German prisoners of war in the Soviet Union

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The mother of a prisoner thanks Konrad Adenauer upon his return from Moscow on September 14, 1955. Adenauer had succeeded in concluding negotiations for the release to Germany, by the end of that year, of 15,000 German civilians and prisoners of war. Bundesarchiv B 145 Bild-107546, Köln-Bonn, Adenauer, Mutter eines Kriegsgefangenen.jpg
The mother of a prisoner thanks Konrad Adenauer upon his return from Moscow on September 14, 1955. Adenauer had succeeded in concluding negotiations for the release to Germany, by the end of that year, of 15,000 German civilians and prisoners of war.
Prisoners returning in 1955 A returned German prisoner of war identified this woman's son. He will never return because he is dead. Prisoners... - NARA - 541970.tif
Prisoners returning in 1955

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 [1] . According to Soviet records 381,067 German Wehrmacht POWs died in NKVD camps (356,700 German nationals and 24,367 from other nations). [2] [3] 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). [4] [5]

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.

Red Army 1917–1946 ground and air warfare branch of the Soviet Unions military

The Workers' and Peasants' Red Army, frequently shortened to Red Army was the army and the air force of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic, and, after 1922, the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The army was established immediately after the 1917 October Revolution. The Bolsheviks raised an army to oppose the military confederations of their adversaries during the Russian Civil War. Beginning in February 1946, the Red Army, along with the Soviet Navy, embodied the main component of the Soviet Armed Forces; taking the official name of "Soviet Army", until its dissolution in December 1991.

Wehrmacht unified armed forces of Germany from 1935 to 1945

The Wehrmacht was the unified armed forces of Nazi Germany from 1935 to 1945. It consisted of the Heer (army), the Kriegsmarine (navy) and the Luftwaffe. The designation "Wehrmacht" replaced the previously used term Reichswehr, and was the manifestation of the Nazi regime's efforts to rearm Germany to a greater extent than the Treaty of Versailles permitted.

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German POWs in the USSR

In the first months of Operation Barbarossa, few Germans were captured by Soviet forces. After the Battle of Moscow and the retreat of the German forces the number of prisoners in the Soviet prisoner of war camps rose to 120,000 by early 1942. [6] The German 6th Army surrendered in the Battle of Stalingrad, 91,000 of the survivors became prisoners of war raising the number to 170,000 [6] in early 1943. Weakened by disease, starvation and lack of medical care during the encirclement, many died of wounds, disease (particularly typhus), malnutrition and maltreatment in the months following capture at Stalingrad: only approximately 6,000 of them lived to be repatriated after the war. [7] As the desperate economic situation in the Soviet Union eased in 1943, the mortality rate in the POW camps sank drastically. At the same time POWs became an important source of labor for the Soviet economy deprived of manpower. With the formation of the "National Committee Free Germany" and the "League of German Officers", pro-communist POWs got more privileges and better rations. As a result of Operation Bagration and the collapse on the southern part of the Eastern front, the number of German POWs nearly doubled in the second half of 1944. In the first months of 1945 the Red Army advanced to the Oder river and on the Balkans. Again the number of POWs rose – to 2,000,000 in April 1945. [6]

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, to use Slavs as a slave-labour force for the Axis war effort, and to seize the oil reserves of the Caucasus and the agricultural resources of Soviet territories.

Battle of Moscow periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km (370 mi) sector of the Eastern Front during World War II

The Battle of Moscow was a military campaign that consisted of two periods of strategically significant fighting on a 600 km (370 mi) sector of the Eastern Front during World War II. It took place between October 1941 and January 1942. The Soviet defensive effort frustrated Hitler's attack on Moscow, the capital and largest city of the Soviet Union. Moscow was one of the primary military and political objectives for Axis forces in their invasion of the Soviet Union.

6th Army (Wehrmacht) German field army during World War II

The 6th Army, a field-army unit of the German Wehrmacht during World War II (1939-1945), has become widely remembered for its destruction by the Red Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942/43. It also acquired a reputation for the war crimes that it committed under the command of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau during Operation Barbarossa.

German POWs marching through the Ukrainian city of Kiev under Soviet guard. GermanSoldiers.JPG
German POWs marching through the Ukrainian city of Kiev under Soviet guard.

