German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners of war

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Reichsfuhrer-SS Heinrich Himmler, accompanied by an entourage of SS and Heer personnel, inspects a prison-camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war in the fall of 1941. Himmler besichtigt die Gefangenenlager in Russland. Heinrich Himmler inspects a prisoner of war camp in Russia, circa... - NARA - 540164.jpg
Reichsführer-SS Heinrich Himmler, accompanied by an entourage of SS and Heer personnel, inspects a prison-camp for Soviet prisoners-of-war in the fall of 1941.

During World War II, Nazi Germany engaged in a policy of deliberate maltreatment of Soviet prisoners of war (POWs), in contrast to their treatment of British and American POWs. This resulted in some 3.3 to 3.5 million deaths. [1] [2] [3] [4]

World War II 1939–1945 global war

World War II, also known as the Second World War, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. The vast majority of the world's countries—including all the great powers—eventually formed two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis. A state of total war emerged, directly involving more than 100 million people from over 30 countries. The major participants threw their entire economic, industrial, and scientific capabilities behind the war effort, blurring the distinction between civilian and military resources. World War II was the deadliest conflict in human history, marked by 50 to 85 million fatalities, most of whom were civilians in the Soviet Union and China. It included massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, premeditated death from starvation and disease, and the only use of nuclear weapons in war.

Nazi Germany The German state from 1933 to 1945, under the dictatorship of Adolf Hitler

Nazi Germany is the common English name for Germany between 1933 and 1945, when Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party (NSDAP) controlled the country through a dictatorship. Under Hitler's rule, Germany was transformed into a totalitarian state where nearly all aspects of life were controlled by the government. The official name of the state was Deutsches Reich until 1943 and Großdeutsches Reich from 1943 to 1945. Nazi Germany is also known as the Third Reich, meaning "Third Realm" or "Third Empire", the first two being the Holy Roman Empire (800–1806) and the German Empire (1871–1918). The Nazi regime ended after the Allies defeated Germany in May 1945, ending World War II in Europe.

Soviet Union 1922–1991 country in Europe and Asia

The Soviet Union, officially the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR), was a socialist state in Eurasia that existed from 1922 to 1991. Nominally a union of multiple national Soviet republics, its government and economy were highly centralized. The country was a one-party state, governed by the Communist Party with Moscow as its capital in its largest republic, the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic. Other major urban centres were Leningrad, Kiev, Minsk, Tashkent, Alma-Ata, and Novosibirsk. It spanned over 10,000 kilometres (6,200 mi) east to west across 11 time zones, and over 7,200 kilometres (4,500 mi) north to south. It had five climate zones: tundra, taiga, steppes, desert and mountains.

Contents

During Operation Barbarossa, the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, and the subsequent German–Soviet War, millions of Red Army prisoners of war were taken. Many were executed, arbitrarily in the field by the German forces or handed over to the SS to be shot, under the Commissar Order. Most, however, died during the death marches from the front lines or under inhumane conditions in German prisoner-of-war camps and concentration camps.

Operation Barbarossa 1941 German invasion of the Soviet Union during the Second World War

Operation Barbarossa was the code name for the Axis invasion of the Soviet Union, which started on Sunday, 22 June 1941, during World War II. The operation stemmed from Nazi Germany's ideological aims to conquer the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans (Lebensraum), to use Slavs as a slave labour force for the Axis war effort and to annihilate the rest according to Generalplan Ost, and to acquire the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories.

Axis powers Alliance of countries defeated in World War II

The Axis powers, also known as "Rome–Berlin–Tokyo Axis", were the nations that fought in World War II against the Allies. The Axis powers agreed on their opposition to the Allies, but did not completely coordinate their activity.

Eastern Front (World War II) theatre of World War II - war between Germany and USSR 1941-1945

The Eastern Front of World War II was a theatre of conflict between the European Axis powers and co-belligerent Finland against the Soviet Union (U.S.S.R.), Poland and other Allies, which encompassed Central Europe, Eastern Europe, Northeast Europe (Baltics), and Southeast Europe (Balkans) from 22 June 1941 to 9 May 1945. It has been known as the Great Patriotic War in the former Soviet Union and modern Russia, while in Germany it was called the Eastern Front, or the German-Soviet War by outside parties.

