Habsburg Empire – Constitutional Reform

The Hungarian leader count Gyula Andrássy (1823-1890) in 1870

From 1860 to 1867, constitutional reform therefore ranked high on the political agenda. Neo-absolutist rule gave way to broader political participation, lively public debate, and the protection of individual rights. The most difficult aspect was the position of Hungary within the framework of the empire. The Hungarian opposition under leaders like Ferenc Deák and Count Gyula Andrássy negotiated the Ausgleich , or Compromise, of 1867, which transformed the Habsburg possessions into Austria-Hungary. From 1867 to 1918, the so-called Dual Monarchy symbolized a union of the Kingdom of Hungary and Austria over the other kingdoms and lands of the Habsburgs; both parts shared the person of the monarch, the King of Hungary and Emperor of Austria, and the settlement of succession laid down in the Pragmatic Sanction of 1713–1723 was the constitutional foundation of Austria-Hungary. According to Law XII of 1867, approved by the Hungarian diet, Hungary also accepted a common foreign policy and a common defense. Currency and foreign trade issues were also to be resolved in common. After 1868, a common Austro-Hungarian army and navy formed the Habsburg monarchy’s fighting forces, but there would also be defense forces for Hungary and Austria. The common ministers of foreign affairs, war, and finances and the prime ministers of Austria and Hungary would deliberate on questions of common interest. Delegations from the parliaments in Vienna and Budapest would discuss regularly the common ministers’ policy. The contributions of Hungary and Austria to the budget of the common ministries had to be negotiated every 10 years. Among the common ministers, the minister of foreign affairs stood out as minister of the Imperial and Royal House. He presided over the session of the common ministerial council if the monarch were not present in the council. High politics were traditionally the most prestigious aspect of government policy, and the decision to wage war or to make peace was considered to be the monarch’s prerogative. In the Dual Monarchy, where there was no common prime minister or chancellor, the foreign minister served as the monarch’s most important political advisor.

In domestic affairs, the emperor and king had to rely on the heads of governments in Vienna and Budapest. The prime ministers of both Austria and Hungary were appointed and dismissed by the monarch, who had to approve any legislation, but the prime ministers nonetheless needed the backing of a parliamentary majority to get their budgets and bills through the legislative assemblies. Emergency legislation offered an opportunity to circumvent unruly parliaments, especially in Austria, but only for brief periods. In Hungary, support for the prime minister in the diet was almost indispensable. The composition of the parliaments in Vienna and Budapest differed significantly. Austria’s ethnic diversity was adequately reflected in parliament, at least by comparison with the ethnically homogenous Hungarian diet. Magyars, the Hungarian-speaking segment of the population, were overrepresented as a consequence of restrictive electoral laws excluding the less affluent and mostly non-Magyar Hungarian citizens. In Austria, the electorate was gradually expanded and universal male suffrage introduced in 1907. The crown supported this democratization in the hope that nationalistic parties with their middle-class supporters would lose clout. The Austrian crown lands had their own parliaments and electoral rules; the administration of the crown lands was headed by a governor, chosen by the emperor and usually drawn from the high nobility. Within the framework of the Kingdom of Hungary, the Kingdom of Croatia-Slavonia enjoyed a high degree of autonomy, whereas the rest of the Hungarian realm had a more centralized structure than Austria.