A total of 2.8 million German Wehrmacht personnel were held as POWs by the Soviet Union at the end of the war, according to Soviet records. A large number of German POWs had been released by the end of 1946, when the Soviet Union held fewer POWs than the United Kingdom and France between them. With the creation of a pro-Soviet German state in the Soviet occupation zone of Germany – the German Democratic Republic – in October 1949, all but 85,000 POWs had been released and repatriated. Most of those still held had been convicted as war criminals and many sentenced to long terms in forced labor camps – usually 25 years. It was not until 1956 that the last of these Kriegsverurteilte ('war convicts') were repatriated, following the intervention of West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in Moscow. [8] [9]

United Kingdom Country in Europe

The United Kingdom, officially the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland but more commonly known as the UK or Britain, is a sovereign country lying off the north-western coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the north-eastern part of the island of Ireland and many smaller islands. Northern Ireland is the only part of the United Kingdom that shares a land border with another sovereign state‍—‌the Republic of Ireland. Apart from this land border, the United Kingdom is surrounded by the Atlantic Ocean, with the North Sea to the east, the English Channel to the south and the Celtic Sea to the south-west, giving it the 12th-longest coastline in the world. The Irish Sea lies between Great Britain and Ireland. With an area of 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi), the United Kingdom is the 78th-largest sovereign state in the world. It is also the 22nd-most populous country, with an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.

France Republic with mainland in Europe and numerous oversea territories

France, officially the French Republic, is a country whose territory consists of metropolitan France in Western Europe and several overseas regions and territories. The metropolitan area of France extends from the Mediterranean Sea to the English Channel and the North Sea, and from the Rhine to the Atlantic Ocean. It is bordered by Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany to the northeast, Switzerland and Italy to the east, and Andorra and Spain to the south. The overseas territories include French Guiana in South America and several islands in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The country's 18 integral regions span a combined area of 643,801 square kilometres (248,573 sq mi) and a total population of 67.3 million. France, a sovereign state, is a unitary semi-presidential republic with its capital in Paris, the country's largest city and main cultural and commercial centre. Other major urban areas include Lyon, Marseille, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Lille and Nice.

Soviet occupation zone one of the four Allied occupation zones of Germany created at the end of World War II

The Soviet Occupation Zone was the area of central Germany occupied by the Soviet Union from 1945 on, at the end of World War II. On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (GDR), which became commonly referred to as East Germany, was established in the Soviet Occupation Zone.

According to Richard Overy, Russian sources maintain that 356,000 out of 2,388,000 POWs died in Soviet captivity. [10] In his revised Russian language edition of Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses, Krivosheev put the number of German military POWs at 2,733,739 and dead at 381,067(356,700 German nationals and 24,367 from other nations) [11] However, Soviet era sources are disputed by historians in the west who estimate 3.0 million German POWs were taken by the USSR and up to 1.0 million died in Soviet captivity. [5] Waitman Wade Beorn, maintains that 35,8% of German POWs died in Soviet custody, [12] which is supported by other academic works. [13] [14]

Richard Overy British historian

Richard James Overy is a British historian who has published extensively on the history of World War II and Nazi Germany. In 2007 as The Times editor of Complete History of the World, he chose the 50 key dates of world history.

<i>Marching into Darkness</i>

Marching into Darkness: The Wehrmacht and the Holocaust in Belarus is a book by the American historian Waitman Wade Beorn, published in 2014 by Harvard University Press. It discusses the participation of the German Wehrmacht in the Holocaust and other crimes against humanity during the course of the early stages of the German-Soviet War (1941–45).

According to Edward Peterson, the U.S. chose to hand over several hundred thousand German prisoners to the Soviet Union in May 1945 as a "gesture of friendship". [15] Niall Ferguson maintains that "it is clear that many German units sought to surrender to the Americans in preference to other Allied forces, and particularly the Red Army". [16] Heinz Nawratil maintains that U.S. forces refused to accept the surrender of German troops in Saxony and Bohemia, and instead handed them over to the Soviet Union. [17]

Niall Ferguson British historian

Niall Campbell Ferguson is a British historian and works as a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution. Previously, he was a senior research fellow at Jesus College, Oxford, a visiting professor at the New College of the Humanities, and also taught at Harvard University.

Heinz Nawratil is a German lawyer, legal author and human rights activist.

Saxony State in Germany

Saxony, officially the Free State of Saxony, is a landlocked federal state of Germany, bordering the federal states of Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, and Bavaria, as well as the countries of Poland and the Czech Republic. Its capital is Dresden, and its largest city is Leipzig.