Death toll

An improvised camp for Soviet prisoners of war. August 1942 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-B21845, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene im Lager.jpg
An improvised camp for Soviet prisoners of war. August 1942

It is estimated that at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs died in Nazi custody, out of 5.7 million. This figure represents a total of 57% of all Soviet POWs and may be contrasted with 8,300 out of 231,000 British and U.S. prisoners, or 3.6%. About 5% of the Soviet prisoners who died were Jews. [5] The most deaths took place between June 1941 and January 1942, when the Germans killed an estimated 2.8 million Soviet POWs primarily through deliberate starvation, [6] exposure, and summary execution. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht, 500,000 had fled or were liberated, the remaining 3.3 million had perished as POWs. [2]

Hypothermia A human body core temperature below 35.0°C

Hypothermia is reduced body temperature that happens when a body dissipates more heat than it absorbs. In humans, it is defined as a body core temperature below 35.0 °C (95.0 °F). Symptoms depend on the temperature. In mild hypothermia there is shivering and mental confusion. In moderate hypothermia shivering stops and confusion increases. In severe hypothermia, there may be paradoxical undressing, in which a person removes their clothing, as well as an increased risk of the heart stopping.

Summary execution execution immediately after being accused of a crime, without a fair trial; usually understood to mean capture, accusation, and execution all conducted during a very short span of time

A summary execution is an execution in which a person is accused of a crime and immediately killed without benefit of a full and fair trial. Executions as the result of summary justice are sometimes included, but the term generally refers to capture, accusation, and execution all conducted simultaneously or within a very short period of time, and without any trial at all. Under international law, refusal to accept lawful surrender in combat and instead killing the person surrendering is also categorized as a summary execution.

Wehrmacht foreign volunteers and conscripts

Among the approximately one million foreign volunteers and conscripts who served in the Wehrmacht during World War II were ethnic Germans, Belgians, Czechs, Dutch, Finns, French, Hungarians, Norwegians, Poles, Portuguese, Swedes, and British, along with people from the Baltic states and the Balkans. At least 47,000 Spaniards served in the Blue Division.

The figure of 3.3 million POW dead is based on German figures and analysis. Data published in Russia presents a different view of their POW dead. Viktor Zemskov estimated Soviet POW deaths at 2.3 million; he published statistics that put Soviet POW losses at 2,471,000 (5,734,000 were captured, 821,000 were released for German military service, 72,000 escaped and 2,371,000 liberated ). [7] [8] Of the 823,000 POWS released for service in the German military forces 212,400 were killed or missing, 436,600 were returned to the USSR and imprisoned and 180,000 remained in western countries after the war. [9] [10] Russian military historian Grigori F. Krivosheev maintains POW and MIA losses of the combat forces were actually 1.783 million, according to Krivosheev the higher figures of dead includes reservists not on active strength, civilians and military personnel who were captured during the course of the war. [11]

Viktor Nikolaevich Zemskov was a Russian historian, doctor (habil.) of historical sciences (2005), research associate of the Institute of Russian History. He was a specialist on the Gulag. Zemskov revealed in detail the secret-police statistics about the Gulag, resolving many disputes among western historians about the number of people affected by political repression in the Soviet Union.

Grigoriy Fedotovich Krivosheyev was a Russian military historian and a Colonel General of the Russian military. He is mostly known in the West, via an alternative transliteration of his name, Krivosheev, as the editor of a book on Soviet military casualties in the 20th century, which was translated and published in English.

By September 1941, the mortality rate among Soviet POWs was in the order of 1% per day. [12] According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), by the winter of 1941, "starvation and disease resulted in mass death of unimaginable proportions". [13] This deliberate starvation, despite food being available, led many desperate prisoners to resort to acts of cannibalism, [14] was Nazi policy, [15] and was all in accordance with the Hunger Plan developed by the Reich Minister of Food Herbert Backe. For the Germans, Soviet POWs were expendable: they consumed calories needed by others and, unlike Western POWs, were considered to be subhuman. [16]

United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C.

The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM) is the United States' official memorial to the Holocaust. Adjacent to the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the USHMM provides for the documentation, study, and interpretation of Holocaust history. It is dedicated to helping leaders and citizens of the world confront hatred, prevent genocide, promote human dignity, and strengthen democracy.

Cannibalism consuming another individual of the same species as food

Cannibalism is the act of consuming another individual of the same species as food. Cannibalism is a common ecological interaction in the animal kingdom and has been recorded in more than 1,500 species. Human cannibalism is well-documented, both in ancient and in recent times.