On the domestic agenda, dualism and the nationality question stood out. Whether the settlement of 1867 was sufficient to secure Hungarian independence was hotly debated among Hungarian politicians. With the diet in Budapest dominated by the small Hungarian-speaking elite of landowners and bourgeoisie, social or national divisions in the parliament were less significant than the divide between the supporters of the Ausgleich and the followers of almost complete independence. The Liberals under the leadership of Kálmán Tisza accepted the Compromise of 1867 as the legal basis of Hungary’s place in the Habsburg monarchy and controlled Hungarian politics until 1890. Over the following decade, the economic success and growing self-confidence of the Magyar middle class fueled a significant rise in Magyar nationalism. The Independence Party followed the tradition of the revolutionaries of 1848–1849 and put pressure on the Hungarian government to aim for Hungary’s independence. In 1903, the conflict between Hungary and the crown escalated, when Francis Joseph upheld the status quo of the common army in the face of attempts to establish Hungarian as the language of command. A coalition formed around the Independence Party was forced to give in to Francis Joseph when the king threatened to have a general franchise bill introduced in parliament in 1905. In the last years before World War I, István Tisza, the leader of the Hungarian moderates, managed to rein in the opposition within the diet and became the most influential politician in Austro-Hungarian politics. In the late 1880s, Tisza became the first Hungarian prime minister willing to co-finance a massive military buildup. Stability in Hungary and better cooperation between Vienna and Budapest, however, could be achieved only by accepting Magyar dominance in Hungary and Hungarian assertiveness in Austro-Hungarian negotiations. To Francis Ferdinand, Francis Joseph’s nephew and heir apparent, this was anathema. He believed that Hungary’s strong position within the Dual Monarchy would block any sensible solution to nationality problems and would eventually bring down the Habsburg Empire. Yet he and his supporters tried in vain to roll back the political influence of Hungary’s elite, so when war broke out in 1914, dualism was still one of the decisive features of the Habsburg Empire’s political system.

FURTHER READING: Bérenger, Jean. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1780–1918. London: Longman, 1997; Bridge, Francis R. The Habsburg Monarchy Among the Great Powers, 1815–1918. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990; Cornwall, Mark, ed. The Last Years of Austria-Hungary: A Multi- National Experiment in Early Twentieth Century Europe. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002; Evans, Richard J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy 1550–1700: An Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984; Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994; Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526– 1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974; Kann, Robert A. The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1918. 2 vols. New York: Octagon Books, 1964; Macartney, C. A. The Habsburg Empire, 1790–1918. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968; Mason, John W. The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867–1918. London and New York: Longman 1985; May, Arthur J. The Hapsburg Monarchy, 1867–1914. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951; Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1918. London: Longman, 1989; Taylor, A.J.P. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809–1918. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.



Habsburg Empire – Nationalist and Napoleonic Challenges

Revolution of 1848: the barricades on Michaeler Square in the night of May 26, 1848. Painting by A. Ziegler, 1848 (Historisches Museum der Stadt Wien).

Without the cooperation of the traditional elites in the various kingdoms and lands, the multi-ethnic Habsburg Empire could not be held together. At the same time, it was the dynasty that provided the indispensable unifying bond. Therefore nationalism and the sovereignty of the people were not only anathema to the dynasty, but a deadly threat to the political survival of the union of lands and crowns ruled by the Habsburgs. Since the late eighteenth century, the Austrians sought to contain or destroy revolutionary and nationalist movements. This policy proved costly. In the wars against revolutionary France and Napoleon from 1789 to 1815, Austria not only lost the Netherlands, south-western Germany, and northern Italy but, after the defeat at Wagram in 1809, was forced to cooperate with Napoleon to avoid another armed clash with the French emperor. The new Austrian foreign minister, Count Klemens von Metternich, nevertheless decided to break with Napoleon and re-join the anti-Napoleonic coalition in 1813. Together with his British counterpart, Lord Castlereagh, Metternich worked for a lasting European settlement in 1814–1815, in the wake of Napoleon’s final defeat. The Congress of Vienna in 1815 and the working of the Congress system until the 1820s gave Austria more than its due share of political influence in Europe. In terms of territory, Austria gave up its former possessions in south-western Germany and the Netherlands. Instead, Salzburg became Austrian and the Habsburgs kept most of the Polish territory acquired in 1774 and 1795. In Italy, Lombardy and Venetia formed a kingdom united with Austria.

