Soviet POWs

Discussion in 'The Eastern Front' started by chipm, Oct 18, 2020.

  1. chipm

    chipm Well-Known Member

    I read comments on this forum and some stuff scattered on The Internet.
    95% of my knowledge of WW2 comes from watching videos.
    In the videos, we frequently See/Hear that large numbers of soldiers were captured by The Wehrmacht.
    Tens of thousand and even Hundreds of thousands at a time.
    It is often said that a majority of those prisoners would die in "Open Air Prisons".
    Death coming... mostly... from lack of water, food, medical care and the weather.

    Did these huge open-air camps exist.?
    If so, whatever became of the bodies.?
    When 200k or 300k prisoners die......what happened.?
    Did they just rot into the ground, did The Russian Army do something as they came back across the same ground, later in the war, on their way to "Berlin".?

    I have wondered about this for several years. I apologize if it seems a morbid question.
    No disrespect or shock is intended.
    The numbers of Russian Soldiers that died as POW's, in a relatively short period of time, staggers the mind.
    Thank You
  2. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    I think that the scale of the Red Army's collapse at the start of the war, when hundreds of thousands were taken prisoner would overwhelm any preparations for handling POWs. A similar issue happened in Gulf War One.

    I have seen still photos of open air holding areas and yes feeding them alone would be hard, especially if the combat units were further and further away. With no medical attention and assuming they had fought many would die quickly.

    Good questions to ask and post here.
  3. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    No such preparations to house or feed them were made, or even attempted . It was Hitler's express view that they should be allowed to perish.
    Christian Gerlech's The Extermination of the European Jews, Cambridge University Press Cambridge 2016 contains details. Ethnic Germans were taken on trips to the enclosures so that they could take amusement from them. It was only as the war continued and the need for slave labour became pressing that the Germans started housing and feeding their Soviet POWs and then extremely badly.
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  4. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    There is alot of information on the subject of German treatment of Soviet POWs on the internet and some good books too if you want to spend a few coins. By internet, l don't just mean random commentary or opinion on forums, l mean access to serious research and historical papers and accounts. I am sure they cover just about everything you could want to know on the subject. It will just take a bit of your time to read and digest the info yourself.

    If they do not cover exactly the questions you ponder, then probably the only solution is to track down one of the survivors and ask his opinion.
    Lindele likes this.
  5. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Problem is that there would have been very few survivors from the first year. Hitler defined the war in the East as a war of extermination - and he meant it.
  6. Lindele

    Lindele formerly HA96

    The POW camp in my town had many Russian soldiers.
    And they were treated very badly.
    I think if any of them were released home, their leaders considered them cowards and did not treat them well at all.
  7. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Being captured was a criminal offence. There is a case of a number employed as a working party in one of the death camps who escaped, stole an He 111, and made it back behind the Soviet lines and got sent to the Gulag. The pilot was rehabilitated after Stalin's death, released and decorated. However these were later captures - according to Gerlach very few if any of those captured in the initial Barbarossa survived.
  8. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    They most certainly did have these ‘camps’. When I was stationed in Fallingbostel in the early 1980s a German civilian handed in to the station RMP post a series of black and white photos showing Russian PWs arriving in cattle trucks then being corralled on an open area where they dug shelters. Here they lived until most died of typhus. This area later became Stalag XID. The area now contains a cemetery and a memorial to the tens of thousands that died there. I will post some photos in due course.
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  9. Orwell1984

    Orwell1984 Senior Member

    Here's two articles from the US Holocaust Museum for starters:

    The Treatment of Soviet POWs: Starvation, Disease, and Shootings, June 1941–January 1942

    Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War

    and another from the Auschwitz Historical Website:

    Soviet POWs / Categories of prisoners / History / Auschwitz-Birkenau

    and an article from UNC Greensboro:
    Captives of Hell:
    The Treatment of Soviet Prisoners of War
    Captured by the Nazi Army 1941-1942
    Last edited: Oct 18, 2020
  10. chipm

    chipm Well-Known Member

    Thank You

    .....and Thank You
    I read the first article.
    I think i am just going to stop.
    I appreciate all the Replies and Info, but the whole thing is just too ghastly, horrible and depressing to continue with.

    Quote from that first article. This is something i sure as heck was not aware of....

