By Wilfried Heink
The next chapter is titled “Soviet Union” (Sowjetunion), and begins with “Morgenröte der Befreiung“ (The dawn of liberation). It is well worth the effort to go into this before continuing with the plight of German POWs, this time in the Soviet Union (SU), for it lays the foundation for what happened to Germans who fell into the hands of the Red Army, soldiers and civilians alike.
To reiterate yet again, the publishing of the book was brought about because of the lies – concerning the conduct of German soldiers – emanating from the communist countries before the 1975 thirtieth anniversary of the defeat of “Fascism”. When the Organization of Repatriates (Organisation der Heimkehrer [Organization]) asked the German Chancellor to stop this defamation of the former soldiers, to set the record straight based on the material amassed (see Part I), the Polish news agency PAP wrote on April 26, 1975 that this defamation is an invention by revanchist organizations in an effort to rehabilitate the German armed forces (Verbrechen der Sieger, p. 169). The paper continued to say that the Organization is comprised of officers and soldiers who, because of their conduct in the war – ‘to put it mildly’ – had to remain a little longer in the POW camps. But, so the Organization, those soldiers did not need to be rehabilitated, their conduct was, for the most part, beyond approach. And, most of them, kept under horrendous conditions, were released only because the German government promised the reinstitution of diplomatic ties with Moscow (p. 170).
But nonetheless, in April 1975, “Novosti”, a Russian news service, saw the need to refute “the old stories about atrocities committed on German POWs” by publishing the USSR Decree Concerning Prisoners of War of July 1, 1941. No need to go into this, it promised POWs heaven on earth but was totally ignored by the Russian camp authorities, if they were even aware of it. Same for the POWs, if anyone of them would have known about this Ukase and asked guards to adhere to it, he would most likely have been shot on the spot (p.171). In fact, the publishing of those rules, which were ignored in Toto, was an insult to the 1.1 million German POWs who – under horrendous conditions – perished in Soviet camps. Even the – never published – documentation compiled by Germans could never tell the whole story because Russian archives remain locked, with good reason (p.176).
Russian soldiers were saturated with hatred for Germans. This is of course no excuse for the atrocities committed on POWs and civilians alike, but it was the Soviet authorities that had their commissars and the like preach hatred. The Jew Ilja Ehrenburg was one of them, just one example of what he had to say: “There is nothing as beautiful as a German corpse. Kill the Germans! – your old mother begs you, kill the Germans! – your child pleads. Germans are not humans, they are wild beasts” (p.177).
In an interview with “Sowjetunion heute“ (Today’s Soviet Union), a glossy magazine published by the Soviet Embassy in Bonn, Pantelejemon Ponomarenko, the Red Army general in charge of partisan activities, stated that his partisans killed, wounded or imprisoned 1.5 million German soldiers and support staff (with imprisonment equal to a death sentence in most cases). The general forgot to mention anything about partisan warfare, the butchering by them, the authors refer the reader to a book by the Latvian officer Valdis Redelis “Partisanenkrieg…”, I’ve ordered the book and will follow up on this. Germans did react to partisan brutalities, but it was the partisans who initiated it and the “Commissar Order”, which in most cases did not even reach the troops, had nothing to do with the reprisal measures taken, they were taken out of necessity (p. 178). Ponomarenko, in that interview, identified communism as the ‘core’ of the partisan movement, and it is no secret that Jews had invented communism. The German leadership knew all of this and no doubt Jews were looked at closely in the occupied territories. For good reason, for not only were Jews “carriers of the Bolshevik idea”, they were also “leaders of the partisan movement” (R. Aschenauer, Krieg ohne Grenzen, Druffel-Verlag, 1982, p. 252). “Where there are partisans, there are Jews, and where there are Jews, there are partisans” (F.W. Seidler, Die Wehrmacht im Partisanenkrieg, Pour le Mérite-Verlag für Militärgeschichte, 1999, p. 124).
“Jews in the work camps sabotaged guns and other products they were making for the Germans.
