In its press and public relations work, the ITS places value in drawing attention to the personal fates of the victims of Nazi persecution. In 2017, a special encounter took place with a witness. Commemoration and recognition are what brought the former POW and concentration camp prisoner Alexandr Afanasyev to Germany. The 94-year-old visited the ITS with his daughter and granddaughter to see the original documents that bear witness to his persecution. Information from the ITS had enabled him to apply for symbolic recognition as a prisoner of war.
Alexandr Afanasyev consented to have the ITS invite journalists to the encounter. He told his story in detail to them. “It’s better to remember good things than bad. More joy remains,” said Alexandr Afanasyev, a former Soviet soldier who was taken as a prisoner of war by the Germans in 1941 at the age of nineteen. The first thing he talked about were the people who helped him – the people who slipped him bread after days of hunger, or who treated him with respect in the POW camps. Even after such a long time, his German was impressive. He had learned the language at school, and this may have saved his life in the camps, because translators were always in demand.
In January 1944, a failed attempt to escape from a POW camp in Ukraine landed him first in the Hagen police prison and then, in August 1944, in Buchenwald concentration camp. He suffered terribly performing heavy labor in the dreaded Ellrich-Juliushütte satellite camp. “We were allowed to sleep for only four hours, on the ground, without pillows. We were left standing in the cold for hours at a time. All just to make the work even harder for the inmates.” He fell seriously ill, was admitted to the infirmary at the Mittelbau concentration camp, and in early April he was sent to Bergen-Belsen, where he was liberated. After being taken to the Soviet zone with other Russian prisoners, he finally returned home in November 1946.
Alexandr Afanasyev became a woodcut artist and painter, and he has published around 40 books. His decision to come to Germany after so many years was a spontaneous one. With his daughter’s help, he had started searching in Russian archives for proof of his imprisonment. He needed documents to apply for the symbolic recognition that the German Bundestag had agreed to in 2015. Former Soviet POWs still alive today can receive a one-time payment of 2,500 euros for the torment they suffered under the Nazi dictatorship.
Alexandr Afanasyev’s search for documents in Moscow was fruitless, but then someone told him about the ITS. He sent a request and received copies of all records documenting his persecution, including the important testimony to his detention as a prisoner of war. Deeply moved by the fact that the ITS keeps these documents in its archive, he emphasized the importance of this collection: “These documents are ever more valuable. They are memory.”
Alexandr Afanasyev's application for compensation was approved. “It’s not the money that matters to me,” he stressed. The recognition was far more important. He wants to use the 2,500 euros to publish his book of drawings about his years in custody.