According to a report in the New York Times thousands of prisoners were transferred to Soviet authorities from POW camps in the West, e.g. it is known that 6,000 German officers were sent from the West to the Sachsenhausen concentration camp which at the time was one of the NKVD special camp and from which it is known that they were transferred to POW camps . [18] Soviet Ministry for the Interior documents released in 1990 listed 6,680 inmates in the NKVD special camps in Germany 1945–49 who were transferred to Soviet POW camps. [19]

Sachsenhausen concentration camp Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany

Sachsenhausen or Sachsenhausen-Oranienburg was a Nazi concentration camp in Oranienburg, Germany, used primarily for political prisoners from 1936 to the end of the Third Reich in May 1945. After World War II, when Oranienburg was in the Soviet Occupation Zone, the structure was used as an NKVD special camp until 1950. The camp ground with the remaining buildings is now open to the public as a museum.

NKVD special camps were NKVD-run late and post–World War II internment camps in the Soviet-occupied parts of Germany from May 1945 to January 6, 1950. They were set up by the Soviet Military Administration in Germany (SMAD) and run by the Soviet Ministry of Internal Affairs MVD On 8 August 1948, the camps were made subordinate to the Gulag. Because the camp inmates were permitted no contact with the outside world, the special camps were also known as silence camps.

German estimates

German prisoners-of-war in Moscow at the end of 1944. RIAN archive 129359 German prisoners-of-war in Moscow.jpg
German prisoners-of-war in Moscow at the end of 1944.

The West German government set up a Commission headed by Erich Maschke to investigate the fate of German POW in the war, in its report of 1974 they found that 3,060,000 [20] German military personnel were taken prisoner by the USSR and that 1,094,250 died in captivity (549,360 from 1941-April 1945; 542,911 from May 1945 to June 1950 and 1,979 from July 1950 to 1955) [21] According to German historian Rüdiger Overmans ca. 3,000,000 POW were taken by the USSR, he put the "maximum" number of German POW deaths in Soviet hands at 1.0 million. [5] Based on his research, Overmans believes that the deaths of 363,000 POWs in Soviet captivity can be confirmed by the files of Deutsche Dienststelle (WASt), in addition he maintains that it seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that 700,000 German military personnel listed as missing actually died in Soviet custody. [4]

German prisoners of war held by the Soviet Union
YearQuarterNumber of German POWs
1941IV26,000
1942I120,000
II120,000
III110,000
IV100,000
1943I170,000
II160,000
III190,000
IV200,000
1944I240,000
II370,000
III560,000
IV560,000
1945I1,100,000
II2,000,000
III1,900,000
IV1,400,000
1946IV1,100,000
1947IV840,000
1948IV500,000
1949IV85,000
1950IV29,000

Source of figures: Rüdiger Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege. Ullstein., 2000 Page 246

Soviet statistics

According to Russian historian Grigori F. Krivosheev Soviet NKVD figures list 2,733,739 German "Wehrmacht"(Военнопленные из войск вермахта) POW taken and 381,067 died in captivity. [11] The table below lists the Soviet statistics for total number of German prisoners of war reported by the NKVD as of 22 April 1956 (excluding USSR citizens who were serving in Wehrmacht). The Soviets considered ethnic Germans of Eastern Europe conscripted by Germany as nationals of their country of residence before the war, for example the Sudeten Germans were labelled as Czechs. [11] These figures do not include prisoners from Italy, Hungary, Romania, Finland and Japan. The Soviet statistics for POW do not include conscripted civilians for the Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union.

However Austrian historian Stefan Karner  [ de ] maintains that Soviet era documents indicate that 2.6 million prisoners were taken by the Soviets including 400,000 civilians. [22]

Figures for "Wehrmacht" POW according to Soviet NKVD [11]

NationalityTotal accounted prisoners of warReleased and repatriatedDied in captivity
German2,388,4432,031,743356,700
Austrian156,681145,79010,891
Czech and Slovak69,97765,9544,023
French23,13621,8111,325
Yugoslav21,83020,3541,476
Polish60,27757,1493,128
Dutch4,7304,530200
Belgian2,0141,833181
Luxemburger1,6531,56093
Spanish45238270
Danish45642135
Norwegian1018318
others3,9891,0622,927
Total2,733,7392,352,671381,067
%100%86,1%13,9%

See also

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Voikovo prison camp, or Camp No. 48, was a prisoner-of-war and internee camp maintained by the Main Administration for Affairs of Prisoners of War and Internees of the NKVD in the Soviet Union. The camp was designated by the Soviet authorities for the high-ranking officers of the German Wehrmacht and the Waffen-SS and was unofficially known as the "Generals camp".

