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( 115 .)


policy against certain groups of Soviet POWs in German captivity,112 it is
important to remember that those who died were not the victims of some
anonymous force or faceless system. High-level political orders coincided with
the ground-level actions of German army of¬cers and soldiers. Especially dur-
ing the early days of the con¬‚ict, German troops regularly exhibited a tendency
toward excessive violence by adhering to “no prisoner” policies, on orders
originating everywhere from army corps to platoon level. On occasion, of¬-
cers™ orders not to shoot weak and injured Soviet prisoners during forced
marches to the rear were willfully ignored by the troops assigned to them “
usually Sicherungsdivisionen or Landesschutzenbataillone, units that primarily
comprised older reservists. Once in camp, from October 1941, Soviet prisoners
were separated into two groups: a group categorized as “¬t for labor” “ and,
thus, selected for survival “ and a group categorized as “un¬t for work” “
and, thus, slated for death. While those deemed “¬t for labor” were spatially
separated from their less fortunate comrades, they nonetheless remained sub-
ject to overly heavy labor demands and indiscriminately cruel treatment “ in
the camps as well as at the workplace “ suggesting that different German
troops were involved in the violence. As a result, the death rate among those
“¬t for work” remained extraordinarily high. Even after senior civilian and
military authorities introduced a policy in the spring of 1942 that sought to
keep workers alive, Soviet POWs continued to be overworked, underfed, and
brutally treated, resulting in continued elevated mortality rates.113 It seems
that the mentalities of many guards and lower-level commanders proved too
in¬‚exible for such rapid policy shifts. From a source perspective, it has been
the personal statements and testaments of surviving Soviet POWs “ a source
base until recently neglected by Western researchers as “biased,” despite their
simultaneous reliance upon oral testimony in researching the fate of German
POWs “ that most fully demonstrate the intensity and unpredictability of the
violence in¬‚icted by German troops upon Soviet prisoners. At the same time,

Streit, Keine Kameraden, 162“71.

For opposite statements that seem unpersuasive, see Streim, Sowjetische Kriegsgefangene in

Hitlers Vernichtungskrieg (Heidelberg: Muller, 1982), 14 (who tried to put the blame chie¬‚y
on the SS), and Christian Hartmann, “Massensterben oder Massenvernichtung?Sowjetische
Kriegsgefangene im ˜Unternehmen Barbarossa™ “ Aus dem Tagebuch eines Lagerkommandan-
ten,” Vierteljahrshefte fur Zeitgeschichte 49 (2001): 97“158.
Streit, Keine Kameraden; Gerlach, Kalkulierte Morde, 796“829.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 165

it should be remembered that many guards did not participate in beatings,
torture, or killings.114
A number of factors in¬‚uenced the violence in¬‚icted upon Soviet POWs.
In part, it was the product of a racist ideology deeply entrenched within the
German military, an ideology that produced a sense of absolute superiority.
Interestingly, with the exception of ethnic Germans and Jews, relatively lit-
tle distinction was made between different ethnic groups among POWs.115
Anti-Communism represented another factor in the maltreatment of Soviet
prisoners. Given the ¬‚ight and evacuation of Soviet of¬cials from territories
conquered by the Germans, Soviet POWs were, by and large, the only rep-
resentatives of the Soviet state ever to fall into German hands. Accordingly,
the German military tended to treat them as if they were responsible for all
Soviet “crimes.”116 This mentality may have contributed to the fact that the
death rate among Soviet POWs remained signi¬cantly higher than that of the
2 million Soviet civilians deported to Germany as forced labor from 1942.
The combination of racist and anti-Bolshevik sentiments resulted in the assign-
ment of particularly exhausting and dangerous work to Soviet POWs, such as
quarry mining. Finally, local emergencies, whether concerning German troop
supplies and transportation or the fear of civil revolt and resistance, often led
regional occupation authorities to undernourish and undersupply Soviet POWs
further, a policy that only elevated their already high death rates. The death
rate in the General Government of Poland and in areas under the control of
Army Group Center in late 1941, for example, exceeded 30 percent per month.
The recurrence of such local emergencies helps to account for the substantial
discrepancies in mortality rates in different regions at any given time.117
While economic, military, and political considerations were not fully inde-
pendent of ideological motives, they played critical roles in the ongoing
crescendo of violence against Soviet POWs. Indeed, it was precisely the com-
bination of virulent racism, anti-Communism, and key moments in a deadly
military con¬‚ict that produced conditions under which extreme political and
military measures appeared justi¬ed and mass death seemed inevitable.
And yet, contrary to Soviet policy toward German POWs,118 up to 1 mil-
lion Soviet POWs served with the German armed forces, whether as (voluntary

The last point is emphasized by Jens Nagel and Jorg Osterloh, “Wachmannschaften in Lagern

fur sowjetischen Kriegsgefangene: Eine Annaherung,” in Durchschnittstater, ed. Christian
¨ ¨
Gerlach (Berlin: Verlag der Buchladen, 2000), 73“93.
However, most of the 269,000 Soviet POWs released by the end of 1941 were Ukrainians.

