Staurday, 12 May 1945

Going home? Vasyl Timofeyevich Kudrenko

"I left the cursed, destroyed Berlin. I lived in this city for two and a half years. I was now part of a Soviet military unit. We were ordered to leave the city at 6:00 a.m. and head for the Oder. We were walking and escorting captured fascists. We walked from 6:00 a.m. to midnight. The day was hot...
Hundreds of Soviet planes could be seen in the sky, and next to us armoured vehicles and motorcycles were moving at lightning speed... We spent the night in a village. We were back on the road at 6:00 a.m. On the way our trucks caught up with us. We were allowed to get in and take a ride. So we reached our destination very fast...
Our unit was stationed in a village. I was exhausted after that unusually long march... After sleep, Subzov, Lieutenant of the guard, called me. He said: 'If you want, you can stay with us. You'll have to do everything you're told and just be a good guy. I replied, "Yes, Comrade Lieutenant." "Since then, I have been his aide."

Vasyl Timofeyevich Kudrenko was 16 when he was taken from the Ukrainian village of Balakliya to Berlin in 1943. As a "forced labourer" he was forced to dig graves in Berlin cemeteries. Together with about 100 other "Eastern workers", Kudrenko lives in a forced camp run by the Lutheran Church in the cemetery of the Jerusalem and New Church congregations on Neuköllner Hermannstraße. In his diary, he notes day by day his view of life in the camp, the hard work, hunger and the daily threat of bombs and the Gestapo.

After his liberation by the Red Army on 24 April 1945, Kudrenko is initially suspected of collaborating with the Nazis as a traitor to his country. Like hundreds of thousands of other liberated "Eastern workers", he is initially subjected to interrogation by the Soviet secret service.
On May 25, he is ordered to report to the transit camp Töpchin near Zossen before returning to the Soviet Union. Here he learns that all former fellow inmates from the cemetery camp were called up for military service in the Red Army immediately after liberation.

On June 1, Kudrenko is interrogated by a Soviet lieutenant in the Töpchin transit camp. In his diary he notes: "Today I was interrogated by a Leutnant who read my diary. He asked: 'In November 1944 you told German workers that Stalin was coming soon. The Gestapo knew that. "Why were you interrogated and not arrested? I affirmed: 'I was brought up in the communist spirit, a simple Soviet man, deported to Germany under duress. "My life was in danger. In Germany, I behaved as a true patriot. The lieutenant claimed I was lying."
(Diary, Saturday, June 9, 1945)

Kudrenko manages to convince the lieutenant of his loyalty. Two days later, he's allowed to head east. By train Kudrenko reaches Rawicz in Silesia via Cottbus and Glogow. Here he has to face another interrogation in a Soviet transit camp. In the camp, all registered 1920-27 cohorts are assigned to agricultural work near Hermannstadt. Only on 29 August 1945 does Kudrenko receive his documents for the examination procedure and is sent home from Rawicz. He remains convinced of the "bright future of the Soviet Union".

On 16 October 1945 Kudrenko reaches his parents' house in Balaklija. This is also where his diary entries end. Most of his home village has burned down. Before the liberation, Kudrenko later recalls, he had not expected to return from Germany.

(Vasyl Timofeyevich Kudrenko, "Are you a bandit?" The Camp Diary of the Forced Labourer Wasyl Timofejewitsch Kudrenko, Berlin: Wichern-Verlag 2005, p. 132f.