Organising Hell in the East

While the German armies had been desperately trying to carve out this new empire in the East, the tentacles of the SS and its various subsidiary organizations had been assiduous in their allotted task of securing the civilian population. In Russia their first move was to deprive the people of their local party officials. Hitler ordered that all political commissars were to be liquidated, and instructions went out to the ‘special units’, who acted independently of the army, that some were to be decapitated and their heads brought back to Berlin for further study. The SS were obviously intrigued with the cranial characteristics of those who were classed as untermenschen, a species of Slavic sub-humanity. But this was only the preliminary stage – a mere curtain-raiser to what was to come. This barbaric treatment of prisoners of war became a byword even among some Germans themselves. The Wehrmacht was sometimes involved, but almost invariably these tasks were left to the not so tender mercies of the special units. A report of the Soviet Chief-of-Staff at Sebastopol in December 1941 gives us some idea of the situation: he states

as a rule troop formations exterminate prisoners without interrogation…the shooting of prisoners at the place of capture or at the front line, which is practised most extensively, acts as a deterrent to soldiers of the enemy wanting to desert to us. (Hohne 1969:432)

The special units usually comprised Security Service (SD) personnel plus contingents of the Armed (Waffen) SS who were normally engaged on straightforward military duties, assisted by local militia. Some idea of the more general involvement of the military SS can be seen from a few random instances. Only two weeks after the opening of the Russian campaign, the ‘Viking’ Division shot 600 Jews in Galicia as a reprisal for ‘Soviet crimes’. On some occasions entire villages were destroyed as a form of reprisal, and this kind of ‘action’ was by no means confined to the East. Lidice in Czechoslovakia was destroyed in 1942 in retaliation for the assassination of the Reich-Protector Heydrich. The ‘Prinz Eugen’ Division liquidated the inhabitants of Kosutica in 1943; and in 1944 came the destruction of Klissura in northern Greece. The year 1944 also witnessed the notorious murder of the inhabitants of Oradour-sur- Glane in France by the ‘Das Reich’ Division, and the killing of Canadian and British prisoners of war by members of the ‘Hitlerjugend’ Panzer Division during the battles in Normandy.

The worst of the atrocities were carried out by the re-formed Einsatzgruppen. There were four such units each comprising about 1,000 men, including support personnel such as wireless operators, drivers etc., and detachments from the Waffen SS and the police. Their instructions were couched – quite deliberately – in extremely vague terms. They were to act on their own responsibility to take ‘executive measures against the civilian population’ (quoted in Krausnick and Broszat 1970:78). The implicit intention of shooting Jews is not stated overtly, and it is not clear to what extent the army itself was always aware of these plans, although the chiefs may well have guessed what was going to happen. According to the evidence of Otto Ohlendorf, the commander of one such Einsatzgruppe, when the groups were being formed in May 1941 in preparation for the invasion of Russia, they were told of the secret decree of ‘putting to death all racially and politically undesirable elements where these might be thought to represent a threat to security’ (Krausnick and Broszat 1970:79). During the Nuremberg trials after the war, it transpired that at the time this was understood to include communist officials, second-class Asiatics, gypsies and Jews. Despite the care taken in disguising their intentions, members of the Nazi hierarchy were sometimes quite explicit in their planning on occupation policy. At one conference held in July 1941, the officials were told ‘we are taking all necessary measures — shootings, deportations and so on…[the area] must be pacified as soon as possible, and the best way to do that is to shoot anyone who so much as looks like giving trouble’ (Krausnick and Broszat 1970:82). It does not take much imagination to realize that almost any measures, no matter how ruthless and bestial, could be justified in the name of security even where the victims – especially women and children – could be shown to pose no real threat to security at all.

There is very little evidence as to what actually took place during one of these ‘actions’. For example there is no documentary material for the events leading up to the destruction of the small town of Tuczyn in eastern Poland, although a vivid picture has been ‘recreated’ by eight of the survivors – who gave their testimonies at different times in different places. There were only fifteen survivors in all out of a population of 3,500, and the stories that were told apparently have an amazing degree of consistency. For economic reasons Tuczyn was not destroyed at the same time as many of the surrounding Jewish settlements, so when the time came – as the inhabitants knew it must – they were ‘prepared’. The head of the Jewish Council organized the people for resistance, but they had no weapons, only petrol, matches and bars. When the Germans came in the summer of 1942, the Jews set light to their own wooden houses, and the old and sick – led by the rabbi – jumped into the fire. Others tried to break out of the trap, and a thousand or so fled into the nearby Ukrainian forest. Only fifteen survived because of the actions of Ukrainian peasants who either killed them or handed them over to the Germans. Those who were saved were helped by the Baptist minority among the Ukrainians (Bauer 1976).