Partisans with ammunition blew up thousands of Nazi supply trains, making it harder for the Germans to fight the war. In Lithuania, Jewish partisans were responsible for significant damage to Nazi trains.. Partisans also destroyed numerous Nazi power plants and factories, and focused their attention on other military and strategic targets, not on civilians.” http://www.jewishpartisans.org/t_switch.php?pageName=what+is+what+2
The thousands of Nazi supply trains part is probably an exaggeration, left over from the time when Jews bragged about their involvement in illegal warfare. This has now all but disappeared, Jews are to be seen as innocent victims.
On June 29, 1941, the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the de facto ruling body, issued the order for the organization of partisan units, so-called diversion groups, with Ponomarenko later appointed as commander (p. 179). Stalin publicized this order in his radio address of July 3, 1941. Following this, men who could handle weapons, but also woman were recruited, Children also joined, see Part II (p. 180).
To be successful, and to ensure cooperation, the partisans also terrorized the population. Anyone suspected of collaborating with the Germans was killed, because the population was at first friendly toward the Germans, as those who were part of the eastern campaign know (p.180). This changed when the partisans unleashed their terror against the populace. When they entered a village they immediately killed the village elder, then they locked the family into the house and burned it down. The villagers fled into the forest, but when discovered by the partisans they were killed. The partisans left mountains of bodies behind, as well as distraught woman and horrendous destruction (p. 181). And to be sure, all of those killed by the partisans were no doubt also blamed on the Germans. And as attacks by partisans on civilians were carried out with partisans at times doubtlessly wearing German uniforms, hatred towards Germans was the result, which was part of what was intended.
The Ukrainian partisan chief Fjedorov (no first name provided) bragged that they had killed more than 25,000 Germans and derailed 683 trains transporting soldiers and war material. In a radio address he gave instructions as to how to kill a German guard. Sneak up to him and kill him with a strike to the head, using an axe. All of it has to be done quickly to prevent him from crying out. Fedorov published a book, translated into German: “Das illegale Gebietskomitee arbeitet” (The illegal territorial committee at work) (pp. 181-82). That book has also fallen into the black hole.
In another radio address of May 1, 1942, Stalin told his listeners that the partisans have become more brutal, more merciless (p. 183). A competition was initiated between partisan units; each partisan had to kill at least five fascists and has to take part in at least three actions per month (p.184). Ponomarenko described – in a book by the English authors Dixon and Heilbrunn “Communist Guerilla Warfare” – the ‘dress code’ of partisans: Whoever observed the Bogdan group could not know what to make of it. More than half of them were dressed in German uniforms, some wear civilian cloth manufactured in Rovno or Lutsk, others Slovakian and Polish uniforms. In the supply wagon clothing’s for all sorts of partisan activities are carried along: SS uniforms, Italian uniform pants, etc. Ponomarenko admits here that his partisans were bandits, dressed in German and other uniforms and thus not protected by any convention (p. 185).
Now to the ‘liberation’ by the Red Army. In the third edition of “Geschichte der Kommunistischen Partei der Sowjetunion” (History of the communist party in the SU), published in 1970 (1971 in German), we read:
“Die Rote Armee zog als Befreier nach dem Westen. Dem Sowjetvolk, das für seine Freiheit und Unabhängigkeit kämpfte, konnten die Schicksale der anderen Völker, die unter dem Joch des Faschismus schmachteten, nicht gleichgültig sein. Den Ideen des proletarischen Internationalismus treu, verwies die Partei während des ganzen Krieges immer wieder auf die historische Befreiermission der sowjetischen Soldaten. Von diesem hohen Ziel beflügelt, brachte die Rote Armee den Völkern Europas die Befreiung von der faschistischen Sklaverei… Über den versklavten Völkern Europas leuchtet die Morgenröte der Befreiung auf.” . (Seite 623)
(The Red Army moved westward as a liberator. The people of the SU, who fought for their freedom and independence, could not be indifferent about the fate of others who still suffered under the Fascist joke. True to the ideals of proletarian Internationalism, the party always pointed out the mission of liberation to the Russian soldier. Carried by that lofty idealism, the Red Army liberated the people of Europe from Fascist slavery…The dawn of liberation has broken over the people of Europe; p. 189).
