Sergei Stroitelev is an independent documentary photographer from Saint-Petersburg, Russia, who regularly works with National Geographic Russia, Vice UK/USA. He also works with RIA Novosti and Kommersant Photos as a stringer. Sergei worked as a human rights lawyer for three years before becoming a photographer. During that time, he dreamt of fieldwork instead of doing paperwork, and documentary photography happened to be the best tool for it. In 2013-2014, Sergei spent ten months in Asia cooperating with non-governmental structures and organizations such as Red Cross Nepal and Nepal Leprosy Trust. He focused on human rights issues in the country - children with HIV, discrimination of people suffering from leprosy, and drug addiction. At the moment, Stroitelev is interested in social issues such as gender/racial prejudice, discrimination of HIV-positive people, migration, the aftermath of conflicts and natural disasters, which he explores using various visual languages. Sergei prefers to work in regions vulnerable to human rights violations, including his home country and countries of Southeast Asia such as Nepal, India and Bangladesh. Stroitelev believes that a well-executed documentary project is the best instrument for raising awareness about social issues, which is missing in those regions.
Children - prisoners of the network of concentration camps - Auschwitz located in Poland 60 km away from Krakow. More than a million people were killed in these camps.
This photograph is the part of the exposition at the museum established in the memory of victims of Nazi concentration camps "Holocaust" (St. Petersburg).
Sashneva Nadezhda, 81 years old.
The war began when Nadezhda lived in Vitebsk. Nadezhda's father went to fight against the occupants together with the Soviet partisans. The first days after the arrival of the Germans to Vitebsk, Nadezhda was hiding in the forest with her family, but finally they were discovered. After that the girl was sent to Auschwitz II - Birkenau concentration camp with two brothers, mother and grandfather.
A scar left after the surgical removal of a number that was tattooed on the arms of all the prisoners immediately after arriving to Auschwitz II - Birkenau. Former prisoners of concentration camps preferred to remove it surgically and did not talk about their past as Soviet authorities believed that military prisoners did not exist - they were considered as traitors.
Immediately after arrival to the camp the Germans tattooed a number on Nadezhda's arm, then herded her into a cold shower bath. Children and adults were separated. Nadya lived together with other children and worked hard - cleaned the area of the camp. She wanted to eat all the time. The guards were beasts, constantly bullied her, forced her to dance and sing. Nadya was not scared of getting into the gas chamber, maybe because all the prisoners were living for today. She remembers that her brother slept on her at night, covering her with his body, hiding and thus protecting the girl from medical experiments practiced by the Germans during the war in some camps including Birkenau. When the Germans began to retreat, all the children were herded into the basement and locked, where they were found by the Soviet soldiers on January 27, 1945. Nadezhda recalls that when the Russians came her body looked like a skeleton, and that she could hardly stand on her feet because of exhaustion.
Rubinchik Pavel, 88 years.
When the war began, Pavel spent time in children summer camp in Minsk. Together with his family Pavel packed his bags and went to Moscow through forests and swamps as the roads were burning. In the forest the family were found by the occupants and sent back to Minsk to ghetto, where the boy began to work - he carried the corpses of dead children in a wheelbarrow out of the hospital and dumped them into a pit. Pavel remembers terrible hunger and executions of his friends.
Postwar photograph of Pavel.
Together with some friends Pavel ran away from the ghetto and headed to the partisans. He walked for about a week through forests and finally reached the partisans' camp. Pavel joined the partisan movement and fought against the occupants till the end of the war. He carried on deadly dangerous tasks despite his age and was awarded a combat medal.
Macijauskas Riva, 78 years old.
Riva spent two years in the occupation in Belarus and then was sent to Auschwitz camp with her cousin and grandmother. She remembers the constant fear, staying for hours in the courtyard of the camp, if a child was missing, the warders found him and publily executed. Germans were constantly taking children's blood for medical experiments and wounded Nazi soldiers.
Riva also remembers how a child died in the barracks because of hunger and the desperate eyes of his mother after his death.
Tattoo on Riva's arm - a number that was given to her upon the arrival to Auschwitz. She was one of the few former prisoners of the concentration camps who decided not to remove the number surgically. During Soviet time she was laughing off that the number was the postal address of her beloved man.
