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Ostarbeiter ("Eastern worker" in German) was a Nazi German designation for foreign slave workers gathered from occupied Central and Eastern Europe to perform forced labor in Germany during World War II. Deportations of civilians commenced at the beginning of the war and reached unprecedented levels following Operation Barbarossa of 1941. Over 50% of Ostarbeiters were formerly Soviet subjects: ethnic Ukrainians, Poles, Belarusians, Russians, Tatars, and others. Estimates of the number of Ostarbeiters range between 3 million and 5.5 million. All Ostarbeiters workers were required to wear an identification patch with "Ost."
By 1944, most new workers were very young, under the age of 16, as those older than that were usually conscripted for service in Germany; 30% were as young as 12–14 years of age when they were taken from their homes. The age limit was dropped to 10 in November 1943.
Since about half of the adolescents were female, Ostarbeiters were often the victims of rape and tens of thousands of pregnancies due to rape occurred. Ostarbeiters were often given starvation rations and were forced to live in guarded camps. Many died from starvation, overwork, bombing (they were denied access to bomb shelters), abuse and execution carried out by their German overseers.
Following the war, over 2.5 million liberated Ostarbeiters were repatriated, many of them against their will, and in the USSR they suffered from social ostracization as well as deportation to gulags for "re-education." American authorities banned the repatriation of Ostarbeiters in October, 1945 and some immigrated to the U.S. as well as other non eastern-bloc countries.
In 2000, the German government and thousands of German companies paid a one-time payment of over € 5 billion to Ostarbeiter victims of the Nazi regime.
This is the first and only serious full-scale historical research on Ostarbeiters in existence. The book is based on Soviet archive documents and more than two hundred personal testimonies, hundreds of hours of interviews tape-recorded by the Memorial employees, and over 350,000 letters kept in the Memorial Society archives. Thematically organized material offers the exhaustive treatment.