Reading this I am reminded of my time in the GDR. The same slogans were used year in year out, while reality differed substantially. The Czechs experienced the liberation in October 1944. The country received a communist regime, Benes, who had returned from exile, was forced to resign in June 1948. On March 9, 1948, foreign minister Masaryk ‘fell’ out of a window, a protest march of 10,000 Prague students was greeted with gunfire (p.191).
Ukraine did not fare any better. According to a report compiled by the Kersten- Committee, published in Germany in 1962, the regime of terror started with the arrival of the Bolsheviks in Kiev. Anyone appearing suspicious was murdered; mass murder became the norm. When the Germans arrived in 1941 they found 6,000 mutilated bodies in the basement of the Lvov prison, and that is just one example (pp. 191-92).
Now to the Baltic’s: here also, when the Soviets first occupied the countries, the terror began. In 1941 – 10,000 Estonian men, woman and children were deported to Siberia, 34,000 from Latvia, among them 1,877 school children and 1,188 children under six years old, 34,260 from Lithuania. All of it as ordered by the butcher Serov. What was started then was completed in 1944 following the ‘liberation’: From 1945 to 1949, about 150,000 Estonians were taken to the SU, as well as 290,000 Latvians. The number of Lithuanians taken is not known. Those suspected of collaboration with Germans were executed (p. 194).
Poland also did not do so well during the liberation. As long as the Polish resistance fought along side the Red Army they were tolerated, but when the fighting stopped the officers were separated from the men and shot or taken to camps. Between July 1944 and 1945, 50,000 Polish resistance fighters were arrested, 20 commanders executed because of their expressed loyalty to the government in exile in London. Show trials were conducted and death sentences handed out. 40,000-resistance fighters were sent to Siberia, according to Mikolayczyk, head of the government in exile (p. 196).
Romania: Of the 3,331 priests and clergyman still around in 1945, by 1953 — 1,462 had been killed, 250 were missing, and 400-500 were jailed. 40 concentration camps still existed in 1955; in 1954 about 230,000 Romanian POWs were still held in Russian work camps, and 100,000 ethnic Germans were deported by the Red Army. Between 1940 and 1941 and after 1945, some 850,000 Rumanians from Bessarabia and Bukovina (Germans?) were taken to the SU. 30,000 men and woman were forced to help build the Black Sea-Danube Canal, among them priests, professors, farmers, workers and students. The Russian guards took women to be interrogated; they later returned beaten up and many of them had been raped. Those who became pregnant often died. When the camps were closed, the inmates were loaded into cattle cars and driven around for weeks, aimlessly. The majority died, because no real food was provided and no water (pp. 198-99). This was taken from testimony given before a UN commission; the US had sent Mark F. Ethridge to investigate. But here, too, one wonders if the part about transports in cattle cars without water was not later adopted by Jews.
Many more details provided, too many to list here, but nothing of it mentioned at the IMT, Russians acting as judges and prosecutors, the Red Army portrayed as liberators – as the most humane army in the world. And Germans are blamed for anyone missing, no doubt in those cases as well. East Germans were of course also hit hard by the liberation. Not just in the eastern part of Germany proper but also while trying to flee their ancestral homes in East Prussia, Silesia, etc., with Russian tanks plowing through refugee convoys consisting of women, children and old people for the most part. Hubertus Knabe wrote about it, in “Tag der Befreiung?” (Day of Liberation?, Propyläen Verlag, Berlin 2005), but that book will have to be discussed another time.