The actual executions were carried out on a massive scale by the members of the Einsatzgruppen, often with the active co-operation of local ‘partisans’ as, for example in Lithuania and the Ukraine. Thanks to the meticulous records kept by some of those involved, we often have complete breakdowns and statistics of their programme of mass murder. By 25 November 1941, Einsatzgruppe A had already executed 229,052 Jews; Einsatzgruppe B had killed 45,467 by 14 November 1941; Einsatzgruppe C 95,000 by the beginning of December of that year; and Einsatzgruppe D 92,000 by 8 April 1942. The speed at which these executions took place was frightening. For instance, in Kiev alone in two days in September 1941, reports showed that 33,771 persons were executed, mainly Jews. In fact, it is probable that by the end of 1942, as many as a million Jews had been killed. And this was just the beginning. The whole grisly process was about to be rationalized with the introduction of the gas chambers. Five extermination camps were set up for this specific purpose, as distinct from the other concentration camps which often functioned as labour industries for some eminent German firms.


Hitler said on many occasions that his dreams of race and space inevitably would involve war with the USSR. Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union, was set for mid-1941. Even before it began Hitler insisted it was to be a Vernichtungskrieg, or war of annihilation unlike any other in history. Planning began in earnest in July 1940 when Hitler stated again that it would not be enough just to win the war but that the Soviet state had to be “utterly destroyed.” After the “inferior race” was conquered, the Soviet peoples, like the Poles, were to become “a people of leaderless slave laborers.”

He was not alone in repeatedly insisting on “the utmost brute force” and said this war was going to be unlike anything seen before. When the invasion began it was by far the largest in world history. Himmler’s attitude on the eve of the attack was that he had “no interest in the fate” of such people. “Whether they thrive or starve to death concerns me only from the point of view of them as slave labor . . . in all other respects I am totally indifferent.”

In the beginning Operation Barbarossa was unstoppable, and the Germans took vast numbers of prisoners, so many in fact that it was possible to murder the Jews without giving much thought to concerns about their lost labor power. Numerous Soviet prisoners were shot out of hand, but many thousands were confined in camps, including some inside Germany, where it was well known locally that the men were starving to death and were otherwise in desperate shape. The mayor of at least one town wanted to have the road to the camp opened so that ordinary Germans could go to see for themselves “these animals in human form” and imagine what would have happened if “these beasts” had conquered Germany.

To illustrate the net effect of how Soviet prisoners were treated, we need only look at one German report from May 1, 1944. It states that by then the Germans had taken a total of 5,165,381 prisoners. The report speaks about a “wastage” of 2 million (i.e ., they died). Another 1,030,157 were supposedly “shot while trying to escape,” while 280,000 perished in transit camps, bringing the total to 3.3 million. By 1945, out of a grand total of 5.7 million prisoners of war, no less than 3.3 million of them died in captivity. We have to recall, however, that the Germans often made sure there were no prisoners to take and had largely stopped taking any by the time of this survey.

The civil population in one place after another across the occupied areas of the Soviet Union was simply allowed to starve to death, deported to work as slaves in Germany, or exploited on the spot. Mass starvation, however, almost inevitably accompanied the German invasion, because the troops were expected to live off the land, which in many cases had already been combed through for provisions by the retreating Soviet forces. Deliberate starvation was part of the great sieges such as the one at Stalingrad and the other at Leningrad, but we can see the effect of the occupation in many less well known areas like Charkov, a city with a population of nearly 1 million before nearly half of them left with the Soviet evacuation. Located on the road to Stalingrad in the southeast of the country, Charkov was already in terrible shape when the Wehrmacht arrived. Nevertheless, the German Armed Forces were told to live off the land, which meant seizing provisions where they could be found and that left very little for the native population. During each month of the German occupation, hundreds starved to death.

Starvation was magnified many times in cities like Leningrad where major battles took place. The siege of the city lasted from September 8, 1941, to January 18, 1943. Hitler and other leaders repeatedly said they did not even want it to surrender, nor did they wish any of the civilian population to escape. In this battle alone, according to official Soviet figures, civilian losses were put at 632,253, the vast majority of them dying from starvation, but the losses in fact were higher. Hitler told Goebbels that Leningrad should disappear, for it would be impossible to feed its 5 million inhabitants after the battle was won. Even on the ground by the winter of 1942 the death rate just for this city was estimated at between 4,000 and 5,000 per day before the registration system broke down.