    "The Auschwitz-Birkenau and Majdanek camps had originally been constructed for the Soviet POWs that Heinrich Himmler had claimed for himself. The POWs were to be put to work in the huge industrial conglomerates that the SS was planning to set up together with firms such as I.G. Farben. But in January 1942, only a few hundred of the Soviet prisoners who had originally been brought to Auschwitz—out of a total of 10,000—were still alive, and no further influx was expected. For this reason Himmler decided, in the week following the Wannsee Conference, to fill the camps with 150,000 Jews. In this manner the SS camps for POWs became part of the infrastructure for the murder of the Jews."
  11. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    The POWs attempts to try to dig shelters was part of the "amusement" I mentioned in an earlier post. Most of these washed out in the first serious rain. Starvation and/or exposure killed most.
  12. MarkN

    MarkN Banned

    I don't understand.

    You started this thread with...
    "I have wondered about this for several years."

    Having wondered about it for so long, surely you must have had a bit of an inkling about just how groteseque the Germans treated their captives. To then give up after reading just a single excerpt because it is too depressing is just bizarre.
  13. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    Should avoid Christian Gerlach's The Extermination of the European Jews then - as well as covering the abomination of the treatment of the Jews he also covers the atrocities in the East and the Balkans including the Croatian genocide of both Jews and Serbs If you add these to the Holocaust the total murder toll exceeds 11 million. Nobody knows exactly how large it was
  14. JDKR

    JDKR Member

    Here are the photos I said I would post and I believe it is right that such things are not hidden...

    Photo 1 - PWs arriving - probably at Fallingbostel station - in cattle trucks
    Photo 2 - Arriving at Stalag XID. The huts shown were outside the perimeter wire and were possibly accommodation for the camp guard, admin etc.
    Photo 3 - This could be some form of registration activity although the PWs appear to be removing clothing. Delousing perhaps. I'm uncertain what the caption means.
    Photo 4 - Roll call.
    Photo 5 - Washing in the camp area. Dugouts can be seen and a watchtower. The PWs seem to be wearing a card (ID?) round their necks.
    Photo 6 - The caption reads 'Camp life'. Says it all really.

    I also attach two photos I recently took. The first is the monument to the thousands of Russian dead buried on the site of the Fallingbostel/Oerbke camp. The second is the information board at the entrance to the site. In the middle of the board is a photograph showing the earthen 'huts' built by the PWs. Enough said.

    Attached Files:

  15. alberk

    alberk Well-Known Member

    I visited Mauthausen concentration camp some years ago - there I learned that the Germans even experimented on Soviet POW - they carried out so called "hunger experiments". The effects of starvation and the use of (totally unsuitable) "substitute foods" and the reaction of starving human beings to these - "scientifically" monitored... I knew about the death rate of Soviet POW in German captivity - but this aspect absolutely shocked me. These were soldiers who had defended their country, combatants who had given up the fight, were glad that the fighting was over, they hoped to somehow survive this war - only to be experimented upon with lethal consequences and to experience immense suffering before dying.
  16. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    One of the foods used was cellulose based sausages - they tasted like food but about 85% of those fed with them died eventually often with severe stomach problems as well as malnutrition. Whilst the death toll amongst the first batches of Soviet POWs was almost 100% that amongst Soviet POWs taken after Nov 1941 was still 50% (just under 1 million). The rate for Western POWs was 4%.
    See Gesine Gerhard, Nazi Hunger Politics: A History of Food in the Third Reich.
    alberk likes this.
  17. Robert-w

    Robert-w Banned

    BTW shouldn't this thread be retitled Soviet POWs? A good many of those who suffered were not Russians.
    Owen likes this.
  18. chipm

    chipm Well-Known Member

    Well Done.... thanks :salut:
  19. Harry Ree

    Harry Ree Very Senior Member

    It has been firmly established how Russian POWs were treated for the Slavs were the untermenchen and died like flies from starvation and disease.One month before the invasion of Russia,the OKW made special plans which involved extermination of Russian POWs starting with the treatment of political representatives...the Commissars who were to be liquidated at the latest at the transient POW camps.

    Keital at Nuremberg testified that this command was issued to the Wehrmacht,one of the many violations against humanity that he was involved in which led to the scaffold at Nuremberg.(The infamous Commando order directed by Hitler on 18 October 1942, endorsed and circulated by Keitel decreed that all Allied special forces, even in uniform and whether armed,or not, were to be slaughtered to the last man, even if they tried to surrender.The SD were to be the function of this illegal order,the German military authorities being given instructions to hand such prisoners immediately to them.This order was instrumental in taking the lives of captured special forces operating in Norway,France Czechoslovakia, Italy and the Balkans)

    Commissars were searched for among the prisoners and those identified or denounced were dispatched to the nearest transient POW Camp and shot.Mueller did declare that those within Germany should be executed well outside the camps.This administration of planned extermination was delivered by the SIPO and SD and such prisoners were passed to and handled by them by order.