In 1804, in response to the self-coronation of Napoleon as Emperor of the French, Holy Roman Emperor Francis II claimed the title of hereditary Austrian emperor. Under French pressure, Francis in effect dissolved the Holy Roman Empire in 1806. At the Congress of Vienna in 1815, Metternich refrained from any attempt to resurrect the Holy Roman Empire, and in the newly created German Confederation Austria chaired the deliberations of the diet but could not achieve much without Prussian consent. Still, through Metternich’s skilful diplomacy, the Habsburg Empire was able to win the support of Prussia and other German states to use the confederation as a tool to suppress liberal and nationalistic groups in Germany. In Italy there was no equivalent of the German Confederation, so Austria intervened militarily when revolutionary movements threatened to destabilize the Italian states. Austrian anti-revolutionary zeal undermined the solidarity among the Great Powers and damaged Austro-British cooperation in the 1820s; Metternich found himself isolated when Britain, France, and Russia fought for the independence of Greece from Turkey in 1827. Austria refrained from a policy of territorial expansion on the Balkan Peninsula and considered the preservation of the Ottoman Empire as indispensable to its own survival. The Habsburg Empire thus acted as the most clear cut case of a status quo power and annexed Kraków only to contain the spread of Polish nationalism. Unable to establish an efficient tax-system, however, the empire suffered from inadequate financial means to play the role of Great Power. Overcommitted and underfinanced, Austria depended on a favorable climate of anti-revolutionary consensus and a preference for peaceful crisis settlement among the other Great Powers. Austria’s policy of repression, directed against liberals and nationalists at home and abroad, collapsed in 1848.

The revolution of 1848–1849 challenged Habsburg rule in several ways. In Vienna, a liberal government replaced Metternich, and an assembly was summoned to deliberate and decide on a new constitution. In Hungary, nationalists took control and were fighting for independence. In Italy, nationalist uprisings and an attack on Piedmont-Sardinia aimed at the expulsion of Austria from the region. With young Emperor Francis Joseph and a conservative government under Prince Felix Schwarzenberg in charge, the Habsburgs were able to fend off the danger. By 1850, the Habsburg rule had been restored, as was the German Confederation. Francis Joseph’s neo-absolutist regime was based on tradition, repression, economic progress, and prestige. During the Crimean War (1853–56), Austria’s policy offended a Russia Empire that had supported the Habsburgs against the Hungarian insurgency in 1849 yet did not lead to an alliance with France and Great Britain. In 1858, the French Emperor Napoleon III formed an alliance with Piedmont-Sardinia to expel Austria from northern Italy. In response to Sardinian provocations, the Habsburg monarchy went to war. Defeated by the French-Sardinian alliance in the Battles of Magenta and Solferino, Austria was forced to cede Lombardy in 1859. The Habsburg Empire had no choice but to watch helplessly from the sidelines as the Italian kingdoms and principalities were swept aside by a combination of nationalism and Sardinian power politics. The next blow to Habsburg prestige came in the 1860s when Prussia under Prime Minister Otto von Bismarck outmaneuvered Austrian foreign policy in the debate about a reformed German Confederation and the future of the former Danish duchies of Schleswig and Holstein, both occupied by Austrian and Prussian forces after the German-Danish War of 1864. The Prussian secession from the German Confederation led in 1866 to war between Prussia and Austria and most of the other German states. The Battle of Königgrätz ended with a clear Prussian victory and forced Francis Joseph to accept Austria’s exclusion from Germany. Victories over Prussia’s ally Italy in the Battles of Custoza and Lissa were of little political significance and could not prevent the loss of Venetia. The creation of two new nation-states, Germany and Italy, had come at the expense of the Habsburg Empire, which could survive as a Great Power only as long as the opposition within it could be mollified.