The Slavic peoples suffered enormous losses. A reliable and conservative estimate puts the losses of the Soviet Union alone at around 25 million, of whom two-thirds or so were civilians. Some Soviet historians have only recently suggested the number of dead may have been twice as large in total, ranging close to 50 million. Although we have to be very careful with these kinds of statistics, there is no disputing the fact that the Soviets suffered by far the greatest casualties in the war. There should be no question in anyone’s mind that if the Nazis had won that war against Stalin, the results for the peoples of the Soviet Union would have been even more catastrophic.

Russia grants WW II vets housing, amnesty

MOSCOW, April 16 (UPI) — The Russian Duma passed legislation Friday giving amnesty to most World War II veterans and providing them with free housing.

The amnesty also applies to those who survived imprisonment in German concentration camps, workers in munitions factories and survivors of the Leningrad siege, ITAR-Tass reported. It does not include those convicted of murder or sexual assault on children.

The bills are linked to the 65th anniversary of the war’s end on May 9.

“The amnesty is offered to apply without any restrictions to veterans of the Great Patriotic War, workers of the home front, who have worked for at least six months from June 22, 1941 through May 9, 1945, former prisoners of the concentration camps, ghettos created by the Nazi Germany and its allies, as well as residents of the besieged Leningrad,” said Pavel Krasheninnikov, chairman of the State Duma Committee for Civil, Criminal, Arbitration and Procedural Legislation.

Krasheninnikov, who drafted the bill, said he expects about 100 to 200 people to qualify for amnesty.

The Duma, the lower house of Parliament, also approved a bill providing housing for World War II veterans and the families of veterans who have died, Voice of Russia reported. Officials estimate at least 1,200 veterans are homeless or forced to share housing.


Other former inmates of Auschwitz were also to suffer at the hands of the Russians—ironically Russians themselves. 10,000 Red Army prisoners of war had been sent to Auschwitz in October 1941 to build the camp here at Birkenau. The handful who survived this horror, were, after their liberation, about to be persecuted again.

Pavel Stenkin, Former Soviet POW, Auschwitz: “They invented that at Auschwitz, this Camp of Death, they were training spies. So somebody got this idea in his head – what if they had turned me into a spy?”

Pavel Stenkin was sent into internal exile in the closed city of Perm in the Urals. A victim of Stalin’s policy that all Red Army soldiers who’d been captured should be treated as suspected traitors.

Pavel Stenkin: “When I arrived in Perm to work I was called in every 2nd night – “admit this, agree to that, we know everything, we only don’t know the purpose you were sent here for. But we will find out with or without your help. Come on, admit that you are a spy.” And I would say – “I am not a spy, I’m an honest Soviet man.” And the interrogator smiled ironically—”Soviet man”. And he smiled again. “Just confess and it’ll all be over.” 

They were tormenting and tormenting me. And then they decided to get rid of me. They sent me to prison. And the details of my sentence – do you think I heard anything or I read anything about it? I heard nothing and read nothing. Judges were in rush they had theatre tickets so they were in hurry to leave the court.”

Pavel Stenkin was sent to a labor camp within the Soviet Gulag system. Captured by the Germans in 1941, he was finally released only after Stalin’s death in 1953.

Pavel Stenkin: “I was always feeling hungry. It was not until I was released from prison, in 1953 that I started to eat my fill.” 

Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State

Book Review: Propaganda und Terror in Weißrußland 1941-1944: Die deutsche "geistige" Kriegsführung gegen Zivilbevölkerung und Partisanen.

