Left to right: Wehrmacht General Rudolf Toussaint, SS General Werner Lorenz and Soviet General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov in Prague Castle’s Spanish Hall Nov. 14, 1944.
Communists buried legacy of Soviet General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov and his battalion of POWs that helped free Prague from the Nazis.
For The Prague Post
November 11th, 2004
Some six decades ago, Prague Castle hosted one of the most extraordinary events in the city’s long history. A conference held Nov. 14, 1944, in the Castle’s Spanish Hall brought together Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov, a Soviet General (indeed the “Savior of Moscow,” who had stopped the Nazi armies from taking that city three years earlier) and much of the Nazi upper echelon. Vlasov would convince the Nazis to back a plan he had devised — a last-ditch effort to arm prisoners of war to battle Stalin’s forces.
Amidst a hall packed with high-ranking SS and Wehrmacht officers (including SS General Werner Lorenz and General Rudolf Toussaint), sat representatives from all of the Slavic countries overrun by the Nazis and other figures of the Nazi State. Vlasov looked more like a school master than a general. In his youth he thought of becoming a priest.
SS Reichsfuhrer Heinrich Himmler had sent along his apologies and a message. Adolf Hitler, however, couldn’t quite bring himself to do either. Hitler was, in fact, not certain that Vlasov’s plan — to arm a million and a half Russian POWs, mainly Ukrainians, to bring down Stalin and communism — was such a good idea. He had rejected it outright in 1943, but now Germany had its back to the wall. The Nazis were in full retreat over Eastern Europe and any help the Fuhrer could get from any quarter might salvage part of his wild dreams or simply help to save mainland Germany — even if these helpers were Untermenschen, or sub-humans. The war was only six months from its end; the noose was gradually tightening.
When Vlasov took the podium he launched into an extraordinary manifesto of his own: of equality and democracy in the new Russia which would be liberated by his army. This must have made some of the SS and others in the hall that day feel rather uncomfortable; the manifesto included the abolition of forced labor and the release of all political prisoners. Most significantly, Vlasov had refused Himmler’s demand to include “an unequivocal stand on the Jewish question.” In fact not a single word in Vlasov’s speech had referred to Hitler or to National Socialism.
After the conference, Vlasov — who was still a Nazi prisoner — was taken to the Lucerna Film Club, just off Wenceslas Square, where he partied with Prague film stars, producers and directors. After more than two years in captivity and trying to push his cause, he deserved a little relaxation. At 2 o’clock on the morning of Nov. 15 his special train whisked him to Berlin.
When news that Vlasov had a green light to form this new army circulated via Russian POWs’ own newspaper, by the end of the month new recruits were signing up at a rate of up to 60,000 per day.
‘We will defeat Stalin’
Vlasov had been captured by the Germans in July 1942. After six months in captivity he confessed to his captors that he did in fact hate Stalin and the whole Bolshevik state. “Give me your prisoners,” Vlasov told them, “and together we will defeat Stalin.” How he figured he could then wriggle out of his new commitment to a dictatorship just as evil is not known. But the idea was sound: it would have got 1.5 million POWs in appalling conditions fighting fit again — and no doubt they would eventually have turned on their new masters. Had the Nazis embraced this idea then, in early 1943, then indeed there would have been a real prospect of success, despite their defeat at Stalingrad.
Vlasov didn’t get to meet Himmler until September 1944 — and despite winning him over, it was still impossible for Hitler to understand the necessity, not until November of that year, by which time the war was well and truly lost.
Between that November and April of 1945, two divisions of “Vlasov’s Army,” more than 50,000 men, were formed, equipped and trained. Nine officers were Jews, concealed by Vlasov personally. Germany could not afford to equip and provide munitions for more men. This army had its own hospitals, training schools for officers, supply systems and air force. And on April 14, 1945, it was sent not to liberate Russia but to try to halt the Soviet advance across the Oder, only a few hours’ drive from Berlin.
Seeing how hopeless, as well as pointless, the situation was for his force, Vlasov turned his men back and decided to march across Bohemia to get to Pilsen — where he would deliver them as prisoners to the Americans, who were halted there. Stalin had already made it known that if any of Vlasov’s men fell into his hands they would receive long and painful deaths.