FURTHER READING: Bérenger, Jean. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1780–1918. London: Longman, 1997; Bridge, Francis R. The Habsburg Monarchy Among the Great Powers, 1815–1918. New York: St. Martin’s, 1990; Cornwall, Mark, ed. The Last Years of Austria-Hungary: A Multi- National Experiment in Early Twentieth Century Europe. Exeter: University of Exeter Press, 2002; Evans, Richard J. W. The Making of the Habsburg Monarchy 1550–1700: An Interpretation. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984; Ingrao, Charles. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1618–1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994; Kann, Robert A. A History of the Habsburg Empire, 1526– 1918. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1974; Kann, Robert A. The Multinational Empire: Nationalism and National Reform in the Habsburg Monarchy, 1848–1918. 2 vols. New York: Octagon Books, 1964; Macartney, C. A. The Habsburg Empire, 1790–1918. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1968; Mason, John W. The Dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, 1867–1918. London and New York: Longman 1985; May, Arthur J. The Hapsburg Monarchy, 1867–1914. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1951; Sked, Alan. The Decline and Fall of the Habsburg Empire, 1815–1918. London: Longman, 1989; Taylor, A.J.P. The Habsburg Monarchy, 1809–1918. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976.


Secret archive reveals how Russia showed huge support for ‘Christian crusader’ Nazi invaders who had come to fight ‘godless communists’


A group of Russians captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa: Documents from secret archives have revealed how some Soviets believed the Germans were Christian crusaders come to throw of the yoke of communism.

By Allan Hall
An extraordinary secret archive has revealed for the first time how thousands of Soviet citizens collaborated with Nazi invaders during World War II.

The cache of documents, some retrieved from the files of the KGB, shows how many viewed the Germans as Christian liberators – and their own masters as godless Communists.

This view was reinforced when the soldiers of the Third Reich opened up 470 churches in north-western Russia alone and reinstated priests driven from their pulpits by Stalin.

In turn, the clergy co-operated closely with S.S. death squads in betraying Communist officials, Jews and partisan resistance groups.

Perhaps most astonishingly, the Germans even shipped numerous mayors, journalists, policeman and teachers back to the Reich to show them the ‘German way of life.’

Russia has always portrayed the war against the Germans as a historic struggle which cost 27million lives but ultimately defeated the Nazis forever.

Until now, there has been little examination of the extent of collaboration by Soviet citizens with the invaders.

And there is no doubt that there many Russians detested the Nazis who inflicted mass atrocities on the civilian population.

But the archive, assembled by Professor Boris Kovalyov of the University of Novgorod, undermines the one-dimensional nationalist view of Soviet history.

Unsurprisingly, the research has already triggered a huge debate in Russia about attitudes to the Nazis.

‘The files give an extraordinary glimpse into a country that was deeply divided and not at all as heroic as Stalin made out,’ Prof Kovalyov, who teaches historical jurisprudence, said.

‘They show how local journalists strove under S.S. supervision to present to their compatriots the Nazis as friends of the Russians.

‘There was even praise in newspapers edited by former Communists for Alfred Rosenberg, the chief racial theorist for the Nazis who had made speeches in the past talking of the “sub-humanity of the Russians.”

‘Of course these newspapers were all collected and burned, or locked away, when the tide of war turned.  And those who wrote the articles were executed.’

The Nazis marched on Russia in summer 1941 after Hitler put plans for the invasion of Britain on hold.

He had met heavy resistance and had become increasingly paranoid about the Soviets grabbing valuable natural resources as they expanded their empire.

The campaign was code-named Operation Barbarossa and plunged the Third Reich into a catastrophic situation of war on all fronts.

Troops were given stark rules of engagement. They were to press ahead with a ‘war without rules’ that would see the merciless execution of millions.

But the freshly rediscovered archives reveal a far more complex situation.

In many instances, the Nazi commanders attempted a ‘hearts and minds’ campaign to win over civilians already oppressed by Communist dictates which included a ban on religious worship.

The propaganda war had considerable success, with newspapers and collaborators praising the Germans.

‘We pray to the all-powerful that he gives Adolf Hitler further strength and power for the final victory over the Bolsheviks!’ ran one article in the newspaper ‘For the Homeland!’ that was printed in Pskow in December 1942.

Clandestine tours of Germany were also hugely effective for provincials who had never travelled ten miles beyond their birthplace, never seen indoor plumbing or central heating, such trips worked wonders.

