#StolenMemory Online Exhibition: Forced laborers from the Soviet Union

Nazi Germany waged a brutal war of annihilation against the Soviet Union and deported several million Soviet civilians to the German Reich for forced labor.

This online exhibition shows the fates of twelve of these forced laborers, whose personal belongings survived the intervening years in the Arolsen Archives. We continue to preserve mementos of over 300 persecuted individuals from the former Soviet Union and are looking to return them to their families.

The exhibition was first shown in summer 2021 in collaboration with Memorial International in Moscow and is now also available online.


#Found: Matwejewa



Tatjana Alexandrowna Rotanowa was very happy when she held her mother’s jewelry in her hands in spring 2019. The Arolsen Archives were able to find her in Moscow with the help of the Russian Red Cross. The Nazis took the jewelry from Nelli Dmitrijewna Matwejewa when she was imprisoned at Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp on April 4, 1944.

Nelli was only 19 years old and used the name Nina Matwejenko in Germany. At the Zwodau/Svatava sub-camp in what is now the Czech Republic, she had to perform forced labor for a subsidiary of Siemens. At the end of February 1945, the SS transferred Nelli to the Beendorf sub-camp. She survived the clearing of the camp and the death march towards Hamburg.

She subsequently returned to the Soviet Union and married officer Alexandr Grigorjewitsch Pawlow. The couple enjoyed a happy marriage and had two daughters, Ljudmilla and Tatjana. Nelli Dmitrijewna Pawlowa died in 2012 at the age of 87. 

#Found: Jagjajew



Mustafa Jagjajew was born on July 22, 1924, and came from the village of Ochmosched in Crimea. How or when he was deported to the German Reich as a forced laborer is unclear. The SS registered the young man at Neuengamme concentration camp on January 16, 1945, and he was transported to the recently established Meppen-Versen sub-camp.

The prisoners were to build what was known as the “Friesenwall” in inhumane conditions–this consisted of fortifications that were intended to stretch along the North Sea coast from Denmark to the Netherlands. Mustafa Jagjajew survived Nazi persecution and later returned to the Soviet Union, where he had a family and died as an old man.

In the summer of 2019, the Arolsen Archives were able to find his daughter Elmira Mustafajewna Jagjajewa thanks to the support of the Russian Red Cross. Mustafa’s mementos–including the signet ring with the initial “A YA”–were thus returned to the Jagjajew family.

Invasion of the Soviet Union I

When the Wehrmacht advanced into the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, via Eastern Poland, which had been occupied by the Red Army since 1939, the Germans not only broke the nonaggression pact, but also began a war of annihilation in Central and Eastern Europe.

The war reflected Nazi ideology, which divided people into races. The Germans saw themselves as the “Aryan race,” which they considered superior to all others. In contrast, the Slavic and Jewish population was viewed as inferior. The Nazis even deprived people of their right to life.

#Found: Juraschewitsch



When Nina Korowitsch holds the photo of her brother Iwan Juraschewitsch, she recognizes him immediately. When he was a boy, he had to leave his home village in what is now Belarus to perform labor under the German occupiers. His family never heard from him again.

After the war, a friend said that he and Iwan had worked on a farm in East Prussia. As the front moved closer, Iwan wanted to flee to the Red Army. His escape was unsuccessful, and in the winter of 1944 the Nazis imprisoned him in the Neuengamme concentration camp. He died in the Wöbbelin reception camp on April 27, 1945, just a few days before the liberation.

A fortune teller had promised his mother that Iwan had started a new life in Germany after the war. Now the family knows what actually happened, and they have Iwan’s last personal possessions.

Invasion of the Soviet Union II

The campaign aimed to conquer Lebensraum (“living space”) as well as to economically exploit the territories and their inhabitants.

The approach taken by the German troops and the SS Einsatzgruppen was brutal and inhumane, just as it had been in Poland. Whole towns were destroyed and their inhabitants murdered or deported for forced labor. Cultural assets and valuables were looted or destroyed. The imprisoned Red Army soldiers died in their hundreds of thousands due to hunger, the cold, or the terrible conditions in the camps.

The Soviet elite were systematically murdered. The occupiers initially herded the Jewish population together in ghettos, dispossessed and bullied them, before killing them a short time later in planned mass murder campaigns.