Babette Quinkert. Propaganda und Terror in Weißrußland 1941-1944: Die deutsche “geistige” Kriegsführung gegen Zivilbevölkerung und Partisanen. Krieg in der Geschichte. Paderborn: Schöningh Paderborn, 2008. 420 pp. EUR 58.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-3-506-76596-3.
Reviewed by Jeff Rutherford (Wheeling Jesuit University)
Published on H-German (March, 2010)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Nazi Germany’s Battle for Hearts and Minds
On June 22, 1944, German occupation authorities staged an especially dramatic “day of celebration” in Minsk. During the early morning hours, marching columns of boys and girls from the White Ruthenian (Belarusian) Youth Organization (WJW) as well as members of a Belarusian SS unit marched to the German “cemetery of heroes” where they laid a wreath in recognition of Germany’s efforts to free Belarus from the Soviet yoke. Following this part of the day’s festivities, focus shifted to the center of the city where another procession took place, one that illustrated the German narrative of the war. The first few wagons that passed symbolized Bolshevik rule. A group of individuals wearing tattered clothes and standing behind the hammer and sickle flag were soon followed by a Stalin puppet manipulated by six “Jews.” Slogans declaring that “Bolshevism destroyed the intelligentsia” and “Stalin and Lenin preach that religion is opium” were accompanied by sculptors of destroyed churches. The “‘freedom’ of the NKVD” was symbolized by a prison and a rail car traveling towards Siberia. “After such poverty, misery, exploitation and terror,” (p. 363), the second stage of the procession–which focused on German “achievements” in the Soviet Union–began. Slogans such as “the path to European freedom” and “long live a free White Ruthenia” were accompanied by marching German troops and more WJW members. Doctors and workers, who symbolized modern medical care and the unity of Europe laboring to defeat the communist menace, followed the military procession. As Babette Quinkert notes in her comprehensive study of German propaganda in Belarus during the Second World War, this event was not isolated; rather, it was the culmination of the German state’s approach to total war. Quinkert’s work persuasively challenges the prevailing view that the Third Reich utilized only terror in its attempt to conquer the Soviet Union. Instead, she suggests, Germany pursued a much more balanced policy towards civilians living in the occupied territories.
As her title indicates, Quinkert examines connections between propaganda and terror as they developed from planning by Wehrmacht officials during the 1930s to the actual occupation of Belarus between 1941 and 1944. Her first section deals with the development of psychological warfare during the interwar period with a focus on its orientation towards the Soviet Union. Quinkert begins her analysis with a look at how Germany grappled with the importance of psychological warfare during the interwar period. Building upon the lessons of the First World War–which highlighted the importance of propaganda, both to strengthen one’s own military and home fronts and to weaken the enemy’s morale–German military thinkers attempted to construct a military policy that effectively employed propaganda. This process was accelerated after the reintroduction of conscription in 1935 and in 1938 chief of the Oberkommando des Wehrmacht Wilhelm Keitel enunciated its necessity for future war. He argued that Germany would have to exploit its entire means “against the enemy’s armed forces, against the material sources of the strength of the enemy and the spiritual strength of his people” (p. 34). This statement was not mere rhetoric; the German army had established already in 1929 a Psychological Laboratory within the Reichswehr Ministry, which led to the creation of four Wehrmacht propaganda companies by 1938. Quinkert persuasively argues that not only did the Germans recognize “that wars of propaganda, economics and combat constituted an inseparable unity,” but that they followed this idea to its logical end by building an institutional basis to wage such a multifaceted conflicted (p. 42).
One of Quinkert’s most interesting theses concerns the development of the “criminal orders” that turned the German invasion of the Soviet Union into a war of unbridled savagery and atrocity. As Europe underwent a process of ideological polarization during the 1930s–a development most tangibly manifested by the Spanish Civil War–Germany’s military thinkers engaged in a “war before the war” with the Soviet Union (p. 43). Two important points arose during this early planning. First, German authorities believed that the Soviets would utilize propaganda behind the advancing German front, stirring up resistance among civilians to the occupiers. This agitation, according to a 1935 study of such possibilities, could have “a devastating effect” on German operations (p. 45). Thus, individuals who could inspire both civilians and soldiers to such actions required special attention; this clearly meant commissars. Second, German propagandists believed that Soviet society could be split along “national and racial lines” and thus developed different programs for the various national groups (p. 47). One commonality among these propaganda lines was the failure of Bolshevism to provide its subjects with the land, peace, and bread it had promised and the resulting use of violence by the regime to keep the state together. Again, the commissars occupied a special place in this propaganda. One position paper from 1935 suggested the use of the following slogans to be directed towards Soviet conscripts: “beat them [commissars] to death, desert either individually or in entire units…. We promise you proper treatment and nourishment…. Turn your bayonets around and fight with us against the damned Jewish commissars” (p. 47). Here, the desire to break up the Soviet Union from within combined with a call for the murder of allegedly Jewish commissars. Already, six years before the Commissar Order was drafted and distributed to the Ostheer, commissars had been targeted for death by at least one section of the German army.