The army stopped to regroup near Beroun, just a half-hour drive southwest of Prague. By now it was early May. Hitler had already committed suicide. On May 5, members of the Czech National Committee came out from Prague to see Vlasov. Their uprising against the Nazis had begun but the planned British weapons drop had not come. They did not know then that Stalin had stopped Churchill. Stalin’s plan, as at Warsaw, was to wait and watch the patriots and the Nazis kill each other and destroy the city.
Erased from history
Eventually Vlasov was persuaded and by May 6 the First Division, 25,000 men with armor, set off in three columns to save the uprising — and Prague. In 36 hours the Nazis had surrendered and the uprising had succeeded. What followed then was a betrayal by the Czech National Committee of the army that had rescued them, more betrayals by the Americans and the British and then the Soviet Army’s arrival in Prague being heralded as the liberators of the city. Stalin saw to it that Vlasov’s Army would never make the history books and few Czechs even today really know of its contribution. Even the little street plaques which list those patriots who fell at that spot during the Prague Uprising do not list Vlasov’s men. Sometimes the plaques simply say “… and others.” That’s them.
The dramatic story of Vlasov’s Army in the liberation of Prague and their subsequent march to Plzen and the tragic events that unfolded there will be told on their 60th anniversary, next year. For now, the Prague “Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia” conference is an interesting footnote of history. However, it was too little, too late. If only Himmler and his equally satanic master had woken up to the opportunity earlier, the whole postwar story of Czechoslovakia might have been very different indeed.
Strictly speaking, the Vlasov armies were those World War II Soviet troops who switched sides while German prisoners to join former Soviet general Andrei Vlasov in the war against the Soviet Union, thereby serving as a German propaganda weapon to undermine support for the regime of Joseph Stalin. More broadly, the term applies to Soviet citizens, numbering perhaps in the millions, who served Germany in some capacity during World War II.
From the first months of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the German army had relied on Soviet auxiliaries for manual labor and personal service. These ‘‘volunteer helpers’’ (Hilfswillige, or Hiwis), while not officially sanctioned, were vitally necessary to hard-pressed German units. As casualties mounted, the German military relied more heavily on Osttruppen, Soviets under arms in German service. Because of Adolf Hitler’s adamant opposition on racial and ideological grounds to arming Slavs, they served on an ad hoc basis under German officers, as individuals or units of battalion- size or smaller. Primarily intended for security and antipartisan warfare, some did see frontline combat.
By 1942, a growing number of German officers and officials believed that victory might be more easily won by moderating German occupation policy and making the war, either in propaganda or reality, a struggle not to conquer Russia but to end the tyranny of Stalin and Bolshevism. The undoubted usefulness of Soviet manpower, together with the support of Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946), Hitler’s minister for occupied territories in the east, and Joseph Goebbels (1897– 1945), his propagandist, meant Soviet-manned units became more widespread and officially approved in late 1941 and 1942. Many served garrison duty in the west, freeing German troops for the eastern front.
These included a variety of national legions for Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and Tatars, and still others for Baltic nationalities. Slavs presented greater difficulties, as Nazi racial theories consigned them to subhuman status. As a result, the German military and later the SS (Schutzstaffel) strove to avoid calling Slavic units by Slavic names. Russians and Ukrainians, for example, were enrolled in large numbers into ‘‘Cossack’’ units.
What drove so many Soviets to support the German war aimed at enslaving or exterminating their own people? For most rank-and-file, the goal was escaping starvation in a German prisoner-of-war camp. By contrast to British and American prisoners, generally treated by Nazi Germany in accord with international law, Soviet prisoners suffered appalling treatment that killed them by the millions and encouraged many to join the Germans merely to survive. Others saw German service as a means to get close enough to Soviet lines to escape to their homeland. They had little idea that returned Soviet prisoners of any sort were treated as traitors by Stalin’s regime. For still others, including Vlasov, the chief motivation was genuine anticommunism.
A fundamental contradiction lay at the heart of German policy in the east. Germans wishing to enlist Soviet support found more humane occupation policies and political concessions were utterly at odds with the ravenous territorial aggression that led Hitler to launch the war. Recruiting laborers from prisoner-of-war camps did little to solve the German propaganda problem of winning Soviet support for a German war of conquest and extermination. By 1942, German officials were already wishing for a ‘‘Russian de Gaulle’’ to unify and inspire anti-Stalin Soviets. They found their de Gaulle in Andrei Vlasov.
