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Liberation: Between Joy and Despair

The end of World War II brought liberation to millions of enslaved people threatened with death. In fact, however, it was a long process that began before May 8, 1945, and did not end there. The freedom gained was not infrequently accompanied by a painful new beginning.

In the following film, three witnesses report how they experienced the liberation differently.
The video is in Polish, Russian and English with German subtitles.

Die Befreiung. Zwischen Freude und Verzweiflung. Ausschnitte aus den Interviews mit Zofia B., Galina G. und Tosia S., Archiv „Zwangsarbeit 1939-1945“, Dauer 12 Minuten, Konzept und Schnitt: Ewa Czerwiakowski und Tobias Kilgus, © Freie Universität Berlin 2015

The Liberation - Between Joy and Despair

The unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany marked the end of World War II in Europe. Months and days before this symbolic date, millions of people experienced their liberation: from the concentration and labor camps, the places of forced labor and deportation, but also from the cruel German rule in their countries. Admittedly, this was not a one-time act, but a slow process that took place as the Allied front in the East and West progressed and had extremely different aspects. In the first days and months after liberation, countless numbers still died.

The often joyfully welcomed soldiers of the Red Army liberated Eastern Europe from the Germans on the one hand, but on the other hand brought renewed hardship to its peoples. Quite a few of those deported to Germany were considered traitors to their homelands. Women suffered particularly from rape and accusations of betrayal with sexual connotations. Many people had to choose between exile and returning home. The Jewish survivors were even more different: Homeless, uprooted and abandoned, they could only make a new start in a foreign land with difficulty.

Biografical Data

Zofia B., politically persecuted and concentration camp survivors from Poland

  • born 1923 in Łódź, Poland
  • 1930 - 1939: Attended elementary school and girls' high school
  • from 1940: activity in an underground group
  • 1941-1943: work at a tailor's shop in Łódź, contacts with friend in the ghetto
  • September 1943: arrest and committal to Auschwitz concentration camp
  • August 1944: transported via Ravensbrück concentration camp to Helmbrechts concentration camp, a subcamp of Flossenbürg concentration camp
  • April 13, 1945: Evacuation of the camp and "death march" to Zwodau in the Czech Republic
  • May 7, 1945: Liberation of Zwodau concentration camp by American soldiers; return to hometown
  • 1946: Marriage
  • 1950 and 1952: Birth of two daughters
  • 1946 to 1979: work as an office worker
  • after 1990: first trip to Germany as part of a visit program of the Maximilian-Kolbe-Werk
  • Interview za251
  • Duration: 3h 42 min, Date: 29.8.2005, Language: polish

Galina G., former forced laborer from the Soviet Union

  • born in 1925 in the village of Kochergy, Sumy region, Ukraine, Soviet Union
  • 1933: exile of the family to Siberia because of foreign contacts; placement in a boarding school for children of the exiles
  • 1941: Return of the family to Ukraine, German occupation
  • July 1942: deportation to Austria and forced labor in an armaments factory; love for the French forced laborer Émile and pregnancy
  • May 1945: liberation by the Red Army, separation of the lovers
  • August 1945: Birth of son in Kiev; years of unsuccessful search for Émile
  • 1950: marriage; birth of two more children
  • 1951 to 1959: studies to become a civil engineer
  • until 1991: work in her profession
  • 2003: renewed search for Émile
  • Interview za474
  • Duration: 2h 33 min, Date: 12/12/2005, Language: russian

Tosia S., Jewish survivor from eastern Poland

  • born 1929 in Zaleszczyki, Galicia, Poland, today Ukraine
  • 1935: Moved to Horodenka, Poland, today Ukraine
  • 1939: Occupation of the town by Soviet troops
  • summer 1941: invasion of the Germans
  • from October 1941: in the Horodenka ghetto, then in other ghettos, separation from father
  • 1942: death of mother
  • from spring 1943: in the Jewish labor camp Lisowice
  • 1943: death of brother
  • March 28, 1944: liberation by the Red Army; meeting with distant family in Czernowitz
  • after May 1945: relocation to Gliwice, Poland
  • 1946: Departure from Poland
  • until March 1949: stay in Fürth, in the American occupation zone, then emigration to Peekshill, New York, USA
  • 1950 marriage, birth of three sons
  • Work as a Hebrew teacher
  • Interview za378 »
  • Duration 2h 08 min, Date: 2/14/2006, Language: english