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.
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 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.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, 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.
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.
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.
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 ).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. 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.
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.According to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM), by the winter of 1941, "starvation and disease resulted in mass death of unimaginable proportions". This deliberate starvation, despite food being available, led many desperate prisoners to resort to acts of cannibalism, was Nazi policy, 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.
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 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."
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 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.
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.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.Most of the camps for Soviet POWs were simply open areas fenced off with barbed wire and watchtowers with no inmate housing. 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.
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".In another instance, a group of prisoners at Zhitomir were shot using dum-dum bullets.
The camps established especially for Soviet POWs were called Russenlager ("Russian camp").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:
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.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.
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.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).
Between 140,000 and 500,000 Soviet prisoners of war died or were executed in Nazi concentration camps.Most of those executed were killed by shooting but some were gassed.
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).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, 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.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.
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Nazi Germany built extermination camps during the Holocaust in World War II, to systematically murder millions of Jews. Others were murdered at the death camps as well, including Poles, Soviet POWs, and Roma. The victims of death camps were primarily killed by gassing, either in permanent installations constructed for this specific purpose, or by means of gas vans. Some Nazi camps, such as Auschwitz and Majdanek, served a dual purpose before the end of the war in 1945: extermination by poison gas, but also through extreme work under starvation conditions.
A prisoner of war (POW) is a person, whether a combatant or a non-combatant, who is held captive by a belligerent power during or immediately after an armed conflict. The earliest recorded usage of the phrase "prisoner of war" dates back to 1660.
Bergen-Belsen[ˈbɛʁɡn̩.bɛlsn̩], or Belsen, was a Nazi concentration camp in what is today Lower Saxony in northern Germany, southwest of the town of Bergen near Celle. Originally established as a prisoner of war camp, in 1943, parts of it became a concentration camp. Initially this was an "exchange camp", where Jewish hostages were held with the intention of exchanging them for German prisoners of war held overseas. The camp was later expanded to accommodate Jews from other concentration camps.
Majdanek, or KL Lublin, was a German concentration and extermination camp built and operated by the SS on the outskirts of the city of Lublin during the German occupation of Poland in World War II. Although initially purposed for forced labor rather than extermination, the camp was used to kill people on an industrial scale during Operation Reinhard, the German plan to murder all Jews within their own General Government territory of Poland. The camp, which operated from October 1, 1941, until July 22, 1944, was captured nearly intact, because the rapid advance of the Soviet Red Army during Operation Bagration prevented the SS from destroying most of its infrastructure, and the inept Deputy Camp Commandant Anton Thernes failed in his task of removing incriminating evidence of war crimes. Therefore, Majdanek became the first concentration camp discovered by Allied forces. Also known to the SS as Konzentrationslager (KL) Lublin, Majdanek remains the best-preserved Nazi concentration camp of the Holocaust.
Nazi Germany maintained concentration camps throughout the territories it controlled before and during the Second World War. The first Nazi camps were erected in Germany in March 1933 immediately after Hitler became Chancellor and his Nazi Party was given control of the police by Reich Interior Minister Wilhelm Frick and Prussian Acting Interior Minister Hermann Göring. Used to hold and torture political opponents and union organizers, the camps initially held around 45,000 prisoners. In 1933–1939, before the onset of war, most prisoners consisted of German Communists, Socialists, Social Democrats, Roma, Jehovah's Witnesses, homosexuals, and persons accused of 'asocial' or socially 'deviant' behavior by the Germans.
The term Hiwi is a German abbreviation of the word Hilfswilliger, meaning "voluntary assistant", or more literally, "willing helper". During World War II, the term Hiwis gained broad popularity in reference to auxiliary forces recruited from the indigenous populations in the areas of Eastern Europe first occupied and annexed by the Soviet Union and then occupied by Nazi Germany. Adolf Hitler reluctantly agreed to allow recruitment of Soviet citizens in the Rear Areas during Operation Barbarossa. In a short period of time, many of them were moved to combat units.