Born a peasant, Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov (1900– 1946) joined the new Red Army in 1919. Serving with skill and distinction, he enjoyed a successful career, and spent 1938–1939 as a Soviet military advisor in China. He returned to the Soviet Union and developed a reputation as a master at turning bad units into showpieces of discipline and training.
When Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, part of the Soviet southwestern front. In the first disastrous weeks, Vlasov was one of the few relatively successful Soviet commanders, and repeatedly fought his way out of German encirclement. Promoted to command of the 37th Army, Vlasov was caught in the great German encirclement of Kiev, which cost the Soviets six hundred thousand men. Vlasov again escaped the trap. Based on this success, he was transferred to command the Soviet 20th Army outside Moscow, where he joined the massive December 1941 counterattack that drove German troops away from Moscow and saved the Soviet Union.
Now one of Stalin’s top commanders, Vlasov was sent north and in April 1942 given command of the 2nd Shock Army, one hundred thousand Soviet troops fighting behind German lines to break the siege of Leningrad. After two months of desperate combat without adequate support, reinforcements, or supplies, Vlasov’s embattled forces collapsed. Vlasov himself was captured by the Germans in July 1942.
Imprisoned in a special camp in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, Vlasov soon wrote a memorandum with Colonel Vladimir Boyarsky proposing a Russian national movement to fight alongside the Germans against Stalin. German sympathizers made Vlasov the centerpiece of propaganda to encourage Soviet desertion to the Germans. Leaflets in Vlasov’s name, falsely denying German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners and aggressive intent toward the Soviet Union, were scattered among Soviet troops.
On 27 December 1942, as chairman of the ‘‘Russian Committee,’’ Vlasov signed the ‘‘Smolensk Declaration,’’ calling on Russians and other nations of the Soviet Union to abandon the Stalinist dictatorship in favor of Germany’s Europe ‘‘without Bolsheviks and capitalists.’’ The declaration mixed outright falsehood—claiming Hitler’s Germany had no designs on Russia—with a platform to redress the worst grievances of the Soviet people, a platform that remained remarkably consistent over time. It called for eliminating collective farms and forced labor while restoring private enterprise and freedoms of speech and religion. It promised broad guarantees of social justice and security for working people. The declaration announced its own Russian Liberation Army (RLA). The German military believed that Vlasov’s appeals increased desertion, and the Soviet government saw his message as a danger. In its condemnation of Vlasov, during the war and for fifty years after, it never revealed Vlasov’s platform to the Soviet people.
Vlasov’s message was powerful; his new Russian Liberation Army was fictitious. Hitler’s adamant opposition to a Russian army meant the RLA was only an idea to rally Soviet troops entirely subordinate to German control. Nonetheless, it remained a powerful symbol, and many Soviets in German service wore its insignia.
Change in steadfast Nazi opposition to any genuine anti-Stalin Russian movement came in 1944. With Allied forces in France, and especially the destruction of Germany’s Army Group Center in Belarus, Germany’s position was desperate. As a result, on 16 September 1944, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945) met with Vlasov and made a series of landmark concessions. Himmler agreed to a new Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia as a provisional government for Russia, should Germany ever regain control of any Russian territory. Himmler also allowed, in principle, Russian troops under Vlasov’s command, though he quickly limited their numbers.
As Nazi Germany’s collapse accelerated, the Committee’s first meeting in Prague on 14 November 1944 maintained Vlasov’s line of a democratic and socialist Russia without Bolsheviks. Military units under Vlasov were also forming. Germany was, however, hard-pressed to equip its own soldiers, let alone Soviet troops. By spring 1945, though, Vlasov had two divisions and perhaps fifty thousand soldiers nominally under his command, the strongest the 1st Division under Sergei Bunyachenko.
In April 1945, Vlasov’s troops went into action for the first time. Bunyachenko’s 1st Division was mauled in a failed assault on a Soviet stronghold on the Oder River. Deciding there was little point to sacrificing his soldiers in a losing cause, Bunyachenko disregarded German orders and marched his troops south through war-torn Germany toward relative calm in Czech lands. By the end of April 1945, Vlasov and Bunyachenko’s 1st Division were both outside Prague. Hoping to reach an accommodation with the western Allies, Vlasov’s forces were in close contact with the Czech resistance.
