Photo of forced laborers Mykola Ripenetskyi, Feodosiy Bezvushko, and Areon Fliorko, Khmelnytskyi Oblast

These photos are among the first in the collection. The inscriptions on the backs confirm that forced laborer Mykola Ripenetskyi sent them to his family – wife and son. We managed to find little information about him. He was born on May 25, 1893, in the village of Ruda, Kamyanets-Podilsky district, Khmelnytsky region. He was a cook by occupation. Starting in June 1943, he was forced to work in the city of Chemnitz in Saxony. The portrait photos must have been taken shortly after arrival for personal documents, a work card, or work records.

Forced laborer Mykola Ripenetskyi
From the collection of NGO "After Silence"

For etern[ity]
Memory Ripenetskyi Mykola

The documents stored in the Arolsen Archives – The International Center on Nazi Persecution revealed that Ripenetsky was arrested for an unknown reason. On November 11, 1944, he was transported from Chemnitz to the Flossenbürg concentration camp in Bavaria. His camp number was 35129. On December 4, 1944, Ripenetsky was transferred to the Mittelbau concentration camp near Nordhausen, Thuringia. His camp number there was 101661.

On January 1945, he was placed in the so-called Boelke barracks (Boelke-Kaserne) in Nordhausen. A newly created sub-camp in the Mittelbau system housed prisoners considered unfit for work. Due to the extremely high mortality rate, the prisoners themselves called it a "crematorium for the living." On February 9, 1945, Ripenetsky was taken to the camp infirmary. On March 2, 1945, the valuables he had on him were returned to Mittelbau. In the register of "discharges from the infirmary," his name is dated March 3, 1945. He must have died on that or the following days.

Forced laborers Areon Florko, Mykola Ripenetskyi, and Feodosii Bezvushko
From the collection of NGO "After Silence"

Picture taken of three friend[s] from Orynyn
Ripenetskyi Mykola 50 y.o.
v Kizia
1 Bezvushko Feodosii On. 42 y.o.
2 Florko Areon St. 47 y.o.
City of Chemnitz
June 5, 1943
To my dears Manusia and Tolychka
your hubby and dad[d]y
Ripenetskyi Kolia

In one of the photos, Ripenetskyi has been photographed next to two other forced laborers – his fellow villagers Feodosii Onufriiovych Bezvushko and Areon Stepanovych Florko. Both were born in the village of Kizia, Orynyn (now Kamianets-Podilskyi) district, Khmelnytskyi region: Bezvushko in 1904 and Florko in 1898. At least since June 1943 they were conscripted to forced labor in Chemnitz. They used the following addresses to send messages to their relatives: Chemnitz, Reichenheiner Strasse 42, Hans Erler. The latter was the owner of the locksmith workshops, where Bezvushko and Florko must have worked at first.

From 1943 to 1945, Bezvushko was hospitalized thrice with gastritis and tonsils inflammation. According to the hospital registers, on October 25, 1943, he was admitted to the hospital from the police prison on Anaberger Street (Anabergerstraße). On December 10, 1943, and December 7, 1944, he was taken to the hospital from the camp on 93 Berndorf Street (Berndorfstraße).

Since October 19, 1943, Florko worked in the sawmill of Moritz Rauner's company in Kingenthal, south of Chemnitz. He lived in the Old Castle camp (Lager Altes Schloss).

The filtration files of Bezvushko and Florko could not be found in the State Archives of Khmelnytsky region. Yet we discovered that both returned to their native village after the war. Both died there.

A social media post turned out to be a plot twist in this story. Artist Olena Pavlova wrote about her grandparents, who were both forced laborers in Nazi Germany. When asked to tell more about her family's experiences, she sent a link to the article "During The Conscription And Forced Labor Duty In Greater Germany – What Ostarbeiters Wrote To Their Relatives," (in Ukrainian) published in 2017. Two photographs in this article depicted Mykola Ripenetskyi and Feodosii Bezvushko!

Forced laborer Feodosii Bezvushko
From Olena Pavlova's collection

To remember me
Picture of Bezvushko Feodosi[i] to [my] friend Sheremet Mykola
Kam[ianets-]Podilsk [region]
Orynyn dist.
vlg Kizia
Photo in Germany September 12, 1943
vlg Wustenbrat

Forced laborers Mykola Ripenetskyi and Feodosii Bezvushko
From Olena Pavlova's collection

This photo was taken on June 12, 1944. To my friend Mykola from Bezvushko Feodosii, for the long and lasting memory.
My address Kam[ianets-]pod[ilsk] rgn. Orynyn dist. vlg. Kizia Bezvushko F.
Signed July 9, 1944. My signature

Olena told us that these photographs belonged to the photo archive of her grandfather, Mykola Stepanovych Sheremet. The inscriptions on the backs of the pictures were addressed to him. Olena did not know her grandfather – he died in 1984 before her birth. We reconstructed his biography from the documents in Olena's archive, stories from his relatives, and materials from his filtration file stored in the State Archives of Khmelnytsky region.

Mykola Sheremet in the photo from his Komsomol membership card, 1940
From Olena Pavlova's collection

Sheremet was born on December 15, 1923, in the village Kozyn, Pluzhnyansky district, Khmelnytsky region. In 1940 he completed nine grades of school and graduated. After that, he worked as an accountant on the local collective farm. "My grandfather was very talented," – Olena shares. "He was a joker. He painted and played the accordion. He was quite charismatic, as far as I understood."

During the Nazi occupation, he worked in a public yard until he was conscripted for forced labor on May 10, 1943. Olena said: "I know a family story of him somehow adjusting a sewage bucket on the train so it fell on the Germans. But at least they didn't find him out". Eventually, Sheremet got to the village of Wüstenbrand (now part of Hohenstein-Ernstal), where he worked on the Hermann Granz farm. It was very close to Chemnitz, and shortly after his arrival, Sheremet must have met Bezvushko.

On April 14, 1945, the U.S. Army entered the area. Soon after that, Sheremet was handed over to the Soviet side. He was immediately drafted into the Red Army and served in Romania until February 1947. After demobilization, he returned to Kozyn and started working as an associate accountant on a local collective farm. In July 1948, the Ministry of Internal Affairs investigated him because of his forced labor during World War II.

Mykola Sheremet married Yevheniia Mykhalchuk, his fellow villager and a former forced laborer. According to Olena, "They say grandpa loved her even before the war." In May 1951, they moved to the village of Velbivne, Ostroh district, Rivne region, where their daughter was born. Sheremet continued to work as a collective farm accountant, his wife – as a teacher. "They were both rural intellectuals. They had a huge library and were highly respected," Olena describes her family.

Mykola and Yevheniia Sheremet (far right and far left) with friends, 1950s
From Olena Pavlova's collection

If you have photos of forced laborers in Nazi Germany and stories related to them – let us know.