Dr. Kateryna Kobchenko

Member of staff working on the indexing of interviews with Western Ukrainian forced laborers as a sub-collection of the online archive "Forced Labor 1939-1945" at Freie Universität Berlin

Ms. Kobchenko, what is special about the sub-collection?

The interviews in the collection reflect the particular experience of Western Ukrainian NS forced laborers. The area around Lviv, where the interviews were conducted, belonged to Poland during the period between the wars; and so the interviewees were Polish citizens before 1939. As a result of the Hitler-Stalin Pact, Western Ukraine came under Soviet occupation in the years 1939 to 1941. This led to a strengthening of the Ukrainian nationalist movement, as well as to an initially positive attitude of the population in relation to the German occupation. This attitude quickly changed, not least because of the forced recruitment for work in Germany. Even though the forced laborers from Western Ukraine were not counted among the "Ostarbeiter [Eastern workers]" in the hierarchy of the National Socialist system and were somewhat better off than them.

How did the indexing process go? Were there any hurdles to overcome or any very memorable moments in getting the answers?

The basis for indexing is correct transcriptions and good translations. This as well as the structure with headings was a great challenge because many of the interviewees were mumbling and they gave fragmented accounts. 

In order to make the interviews understandable for German-speaking users, many specific terms and events of Ukrainian history had to be clarified with explanatory notes. The research and recording of place and camp names from various countries in Europe and the Soviet Union was also time-consuming. But at the same time this challenge was the interesting aspect because the interviewees are not typical historical eyewitnesses: Many grew up in an agricultural environment and only went to school for a few years; such perspectives have been few and far between.

What is the special value of a life history interview?

The interviews include many details that are hard to find in other sources. The subjective perspectives of the interviewees also represent an important enrichment for the historical research of the Western Ukrainian experience of forced labor. These reported memories are especially valuable because a lot of the people interviewed in this project had not spoken publicly before. Against the background of the current war in particular, the life stories show the consequences of war and occupation for the individual people in an impressive way and provide an interesting insight into contemporary Ukrainian history.