Germany’s attack of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941 marked the onset of the most monstrous war of conquest, enslavement, and annihilation known to modern history. The goal of the invaders was to eradicate the Soviet system and turn the conquered territories in the East into German colonial ground. The campaign, code-named “Operation Barbarossa”, was primarily conceived as a crusade against Communism, or “Jewish Bolshevism” in Nazi parlance, as the Nazis believed that communism was a Jewish ideology created for the purpose of bringing down the German race. For this reason, every German soldier in the East was instructed to exterminate Soviet Jews as supposed carriers of the “Bolshevik plague.” While focusing on Soviet Jews, German wrath against the enemy in the East extended further. It targeted non-Jewish communist officials as well as millions of Soviet soldiers, most of whom were believed to be “infected” by Bolshevism. Countless Soviet civilians were killed on charges of fighting the occupiers as partisans and “bandits,” in keeping with Hitler’s explicit orders to shoot dead anyone “who even looked askance”. Millions of survivors suffered abuse as forced laborers for the Germans.
As the Germans sought to pulverize the Communist order, their policies and methods had the unintended opposite effect of actually revitalizing the Soviet war effort. Extremely harsh and unforgiving, the Stalinist regime was widely feared before the war. Yet Soviet civilians experienced unprecedented humiliations as supposedly “lesser human types,” they responded by resetting their moral compass. Nazi occupation rekindled older Soviet loyalties among some, or made others aware of their Soviet identity for the first time. Most Soviet civilians under Nazi occupation ended up welcoming the Red Army as their liberator. Most of the interviews presented on this site were taken in the immediate aftermath of liberation – they reverberate with the emotions of wartime and narrate stark memories of the time of occupation.