References

  1. Rüdiger Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege. Ullstein., 2000 Page 277 ISBN   3-549-07121-3
  2. G. I. Krivosheev. Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses. Greenhill 1997 ISBN   1-85367-280-7 Pages 276-278.
  3. In his revised Russian language edition of Soviet Casualties and Combat Losses Krivosheev put the number of German military POW at 2,733,739 and dead at 381,067 G. I. Krivosheev Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX veka: Poteri vooruzhennykh sil; statisticheskoe issledovanie OLMA-Press, 2001 ISBN   5-224-01515-4 Table 198
  4. 1 2 Rüdiger Overmans. Deutsche militärische Verluste im Zweiten Weltkrieg. Oldenbourg 2000. ISBN   3-486-56531-1 Page 286-289
  5. 1 2 3 Rüdiger Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege. Ullstein., 2000 Page 246 ISBN   3-549-07121-3
  6. 1 2 3 Rüdiger Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege. Ullstein., 2000 Page 272 ISBN   3-549-07121-3
  7. The Great Patriotic War: 55 years on The BBC put the number of POW captured at Stalingrad at 91,000 of whom 6,000 survived
  8. Rüdiger Overmans: Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriegs. Ullstein, München 2002, ISBN   3-548-36328-8, p.258
  9. Andreas Hilger: Deutsche Kriegsgefangene in der Sowjetunion 1941-1956. Kriegsgefangenschaft, Lageralltag und Erinnerung. Klartext Verlag, Essen 2000, ISBN   3-88474-857-2, p. 137 (Tabelle 3 and Tabelle 10)
  10. Overy, Richard (1997). Russias War. Penguin. p. 297. ISBN   1575000512. Overy notes on p.364: "I am very grateful to James Bacque for letting me see the official figures supplied to him for his work on his book, Crimes and Mercies (London, 1997). The figures are drawn from a report of the chief of the Prison Department of the USSR Ministry of Foreign Affairs on ‘war prisoners of the former European armies for the period 1941 ‐ 1945’, dated 28 April 1956. On contemporary estimates see D. Dallin and B. Nicolaevsky, Forced Labour in Soviet Russia (London, 1948), pp. 277 ‐ 8. On Japan, S. I. Kuznetsov, ‘The Situation of Japanese Prisoners of War in Soviet Camps’, journal of Slavic Military Studies 8 (1995).
  11. 1 2 3 4 G. I. Krivosheev Rossiia i SSSR v voinakh XX veka: Poteri vooruzhennykh sil; statisticheskoe issledovanie OLMA-Press, 2001 ISBN   5-224-01515-4 Table 198
  12. Marching into Darkness, 2014, p.59
  13. Frederick Taylor, Exorcising Hitler: The Occupation and Denazification of Germany, 2011, pp. 184-5
  14. Niall Ferguson, Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat, 2004, p. 122
  15. Edward N. Peterson: The American Occupation of Germany, pp 116, "Some hundreds of thousands who had fled to the Americans to avoid being taken prisoner by the Russians were turned over in May to the Red Army in a gesture of friendship."
  16. Niall Ferguson: Prisoner Taking and Prisoner Killing in the Age of Total War: Towards a Political Economy of Military Defeat War in History, 2004, 11 (2) 148–192 pg. 189
  17. Heinz Nawratil Die deutschen Nachkriegsverluste unter Vertriebenen, Gefangenen und Verschleppter: mit einer Übersicht über die europäischen Nachkriegsverluste. Munich and Berlin, 1988, pp. 36f.
  18. Desmond Butler (December 17, 2001). "Ex-Death Camp Tells Story Of Nazi and Soviet Horrors". New York Times.
  19. Michael Klonovsky ; Jan von Flocken Stalins Lager in Deutschland : 1945 - 1950 ; Dokumentation, Zeugenberichte. ISBN   9783550074882 P. 18
  20. Erich Maschke, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges Bielefeld, E. und W. Gieseking, 1962-1974 Vol 15 p. 207
  21. Erich Maschke, Zur Geschichte der deutschen Kriegsgefangenen des Zweiten Weltkrieges Bielefeld, E. und W. Gieseking, 1962-1974 Vol 15 p. 224
  22. Stefan Karner. 2015. Der "französische Spionagering" in Rostock und die sowjetische Staatssicherheitsakte zu Wilhelm Joachim Gauck. In: Andreas Kötzing ed. Vergleich als Herausforderung. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, p.171.