According to Quinkert, this line of thinking directly led to the formulation and implementation of the Commissar Order. The political and military leadership believed that murder of Soviet commissars would both destabilize the Red Army and ensure a far easier occupation of the eastern territories, as no one would lead civilian resistance in the rear areas. In other words, the murder of Soviet commissars was understood as what Quinkert describes as a “preventative defensive strategy against the guerilla war [Kleinkrieg] in the rear area” (p. 59). While her claim that that the German military carried out this order not merely for ideological reasons, but also for “independent pragmatic motives” is not entirely novel, it is certainly convincing and it provides evidence of a German army prepared to contravene the established rules of war long before the opening of Operation Barbarossa.
The implementation of the Commissar Order constituted one aspect of the terror utilized by Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union. Quinkert then shifts gears and examines the other side of German occupation policies in her second section: the institutionalization of propaganda for the eastern campaign. The resources devoted to the propaganda mission reflected its status as an important component of the operation. The Wehrmacht propaganda section attached thirteen propaganda companies to the army with another twelve war reporter companies attached to Luftwaffe, naval, and Waffen-SS units. These were complemented by units under the Reich Ministry of the Occupied Eastern Territories (which were active in the civilian-administered areas) as well by individuals attached to Joseph Goebbels’s Propaganda Ministry. In addition, SD and police units, the Foreign Ministry, and Soviet nationals also worked to propagate the Nazi view of the war to the civilian population. Unlike the generally held view that “polycracy” doomed any rational occupation policy in the east, Quinkert persuasively maintains, “the central authorities not only cooperated closely, but also worked together in an effective and solution-oriented way” (p. 109).
Germany utilized various forms of media to reach the civilian population, ranging from pamphlets and posters (both image and text) to film and radio, on a hitherto unprecedented scale during the war. Quinkert notes that during the entirety of the French campaign, a total of two million leaflets were distributed by the Germans; in comparison, during the first week or so of the Soviet campaign, the Germans circulated some thirty million different pieces of propaganda materials. By the turn of the year, this number had risen to 433,000,000 pieces. Some of these materials originated in the Reich but the majority were produced locally by Wehrmacht propaganda units that ran their own printing presses and paper factories. This impressive production system, however, was stymied by problems of delivery: the same lack of roads and vehicles that starved the blitzkrieg made it very difficult for propaganda units to spread their message throughout rural Russia.
Quinkert then examines how German propaganda activities and messages changed during the course of the war by focusing on Belarus. While Belarus is perhaps the best-researched area of Germany’s eastern empire, her analysis of connections between terror and propaganda allows for a generally fresh interpretation of the occupation. During the opening phase of the invasion, the propaganda line revolved around the idea of the Germans as liberators, saving Soviet civilians from “Jewish-criminal despotism” that had produced only “poverty and misery” (p. 140). The focus on the alleged links between Judaism and Bolshevism was complemented by concerted efforts to rouse the civilian population into open revolt against the Soviet state; this policy resulted directly from planning during the 1930s. Such cooperation, however, was framed by threats against those who failed to rise to the occasion.
Despite these attempts to win over or at least coerce the Soviet population into supporting the side of the invaders, such propaganda efforts failed. As Quinkert notes, “civilians were not only witnesses to such [German] crimes, but they themselves were also affected” by German occupation policies (p. 157). German claims that the Soviets caused their desperation and misery failed to convince individuals living in cities destroyed by German bombing or those who were rounded up and sent to prison camps in which the Germans murdered various categories of prisoners. Therefore, during the opening months of the war, the reality of German actions completely extinguished any possibility of winning the hearts and minds of the Belarusian population through positive propaganda.
Quinkert shows that in contrast to scholarly assumptions, once this initial propaganda foray failed, the Germans displayed flexibility by changing their message in hopes of achieving greater resonance with the population. Three primary and interconnected themes dominated the remainder of Germany’s propaganda campaign in Belarus: the agrarian question; labor policies; and anti-partisan warfare (and its ties to the genocide of the Jews). Since Belarus was primarily an agricultural region, some Germans–primarily within the Wehrmacht and Alfred Rosenberg’s Ministry–believed that a policy that promised an end to the hated kolkhoz system promised to generate real support for the occupiers. This policy was to be introduced to the population as one that would be an “intention for the long term” (p. 166) as the Germans feared that the immediate closing of the collective farms would disrupt their ability to live off the land in the Soviet Union.