Invasion of the Soviet Union III

The occupiers initially herded the Jewish population together in ghettos, dispossessed and bullied them, before killing them a short time later in planned mass murder campaigns. In most cases, the Jewish population was murdered immediately after the invasion of the German troops. In Kyiv alone, the SS and their Ukrainian helpers shot over 33,000 Jewish men, women, and children in the Babi Yar ravine in the space of just two days. The war against the Soviet Union also marked the beginning of the systematic murder of European Jews.

Following the devastating German defeat in Stalingrad, the Nazi regime pursued an even tougher course from 1943 onwards. Yet even the commitment to “total war” did not bring the turnaround that the Nazis had hoped for. The war of conquest begun by the Germans ultimately failed. Over 27 million Soviet soldiers and civilians had lost their lives by the time the Nazis surrendered in May 1945.


#Searching: Zenzura



We are looking for relatives of Warwara Zensura, born on January 23, 1924, in the Soviet Union. On May 10, 1944, the Gestapo deported her to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where the Nazis took her into what was known as protective custody as a political prisoner and registered her under prisoner number 38150.

At the beginning of June 1944, she was transported to the Hamburg-Wandsbek sub-camp, where Drägerwerk AG assigned her to the production of gas masks. This sub-camp was under the administration of Neuengamme concentration camp and existed until the end of the war. The Arolsen Archives have Warwara’s jewelry and a photo in their holdings. Nothing is known about the rest of her life.

#Searching: Beljajew



We are searching for relatives of Michail Beljajew. Neither his date nor place of birth is known, making it difficult to gather further information about him. He came from the Soviet Union and probably came to the German Reich as a forced laborer. It is also not known why the Nazis imprisoned him at Neuengamme concentration camp.

The Arolsen Archives have his personal belongings in their holdings. They consist of photos and postcards with affectionate messages from friends and family. An inscription suggests that Michail Beljajew was in Darmstadt in 1943 together with W. Filatow, Ljussja Bibik, and Schanna Kurilowa. It is unknown whether the young man survived the inhumane conditions and the forced labor in the camp.

#Searching: Nanmova



We are searching for relatives of Maria Nanmova. She was born in the Soviet Union on November 7, 1923 or 1925. Both dates appear on documents in the Arolsen Archives.

We have only a rough idea of the young forced laborer’s fate. The Gestapo deported Maria to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp on May 17, 1944. Her inmate number was 38639, and like the majority of foreign inmates, her category of imprisonment was "political".

In the summer of 1944, she was transported to Hamburg-Wandsbek, a sub-camp of Neuengamme concentration camp, where she had to perform forced labor in gas mask production together with Alexandra Demjanenko and Antonia Gladilira. This is the last we know of Maria Nanmova. The surviving photos and jewelry stored in the Arolsen Archives open a small window onto her life.

Forced labor in the Nazi regime

As the course of the war became ever more hopeless, the need for workers for the German economy increased from 1943 on. Even the most trivial rule violations ended in imprisonment in a concentration camp for many forced laborers.

To cater to the Nazi regime’s need for slave workers for the armaments industry, the SS additionally deported many thousands of people to the German Reich from all over Europe. These included many women and girls, who were forced to perform work that was just as hard and dangerous as that of the male prisoners.

The camps were located near production sites that were important to the war effort, although they were under the administration of the large concentration camps as sub-camps. Personal effects were also stored there. After the end of the war, this made it impossible to return many of the items directly to their owners.

#Searching: Saplatynskij



We are looking for relatives of Wladimir Saplatynskij, born on February 2, 1921 or 1924. He came from Stryi in Galicia in present-day Ukraine. The Nazis deported the young man to Hamburg. He was placed in the Norderstraße camp in the Altona district and had to perform forced labor.

On the night of July 24/25, 1943, Wladimir survived the Allied bombing of the camp. In the winter of 1944/45, the Nazis imprisoned him in the Neuengamme concentration camp. He was registered with prisoner number 71 914. His further fate is unknown.

When he was admitted to the concentration camp, he had to hand over what was probably his most valuable possession, his pocket watch. On the inside is a photo collage of his family and friends. He engraved the following text on the watch: “Hamburg-Altona 1942 – 194_.” He presumably intended to fill in the blank with the year of his release from forced labor. Today, Wladimir Saplatynskij’s watch is in storage at the Arolsen Archives.

#Searching: Gladilira



We are looking for the family of Antonina Gladilina. She was born a Catholic in Russia on June 13, 1926 or 1927. The documents also contain the spelling "Gladilira."