When they returned to the Soviet Union, said Professor Kovalyov, they were ‘deeply impressed”’ and worked hard to undermine the stiffening Soviet resistance to the Nazi armies.

Even in January 1943, as the fate of the German Sixth Army was being sealed at Stalingrad – and with it the war – many Russians still enthused about the charms of Nazism.

Ian Borodin, a village mayor from Piskowitschi, wrote that month: ‘Germany is a country of gardens, first class steelworks and autobahns. It has exemplary order.  We should fight for it!’

In the end it was the Nazis themselves who squandered the opportunity to rally an entire people to its cause.

As news of German atrocities spread and the Soviet Red Army began pushing the invader back, the population that had been initially so enthusiastic for Hitler now began to turn against him.

The Nazis were eventually driven out of Russia and the Red Army pressed on to Berlin, routing Hitler’s forces on the way.

For those tens of thousands who had shown disloyalty to Stalin during the occupation there was only death awaiting them or long years in the gulag.

Professor Kovalyov intends to publish a book based on his research next year.

Good Comment
After Hitler came to power in 1933 the order was given to demolish a rundown part of Berlin that had been notoriously ‘Red’ and an area the Nazis never had any serious support in. The residents thought they were being punished, but instead their flats were rebuilt with central heating and other improvements – how to win hearts and minds….. By 1939 living standards had increased to the point where Russian civilians visiting Nazi Germany would have been greatly impressed. It’s said that when US troops entered Germany in 1945 towards the war’s end it was the first time many of them had come across bathrooms with showers and indoor flushing toilets since leaving the USA, and yes that included those who had been stationed in 1940’s England! Good article – and illustrates how the German’s lost the opportunity to bring the critical mass of Soviet citizenry ‘on side’. Had they done so I don’t doubt they would have defeated Stalin and forced the Western powers to accept a negotiated peace.

– A Richards, London

Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st-Division of the Ukrainian National Army


The purpose of this Web page is to present the factual and true information concerning the Galician Division, which fought against the Soviet Union within the framework of the German Army, during the Second World War. Since the end of the war the information media has been repeatedly maligning this military unit, accusing it of misdeeds and war crimes, without giving it a forum for the presentation of the true account of its activities. The information on this Web page is offered as a means to set the record straight.

The Division was established in Western Ukraine in the spring of 1943. During the course of its existence, its name was changed several times. Known at first as the 14th SS Riflemen Division Galizien, it later became Waffengrenadier Division Galizien, der SS Ukr. #1, and finally, First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army.

The idea of creating a distinctly Ukrainian military force came to fruition soon after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war and was widely supported by the Ukrainian population in Western Ukraine. In the spring of 1943 it was reinforced by the viewpoint that the Ukrainians urgently needed to establish a nucleus of Ukrainian power, and to build it up by whatever means possible, before the Nazi collapse. It was argued that only if and when Ukrainians become a power factor, could they expect recognition from the Western powers.

Much as they abhorred the Nazis, the Ukrainians hated and feared the Communists even more. Following the Stalingrad debacle, it became apparent that the prospect of a German victory was extremely remote. Many Ukrainian leaders envisioned a protracted struggle in which both totalitarian powers would be so weakened, that they would be forced to surrender their domination in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians were also convinced that in accordance with either the dictum of the Atlantic Charter, or the elementary principles of the balance of power, Great Britain and the United States would prevent the Soviet Union from completely occupying Eastern Europe. They anticipated a period of power vacuum, like that of 1918, during which it could be possible for a nation possessing a strong, organized military force, to assert itself.

The recruitment campaign to form a Ukrainian military division attracted mostly young people who had been raised cherishing the ideals of a sovereign and independent Ukraine. The campaign also attracted veterans of Ukrainian military units from the First World War. The process of organizing the unit and the training of the recruits took a full year. In July 1944 the Division was ready for combat.
It first encountered the Red Army, with its overwhelming superiority in manpower, armor, and air power during the Soviet’s most successful offensive against the Germans. Near the town of Brody, in Western Ukraine, the Division together with the German XIII Army Corps was encircled and decimated. Only 3,000 Division troops were able to escape. Eventually they formed the nucleus of the new, reorganized Division. Following retraining, the Division again faced the Red Army in Austria, near Feldbach.