See OKH/GenStdH/GenQu, Abt.K.Verw. (Qu4/Kgf), “Kriegsgefangenenlage im Operations-
gebiet,” 1 January 1942, BA-MA RH 3/v.150, 4.
Memo Canaris to Keitel, 15 September 1941, in Anatomie des SS-Staates, 208“10.

¨ ¨
Christian Gerlach, Krieg, Ernahrung, Volkermord: Forschungen zur deutschen Vernich-

tungspolitik im Zweiten Weltkrieg (Hamburg: Hamburger Edition, 1998), 45“6.
But see for Soviet efforts for political reeducation of German POWs Andreas Hilger, Deutsche

Kriegsgefangene in der Sowjetunion: Kriegsfangenenpolitik, Lageralltag und Erinnerung
(Essen: Klartext, 2000), 220“54; Gert Robel, Die deutschen Kriegsgefangenen in der Sow-
jetunion: Antifa (Munich and BielefeldMunich: Giesekind, 1974).
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

and coerced) laborers (Hilfswillige or Hiwis) or, as in the case of Muslims and
Ukrainians, in armed auxiliary units of the German army and the Waffen-SS.
Here, the military™s attitude toward Soviet POWs was a product of militant
German anti-Communism, an uncompromising desire to emerge victorious
against the USSR, and a wish to “save German blood.”119 Interestingly, the
German military used Soviet POWs despite Hitler™s strong and constant resis-
tance to the idea. A history of the Hiwis, of foreign labor within the armed
forces, remains to be written.
Whereas the German leadership had at least made vague plans regarding
the treatment of Soviet POWs prior to the invasion of the USSR, the Soviet
government had made no particular provisions for German POWs in the event
of a German-Soviet War. In accordance with its refusal to ratify the 1929
Geneva Convention, the Soviet government disregarded international rules in
the treatment of Polish and Finnish POWs captured during the campaigns
of 1939 and 1940. Not only did the Soviet government refuse to supply the
International Red Cross with details concerning the fate of these POWs, Stalin
and Beria planned and implemented, in total secrecy, the execution of over
25,000 Polish prisoners “ of¬cers, of¬cials, and members of the social and
political elite “ during March and April 1940.120
A few weeks after the German invasion, amid the crumbling of the Soviet
Union™s defensive fronts and the surrender of hundreds of thousands of Soviet
troops, the Soviet government sent a note to Berlin (via the Swedish embassy)
stating that the USSR was ready “ on the basis of reciprocity “ to apply the
provisions of the 1907 Hague Convention to German POWs.121 The German
government, of course, refused to consider this “Bolshevik propaganda.” Until
the end of 1942, very few Germans were prisoners of the Red Army; indeed, in
November 1942, fewer than 20,000 German POWs had been registered in the
NKVD™s UPVI camps for prisoners of war and internees.122 Obviously, many
more had been captured than these registers suggest. A number of documents
from Soviet military sources suggest that the summary execution (“liquida-
tion”) of prisoners on the battle¬eld was not an infrequent practice, espe-
cially during the early stages of the war.123 In late August 1941, for example,

George H. Stein, The Waffen-SS: Hitler™s Elite Guard at War, 1939“1945 (Ithaca, NY: Cornell

University Press, 1966); Bernd Wegner, Hitlers politische Soldaten: Die Waffen-SS 1933“
1945, 4th ed. (Paderborn: F. Schoningh, 1990); Hans-Werner Neulen, An deutscher Seite:
Internationale Freiwillige von Wehrmacht und Waffen-SS (Munich: Universitas, 1985).
On the “Katyn Affair,” the most recent and complete study is R. G. Pikhoia and V. P. Kozlov,

eds., Katyn™ (Moscow: Mezhdunarodnyi Fond Demokratia, 1997).
On this episode, V. B. Konasov, Sud™by nemetskikh voennoplennykh v SSSR (Volodga: Izd-

vo Vologodskogo In-ta povysheniia kvali¬katsii i perepodgotovki pedagogicheskikh kadrov,
1996), 27“36.
Klaus-Dieter Muller, Konstantin Nikischkin, and Gunther Wagenlehner, eds., Die Tragodie
¨ ¨

der Gefangenschaft in Deutschland und in der Sowjetunion 1941“1956 (Koln: Bohlau, 1998).
¨ ¨
V. B. Konasov, 26; A. S. Iakushevskii, “Rasstrel v klevernom pole,” Novoe vremia 25 (1993):