The Hunger Plan was a plan developed by Nazi Germany during World War II to seize food from the Soviet Union and give it to German soldiers and civilians; the plan entailed the death by starvation of millions of "racially inferior" Slavs following Operation Barbarossa, the 1941 invasion of the Soviet Union. The premise behind the Hunger Plan was that Germany was not self-sufficient in food supplies, and to sustain the war and keep up the domestic morale it needed to obtain the food from conquered lands at any cost. It was an engineered famine, planned and implemented as an act of policy. This plan was developed during the planning phase for the Wehrmacht invasion and provided for diverting of the Ukrainian food stuffs away from central and northern Russia and redirecting them for the benefit of the invading army and the population in Germany. The plan resulted in the deaths of millions of people. The plan as a means of mass murder was outlined in several documents, including one that became known as Göring's Green Folder, which quoted a number of "20 to 30 million" expected Russian deaths from "military actions and crises of food supply."

Commissar Order

The Commissar Order (German: Kommissarbefehl) was a written order given by the German High Command (OKW) on 6 June 1941, prior to the beginning of Operation Barbarossa (German invasion of the Soviet Union). It demanded that any Soviet political commissar identified among captured troops be shot immediately. Those prisoners who could be identified as "thoroughly bolshevized or as active representatives of the Bolshevist ideology" were also to be executed.

German language West Germanic language

German is a West Germanic language that is mainly spoken in Central Europe. It is the most widely spoken and official or co-official language in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, South Tyrol in Italy, the German-speaking Community of Belgium, and Liechtenstein. It is also one of the three official languages of Luxembourg and a co-official language in the Opole Voivodeship in Poland. The languages which are most similar to German are the other members of the West Germanic language branch: Afrikaans, Dutch, English, the Frisian languages, Low German/Low Saxon, Luxembourgish, and Yiddish. There are also strong similarities in vocabulary with Danish, Norwegian and Swedish, although those belong to the North Germanic group. German is the second most widely spoken Germanic language, after English.

In the military, a political commissar or political officer, is a supervisory officer responsible for the political education (ideology) and organization of the unit they are assigned to, and intended to ensure civilian control of the military.

General internment system for Soviet prisoners of war

Red Army soldiers, captured between Lutsk and Volodymyr-Volynskyi. June 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L25034, Russland, kriegsgefangene sowjetische Soldaten.jpg
Red Army soldiers, captured between Lutsk and Volodymyr-Volynskyi. June 1941
Distribution of food in a POW camp near Vinnytsia, Ukraine. July 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1979-113-04, Lager Winnica, gefangene Russen.jpg
Distribution of food in a POW camp near Vinnytsia, Ukraine. July 1941
Overcrowded transit camp near Smolensk, Russia. August 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 183-L28726, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene bei Smolensk.jpg
Overcrowded transit camp near Smolensk, Russia. August 1941
Soviet POWs transported in an open wagon train. September 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-267-0124-20A, Russland, Transport sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener in Guterwagen.jpg
Soviet POWs transported in an open wagon train. September 1941
Soviet POWs of Asian ethnicity near Stalingrad, Russia. June 1942 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-218-0507-24, Russland-Sud, sowjetische Kriegefangene.jpg
Soviet POWs of Asian ethnicity near Stalingrad, Russia. June 1942
Soviet POWs in Zhitomir on 24 July 1941. Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1989-063-30A, Russland, russische Kriegsgefangene.jpg
Soviet POWs in Zhitomir on 24 July 1941.
A column of Soviet POWs near Lwow in July 1941. Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-187-0203-06A, Russland, Russische Kriegsgefangene.jpg
A column of Soviet POWs near Lwów in July 1941.

In the summer and autumn of 1941, vast numbers of Soviet prisoners were captured in about a dozen large encirclements. Due to their rapid advance into the Soviet Union and an anticipated quick victory, the Germans did not want to ship these prisoners to Germany. Under the administration of the Wehrmacht, the prisoners were processed, guarded, forced-marched, or transported in open rail cars to locations mostly in the occupied Soviet Union, Germany, and occupied Poland. [17] Much like comparable events, such as the Pacific War's Bataan Death March in 1942, the treatment of prisoners was brutal, without much in the way of supporting logistics.