Russian officers told their troops that they are allowed to plunder and rape with impunity, and that they did. Official historiography wants us to believe that the conquest of Silesia and finally Berlin was delayed by two to three month because of stiff German resistance. Not so. It was the propaganda – and orders – hammered into the Russian soldiers that, when they entered Germany, they had now stepped into the “cave of the Fascist animal” (Höhle des faschistischen Tieres), and should take revenge however they please. The logical consequence was that the troops refused to follow orders, quasi deserting. Following the war Marshals Shukov and Chuikov openly debated if the war could not have ended three month sooner. Der Spiegel, a German magazine, wrote about it on July 14, 1965:
„Eine historische Sicht des ,Wunders an der Oder’, die von den Erinnerungen der beiden Marschälle erheblich abweicht, gab einer ihrer damaligen Untergebenen: Exhauptmann Boris Olschanski, der jetzt in Argentinien lebt. In seinem Buch ,Wir kommen vom Osten’ nennt der ehemalige Mathematikdozent die Gründe, die seiner Ansicht nach für den Abbruch der russischen Berlin-Offensive im Februar 1945 maßgebend waren: Auf der Jagd nach Frauen, Beute und Schnaps hätten sich ganze Teile der Roten Armee in den ostdeutschen Weiten verflüchtigt. Vergebens hätten die höheren Stäbe versucht, die plündernde, mordende und sengende Truppe wieder in die Gewalt zu bekommen. Fluchend habe sich der Chef der 5. Stoßarmee, Generalleutnant Bersarin (später der erste Stadtkommandant von Berlin) auf den Weg gemacht, um mit vorgehaltener Pistole die Befolgung seiner Befehle zu erzwingen. Doch auch Bersarin resignierte: ,Man kann nicht zwei Hasen auf einmal fangen: rächen und kämpfen. Die Armee hat sich aufgelöst, hol’s der Teufel!’”
(A former subordinate of the two Marshals, Captain Boris Olshanski who now lives in Argentine, provided an account of the ‘miracle on the Oder’ which differs from that of the two Marshals. In his book “We are arriving from the east” the former professor of mathematics gives his view of the reasons for the abandonment of the Berlin offensive in February 1945: In their hunt for woman, loot and booze whole segments of the Red Army vanished into the vast expanses of eastern Germany. The commanders tried in vain to regain control over the plundering, murdering and scorching troops. Lieutenant General Bersarin, swearing and with his gun pointing tried to have his orders adhered to. But he also resigned: ‘Impossible to catch two rabbits at the same time: revenge and fighting. The army has disintegrated, to hell with it!’; pp. 206-07).
I experienced some of it, our home only about 50km from the Oder/Neiße. And although by then Russian officers had regained some control, raping and pillaging still went on for days. On the other hand, German soldiers were severely punished if caught looting; some were shot (p. 207). Even the burning down of villages — which housed partisans and the villagers supporting them — was prohibited (p. 188).
It was not only the likes of the Jew Ilja Ehrenburg who urged Russian soldiers to kill Germans at will. In the Soviet Union no actions by individuals were tolerated, one can thus be certain that this incitement for hatred, the call to murder, was officially sanctioned. The so-called Kommissars played a large role in it, spreading communist ideology, i.e., hatred for Germans. They also positioned themselves behind the lines and ‘urged’ their soldiers on, discouraging any attempt to surrender with machine gun volleys into the formations of their own soldiers (Victor Suvorov, Marschall Schukow. Lebensweg über Leichen, Pour le Mérite, Verlag für Militärgeschichte, Selent, 2002, p. 262f). Hitler was aware of the commissars and issued the so-called ‘Commissar Order’, that order was also largely ignored by German officers, and thus ineffective, to the detriment of German POWs.
The actions by commissars not only resulted in spreading hatred of anything German but also made for a desperate type of warfare on the part of Russian soldiers. Afraid to move back, even in hopeless situations, out of fear of getting shot by the NKVD troops stationed behind the lines and commanded by commissars, they moved forward, resulting in what can only be called massacres. Suvorov describes this in the book mentioned above, but former German soldiers have also told me this. One of them, a former officer, told me that some of his soldiers became violently ill, vomiting, but had to continue firing into the onrushing Russian soldiers, who were often drunk, surrender would have been suicide. I fully understand that I am repeating hearsay, but these people had no reason to lie and Suvorov confirms what they told me.
Right at the start of the war, German soldiers who had been ambushed were found with their eyes gorged out and mutilated in the most horrendous fashion. One was found with his arms tied backward around a tree, his hands nailed to it, his eyes gorged out and his tongue cut out, some of them had their genital cut off (pp. 208-09). During the fight near Selisharova in November 1941 a field hospital with 30 to 40 wounded fell into the hands of the Russians. When the Germans recaptured the area they found only charred remains. The Russians had piled the wounded into a stack, poured gasoline over them and burned them. Woman also participated in the atrocities, slitting the wounded open. Here also pages upon pages of this and that the reason the Soviets are trying to prevent this from being published (pp. 208-13).
