Last week a Pennsylvania resident Olga Yurechko, 90, wrote to her family and friends before she died a couple of weeks ago a very touching memorial about her life in Ukraine, as a slave laborer under the Nazis in WW2 and emigrating to America:
"I was born on Aug. 6, 1920 in a paradise where the wheat fields swayed like a golden ocean, and each stalk of wheat struggled to stand upright under the weight of its ripened grains. That is where I first saw the sun’s radiance. That is where I took my first little footsteps. That is my beloved land â€” my Ukraine. Within that paradise, I was born in a little village named Vilshanitsha.â€
"As I was finishing my last year in school, my father suddenly died. My world was turned upside down, and the people I thought were good and decent people who might help us instead took advantage of my mother and me. With my father gone, they came and took many of our belongings and left us near starvation. This, my dear family and friends, was the forced collectivization of private lands and property by the communist regime.â€
"And then the war began. During this horrendous, war-torn time, I was taken to Germany as a slave laborer. I was forced to work in a large restaurant run by a German mistress and her teenage children. The work was long, hard and dirty. But worse than any of that, this is where I experienced their vile hatred for me, because my mistress’ husband had recently been killed on the Russian front. She and the children constantly tormented me, as if I were the cause of their loss. It was so terrible that I didn’t want to live. I tried to escape, but was caught by the authorities. I didn’t know what was going to happen, but fortunately they did not return me to the family that brought me such misery. Instead, I had the good fortune to be assigned to a different family. Although I was still a forced laborer, the work was much easier, and they treated me well. After the war ended, the allies opened refugee camps to accommodate the many displaced people still in Germany. I moved into one of these camps, where I met and married my husband. Three years later, our son was born.â€
Former Soviet civil workers primarily from Ukraine. They were marked with a sign OST ("East"), had to live in camps that were fenced with barbed wire and under guard, and were particularly exposed to the arbitrariness of the Gestapo and the industrial plant guards.
Degraded as Untermensch (sub-human), many workers died as a result of their living conditions, mistreatment or were civilian casualties of the war, under Hitler‘s policy of Lebensraum: the conquest of new lands in the East. They received little or no compensation during or after the war.
Olga like many other thousands of Ukrainians received refuge in the USA:
The Displaced Persons Commission Act signed by President Harry S. Truman on June 25, 1948. More than 100,000 Ukrainians benefited from this act of the 80th Congress of the United States when they immigrated to the United States. During four years of its existence, the Commission created by this act was able to process, transport, and provide visas for 370,000 persons, allowing them to enter the United States.