Czech plans for a last-minute revolt against the Germans were disrupted by a spontaneous, premature uprising by the population of Prague on 5 May 1945. As the German military began reprisals, Vlasov and Bunyachenko intervened on the Czech side in an episode that remains quite mysterious. After two days of confused fighting that expelled the Germans, Vlasov’s troops headed out of Prague, hoping to reach American lines. When American permission to cross over was denied, Vlasov’s forces disintegrated, most (including Vlasov) falling immediately into Soviet hands. Vlasov and his associates were tried secretly and executed in summer 1946. His soldiers, like the many Soviet prisoners who had suffered loyally in German captivity, were dispatched into Stalin’s network of prison camps.
Official Soviet historiography always portrayed Vlasov as a cynical opportunist, a traitor motivated solely by personal ambition. Many Soviet dissidents and émigré’s viewed him more sympathetically, as a man caught between and betrayed by two totalitarian dictatorships. Russia in the early twenty-first century is no nearer a consensus on the man and his movement.
BIBLIOGRAPHY Andreyev, Catherine. Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and E´ émigré´ Theories. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. Dallin, Alexander. German Rule in Russia, 1941–1945: A Study of Occupation Policies. 2nd ed. London, 1981. Fischer, George. Soviet Opposition to Stalin: A Case Study in World War II. Cambridge, Mass., 1952. Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfried. Against Stalin and Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941–5. Translated from the German with a foreword by David Footman. London, 1970.
A generic term for partisans and intelligence agents actively opposed to Axis occupation. Winston Churchill initially placed great hopes in local resistance to Nazi occupation, but this rarely materialized in the West. For instance, in Belgium the main emphasis was on providing intelligence to the Western Allies and aiding downed pilots and crews, not on occasional shootings of Wehrmacht or Schutzstaffel (SS) personnel—that only brought swift Gestapo reprisals. In Norway, Italy, and the south of France armed resistance was marginally more than an minor irritant to the Wehrmacht or to local fascists, though it had psychological and political importance postwar as a vehicle of restoration of collective dignity and national pride. That was true decades later even in Germany, where individual and isolated acts of resistance came to be seen by some as salvaging a glimmer of national conscience about the events of the war and the daily and active collaboration of so many Germans with evil. Everywhere in Western Europe, damage done by active resisters was strategically minor and paled when compared to the price the Gestapo or SS exacted in savage and often indiscriminate reprisals.
Resistance was more extensive but still largely ineffective for most of the war in Yugoslavia. In that ethnically torn country massacre, reprisal, and active armed resistance was hardly distinguishable from civil war. The only strategically significant resistance in the German rear occurred along the Eastern Front, where large partisan units formed locally or were joined by thousands of former Red Army troops, cut-off by the Germans during earlier campaigns. . The Polish Home Army and Ukrainian nationalist resistance groups also carried out many acts of military sabotage and ambush. The Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS retaliated everywhere in the most savage manner they could imagine, making German rear areas a world unto themselves, places shorn of pity or mercy on either side, with only torture, mutilation, and abundant death.
Soviet subjects in German-occupied territory recruited into the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS, mostly from among prisoners of war but some directly from the civilian population. Most of the Soviet citizens who served in the German armed forces in some capacity were non-Russian: Cossacks, Tatars, Turkmen, Armenians, Georgians, and men from several Muslim communities from the Caucasus; along with Balts, Belorussians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Perhaps 800,000 served the Germans in some military capacity. Most were formed into battalions and assigned to German divisions, although some division-sized units fought in the Waffen-SS. Some Osttruppen battalions fought partisans in Italy and Yugoslavia. Sixty battalions faced the Western Allies in Normandy. Most were used by the Germans as cannon fodder on the Eastern Front.
Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, Tatars, Turkmen, and others from several small Muslim ethnic groups from the Caucasus who fought in “legions” alongside the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS.
Auxiliary police drawn from the local, non-German population who worked with German occupation authorities in eastern Europe, especially the Sicherheitspolizei.
On 16 September 1944 Himmler, now commander of the Reserve Army, came to an agreement with General Vlasov on the deployment of Russian troops alongside the Wehrmacht. The photograph taken afterwards showing the men shaking hands was purely for show, as in private Himmler had never concealed his contempt for the general.
