The 20-year-old Pole Czeslawa Sidor was one of the tens of thousands of women conscripted into forced labour in Berlin. During the chaos of the Battle of Berlin at the end of April 1945, she set off on foot for her home country.
Czeslawa Sidor was born on 30 January 1925 in the Polish village of Niedzieliska. In early 1943 she was forcibly taken to Berlin, where she had to work in the Petrix battery factory. In Berlin more than 500,000 people were exploited as forced labourers.
Jewish women trained Czeslawa Sidor at the factory. Shortly after arriving, she witnessed the deportation of the Jewish women to concentration camps. From that time, she lived in constant fear of sharing their fate. She had to work ten-hour days at the factory, operating a machine that filled battery casings with a highly toxic liquid. Her life was dominated by hunger, fear and uncertainty. From 1944 onward, the Western Allies flew regular bombing missions over Berlin. Czeslawa Sidor often spent all night in a dugout. The next day, after a sleepless night, she had to be at the factory for work at 6:00.
In mid-April 1945 the Soviet armed forces began their Berlin offensive. The directors of the battery factory fled, leaving Czeslawa Sidor and the other forced labourers to their own devices. Czeslawa Sidor finally decided to leave the city on foot and walk eastward. She later reported: “There were dead soldiers lying about along the way (…). Here you saw a hand, a head, a leg, and you just walked over them, terrible.”
With the aid of Soviet soldiers she crossed the Oder River. From there she returned by freight and passenger train to her family and home village.