When it was clear that the war would continue into 1942, German authorities became much more concerned about winning the support of Soviet civilians for the war effort and agricultural reform was made a priority. The propaganda campaign in support of these reforms concentrated on making them comprehensible to peasants and illustrating the “advantages” (p. 221) for them. That this was a major effort is evidenced by the ten million leaflets, one million copies of a special edition of a Russian-language newspaper, sixteen thousand posters, and one hundred eighty thousand sheets of guidelines distributed by Propaganda Section Ostland alone. Despite the intensity of this campaign, it proved a political failure. After an initial surge in peasant support for German policies, attitudes soon retreated back to indifference to the occupiers at best.
This swing was due in part to German anti-partisan policies–where the connection between terror and propaganda of Quinkert’s title manifested itself most concretely. From the German perspective, partisans posed a real threat to the systematic exploitation of the country’s agricultural resources, especially in 1942 and 1943. The Germans adjusted their policies from a more spontaneous reaction to partisans in 1941 to much larger, more systematic operations in later years. These “large operations” utilized terror on a tremendous scale in the rear areas in an attempt to quash the partisan movement. As Quinkert notes, these operations targeted “actual or alleged partisans … with a merciless persecution and death” (p. 256), but they were accompanied by a propaganda campaign designed to delegitimate the partisan movement and convince civilians to assist the Germans. While German authorities hoped that the combination of terror and propaganda would lead to a quieter rear area, the campaign failed to extinguish the partisan threat. German rhetoric and promises failed to compensate for the murder of family members or friends linked to the partisans and use of violence actually drove civilians over to the resistance. The final German policy that led to a mushrooming of the partisan movement was the Reich Labor Action, and here again, propaganda constituted an important part of the program.  
Part of Germany’s newfound engagement with the civilian population drew on the realization that workers–both for the Reich and for the occupied territories–were desperately needed. Once again, the occupiers utilized various means of propaganda to persuade Soviet civilians to work for the Reich. Two primary themes emerged. First, propaganda emphasized the cultural and economic superiority of Germany, in order to convince Belarusians both that the Reich could not lose the war and that Germany could serve as a model for Belarus. Second, and by far the more important, especially as the war dragged on into 1943 and 1944, was the idea that Europe needed to unify around the German core in order to defeat Bolshevism. This idea of a new Europe struggling to save western civilization against the “Jewish Bolsheviks” led to a campaign that revised many long-standing German attitudes; as Quinkert notes, even the SS began to “revise … anti-Slavic tendencies” in its training materials (p. 291).
This radical change in propaganda was part of a “change in course” (p. 274) that sought to elevate Belarus (or, in the contemporary terminology, White Ruthenia) to the level of an independent and sovereign state within the Nazi New Order. The idea of the “rebirth of White Ruthenia” (p. 297) now constituted a major piece of the German propaganda effort. The celebration described in the opening paragraphs of this review was the culmination of this effort; it was, in short, an attempt to construct a national identity for Belarusians distinct from competing Soviet or Russian identities that was, however, inextricably linked to Germany. As Quinkert points out, this day of national celebration took place a mere two weeks before the Red Army liberated Minsk from German rule. The military situation was just part of the quandary facing the occupiers. One of the higher-ranking members of the propaganda section in Minsk listed numerous problems plaguing the German propaganda effort: forced requisitioning and labor (some 380,000 Belarusians toiled in the Reich during the war); a peasantry increasingly caught between partisans and Germans; and destruction of homes and lives as well as other daily horrors facing the civilian population. He concluded by stating that all of these “could not be used by even the best propaganda!” (p. 365).
Quinkert has produced an important and useful addition to the literature on German occupation. Her exploration of the neglected topic of German propaganda in the occupied Soviet territories fills a considerable void in the literature without overstating its importance relative to the terror and violence applied on a wide scale by the Wehrmacht, SS, and other Nazi organizations. One minor difficulty in her study is its overwhelming reliance on German sources. While she has utilized three archives in the former Soviet Union, these have been primarily mined for German-language sources. Certainly the propaganda arm of the Wehrmacht was concerned with the ways in which its various messages were received by the population and it made every effort to gauge their effectiveness. Some Belarusian voices, however, would be useful in determining how civilians actually interpreted and understood German propaganda. Aside from this minor caveat, however, Quinkert’s study persuasively highlights the totality of Nazi Germany’s war effort in the Soviet Union.