Soviet prisoners of war were stripped of their supplies and clothing by poorly-equipped German troops when the cold weather set in; this resulted in death for the prisoners. [12] Most of the camps for Soviet POWs were simply open areas fenced off with barbed wire and watchtowers with no inmate housing. [14] These meager conditions forced the crowded prisoners to live in holes they had dug for themselves, which were exposed to the elements. Beatings and other abuse by the guards were common, and prisoners were malnourished, often consuming only a few hundred calories or less per day. Medical treatment was non-existent and an International Red Cross offer to help in 1941 was rejected by Hitler. [13] [18]

Some of the Soviet POWs were also experimented on. In one such case, Dr. Heinrich Berning from Hamburg University starved prisoners to death as "famine experiments". [19] [20] In another instance, a group of prisoners at Zhitomir were shot using dum-dum bullets. [21] [22] [23]

Prisoner-of-war camps

The camps established especially for Soviet POWs were called Russenlager ("Russian camp"). [24] The Allied regulars kept by Germany were usually treated in accordance with the 1929 Geneva Convention on Prisoners of War. Although the Soviet Union was not a signatory, Germany was, and Article 82 of the Convention required signatories to treat all captured enemy soldiers "as between the belligerents who are parties thereto." Russenlager conditions were often even worse than those commonly experienced by prisoners in regular concentration camps. Such camps included:

Jewish-Soviet POWs marked with yellow badges. August 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-267-0111-37, Russland, russische Kriegsgefangene (Juden).jpg
Jewish-Soviet POWs marked with yellow badges. August 1941

"Weeding-out" program

In the "weeding-out actions" (Aussonderungsaktionen) of 1941–42, the Gestapo secret police further identified Communist Party and state officials, commissars, academic scholars, Jews and other "undesirable" or "dangerous" individuals who had survived the Commissar Order selections, and transferred them to concentration camps, where they were summarily executed. [32] At Stalag VII-A at Moosburg, Major Karl Meinel objected to these executions, but the SS (including Karl von Eberstein) intervened, Meinel was demoted to reserve, and the killing continued. [33] [34] [35]

In all, between June 1941 and May 1944 about 10% of all Soviet POWs were turned over to the SS-Totenkopfverbände concentration camp organization or the Einsatzgruppen death squads and murdered. [12] Einsatzgruppen killings included the Babi Yar massacres where Soviet POWs were among 70,000–120,000 people executed between 1941 and 1943 and the Ponary massacre that included the execution of some 7,500 Soviet POWs in 1941 (among about 100,000 murdered there between 1941 and 1944).

Soviet prisoners of war in German concentration and extermination camps

Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp. October 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 192-096, KZ Mauthausen, sowjetische Kriegsgefangene.jpg
Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp. October 1941
Naked Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp. Unknown date Bundesarchiv Bild 192-208, KZ Mauthausen, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene.jpg
Naked Soviet prisoners of war in Mauthausen concentration camp. Unknown date

Between 140,000 and 500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died or were executed in Nazi concentration camps. [13] Most of those executed were killed by shooting but some were gassed.

Soviet prisoners of war in German slave labour system

Soviet POWs at work in Minsk, Belarus. July 1941 Bundesarchiv Bild 101I-137-1010-21A, Weissrussland, Minsk, Aufraumungsarbeiten.jpg
Soviet POWs at work in Minsk, Belarus. July 1941

In January 1942, Hitler authorized better treatment of Soviet POWs because the war had bogged down, and German leaders decided to use prisoners for forced labour on a large scale (see forced labour under German rule during World War II). [43] Their number increased from barely 150,000 in 1942, to the peak of 631,000 in the summer of 1944. Many were dispatched to the coal mines (between July 1 and November 10, 1943, 27,638 Soviet POWs died in the Ruhr Area alone), while others were sent to Krupp, Daimler-Benz or other companies, [18] where they provided labour while often being slowly worked to death. The largest "employers" of 1944 were mining (160,000), agriculture (138,000) and the metal industry (131,000). No less than 200,000 prisoners died during forced labour.

The Organisation Todt was a civil and military engineering group in Germany eponymously named for its founder Fritz Todt. The organisation was responsible for a wide range of engineering projects both in pre-World War II Germany, and in Germany itself and occupied territories from France to the Soviet Union during the war, and became notorious for using forced labour. Most of the so-called "volunteer" Soviet POW workers were consumed by the Organisation Todt. [2] The period from 1942 until the end of the war had approximately 1.4 million labourers in the service of the Organisation Todt. Overall, 1% were Germans rejected from military service and 1.5% were concentration camp prisoners; the rest were prisoners of war and compulsory labourers from occupied countries. All non-Germans were effectively treated as slaves and many did not survive the work or the war.