Before the end of the war the Division separated itself from the German Armed Forces, and was renamed the First Division of Ukrainian National Army. Its officers and soldiers swore allegiance to Ukraine, thus becoming a truly Ukrainian national military unit.

The Division was a par excellence combat unit. It only engaged in military action against the Soviet forces — never against the Western Allies. This was a condition demanded by Ukrainians prior to the creation of the Division. During the course of its existence the Division was never engaged in any police action or in any actions against the civilian population. During its first year the Division’s troops spent their time in various training camps, mostly in Germany. Then came the fateful battle of Brody, which was followed by a period of replenishment in Germany, Slovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the final battles in Austria.

The accusations, which contend that the Division participated in the extermination of the Jewish population are baseless. In Ukraine, by the summer of 1943 the activities promoted by the extermination policies had run their course before the Division even existed. Also baseless is the accusation that the Division took part in the suppression of the Warsaw uprising in 1944. At that time the Division was undergoing a replenishment and restoration in Germany, after fateful battle of Brody and no soldier of the Division ever set foot in Warsaw at that or any other time.

After the war, the Division troops who surrendered to the British forces were interned by them in POW camps in Italy, where they were screened by the British and Soviet authorities alike. No charges of war crimes were levied against them. In 1947 they were transferred to England and freed, and in 1950 some of them immigrated to Canada. The Division soldiers who surrendered to the Americans were freed in Germany. Following thorough screening and full disclosure of their war-time activities, some were allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Today, it is unfortunate that quite often rumors as well as slanderous and false information about the Division are being made public through various vehicles of the media, including through the Internet. Mainly, these false allegations stem from the legacy of the recently defunct Soviet Union and its powerful KGB. This infamous secret police was known to have effectively spread all kinds of disinformation, poisoning public opinion with the aim of discrediting their enemies and achieving political goals. There are countless examples of their tactics. During the Cold War period even the Western Powers were repeatedly victimized in this manner. (See, for example: KGB, John Barron, Readers Digest Press, 1974).

The Division Galicia was the only Ukrainian military unit fighting the Soviet Union during the Second World War with the ultimate aim of freeing the Ukrainian people from communism and achieving independence for Ukraine. Therefore, the Division, understandably became a target of the false and vicious attacks launched by the Soviets, who hurled accusations of various misdeeds and crimes designed to defame the Division and its veterans in the post war period. In a similar manner, the Ukrainian émigré community and its efforts aimed towards liberation from communism, were also targeted for disinformation and slander. It must be unequivocally stated that these libelous assaults are baseless and have no historical proof. There are no credible sources of information to back up these false allegations, except the Soviet archives, which are generally considered as sources of disinformation.

This falsehood was greedily picked up by the enemies of the Ukrainian people and by those who are against Ukraine as an independent and sovereign country. We, therefore challenge all those, who are spreading these lies, to provide any credible evidence substantiating their assertions.

Latest News, November 1998:

Justice Minister Hon. Anne Mclellan clears the Ukrainian Galicia Division of any wrongdoing in war and confirms the conclusions reached by the Commission of Hon. Justice Jules Deschenes in December 1986. For further information please read the following press releases of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Judge’s remarks praised by Ukrainian Community — November 16th 1998.

Justice minister clears Ukrainian division of any wrongdoing in war — November 19th 1998.