40“2, here 42; M. M. Zagorul™ko, ed., Voennoplennye v SSSR, 1939“1956 (Moscow: Logos,
2000), 16“17.
State Violence “ Violent Societies 167

the commandant of several army corps issued orders condemning the “prac-
tice, contrary to international rules, of executing prisoners” and threatening
to court martial of¬cers and soldiers engaged in the summary execution of
With the capitulation of the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad, however,
Soviet military commanders and the NKVD were, for the ¬rst time, confronted
with the problem of managing large numbers of German POWs, many of
whom were in a poor physical state “ starved, sick, and frozen. Many died of
hunger, exhaustion, or battle wounds between the time of their capture and
their registration in a number of hastily organized camps; many others, unable
to continue marching, were simply shot by guards en route. Of the 110,000
POWs transferred, in accordance with NKVD Order 00398 (March 1, 1943),
from holding camps in front areas to camps in the rear, fewer than 35,000
arrived alive. All others died.125 The little information that exists on POW
transfer convoys and POW camps suggests that 20 to 25 percent of all POWs
evacuated to rear camps died during the course of their transfer; another 30 to
50 percent died within two months of their transfer.126 In the two-and-a-half
month period from February until mid-April 1943 alone, 100,000 German
POWs died. Of the 291,856 German POWs registered over the course of the
war to that point, 171,774 (or 59 percent) perished.127
As the ¬‚ow of German prisoners steadily increased, mirroring the reversal
in military fortunes, the UPVI system was reorganized in order to “put to work
and more ef¬ciently exploit POW manpower.” During the summer of 1943,
daily food rations were raised, albeit only slightly, and a network of special
hospitals for wounded and sick POWs was established.128 Nonetheless, mor-
tality rates remained high throughout 1943. A number of NKVD and military
orders condemning the “arbitrary stripping of essential personal possessions
from POWs, such as clothing and shoes”129 or the “excessive and indiscrim-
inate cruelty against POWs”130 shed light on the everyday physical violence
exerted “from below” on German prisoners of war. This violence, though, was
apparently based neither on racist ideology nor on political anti-Nazism. It
was simply considered legitimate retribution for the cruelty of an enemy that
had not respected the laws of war. At the 1943 Teheran Conference, Stalin
outlined to Churchill the Soviet Union™s postwar policy toward German POWs
and civilian internees: up to 4 million Germans would be kept for several

V. B. Konasov, 26.

M. M. Zagorul™ko, 30.

Examples in Zagorul™ko, 31“32. In over 90 percent of the cases, death was caused by “dis-


Zagorul™ko, 33.

Stefan Karner, “GUPVI: The Soviet Main Administration for Prisoners of War and Internees

during World War II,” Bulletin du Comit´ international d™Histoire de la deuxi` me guerre
e e
mondiale no. 27/28 (1995): 183; V. B. Konasov, 57.
V. B. Konasov, 58.
Christian Gerlach and Nicolas Werth

years after the war™s end in order to help rebuild what the Wehrmacht had
The rapid advance of Soviet forces in 1944 added to the UPVI camps hun-
dreds of thousands of additional POWs. The system, undersupplied in almost
every category, was not prepared to cope with such an in¬‚ux. Nevertheless,
the UPVI administration claimed that, during the summer of 1944, 80 percent
of all POWs were put to work (50 percent in the winter).132 But the largest
in¬‚ux of detainees “ both prisoners of war and civilians (mostly German men
between the ages of seventeen and ¬fty)133 “ occurred during the ¬nal months
of the war. Between January and early May 1945, the number of POWs reg-
istered in GUPVI camps increased from seven hundred to over 2 million.134
Following the surrender of the German armed forces, Soviet front line camps
took in an additional 1.3 million POWs. Registering so many prisoners and
transferring them to permanent camps in the rear were an enormous task that
took over half a year to complete, during which period many thousands died
of hunger, exhaustion, and disease. Soviet authorities, however, were obsessed
with one concern: “rationally” exploiting all available POW manpower for
reconstruction needs and repatriating all POWs unable to work (principally,
invalids and sick POWs).135 According to two projects submitted by Beria to
Stalin (on June 4 and August 10, 1945, respectively), over 930,000 POWs of
varying nationalities (among them over 600,000 Germans) were to be repa-
triated before October 15, 1945,136 and, according to GUPVI sources, over 1
million POWs of various nationalities were repatriated during all of 1945. The
great majority of these repatriation cases were invalids.137
By early 1946, after the ¬rst wave of repatriations had been completed,
nearly 2 million POWs (including 0.5 million Japanese and over 1.2 mil-
lion Germans) were, quite literally, forced to participate in the reconstruc-
tion of the Soviet Union, whether in GUPVI camps or as part of “isolated
labor battalions” under the control of the Ministry of Armed Forces. In 1946,
approximately 49 percent of POWs worked in the construction sector and in


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( 115 .)