Prisoners of war were also Himmler’s responsibility as commander of the Reserve Army, though he delegated this area to Berger. Now that Soviet POWs fell within his field of responsibility the Reichsführer-SS was once more confronted with an initiative that he had hitherto rejected vehemently, namely, the recruitment of Soviet POWs as a separate auxiliary force of the Wehrmacht. In his speech in Posen on 6 October the previous year he had called General Vlasov, the main advocate of this idea among the Russians, the ‘Russian swine’. In July 1944 he nevertheless decided to cooperate with Vlasov as a result of mediation on the part of Gunter d’Alquen, the editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps and commander of the SS-Standarte for war reporting. That same month, after his first contact with Vlasov, Berger set up a ‘Russian operations centre’, the head of which acted as Himmler’s liaison officer with Vlasov.
On 16 September Himmler received the Russian general personally for talks. At the very beginning of the interview Vlasov raised the matter of Himmler’s theory of subhumans; the latter was evasive and immediately declared himself willing to have the brochure entitled The Subhuman that he had had circulated withdrawn (and indeed, Himmler did shortly after issue an internal instruction for all propaganda against subhumans to be stopped). Himmler and Vlasov agreed to establish a ‘Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Nations’, and Himmler made Erhard Kroeger, former leader of the ethnic German population in Latvia, who had been in command of an Einsatzkommando in 1941, political appointee responsible for the Vlasov initiative and put Gunter d’Alquen in charge of psychological warfare. He then had himself photographed with Vlasov.
Vlasov, whose activities were supported by Ribbentrop and Goebbels, was given the opportunity on 14 November 1944, in a ‘Prague Manifesto’, of issuing a call to liberate his homeland. Meanwhile Himmler cannily had Vlasov’s troops established under the umbrella of the Wehrmacht, by contrast with the Galician or Ukrainian SS volunteer units; he had not revised his position so radically that he was willing to integrate them into his Waffen-SS. In April 1945 Vlasov, who on 28 January 1945 was officially appointed supreme commander of the Russian forces, would have more than 45,000 men at his disposal. As far as the course of the war was concerned that was no longer of any significance.
By 1944 defeat stared Germany in the face. Goebbels’s propaganda machine did its best to counter the deterioration of morale, especially emphasizing the bleak prospects with which the “unconditional surrender” slogan confronted the German people. On July 20 a few army officers and government officials attempted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime, but the plot miscarried and merely resulted in the liquidation of the chief non-Nazis anywhere near the summit of power.
Opportunely for Goebbels came Allied publication of lists of “war criminals,” the mass proscription of the German General Staff, and the approval of the “Morgenthau Plan,” which envisaged the destruction of German industry and the conversion of all Germany into “a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character,” at the second Quebec conference in September 1944. Goebbels declared, “It hardly matters whether the Bolshevists want to destroy the Reich in one fashion and the Anglo-Saxons propose to do it in another.” Doubtless the Morgenthau Plan did much to confuse those Germans who might be thinking of surrendering to the West while holding out against Stalin,, and thus Stalin could only profit by its dissemination by the U.S. and Britain.
At virtually the same moment that the Allies were endorsing the Morgenthau Plan at Quebec, the Nazi regime turned in desperation to a weapon which, if used earlier, might indeed have had great effect on the outcome of the war, but what the Nazis did with it in 1944 was too little and much too late. General Vlasov, who had been captured two years earlier, was to be transformed from a pawn of Nazi propaganda into the leader of a real Soviet anti-Stalinite army and government.
Vlasov, who was born in 1900, the son of a peasant family of Nizhnii Novgorod, had risen in Red Army ranks. A Party member since 1930, he had been Soviet military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1938-1939, decorated in 1940, and in the autumn of 1941 one of the chief army commanders in the defense of Moscow. Apparently he possessed great personal magnetism, integrity, and ability. Not at all the opportunist and Nazi hireling he was accused of being, Vlasov “stressed his nationalism and strove to preserve the independence of the Movement,” writes the most recent Investigator. Of the most influential men who joined his cause, probably the ablest was the brilliant but mysterious Milenty Zykov, who said he had been on the staff of Izvestiia under Bukharin and for a time had been exiled by Stalin. When captured he claimed to be serving as a battalion commissar, but it was suspected that he was much more.