On May 10, 1944 — she was still a school pupil — the Gestapo deported her to the Ravensbrück concentration camp. Classified as a political prisoner, she there received the inmate number 38118 and performed forced labor in a nearby factory. In early June 1944 she was transferred to the Neuengamme concentration camp and forced her to work in the sub-camp Hamburg-Wandsbek for the Nazi regime.

Among Gladilina’s possessions were a necklace with a Christian cross and a pair of earrings. All that is known about her further fate is that, after her liberation by the Allies, she lived on the Wulfsdorf estate in the community of Ahrensburg near Hamburg for about six weeks.

#Searching: Demjanenko



We are looking for relatives of Alexandra Demjanenko, born on January 1, 1924, in the Soviet Union. The German occupiers deported her for forced labor.

Of the six million civilian forced laborers in Germany, a third of them were women in 1944, mostly from Poland and the Soviet Union. The Nazis deported the young woman to Ravensbrück concentration camp on May 12, 1944.

Three months later, they transported Alexandra to the Hamburg-Wandsbek camp, a sub-camp of Neuengamme concentration camp. Female prisoners had to produce gas masks there for Drägerwerke as forced laborers. In the spring of 1945, the company performed human experiments on some of the women to see how long they could survive in an air raid shelter without ventilation. It is unclear whether Alexandra Demjanenko survived imprisonment in the camp. The Arolsen Archives have her jewelry in their holdings.

Mementoes of Nazi Victims

In the Arolsen Archives in Germany, there are nearly 2,500 “effects” from concentration camps: pocket watches and wristwatches, rings, wallets, family photos, everyday items such as combs, powder tins or razors, etc. Often they were the last remaining belongings of the victims of Nazi persecution, the things they had with them at the time of their arrest by the National Socialists. They belonged to people from more than 30 countries—many of them from Poland and the former Soviet Union.

In 2016, the Arolsen Archives launched a campaign to return these stolen memories to as many families as possible. The exhibition tells what it means to people to hold these mementoes in their hands—and shows objects whose rightful owners the Arolsen Archives have yet to find.

#Searching: Wolkowa



We are looking for relatives of Olga Wolkowa, born on June 27, 1924, in the Soviet Union. She worked as a sales assistant before the Nazis deported her to the Ravensbrück concentration camp on October 11, 1944.

The SS deported her to the sub-camp of Neuengamme concentration camp in Beendorf on October 24, 1944. Many women died on these transports. Up to 2,500 women had to work for the German armaments industry there in underground production halls. The camp was cleared in April 1945.

Nothing is known of Olga Wolkowa’s fate. The Arolsen Archives have in their holdings a brooch, a locket with photos, and a chain with a pendant belonging to Olga, which were taken from her by the Nazis.

#Searching: Doboitschina



We are looking for relatives of Neonella Doboitschina from Russia, born on October 11, 1923, possibly in Nowotscherkassk. At the age of twenty, she came to the attention of the Gestapo.

She was one of the many female forced laborers the Nazi regime exploited to keep the war economy going. The grounds for their arrest were usually minor offenses, including contact to Germans.

On May 5, 1944, the Gestapo deported the student to the Ravensbrück women’s concentration camp. In July 1944 she was transported to the Salzgitter-Watenstedt camp – a sub-camp of Neuengamme concentration camp. There she had to work for the armaments industry. It is not known what happened to her after that. The photos with dedications show memories of happy times. Her friends called her Nelly.

#Searching: Blagorodow



We are looking for relatives of Georgij Blagorodow, born on May 5, 1921, in Rostov-on-Don. He was probably deported to Germany as a forced laborer during the German occupation of the Soviet Union and worked on a farm run by a farmer named Meinecke in Eckerde in the district of Hanover.

During this time, he lived in Döteberg and was insured by Landeskrankenkasse Hannover until March 10, 1944.

The Nazis subsequently deported him to the Neuengamme concentration camp, where he was assigned prisoner number 64904. It is unclear why he was imprisoned. When Georgij arrived at the camp, the pocket watch, the watchcase, and the chain he had with him at the time were taken from him. It is unknown whether Georgij Blagorodow survived.

Join the Campaign!

Please join the community and help us return the mementoes stolen by the Nazis to their rightful owners. Time is of the essence. Visit our website to see photos of the personal belongings and the names of victims of Nazi persecution. You can use the information there to conduct research and share important clues with us.


The Arolsen Archives, an international center on Nazi persecution, preserves the world’s most extensive collection of documents on the victims of National Socialism. Its holdings are listed in the UNESCO Memory of the World register. We use this unique source for a variety of projects seeking to anchor memory, knowledge and information in our lives today.


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