General Andrei A . Vlasov at Leningrad

At Leningrad, neither side succeeded in its designs for the isolated city. The German armies could not crack the stub- born Soviet defenses ringing Leningrad’s southern outskirts, and, in fact, the line of battle changed very little. Soviet efforts to break through to the city were all but doomed by the plight of the Second Shock Army, whose 130,000 men had been cut off in the nearby Volkhov swamps since mid- March; rescue attempts diverted several Red Army divisions from their offensive assignments. At the end of March, a Soviet relief column managed to pierce the German lines and rush some supplies into the pocket. But the narrow corridor soon collapsed under German counterattack.

The Second Shock Army’s prospects were bleak indeed, and its best hope seemed to be its new commander, Lieut . General Andrei A . Vlasov, a brilliant leader and popular hero who had flown in to take over on March 21. Vlasov had sprung to prominence during the disaster at Kiev, when his strong handling of an army made up of shattered divisions had been instrumental in preventing even greater losses. Then he had served with distinction in the winter counter- offensive in front of Moscow, and as soon as he arrived on the Volkhov front, he had shown his mettle by attacking two German divisions and advancing eight miles-to within 15 miles of Leningrad. It was true that his drive then petered out, but Moscow was still confident that if anyone could extricate the Second Shock Army, it was Vlasov.


But in April, Vlasov worked no miracles; his troops and tanks were immobilized by mud when the frozen swamps melted, and they could neither attack nor defend them- selves. The crisis deepened in May, and two other armies in Vlasov’s group launched another desperate drive to open an exit route through the surrounding German lines. Finally, they succeeded in driving a 400-yard-wide corridor through to the Second Shock Army. Many of Vlasov’s wounded were evacuated through the gap, and a large number of troops rushed out in wild disarray. The corridor remained open only for a short time, until German artillery and Luftwaffe dive bombers closed it.

In June, the men of the Second Shock Army were sick, starving, almost out of ammunition and under constant, heavy German fire. German forces kept closing in, reducing the pocket. Many a time Vlasov radioed for help, but each time the Leningrad front headquarters in charge of the Vlokhov area told him to keep on pressing the attack. At one point, headquarters sent a plane to get him out, but he refused to leave his men.

Finally, in late June, the pitiful remnants of the Second Shock Army made their last attempt to break out. The men punched two small holes in the German lines. Vlasov, having done all he could, ordered his survivors to destroy whatever heavy equipment remained, then break up into small groups to try to escape. Some men filtered out, but German troops swarmed over those still in the pocket. About 32,000 Russians survived to surrender; all the rest lay dead or dying in the putrid swamp. The debacle had cost the Red Army nearly 100,000 men.

As for Vlasov, his story took a weird turn. German soldiers came upon the hero general in a farmhouse and took him prisoner. When the Russians next heard of Vlasov, they were bewildered and mortified to find out that he had turned traitor and was leading an army of Soviet defectors against their homeland. What had gone wrong with Vlasov? Soviet propagandists lamely suggested that he had been a German agent from the start and had deliberately led his army to destruction. Actually, Vlasov’s harrowing experience convinced him that he had to undertake a patriotic war to liberate his countrymen from the ruinous clutches of Stalinism. But he paid the price for treason in full. In the last days of the War, when Vlasov and his anti-Communist Russians were stationed in Czechoslovakia, the turncoat general surrendered to American forces. He was sent back to the Soviet Union, where he was formally tried for treason, condemned and executed.