    The Russians were well aware that mass extermination of their POWs was taking place and that of the exploitation of others for slave labour.In November 1941,Molotov made a formal diplomatic protest against the extermination of Russian POWs,followed by another protest in April 1942 against slave labour exploitation.The protests fell on deaf ears...the Third Reich would not deviate from their ideological plans for Russia.

    The treatment of Russian POWs was firmly set on 6 September 1941 with an order,signed by General Reinecke,head of the POW Department of the High Command.The order read:

    "The Bolshevist soldier has therefore lost all claim to treatment as an honourable opponent,in accordance with the Geneva Convention.The order for ruthless and energetic action must be given at the slightest indication of insubordination,especially in the case of Bolshevist fanatics. Insubordination,active or passive resistance,must be broken immediately by force of arms (bayonets,butts and firearms). Anyone carrying out the order who does use his weapons,or does so with insufficient energy,is punishable.Prisoners of war attempting to escape are to be fired on without previous challenge.No warning shot must ever be fired.The use of arms against prisoners of war is as a rule,legal."

    Dissent to this order was raised by Admiral Canaris on 15 September 1941 with a reference to the Geneva Convention,and that although Russia was not a signatory to the G.C of 1929,there was an humanitarian obligation to Russian prisoners of war.

    His protest memorandum read and possibly was addressed to Keitel stating:

    "The Geneva Convention for the treatment of the war is not binding in the relationship between Germany and Russia.Therefore only the principles of general international law on the treatment of prisoners of war apply.Since the 18th century these have been gradually established along the lines that war captivity is neither revenge nor punishment,but solely protective custody,the only purpose of which is to prevent the prisoners of war from further participation in the war.This principle was developed in accordance with the vieweld by all armies that it is contrary to military tradition to kill or injure helpless people.The decrees for the treatment of Russian prisoners of war enclosed are based on a fundamentally different view point".

    KeItel made the following note on Canaris's memorandum:

    "The objections arise from the military concept of chivalrous warfare.This is the destruction of an ideology.Therefore I approve and back the measures".

    There were further punitive measures against Russian POWs introduced by the OKH in March 1944 to counter escapes of Russian officers and what was extermination of Russian POW NCOs. Known as the "Kugel" or "Bullet" decree,it laid down that officer escapees and NCOs who had not been allocated as slave labours were to be executed.The place chosen was the Mauthausen Concentration Camp and the execution technique was adopted from Eieck,the first commandant of Dachau who had it demonstrated it at Sachsenhausen at an occasion when he was absent from the Eastern Front.The principle was that the prisoner was deceived that a medical examination was taking place,his height was being measured which required him to stand against a wall.The wall was designed with aperture at head level and the prisoner was shot by the executioner from the next room with the prisoner not having any emotion regarding a pending execution. The block showing the method of execution can be seen at the Mauthausen KL and was used elsewhere for the extermination of Russian POWs.

    Those who survived served as slave labourers and by December 1944,there were about 750000 POWs allowed to live to work.These were "employed" in the armament industry,and included 200000 who toiled in the coal mines.It must have been a relief for those who worked on farms but it has to be said that overall their treatment was considerably much harsher than Western POWs who had the protection of the Geneva Convention and the "watchdog powers" of the Protecting Power of Switzerland.For the Russian POW slave labourers,they could be murdered by their "employer" without any reference to enquiry,these "employers" were the sole arbitrary between life and death.
    Last edited: Oct 20, 2020
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  20. davidbfpo

    davidbfpo Patron Patron

    Prompted by an academic article today entitled 'Ukraine: are reports of Russian troops mutinying and deserting true? It’s happened before' I found she included:

    The link is to a 2017 review of a book 'Stalin’s Defectors: from Red Army soldiers to Hitler’s collaborators' by Mark Edele; which has not appeared here before.

    The publishers Abstract is here: https://oxford.universitypressschol.../oso/9780198798156.001.0001/oso-9780198798156 and the author is Professor of History and Australian Research Council Future Fellow, The University of Western Australia.

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