The numbers of those killed, unless found by Germans, will never be known, even if Russian archives should be opened, for the Russians did not keep records (p.176). The same goes for those German soldiers who died in captivity. Estimates of those captured range from 3.2 to 3.5 million, with about 1.1 million of them dying while held prisoner.
As for the treatment of POWs we have a repeat of what happened to them in Yugoslav captivity. It also started with Todesmärsche und Todestransporte (death marches and transports), the caption of a chapter (pp.219ff). The intent of the marches was to impress the population, German POWs displayed as trophies. It started with Stalingrad, bodies of German POWs covered with snow lining the marching routes. The temporary camp Beketova held 50,000 to 60,000 prisoners, 42,000 of them died of hunger and diseases. And as was the norm, German POWs were stripped clean, anything of any value, perceived or real, taken from them. During drunken parties Russian soldiers adorned themselves with the rings, watches and medals they had stolen (p. 220). About one quarter of the marchers died, either just collapsed or were shot as stragglers or while trying to reach drinking water.
Those transported by train did not fare better, the numbers of dead as high as those from the marches (p. 224). Of the about two million Germans taken prisoner outside the territorial SU, 250,000 died before they reached POW camps (p. 225). One of the harassments consisted of feeding the transported with salted herrings, but not supplying any drinking water.
Life in the camps was not better, with the Soviets making an effort to curtail the activities of the IRC; East-Berlin RC officials were taken to the SU and interned (p. 229). Bugs, fleas and rats were steady companions. In one of the camps with 5,000 inmates the toilet consisted of 4 holes dug into the ground, 15 small bowls for washing, and the death rate about one per hour (p. 234). And here also, the list goes on and on.
As in the Yugoslav camps, in Soviet camps German communists also formed Antifa (anti fascist) committees, supposedly organized to look after the welfare of the POWs. But they were traitors of the worst kind, setting work norms so high that many of the POWs died trying to fulfill them. They also participated in torture, pointing out victims to the officials. Those ‘confessions’ were later also used to convict in the show trials (pp. 237-245). Efforts were made by Antifa members to plant distrust between officers and men, successful to some extend, for rewards were offered (pp. 246-252).
Hunger was also a steady companion, making willing participants out of some to just have the ration increased if only for a day. To understand the actions of those a Russian proverb is offered: Someone with a full stomach will never understand the hungry. And they did not just go hungry for a few weeks, but for years (p. 253). The German commission formed to investigate the plight of POWs concerned themselves with rations, the details filling one of the 15, as of now unpublished, volumes. An average daily rations consisted of 400-600 grams bread, vegetables only in soups with traces of meat in them but mostly just water with clover or some corn in it. The consequence was dystrophy and diarrhea, with death the final solution in most cases. Packages send from home were opened, but still at times they were virtual life savers (p. 254). A few details: 60% of the bread consisted of water which was dispersed at 1:00 in the morning; the ‘bread’ was served hot in an almost liquid form, but the hunger forced it down (p. 256). Frozen potatoes were used and when spring arrived, the stench emanating from them was overpowering, causing many to vomit; unable to eat the ‘soup’. Regardless, the full, required, calorie count was recorded every day (p. 257).
And it must not be forgotten that the POWs were forced to work under those conditions, hard work in many cases, mining or work in the forest, with death bringing in a rich harvest. “Those who died did so in spite of all the efforts by Russian doctors”, or so “Sowjetunion heute” has it. True, some doctors tried but it was the inhuman communist system that was not interested in their survival. And all efforts made to reach an understanding must address this also (pp. 333-34).
Reading this is not easy for me, having experienced some of the effects of ‘liberation’ by the Red Army. Also, following the war, those soldiers lucky enough to have survived the Soviet POW camps talked openly about it; I heard many a horror story. But that side of it has now disappeared. German soldiers are now portrayed as criminals, with the other side fighting the ‘good war’. And historians participate in this distortion, willingly. One can only hope that there is a higher justice.
To be continued…