See also

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Prisoner of war Person who is held in custody by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict

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Majdanek concentration camp Nazi concentration camp

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Nazi concentration camps Concentration camps operated by Nazi Germany

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Hiwi (volunteer)

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Commissar Order Nazi conspiracy-enforcing unit of the Nazi military

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Stalag VIII-C

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Stalag XIII-D

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Szebnie concentration camp

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References

  1. Peter Calvocoressi, Guy Wint, Total War — "The total number of prisoners taken by the German armies in the USSR was in the region of 5.7 million. Of these, the astounding number of 3.5 million or more had been lost by the middle of 1944 and the assumption must be that they were either deliberately killed or done to death by criminal negligence. Nearly two million of them died in camps and close on another million disappeared while in military custody either in the USSR or in rear areas; a further quarter of a million disappeared or died in transit between the front and destinations in the rear; another 473,000 died or were killed in military custody in Germany or Poland." They add, "This slaughter of prisoners cannot be accounted for by the peculiar chaos of the war in the east. ... The true cause was the inhuman policy of the Nazis towards the Russians as a people and the acquiescence of army commanders in attitudes and conditions which amounted to a sentence of death on their prisoners."
  2. 1 2 3 Christian Streit: Keine Kameraden: Die Wehrmacht und die Sowjetischen Kriegsgefangenen, 1941–1945, Bonn: Dietz (3. Aufl., 1. Aufl. 1978), ISBN   3-8012-5016-4 — "Between 22 June 1941 and the end of the war, roughly 5.7 million members of the Red Army fell into German hands. In January 1945, 930,000 were still in German camps. A million at most had been released, most of whom were so-called ‘volunteers’ (Hilfswillige) for (often compulsory) auxiliary service in the Wehrmacht. Another 500,000, as estimated by the Army High Command, had either fled or been liberated. The remaining 3,300,000 (57.5 percent of the total) had perished."
  3. Nazi persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War United States Holocaust Memorial Museum — "Existing sources suggest that some 5.7 million Soviet army personnel fell into German hands during World War II. As of January 1945, the German army reported that only about 930,000 Soviet POWs remained in German custody. The German army released about one million Soviet POWs as auxiliaries of the German army and the SS. About half a million Soviet POWs had escaped German custody or had been liberated by the Soviet army as it advanced westward through eastern Europe into Germany. The remaining 3.3 million, or about 57 percent of those taken prisoner, were dead by the end of the war."
  4. Jonathan North, Soviet Prisoners of War: Forgotten Nazi Victims of World War II Archived March 30, 2008, at the Wayback Machine — "Statistics show that out of 5.7 million Soviet soldiers captured between 1941 and 1945, more than 3.5 million died in captivity."
  5. British Imperial War Museum — Invasion of the Soviet Union display (Holocaust Exhibition) Berkeleyinternetsystems.com; accessed 19 July 2018.
  6. Daniel Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners (pg. 290) — "2.8 million young, healthy Soviet POWs" killed by the Germans, "mainly by starvation ... in less than eight months" of 1941–42, before "the decimation of Soviet POWs ... was stopped" and the Germans "began to use them as laborers" (emphasis added).
  7. Zemskov, Viktor. "Mortality of Soviet POWs". ww2stats.com. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  8. Zemskov, Viktor. "The extent of human losses USSR in the Great Patriotic War and Statistical Lynbrinth (in Russian)". demoscope.ru # 559-60, July 2013. Retrieved 3 September 2018.
  9. Krivosheev, G.F. (1997). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. Greenhill Books. pp. 91–92. ISBN   978-1-85367-280-4.
  10. Krivosheev, G. I (2001). Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX veka: Poteri vooruzhennykh sil ; statisticheskoe issledovanie. OLMA-Press. p. 463. ISBN   5-224-01515-4.
  11. Krivosheev, G.F. (1997). Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses in the Twentieth Century. Greenhill Books. pp. 230–238. ISBN   978-1-85367-280-4.
  12. 1 2 3 War against subhumans: comparisons between the German War against the Soviet Union and the American war against Japan, 1941–1945, James Weingartner, 22 March 1996.
  13. 1 2 3 4 5 6 The treatment of Soviet POWs: Starvation, disease, and shootings, June 1941 – January 1942 USHMM.
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