British Returning Soviet Prisoners end of WWII

Betrayal of Cossacks at Lientz. Painting by S.G.Korolkoff
At first the administration had no reservations about handing over to the Russians even unwilling Soviet citizens. In June 1945, for example, the Combined Chiefs of Staff authorized SACMED Field Marshal Alexander to transfer to the Soviet authorities approximately 50,000 Cossacks who had been serving with the German armed forces at the time of their capture. But the pressure on Washington had a cumulative effect, especially as public opposition to forced repatriation increased and there were no American soldiers in territories under Soviet control. Finally, on 21 December 1945, the commanding general of U.S. forces in the European Theater and the commander in chief of U.S. forces of occupation in Austria were instructed not to compel the involuntary repatriation of persons who had been citizens of and actually had resided within the Soviet Union on 1 September 1939 but who did not fall into any of the following classes: those captured in German uniform; those who had been members of the Soviet armed forces on or after 22 June 1941 and who had not subsequently been discharged; and those who had been charged by the Soviet Union with having voluntarily rendered aid and comfort to the enemy. By the time these instructions were given, more than 2 million Soviet citizens had already been repatriated from western Germany. This left only approximately 20,000 Soviet citizens in the U.S. zone in Germany. Moscow had attained its goal, but so had Washington: it achieved the quick repatriation of U.S. pows liberated by the Red Army all together approximately one-third of all U.S. pows and at the same time succeeded in ridding itself of the responsibility for millions of unwanted Soviet citizens in western parts of Germany.
The dispute between the British and the Soviets became public when, on 30 April 1945, Pravda published an interview with Colonel General Filip Golikov, head of the Soviet Repatriation Committee.�Golikov compared a figure of more than 1.5 million Soviet citizens repatriated from areas overrun by the Red Army with the lowly figure of 35,000 Soviets repatriated out of a total of more than 150,000 liberated by the Allies. Thousands of Soviet citizens, he claimed, were forced to wait many months for transport to their native land. Not everywhere, he charged, were former Soviet pows being treated as citizens of an Allied power. The Russian repatriation official then gave several examples of breaches of the Yalta agreement by the Allies: failure to report the presence of more than 1,700 Soviet citizens in three American-run camps in Britain; failure to hand over 300 Soviet citizens whose existence in Britain was known; efforts to deter Soviet citizens in Egypt from returning to the Soviet Union; failure to properly segregate Soviet pows from Germans in Camp 307 in Egypt; and failure to expedite the return to the Soviet Union of 1,156 Soviet officers and men. Sick Russians, furthermore, were being sent to German camp hospitals. Local censorship, he asserted, had prevented the Soviet repatriation administration from discovering these infamies until much later.
While the Foreign Office preferred to avoid public recriminations with Golikov for fear that this would poison the atmosphere further and impede finding solutions to thorny pow questions, Whitehall recognized that they could not entirely ignore Soviet propaganda, especially as Golikov’s statements had given rise to a number of parliamentary questions. On 2 May, for example, mp Thomas Henry Hewlett asked the foreign secretary ‘‘whether, in view of the excellent treatment given by the Russians to British prisoners of war whom they liberate, he can state whether special effort is made to extend similar treatment to Russian prisoners of war liberated by the British.’’ Undersecretary of State Richard Law dispelled ‘‘misleading statements’’ that had appeared in the press about British officials’ treatment of Soviet citizens liberated by British forces. Law told the House that many of the large numbers of Soviet citizens who had been liberated by the advancing Anglo-American armies since D-Day had been, or were at the time of their liberation, serving in the Todt and other German official criminal organizations; furthermore, a considerable number of them had fallen into Allied hands while still in German uniform. Law’s tactic was first to categorize the Soviet citizens as German collaborators and then to state that the vast majority of Soviet pows had been forced to serve the Germans against their will.
Members of Parliament were further told that 42,421 Soviet citizens had been repatriated from the United Kingdom and the Mediterranean area since October 1944; to this figure ought to be added the 14,565 liberated by U.S. forces. With the exception of one ship provided by the Americans, all the shipping and other transport for these 56,986 Soviet citizens had been provided by London, which meant there were less funds for other vital purposes. Pointing a finger at the Soviets, Law contended that the remaining Soviet citizens in western Europe could have been repatriated much earlier if the Soviet government had also provided shipping. For their part, the Soviet authorities had notified Britain of 3,854 British subjects liberated by their forces up to 21 April 1945; of these, 3,639 had passed through the camp in Odessa, which was the most advanced point to which the Soviet authorities had allowed British officers to have regular access. In this case, too, British shipping alone had been employed to bring these men home. Law concluded by giving a hint of Whitehall’s dissatisfaction with the Soviets’ decision to go public with their criticism.

Germany puts names of 700,000 captured Soviets online

German authorities put online Monday the names of 700,000 captured Soviet soldiers, most of whom died in horrific Nazi prison camps during the Second World War. 

The lists had previously been kept by German authorities who help people in former Soviet nations to discover how their menfolk died.

“Now people will be able to do the research all by themselves,” said Klaus-Dieter Mueller, chief librarian of the State of Saxony Memorials Foundation in Dresden, which manages several state-run concentration-camp memorials that expose Nazi crimes.

The twin websites, and, contain the full alphabetical list of men in German and in Russian, starting with the vital data of Erich Aawik, an Estonian born in 1919 who died in German captivity on November 24, 1943.
The German library has been digitizing the data since 2000 with help from the Russian, Ukraine and Belarus authorities. Officials said more names would be added as new information came to light.

Nazi Germany breached the Geneva conventions on prisoners of war in its treatment of Red Army captives, using them as slaves and confining them in near starvation and disease. Relatives often still do not know how the men disappeared of where their remains are. Internet: