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.
The Nazi Forced Labour Documentation Centre in Schöneweide opened in 2006. It is the last well-preserved former Nazi forced labour camp. ‘Barack 13’, one of the first buildings of the camp, is open to the public for guided tours. The centre contains two permanent exhibitions documenting the fate of forced labourers during the Second World War.
The Jewish Museum in Berlin opened its doors in 2001 and serves as a reflection centre on Jewish history and culture. Changing temporary exhibitions depict a broad range of themes, ranging from cultural history to contemporary art installations. The new permanent exhibition, which is currently being remodelled, is expected to open in 2019.
Regular air raids on Berlin by the Royal Air Force (RAF) and the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) started in 1944, with almost daily bombardments in February and March 1945. The bombing on 3 February 1945 focused on the government district and was designed to break the will of the Berlin people. This strategy failed until the end of April when the Soviet army conquered the city.
On 16 April 1945, the Soviet forces started to encircle Berlin in a pincer movement. Five days later first Soviet units entered Berlin from the east and fought their way to the city center. On 2 May, two days after Adolf Hitler committed suicide, all remaining German forces in Berlin were ordered to surrender.
After the Soviet troops had occupied the Reichstag on 1 May 1945, German defeat was imminent. On 2 May, Soviet intelligence received a radio message from the German 56th Armored Corps requesting an armistice. Later that morning, corps commander General Helmuth Weidling signed the order of surrender, which was then conveyed to all soldiers of the Berlin garrison.
The Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe or Holocaust Memorial, in Berlin honours the Jewish victims of the Holocaust during the Second World War. The memorial was designed by architect Peter Eisenman and engineer Buro Happold. It was inaugurated on 10 May 2005, sixty years after the end of the war.
The Topography of Terror in Berlin stands on the site of the main organs of Nazi terror between 1933 and 1945, including the Gestapo, the SS leadership, the security services of the SS and the main office of the ‘Reichssicherheitshauptamt’. The main permanent exhibition presents these institutions and the crimes they organised. A second exhibition examines Berlin’s role as the capital of the Third Reich.