Soviet prisoners-of-war

“Next to the Jews in Europe,” wrote Alexander Werth, “the biggest single German crime was undoubtedly the extermination by hunger, exposure and in other ways of . . . Russian war prisoners.” Yet the murder of at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs is one of the least-known of modern genocides; there is still no full-length book on the subject in English. It also stands as one of the most intensive genocides of all time. The large majority of POWs, some 2.8 million, were killed in just eight months of 1941–42, a rate of slaughter matched (to my knowledge) only by the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The Soviet men were captured in massive encirclement operations in the early months of the German invasion, and in gender-selective round-ups that occurred in the newly occupied territories. All men between the ages of 15 and 65 were deemed to be prisoners-of-war, and liable to be “sent to the rear.” Given that the Germans, though predicting victory by such epic encirclements, had deliberately avoided making provisions for sheltering and feeding millions of prisoners, “sent to the rear” became a euphemism for mass murder.

“Testimony is eloquent and prolific on the abandonment of entire divisions under the open sky,” writes Alexander Dallin:
Epidemics and epidemic diseases decimated the camps. Beatings and abuse by the guards were commonplace. Millions spent weeks without food or shelter. Carloads of prisoners were dead when they arrived at their destination. Casualty figures varied considerably but almost nowhere amounted to less than 30 percent in the winter of 1941–42, and sometimes went as high as 95 percent.

Hungarian tank officer who visited one POW enclosure described “tens of thousands of Russian prisoners. Many were on the point of expiring. Few could stand on their feet. Their faces were dried up and their eyes sunk deep into their sockets. Hundreds were dying every day, and those who had any strength left dumped them in a vast pit.” Cannibalism was common. Nazi leader Hermann Goering joked that “in the camps for Russian prisoners of war, after having eaten everything possible, including the soles of their boots, they have begun to eat each other, and what is more serious, have also eaten a German sentry.”

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners were sent to Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, which was originally built to house and exploit them. Thousands died in the first tests of the gas chamber complex at Birkenau. Like the handicapped and Roma, then, Soviet POWs were guinea-pigs and stepping-stones in the evolution of genocide against the Jews. The overall estimate for POW fatalities – 3.3 million – is probably low. An important additional group of victims comprises Soviet soldiers, probably hundreds of thousands of them, who were killed shortly after surrendering.

In one of the twentieth century’s most tragic ironies, the two million or so POWs who survived German incarceration were arrested upon repatriation to the USSR, on suspicion of collaboration with the Germans. Most were sentenced to long terms in the Soviet concentration camps, where tens of thousands died in the final years of the Gulag. Most were sentenced to long terms in the Gulag, with hundreds of thousands consigned to mine uranium for the Soviet atomic bomb; “few survived the experience.” As Solzhenitsyn noted sardonically: “In Russian captivity, as in German captivity, the worst lot of all was reserved for the Russians.”

Posted in PoW

Collaboration with the Axis Powers

The Soviet Union
Nazi Germany terminated the Non-Aggression Pact signed by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov with its invasion of the Soviet Union at 3:15 am on June 22, 1941. Large areas of the European part of the Soviet Union would be placed under German occupation between 1941 and 1944. Soviet collaborators included numerous Russians and members of other ethnic groups.

The Germans attempted to recruit Soviet citizens (and to a lesser extent other Eastern Europeans) voluntarily for the OST-Arbeiter or Eastern worker program; originally this worked, but the news of the terrible conditions they faced dried up the volunteers and the program became forcible.

Before World War II, Ukraine was divided primarily between the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union and the Second Polish Republic. Smaller regions were administered by Romania and Czechoslovakia. Only the Soviet Union recognised Ukrainian autonomy, and large numbers of Ukrainians, particularly from the East, fought in the Red Army.

The negative impact of Soviet denationalisation policies implemented in the 1930s were still fresh in the memory of Ukrainians. These included the Holodomor of 1933, the Great Terror, the persecution of intellectuals during the Great Purge of 1937-38, the massacre of Ukrainian intellectuals after the annexation of Western Ukraine from Poland in 1939, the introduction and implementation of Collectivisation.

As a result, the population of whole towns, cities and villages, greeted the Germans as liberators which helps explain the unprecedented rapid progress of the German forces in the occupation of Ukraine.

Even before the German invasion, the Nachtigall and Roland battalions were set up and trained as Ukrainian battalions in the Wehrmacht, and were part of the initial invading force.

