By John Wear
Stalin: “There are no Russian prisoners of war. The Russian soldier fights on till death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community…”
Editors Comment: John Wear opens Germany’s War with a quote from his father, an American veteran of WWII, he tells a young John that “War is Hell”. No sane person can disagree. It is therefore beyond comprehension that in WWII the honorable Allies would direct so much effort into making Hell even more unbearable.
Hitler was forced to launch a preemptive attack on the Communist Soviet Union in June 1941. The Soviet Union had amassed the largest, most powerful, and best equipped offensive army in history. Stalin was on the verge of launching a massive military offensive against all of Europe. In contrast, the German army was not militarily prepared but acted in desperation knowing a brutal Communist invasion was imminent. Having lost the first strike advantage it had been built upon, the Soviet army failed to sweep across Europe.
It will become obvious that as the battle raged on and each side took POWs there were immense challenges to secure, shelter and feed them while providing for an unprepared advancing or retreating army. Then came the (un)surprising attitude of Stalin, the Communist dictator Churchill and Roosevelt expected us to know as ‘Uncle Joe’.
Stalin’s callous brutality created one of the earliest and greatest atrocities during WWII. It was par for the course with Stalin and his Communist predecessors. The question is, why did Roosevelt and Churchill promote their admiration of him? Uncle Joe was a central player in The Purge and Holodomor Holocausts that slaughtered almost 20 million men, women and children before any other atrocity is counted.
A SPECIAL FRIENDSHIP FDR & UNCLE JOE, A NICKNAME USED BY CHURCHILL & FDR TO PROMOTE CUDDLY STALIN
THE AXIS NATIONS FEARED COMMUNISM WITH GOOD REASON.
Death of Soviet Prisoners of War in German Captivity
One of the great tragedies of World War II was the starvation of over 3 million Soviet POWs in German captivity. This mass starvation of Soviet POWs is often cited as proof of German villainy. However, the mass starvation of Soviet POWs in German captivity was largely caused by Josef Stalin. Stalin adamantly refused to cooperate with repeated German attempts to reach mutual agreement on the treatment of POWs by Germany and the Soviet Union. Stalin had a great hatred for Soviet soldiers captured by German forces, and essentially refused to acknowledge their existence. Stalin refused to cooperate with the Red Cross, Germany, and other relief agencies to provide food for the captured Soviet POWs.
The German army did not have adequate food to feed its own troops in the Soviet Union, much less some 5.7 million captured Soviet troops. Without any cooperation from Josef Stalin, and consequently with no help from the Red Cross or other relief agencies, Hitler made the decision to feed his troops first. A major portion of the Soviet POWs who died from hunger could have been saved had Stalin not called them traitors and denied them the right to live. By preventing the Red Cross from distributing food to the Soviet POWs in German captivity, Stalin needlessly caused the death of a large percentage of these Soviet POWs
Soviet POWs transported in an open wagon train. September 1941
Death of Soviet Prisoners of War in German Captivity
The Soviet Union was not a party to The Hague Conventions. Nor was the Soviet Union a signatory of the Geneva Convention of 1929, which defined more precisely the conditions to be accorded to prisoners of war (POWs). Germany nevertheless approached the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) immediately after war broke out with the Soviet Union to attempt to regulate the conditions of prisoners on both sides. The ICRC contacted Soviet ambassadors in London and Sweden, but the Soviet leaders in Moscow refused to cooperate. Germany also sent lists of their Russian prisoners to the Soviet government until September 1941. The German government eventually stopped sending these lists in response to the Soviet Union’s refusal to reciprocate.
Over the winter Germany made further efforts to establish relations with the Soviets in an attempt to introduce the provisions of The Hague and Geneva Conventions concerning POWs. Germany was rebuffed again. Hitler himself made an appeal to Stalin for prisoners’ postal services and urged Red Cross inspection of the camps. Stalin responded:
“There are no Russian prisoners of war. The Russian soldier fights on till death. If he chooses to become a prisoner, he is automatically excluded from the Russian community. We are not interested in a postal service only for Germans.”
British historian Robert Conquest confirms that Stalin adamantly refused to cooperate with repeated German attempts to reach mutual agreement on the treatment of POWs by Germany and the Soviet Union. Conquest writes:
When the Germans approached the Soviets, through Sweden, to negotiate observance of the provisions of the Geneva Convention on prisoners of war, Stalin refused. The Soviet soldiers in German hands were thus unprotected even in theory. Millions of them died in captivity, through malnutrition or maltreatment. If Stalin had adhered to the convention (to which the USSR had not been a party) would the Germans have behaved better? To judge by their treatment of other “Slav submen” POWs (like the Poles, even surrendering after the Warsaw Rising), the answer seems to be yes. (Stalin’s own behavior to [Polish] prisoners captured by the Red Army had already been demonstrated at Katyn and elsewhere. German prisoners captured by the Soviets over the next few years were mainly sent to forced labor camps.)
