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Research about the repatriation of former Soviet forced laborers

Ulrike Goeken-Haidl with her book "The Way Back".

Historian Ulrike Goeken-Haidl has visited the International Tracing Service (ITS) in Bad Arolsen for the first time. In 2002, she finished her dissertation about "The Way Back: The Repatriation of Soviet Forced Laborers during and after the Second World War”, at the University of Freiburg. Her book of that title was published in 2007. "At that time, the ITS archives were not yet opened for research," says Goeken-Haidl. "My eyes shine when I see what opportunities there are today at the ITS." She now plans to contribute to the 2014 Academic Yearbook of the ITS.

The 45-year-old first had contact with former victims of Nazi persecution through a former Belarussian friend. "His grandmother was a forced laborer in the Eifel. She had never spoken to her family about the experience," explains the historian from Nurnberg. "After hearing her story, I began to do research." She first addressed the key question of why the experiences of forced labourers were concealed in the former Soviet Union.

The fact that until the end of 1941 millions of Soviet soldiers were taken prisoner, was interpreted by the Soviet government as disloyalty. Their survival was seen as an act of collaboration, the historian writes in her book. A substantial number of returnees, whether forced laborers or prisoners of war, were deported to special filtration camps and later to Gulag camps if the accusation of collaboration was maintained.

Peter Stoba from Pinsk, Belarussia, was one of about five million people who were accused by the Stalin regime of collective collaboration. He had to spend six years in the Gulag. "Stoba told me his story when I made my interviews with contemporary witnesses," Goeken-Haidl recalls. "He also spoke to me of his prior imprisonment in several Nazi concentration camps. At the ITS, I entered his name into the database and found documents that prove his story." The researcher now wants to send the documents to Stoba’s relatives. "I am overwhelmed," she describes her feelings while researching, "I find proofs for all the testimonies I have heard.”