The Commissar Order was an order issued by the German High Command (OKW) on 6 June 1941 before Operation Barbarossa. Its official name was Guidelines for the Treatment of Political Commissars. It instructed the Wehrmacht that any Soviet political commissar identified among captured troops be summarily executed as an enforcer of the Judeo-Bolshevism ideology in military forces.
During the German occupation of Norway in World War II the civilian occupying authorities with the Quisling regime and the German Wehrmacht operated a number of camps in Norway, including around 110 prison camps.
Stalag XI-B and Stalag XI-D / 357 were two German World War II prisoner-of-war camp (Stammlager) located just to the east of the town of Fallingbostel in Lower Saxony, in north-western Germany.
Herman Reinecke was a German general and war criminal during the Nazi era. As head of the General Office of the Armed Forces in the OKW during World War II, he was responsible for the creation and implementation of the POW policy that resulted in the deaths of approx. 3.3 million Soviet prisoners of war. Reinecke was tried, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment at the High Command Trial.
Stalag VIII-B Lamsdorf was a German Army prisoner of war camp, later renumbered Stalag-344, located near the small town of Lamsdorf in Silesia. The camp initially occupied barracks built to house British and French prisoners in World War I. At this same location there had been a prisoner camp during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71.
Stalag VIII-C was a German World War II prisoner-of-war camp, near Sagan, Germany,. It was adjacent to the famous Stalag Luft III, and was built at the beginning of World War II, occupying 48 ha.
Stalag VI-C was a World War II German POW camp located 6 km west of the village Oberlangen in Emsland in north-western Germany. It was originally built with five others in the same marshland area as a prison camp (Straflager) for Germans. From 1939 till 1945 the Oberlangen camp was a Prisoner of War camp.
Stalag X-B was a World War II German Prisoner-of-war camp located near Sandbostel in Lower Saxony in north-western Germany. Between 1939 and 1945 several hundred thousand POWs of 55 nations passed through the camp. Due to the bad conditions in which they were housed, thousands died there of hunger, disease, or were killed by the guards. Estimates of the number of dead range from 8,000 to 50,000.
Stalag XIII-D Nürnberg Langwasser was a German Army World War II prisoner-of-war camp built on what had been the Nazi party rally grounds in Nuremberg, northern Bavaria.
Stalag XI-C Bergen-Belsen, initially called Stalag 311, was a German Army prisoner-of-war camp located near the town of Bergen in Lower Saxony.
The Soldau concentration camp established by Nazi Germany during World War II was a concentration camp for Polish and Jewish prisoners. It was located in Działdowo, a town in north-eastern Poland, which after the Nazi-Soviet invasion of Poland in September 1939 was annexed into the Province of East Prussia.
Approximately three million German prisoners of war were captured by the Soviet Union during World War II, most of them during the great advances of the Red Army in the last year of the war. The POWs were employed as forced labor in the Soviet wartime economy and post-war reconstruction. By 1950 almost all surviving POWs had been released, with the last prisoner returning from the USSR in 1956. According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps. German historian Rüdiger Overmans maintains that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that one million died in Soviet custody. He also believes that there were men who actually died as POWs amongst those listed as missing-in-action (MIA).
The Szebnie concentration camp was established during World War II by Germany, within the semi-colonial territory of General Government in the south-eastern part of occupied Poland. It was located near the town of Szebnie approximately 10 kilometres (6 mi) east of Jasło and 42 km (26 mi) south-west of Rzeszów. The facility was constructed in 1940 originally as horse stables for the Wehrmacht, adjacent to a manorial estate where the German officers stationed (photo). Over the course of the camp's operation thousands of people perished there, including Soviet prisoners of war, Polish Jews, non-Jewish Poles, Ukrainians, and Romani people. The charred remains of the camp were entered by the Soviets on 8 September 1944.
Inhumane treatment of Soviet prisoners included proceedings at Shitomir in August 1941 where a group of them were shot with captured Red Army dum-dum bullets so that German military doctors could precisely observe, and write up, the effects of these munitions upon the human body.95(See Streim reference below for original source).
Six kilometres from Pogostie Station (Leningrad region) German troops, retreating from Red Army units, shot over 150 Soviet prisoners with dum-dum bullets, after terrible floggings and bestial tortures.