Thursday, 17 May 1945

"Test and Transit Camp": Return to the Soviet Union

Immediately after the capitulation of Nazi Germany on May 8, 1945, the Allies quickly succeeded in securing a basic supply for the countless Displaced Persons (DP) in Berlin. A speedy return to their home countries was also to be guaranteed, with thousands of former forced laborers being returned to their countries of origin almost daily until late summer 1945. In August 1945, only just under 23,000 foreign citizens were still living in Berlin.

As early as February 1945, at the Yalta Conference, the Western Allies and the Soviet Union had agreed that Soviet citizens should be collected in separate DP camps and sent back to the Soviet Union "without regard to individual wishes". For this purpose, a "repatriation authority" was created specifically for the return of Soviet citizens.

Many of them are now suspected of treason, simply because they were imprisoned by the Germans. Similarly suspicious as the Soviet prisoners of war are the civilian forced laborers who are accused of collaboration with the National Socialists. Not infrequently they try to avoid being repatriated for fear of repression in their home country.

The majority of Soviet DPs are registered and questioned in so-called "testing and transit camps" before their return. In some cases, such "test camps" are established without further ado in the liberated forced camps of the Nazi regime. In the Soviet countryside, "testing and filtration camps" are also set up. Here the returnees are subjected to political scrutiny and intensively questioned by employees of the "People's Commissariat for Internal Affairs" (NKWD).

The former Ukrainian forced laborer N. S. Vladyshchenko is recruited into the Red Army near Berlin immediately after liberation. She remembers: "In the Soviet Army we were received with caution; on several occasions, staff members of special departments held talks with me. I was also confronted with such behaviour later in Ukraine. As a result, I was unable to find work at first."

Those who are considered suspicious may end up in a work battalion or a penal camp in the Soviet Union. Galina Ippolitowna Wertaschonok also had to undergo repeated interrogations in Berlin after her liberation: "We heard a Russian voice: 'Russians coming out!' It was our Russian soldiers. We cried with joy, kissed and embraced them. They instructed us to go to the rear of our troops. The way was very long and hard. Afterwards we landed at a gathering point. There we were interrogated, and those who knew the German language were immediately loaded onto the train and sent off into the unknown."

Often the suspicion of treason was accompanied by years of stigmatization at home. Galina Wertaschonok continues: "At home we were put to a severe test... For 40 years we were not considered human beings. Several times we were summoned by the NKVD and interrogated again and again.

(Sources: Report by N. S. Vladyshchenko, in: "That's how it was." Forced Labour in the Dahme-Spreewald Region, ed. Dahme-Spreewald e.V., Zeuthen 2002; Letter from the former forced labourer Galina Ippolitowna Wertaschonok to the Berlin History Workshop, Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre - Berlin History Workshop Collection; Volker Ulrich, " Eight Days in May. The Last Weeks of the Third Reich," Munich: C.H. Beck, 2020.)