On January 27, 1945 prisoners were released, including Riva and her grandmother. She remembers how her grandmother was given 65 years during the process of issuance of new documents instead of real 40 - that was how she looked like after the camp.
Zhukova Iraida, 83 years old.
The war began when Iraida resided in Krasnoe Selo (Leningrad region) together with her family. Her father went to the front. One day the occupants commanded to come to the train station and Iraida with her mother were sent to Kempolovo (Volovskiy District) to work on haymaking, then were evacuated to Lithuania to the farm. The farm owner liked Iraida's mother and was nice with the girl, but his daughter was terribly jealous about that thus decided to slander Iraida. As a result the family were sent to Mauthausen camp where they worked very hard - cleaned the territory, weeded the grass and were beaten by the warders in any situation and on any occasion.
Postwar photograph of Iraida.
When the Russian offensive operations began, the Germans executed Iraida's mother and transported her to another camp the name of which she does not remember. There was no food - it was the most terrible time, hungry days.
Iraida managed to escape from that place through the barbed wire - that was a miracle. After wandering through Austria and Hungary she got back to Russia where her home was burnt to ashes.
Malevanny Anatoly, 88 years old.
During the war Anatoly resided in Krevets (Ukraine). Germans came and started robbing homes, raping women. The first time he managed to hide, but eventually was found and sent to Simentsverk station in Germany, where he worked at a factory making metal details for military equipment. He tried to escape but was caught and sentenced to death. Luckily the execution was cancelled as Germans needed workers at a labor camp Mauthausen - Anatoly was transported to that place.
Commemorative reproduction of Anatoly's number that was assigned to him upon arrival to the concentration camp (red inverted triangle means "a prisoner").
Anatoly spent 4 months at Mauthausen where he worked in a quarry. People are disappearing every day, and the crematorium chimney never stopped working. The worst memory was the death of his friend Volodya from hunger, he could not wake him up the morning.
Anatoly was released on May 5, 1945 at 17:05 by US soldiers. After a medical examination, doctors ascertained the fact that if the boy was not released he would have died within 2-3 days from the dropsy.
Kurman Lev, 83 years old.
The war began when Lev and his family lived in Vinnitskiy region in Ukraine (Chernivtsi village). When the occupants arrived, the boy hid in the attic and through the slit in the wall he saw how the Germans killed his co-villagers one by one. Those who survived moved to the ghetto on Murafa river separating Jews from the outside world with the barbed wire. Lev saw death and famine in the ghetto. He remembers how Ukrainian police committed atrocities, mocking and beating people.
The ghetto was administered by the Romanians. They do not shot children and young people as commandant of the ghetto needed work force in order to destroy the tombstones at the local graveyards. Plates from the tombstones were used to pave the roads near the ghetto to allow the commandant to ride his vehicle.
Postwar photograph of Lev.
The liberation was unexpected and very quick. Romanian commandant was executed.
Now Lev often wakes up at night remembering that horrible time. He believes that all who lived through that hell shall be called "random people" as they survived by chance.
Solovyev sister - Maria (83 y.o.) and Valentina (77 y.o.).
Sisters lived in Vitebsk (Belarus), when the war began. The Germans came in 43, but the girls managed to escape into the forest, where they wandered about two weeks and ate moss. Finally they were surrounded by German soldiers, captured and taken to the unknown direction. Sisters arrived at the gates, near which there was gallows with a corpse of a child. It was the camp Salaspils, located 18 km from Riga, in the Nazi-occupied territory of Latvia.
Upon arrival to the camp sisters were immediately shaved bald and doused with cold water several times. Those who are older, around 14 years old were separated from others and taken to Poland to work. The remaining children in the camp were considered as the source of blood taken from them wounded Nazi soldiers - the Germans considered children's blood less toxic. The most important thing after the blood sampling was to reach barracks - the ones who could not get up - were killed on the spot. Sisters constantly remember the creaking door of the baracks which meant that some of the children would be taken for medical experiments.
The Germans constantly showed the gallows with the corpse to the imprisoned children thus indicating what would happen in the case of disobedience.
One of the worst memories of sisters - a child's finger found in the soup.