With the change in regime ethnic, Ukrainians were allowed and encouraged to work in administrative positions. These included and the auxiliary police, post office, and other government structures; taking the place of Poles, Russians and Jews.

Ostlegionen (literally “Eastern Legions”) or Osttruppen (“Eastern Troops”) were conscripts and volunteers from the occupied eastern territories recruited into the German Army of the Third Reich during the Second World War.

The staff of the disbanded 162nd Infantry Division in Poland was charged with the raising and training of the six Eastern Legions. It eventually raised and trained 82 battalions. A total of 98 battalions were raised with 80 serving on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans. 12 were later transferred to France and Italy in 1943


Yugoslavs, Greeks, and other minor Allies suffered harm commensurate with their ethnic ranking in the perverse Nazi racial view of Europe, and with the degree of resistance offered to Nazi occupation of their home countries. The worst treatment of enemy prisoners, by far, was reserved for enemies of Germany wearing the uniform of the Red Army. BARBAROSSA saw the capture of millions of Red Army prisoners, then their deliberate starvation, massive ill-treatment, and malign neglect by the Wehrmacht. Out of 5.7 million Red Army men taken prisoner during the war about 3.3 million died in German captivity, most in the first eight months of the war in the east: 2.8 million of the first 3.5 million captured died, or 10,000 per day over the first seven months of the German–Soviet war. Some 250,000 were shot outright. Many of the executed were Jews and Communists pulled out of primitive enclosures for immediate murder. Ukrainian and Belorussian peasant conscripts were encouraged by German guards to point out politruks and identify Jews. The selection process led to several hundred thousand executions by the end of 1941. The rest were left to huddle together against killing-cold temperatures in barbed-wire enclosures left open to winter elements, to sleep on frozen ground without shelter beyond hard-packed snow, and to perish en masse from hunger and virulent camp epidemics. Starvation was so extensive in the eastern Dulags and Stalags —POW transit and holding camps, respectively—that there were outbreaks of cannibalism in some. Non-Slavic prisoners fared somewhat better than Slavs, mainly because of spurious Nazi race theories that saw non-Slavs as a higher class of humans. In addition, the Germans pursued a policy of deliberate extermination through starvation of most of the Slavic population of occupied territories. The mass deaths of Soviet military prisoners in its care was the single greatest war crime of the Wehrmacht, and perhaps the gravest war crime in all military history: total deaths of helpless soldiers in German hands was exceeded only by the mass murder of unarmed Jews.

The Germans generally respected the Geneva Conventions with regard to Western prisoners, but refused to honor its provisions concerning Soviet POWs. Among the first experiments using poison gases to “exterminate” large populations were those carried out on Red Army prisoners of war. Some German officers worried that such gross mistreatment of prisoners in the east would have negative military consequences. And so it did: Red Army men fought increasingly desperately, often to the death, once they learned what surrender and German captivity really meant. By mid-1942 the Germans also realized that Soviet prisoners represented a huge pool of potential forced laborers. Therefore, even after the worst excesses of malign neglect over the winter of 1941–1942 stopped, more prisoners were worked to death as slaves. Altogether, about 55 percent of all krasnoarmeets taken prisoner from 1941 to 1945 died in German hands. As German casualties mounted in the east through 1943 the Wehrmacht looked to recruit low-grade military replacements and frontline workers among anti-Soviet prisoners. Men agreed to serve as “ Hiwi ” (Hilfswilliger) in return for food and shelter, or to join so-called “legions” of Baltic, Cossack, Georgian, or Turkmen fighters as Osttruppen, or to serve with the Waffen-SS. Until the great military reverses of 1943, Red Army prisoners were kept near the German front lines. By the end of the war, over half were no longer crammed into Stalags but worked on German farms, in mines or factories, or served as Hiwis with Wehrmacht units. During 1944–1945 German treatment of POWs improved as larger numbers of Landser were captured by the Red Army, and fear of reprisal mounted within the Wehrmacht as defeat clearly loomed in the east.


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.