By the end of 1942 Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt of the German army propaganda section was planning to establish a Russian National Committee led by Vlasov at Smolensk. The plan was vetoed from above, but in December the formation of the committee was proclaimed on German soil Instead. Vlasov published a statement of his aims, and he was allowed to tour occupied Soviet areas, meeting a considerable popular response. In April 1943 an anti-Bolshevik conference of Soviet prisoners opposed to Stalin’s regime was held in Brest-Litovsk. After Vlasov declared that if successful he would grant Ukraine and the Caucasus self-determination, Rosenberg was persuaded to support the committee. However, in June 1943 Hitler ordered that Vlasov was to be kept out of the occupation zone, and that the movement was to be confined to propaganda—that is, promises which Hitler could ignore later—across the lines to Soviet-held territory.
During 1943 Vlasov’s circle, under the protection of Strik-Strikfeldt’s section at Dabendorf just outside Berlin, was allowed to carry on remarkably free discussions about a future non-Communist government for Russia and to publish two newspapers in Russian, one for Soviet war prisoners and another for the Osttruppen. The political center of gravity at Dabendorf fluctuated between the more socialist-inclined entourage of Zykov and the more authoritarian-minded group close to the emigre anti-Soviet organization, N.T.S. (Natsionalno-Trudovoi Soiuz or National Tollers’ Union). Of course political arguments among Soviet emigres were nothing new; what was new was the hope of imminent action, utilizing the five million Soviet nationals in Germany, to overthrow Stalin—either with Hitler’s support or, if he should fall, perhaps in conjunction with the Western Allies. Despite arguments, a fair degree of harmony was maintained among the Russians at Dabendorf. Especially noteworthy was the extent to which Vlasov and his followers succeeded in preventing themselves from being compromised by Nazi Ideology and in maintaining the integrity of their own effort to win Russian freedom.
Until 1944, however, the Vlasov circle was confined to discussion and publication. Although the phrase, “Russian Liberation Army,” and Its Russian abbreviation, ROA (for Russkaia Osvoboditel’naia Armiia), were much used in propaganda— with Hitler’s approval—there was in fact no such army. “ROA” was only a shoulder patch which the Osttruppen, scattered in small units throughout the Nazi army, were permitted to wear. In the summer of 1944 the ablest Intellectual of the Vlasov group, Zykov, was abducted and almost certainly murdered forthwith by the SS.
Nevertheless it was Himmler, chief of the SS, who not long afterward achieved the reversal of Nazi policy toward Vlasov. In a meeting with Vlasov in mid-September 1944, Himmler agreed to the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossii or K.O.N.R.), which would have the potentiality of a government, and an actual army. It appears that Hitler consented to Himmler’s new policy chiefly because his suspicion of other Nazi officials who opposed it was by 1944 greater than his fear of arming enemy nationals—a fear which, it must be said, was justified from the Nazi standpoint. The concrete results of Himmler’s decision were meager, largely because the Russians could not, amid the disintegration which overtook the Nazi system during the last months of the war, obtain the material aid they needed to implement their plans.
However, in November 1944 in Prague the K.O.N.R. was officially established at a meeting which issued the so-called “Prague Manifesto.” This document, declaring that the irruption of the Red armies into Eastern Europe revealed more clearly than ever the Soviet “aim to strengthen still more the mastery of Stalin’s tyranny over the peoples of the USSR, and to establish it all over the world,” stated the goals of the K.O.N.R. to be the overthrow of the Communist regime and the “creation of a new free People’s political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters.” It proclaimed recognition of the “equality of all peoples of Russia” and their right of self-determination as well as the intention of ending forced labor and the collective farms and of achieving real civil liberties and social justice. If such a document had been widely disseminated two or three years earlier and given some substance in Nazi occupation policy, the results might have been important or even decisive; coming in 1944, it had no observable effect on the Soviet peoples.
The Prague meeting did stimulate certain Nazi officials to make efforts to put the minorities into the picture with political committees and armies. A year earlier the Nazis had finally organized a Ukrainian SS division which bore the name “Galicia,” but although it fought hard and well at the battle of Brody, on the Rovno-Lvov road, in July 1944, when it was finally overrun there, it dispersed to join Ukrainian partisan forces behind Red lines. In October an SS official, Dr. Fritz Arlt, attempted to secure the consent of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders to the formation of a Ukrainian national committee. To avoid being overshadowed by Vlasov, Bandera and Melnyk agreed to the setting up of such a committee, nominally headed by General Paul Shandruk. Melnyk protested the Prague Manifesto, but many Ukrainians nevertheless joined the Vlasov movement, along with representatives of other minorities.