An improvised camp for Soviet prisoners of war. August 1942
The ICRC soon became aware of the Soviet government’s callous abandonment of Soviet soldiers who fell into German hands. In August 1941, Hitler permitted a Red Cross delegation to visit the German camp for Soviet POWs at Hammerstadt. As a result of this visit, the Red Cross requested that the Soviet government send food parcels to the Soviet POWs. The Soviet government adamantly refused. It replied that sending food in this situation and under fascist control was the same as making presents to the enemy.
In February 1942, the ICRC told Molotov that Great Britain had given permission for the Soviet Union to buy food for captured Soviet prisoners in her African colonies. Also, the Canadian Red Cross was offering a gift of 500 vials of vitamins, and Germany had agreed to collective consignments of food for POWs. The Red Cross reported:
“All these offers and communications from the ICRC to the Soviet authorities remained unanswered, either directly or indirectly.”
All other appeals by the ICRC and parallel negotiations undertaken by neutral or friendly nations met with no better response.
The Soviet refusals to accept aid came as a surprise to the Red Cross. The Red Cross had not read Order No. 270, which was published by Stalin on Aug. 16, 1941. This order states in regard to captured Soviet POWs:
If…instead of organizing resistance to the enemy, some Red Army men prefer to surrender, they shall be destroyed by all possible means, both ground-based and from the air, whereas the families of the Red Army men who have been taken prisoner shall be deprived of the state allowance and relief.
The commanders and political officers…who surrender to the enemy shall be considered malicious deserters, whose families are liable to be arrested [the same] as the families of deserters who have violated the oath and betrayed their Motherland.
Order No. 270 reveals Stalin’s great hatred for Soviet soldiers captured by German forces. It also reveals the danger to innocent children and relatives of Soviet POWs. Hundreds of thousands of Russian women and children were murdered simply because their father or son had been taken prisoner. Given Stalin’s attitude, the German leaders resolved to treat Soviet prisoners no better than the Soviet leaders were treating captured German prisoners.
The result was disastrous for surrendered Russian soldiers in German camps. Captured Red Army soldiers had to endure long marches from the field of battle to the camps. Prisoners who were wounded, sick, or exhausted were sometimes shot on the spot. When Soviet prisoners were transported by train, the Germans usually used open freight cars with no protection from the weather. The camps also often provided no shelter from the elements, and the food ration was typically below survival levels. As a result, Russian POWs died in large numbers in German camps. Many Russian survivors of the German camps described them as “pure hell.”
One German officer describes the conditions for captured Russian POWs in the German camps:
The abject misery in the prisoner-of-war camps had now passed all bounds. In the countryside one could come across ghost-like figures, ashen grey, starving, half naked, living perhaps for days on end on corpses and the bark of trees…I visited a prison camp near Smolensk where the daily death rate reached hundreds. It was the same in transit camps, in villages, along the roads. Only some quite unprecedented effort could check the appalling death toll.
By one estimate, 5,754,000 Russians were captured by Germany during World War II, of whom 3.7 million died. Another source estimates that perhaps 3.1 million Soviet POWs died in German captivity. The starvation of Russian soldiers in German camps stiffened the resistance of the Red Army, since soldiers would rather fight to the death than starve in agony as German captives. As knowledge of German policies spread, some Soviet citizens began to think that Soviet control of their country was perhaps preferable to German control.
The death of millions of Russian POWs in German captivity constitutes one of the major war crimes of the Second World War. However, much of the blame for the terrible fate of these Soviet soldiers was due to the inflexibly cruel policies of Joseph Stalin. A major portion of the Soviet POWs who died from hunger could have been saved had Stalin not called them traitors and denied them the right to live. By preventing the ICRC from distributing food to the Soviet POWs in German captivity, Stalin needlessly caused the death of a large percentage of these Soviet POWs.
A Red Army sergeant who was captured by the Germans when his unconscious body was dug out from the ruins of Odessa later joined Gen. Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Liberation Army. The sergeant bitterly complained of the Soviet Union’s betrayal of its POWs:
Tell me, why did the Soviet Government forsake us? Why did it forsake millions of prisoners? We saw prisoners of all nationalities, and they were taken care of. Through the Red Cross they received parcels and letters from home; only the Russians received nothing. In Kassel I saw American Negro prisoners, and they shared their cakes and chocolates with us. Then why didn’t the Soviet Government, which we considered our own, send us at least some plain hard tack?… Hadn’t we fought? Hadn’t we defended the Government? Hadn’t we fought for our country? If Stalin refused to have anything to do with us, we didn’t want to have anything to do with Stalin!
Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn also complained of the shameful betrayal of Soviet soldiers by the Russian Motherland. Solzhenitsyn wrote:
The first time she betrayed them was on the battlefield, through ineptitude…The second time they were heartlessly betrayed by the Motherland was when she abandoned them to die in captivity. And the third time they were unscrupulously betrayed was when, with motherly love, she coaxed them to return home, with such phrases as “The Motherland has forgiven you! The Motherland calls you!” and snared them the moment they reached the frontiers. It would appear that during the one thousand one hundred years of Russia’s existence as a state there have been, ah, how many foul and terrible deeds! But among them was there ever so multimillioned foul a deed as this: to betray one’s own soldiers and proclaim them traitors?