka], so that the fires continued day and night. The workers who had not yet turned up by that time were supposed to be shot. All our schools have been closed, and the married teachers are 

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being sent to work here, while the unmarried ones are being conscripted for work in Germany. Now they’re catching human beings the way dogcatchers used to catch dogs in earlier times. They’ve been hunting them for a whole week now, and they still haven’t caught enough. The workers who have been caught are locked up in the school, they’re not even allowed to go out to answer the call of nature, but have to take care of their needs in the same room, like pigs.

On a certain day, many people from the villages went on a pilgrimage to the Potschaew [Pochayiv] Monastery. They were all arrested, locked up, and will be sent off to work. Among them are lame and blind and elderly people, they’re just told good, good, and taken away. My God, what will come of this, a person can’t even go from one village to the next!

I’m writing all this to you, but am not convinced that it will reach you. You’re afraid to write how things are with you. Other people write, and the letters arrive. You can write me the truth, tell me where you’re working and at what, and for what kind of lousy grub. You write that you believe Herr Müller, who said at the meeting that the workers are being taken for a period of 5 months. I see now that nothing they say can be believed, they lie just as much as the Soviets and maybe even worse. The only people coming back home are the ones who are in the vicinity, who ran away. Your father drove home from Lahinzi [?] and took 3 workers along for part of the way; they told him it is out of the question that the workers would be released to their homeland. But those who come back, they told him, are terrible to look at, almost all of them are sick.


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Archival Information for This Item

Source (Credit)
International Tracing Service Archive
Source Number Files of the Reich Ministry for the Occupied Eastern Territories - Reich Commesariat Ukraine,, Digital Archive, Arolsen Archives
Date Created
October 30, 1942
Author / Creator
Antonina Sidielnik
Bilozerka, Ukraine
Document Type Letter
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