In January 1945 the formation of the Armed Forces of the K.O.N.R. was announced; however, only two divisions were actually activated and mobilized. The First Division, under the command of a Ukrainian, General S. K. Buniachenko, was committed in April on the front near Frankfurt on the Oder, but the unit refused to fight under existing circumstances, and amid the Nazi military collapse moved south toward Czechoslovakia. At the call of the Czech resistance leaders in Prague, the division moved into the city and on May 7, with Czech aid, captured it from the Nazis.
However, in the Europe of the spring of 1945 there was no place for an anti-Soviet Russian army. The generals, including Vlasov, were turned over to the Soviet command by American and British forces, with or without authorization to do so. In February 1946 the remainder of the army was handed over by U.S. authorities without warning to Soviet repatriation officers at Plattling, Bavaria. In August Pravda announced the execution of Vlasov and his fellow officers, describing them as “agents of German intelligence” and failing to inform the Russian people that they had organized a movement to overthrow Stalin.
The ROA did not officially exist until autumn of 1944, after Heinrich Himmler persuaded a very reluctant Hitler to permit the formation of 10 Russian Liberation Army divisions.
On 14 November in Prague, Vlasov read aloud the Prague Manifesto before the newly created Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia. This document stated the purposes of the battle against Stalin, and spelled out 14 democratic points which the army was fighting for. German insistence that the document carry anti-Semitic rhetoric was successfully parried by Vlasov’s committee; however, they were obliged to include a statement criticising the Western Allies, labelling them “plutocracies” that were “allies of Stalin in his conquest of Europe”.
By February 1945, only one division, the 1st Infantry (600th German Infantry) was fully formed, under the command of General Sergei Bunyachenko. Formed at Münsingen, it fought briefly on the Oder Front before switching sides and helping the Czechs liberate Prague.
A second division, the 2d Infantry (650th German Infantry), was incomplete when it left Lager Heuberg but was put into action under the command of General Mikhail Meandrov. This division was joined in large numbers by eastern workers which caused it to nearly double in size as it headed on its march south. A third, the 3rd Infantry (700th German Infantry), only began formation.
Several other Russian units, such as the Russian Corps, XVth SS Cossack Cavalry Corps of General Helmuth von Pannwitz, the Cossack Camp of Ataman Domanov, and other primarily White émigré formations had agreed to become a part of Vlasov’s army. However, their membership remained de jure as the turn of events did not permit Vlasov to use these men in any operation (even reliable communications was often impossible).
The only active combat the Russian Liberation Army undertook against the Red Army was by the Oder on 11 April 1945, done largely at the insistence of Himmler as a test of the army’s reliability. After three days, the outnumbered first division had to retreat.
Vlasov then ordered the first division to march south to concentrate all Russian anticommunist forces loyal to him. As the army, he reasoned, they could all surrender to the Allies on “favorable” (no repatriation) terms. Vlasov sent several secret delegations to begin negotiating a surrender to the Allies, hoping they would sympathise with the goals of ROA and potentially use it in an inevitable future war with the USSR.
By Valeria Korchagina and Andrei Zolotov Jr. Staff Writer
“Her main aim is to synthesize and comment on the political ideas of the Russians and others associated with what she properly calls not simply the ‘Vlasov movement’ but the Russian Liberation Movement….Her book includes a comprehensive and judicious survey of what others have done, full citations to sources, and an extensive bibliography. The writing is clear, graceful, and precise.” American Historical Review
“…an elegant, authoritative but highly readable book.” The Journal of Soviet Military Studies
“Andreyev’s book is likely to become the standard reference work on an important movement whose leading figures were hanged in Moscow in August 1946″ Journal of Ukrainian Studies
This book deals with the attempt by Soviet citizens to create an anti-Soviet Liberation Movement during the Second World War. The Movement’s ultimate importance lies in its expression of grass-roots opposition to the Soviet regime, the first substantial such efflorescence since 1922. The motivation of its titular leader, Vlasov, is examined in detail, as is its fundamental ideology, analyzed within the context not merely of wartime but of prewar Soviet and Russian emigré society.
Published in: London