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 (356,700 German nationals and 24,367 from other nations). 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).
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 more than 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 70 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.
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. The former official name Red Army continued to be used as a nickname by both sides throughout the Cold War.
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.
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.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 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. 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 for a 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.
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 aim of conquering the western Soviet Union so that it could be repopulated by Germans, and to also use some 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 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.
The 6th Army was a field army unit of the German Wehrmacht during World War II (1939–1945). It became widely remembered for its destruction by the Red Army at the Battle of Stalingrad in the winter of 1942–1943. It also acquired a reputation for the war crimes that it committed under the command of Field Marshal Walther von Reichenau during Operation Barbarossa.
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.
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, commonly known as the United Kingdom (UK) or Britain, is a sovereign country located off the northwestern coast of the European mainland. The United Kingdom includes the island of Great Britain, the northeastern 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 separates Great Britain and Ireland. The United Kingdom's 242,500 square kilometres (93,600 sq mi) were home to an estimated 66.0 million inhabitants in 2017.
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 67.02 million. France 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.
The Soviet Occupation Zone was the area of Germany occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II in 1945. On 7 October 1949 the German Democratic Republic (GDR), commonly referred to in English 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.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) 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. Waitman Wade Beorn, maintains that 35.8% of German POWs died in Soviet custody, which is supported by other academic works.
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.
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".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". 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.
Niall Campbell Ferguson is a Scottish 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 and New York University.
Heinz Gottfried Nawratil is a German lawyer, legal author and human rights activist.
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.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.
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.
The West German government set up a Commission headed by Erich Maschke to investigate the fate of German POWs in the war. In its report of 1974 they found that 3,060,000 German military personnel were taken prisoner by the USSRand that 1,094,250 died in captivity (549,360 from 1941 to April 1945; 542,911 from May 1945 to June 1950 and 1,979 from July 1950 to 1955). 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. 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), and additionally maintains that "It seems entirely plausible, while not provable, that 700,000 German military personnel listed as missing actually died in Soviet custody".
|Year||Quarter||Number of German POWs|
Source of figures: Rüdiger Overmans, Soldaten hinter Stacheldraht. Deutsche Kriegsgefangene des Zweiten Weltkriege. Ullstein., 2000 Page 246
According to Russian historian Grigori F. Krivosheev, Soviet NKVD figures list 2,733,739 German "Wehrmacht"(Военнопленные из войск вермахта) POWs taken with 381,067 having died in captivity.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. 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 Karnermaintains that Soviet era documents indicate that 2.6 million prisoners were taken by the Soviets including 400,000 civilians.
Figures for "Wehrmacht" POW according to Soviet NKVD
|Nationality||Total accounted prisoners of war||Released and repatriated||Died in captivity|
|Czech and Slovak||69,977||65,954||4,023|
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 1610.
Other Losses is a 1989 book by Canadian writer James Bacque, in which Bacque alleges that U.S. General Dwight Eisenhower intentionally caused the deaths by starvation or exposure of around a million German prisoners of war held in Western internment camps briefly after the Second World War. Other Losses charges that hundreds of thousands of German prisoners that had fled the Eastern front were designated as "Disarmed Enemy Forces" in order to avoid recognition under The Geneva Convention (1929), for the purpose of carrying out their deaths through disease or slow starvation. Other Losses cites documents in the U.S. National Archives and interviews with people who stated they witnessed the events. The book claims that there was a "method of genocide" in the banning of Red Cross inspectors, the returning of food aid, the policy regarding shelter building, and soldier ration policy.
World War II was the deadliest military conflict in history. An estimated total of 70–85 million people perished, which was about 3% of the 1940 world population.
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 (USSR), 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.
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 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.
Forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union was considered by the Soviet Union to be part of German war reparations for the damage inflicted by Nazi Germany on the Soviet Union during World War II. German civilians in Germany and Eastern Europe were deported to the USSR after World War II as forced laborers, while ethnic Germans living in the USSR were deported during World War II and conscripted for forced labor. German prisoners of war were also used as a source of forced labor during and after the war by the Soviet Union and the Western Allies.
Systematic POW labor in the Soviet Union is associated primarily with the outcomes of World War II and covers the period of 1939-1956, from the official formation of the first POW camps, to the repatriation of the last POWs, from the Kwantung Army.
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.
Operation Solstice, also known as Unternehmen Husarenritt or the Stargard tank battle, was one of the last German armoured offensive operations on the Eastern Front in World War II.
World War II losses of the Soviet Union from all related causes were about 27,000,000, both civilian and military, although exact figures are disputed. A figure of 20 million was considered official during the Soviet era. The post-Soviet government of Russia puts the Soviet war "losses" at 26.6 million, on the basis of the 1993 study by the Russian Academy of Sciences, including people dying as a result of effects of the war. This includes 8,668,400 military deaths as calculated by the Russian Ministry of Defense.
Statistics for German World War II military casualties are divergent. The wartime military casualty figures compiled by German High Command, up until January 31, 1945, are often cited by military historians when covering individual campaigns in the war. A recent study by German historian Rüdiger Overmans found that the German military casualties were 5.3 million, including 900,000 men conscripted from outside of Germany's 1937 borders, in Austria and in east-central Europe, higher than those originally reported by the German high command. The German government reported that its records list 4.3 million dead and missing military personnel. Civilian deaths during the war include air raid deaths, estimates of German civilians killed only by Allied strategic bombing have ranged from around 350,000 to 500,000. Civilian deaths, due to the flight and expulsion of Germans, Soviet war crimes and the forced labor of Germans in the Soviet Union are disputed and range from 500,000 to over 2.0 million. According to the German government Suchdienste there were 300,000 German victims of Nazi racial, political and religious persecution. This statistic does not include 200,000 German people with disabilities who were murdered in the Action T4 and Action 14f13 euthanasia programs.
Alexander Conrady was a German general during World War II who commanded the 36th Infantry Division. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross with Oak Leaves of Nazi Germany. Conrady was taken prisoner by Soviet troops during Operation Bagration; he was released in 1955.
Walter von Boltenstern was a German general in the Wehrmacht of Nazi Germany during World War II who commanded several divisions. He was a recipient of the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Boltenstern was discharged from active service in 1945, later that year he was taken prisoner by the Soviet Red Army. He died in Soviet captivity at the Voikovo prison camp in 1952.
Karl Hans Maximilian von Le Suire was a German general during World War II who commanded the XXXXIX Mountain Corps. He was responsible for the Massacre of Kalavryta.
Heinrich Kittel was a German general during World War II who commanded the 462nd Infantry Division. As a POW, he was interned at Trent Park, where his conversations with fellow inmates were surreptitiously recorded by the British intelligence.
More than 2.8 million German soldiers surrendered on the Western Front between D-Day and the end of April 1945; 1.3 million between D-Day and March 31, 1945; and 1.5 million of them in the month of April. From early March, these surrenders seriously weakened the Wehrmacht in the West, and made further surrenders more likely, thus having a snowballing effect. On March 27, Dwight D. Eisenhower declared at a press conference that the enemy were a whipped army. In March, the daily rate of POWs taken on the Western Front was 10,000; in the first 14 days of April it rose to 39,000, and in the last 16 days the average peaked at 59,000 soldiers captured each day. The number of prisoners taken in the West in March and April was over 1,800,000, more than double the 800,000 German soldiers who surrendered to the Russians in the last three or four months of the war.. One reason for this huge difference, possibly the most important, was that German forces facing the Red Army tended to fight to the end for fear of Soviet captivity whereas German forces facing the Western Allies tended to surrender without putting up much if any resistance. Accordingly the number of German killed and wounded was much higher in the East than in the West.
Rüdiger Overmans is German military historian who specializes in World War II history. His book "German Military Losses in World War II", which he conducted as leader of a project sponsored by the Gerda Henkel foundation, is one of the most comprehensive works about the German casualties in World War II.
Some Soviet prisoners of war who survived German captivity during World War II were accused by the Soviet authorities of collaboration with the Nazis or branded as traitors under Order No. 270, which prohibited any soldier from surrendering.
Large numbers of German prisoners of war were held in Britain between the outbreak of the Second World War in September 1939 and late 1948. Their numbers reached a peak of around 400,000 in 1946, and then began to fall when repatriation began. The experiences of these prisoners differed in certain important respects from those of captured German servicemen held by other nations. The treatment of the captives, though strict, was generally humane, and fewer prisoners died in British captivity than in other countries. The British government also introduced a programme of re-education, which was intended to demonstrate to the POWs the evils of the Nazi regime, while promoting the advantages of democracy. Some 25,000 German prisoners remained in the United Kingdom voluntarily after being released from prisoner of war status.
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".