Genocide on soviet prisoners of war


An often forgotten victim of the genocide during the second world war are the russian prisoners of war (POW). Were the nazig killed and estimate of 6 million jews, the total of killed POW is estimated at around 3 million. Russian POW were shot by einsatzgruppen, killed by hunger, labour and even send to death camps. In that regard the treatment of the russian POWs can be compared to the direct victims. Therefore, I would like to discuss this topic in an article.

It is estimated that the Nazis made a total of 5.7 million people. Of these roughly 3 million died, 800.000 escaped death enrolling in the german army and roughly 2 million were liberated. This is a rough dead rate of 55%, compared to the 5% death rate of allied POWs.


KZ Mauthausen soviet prisoners of war

Shootings and death marches

Prioir to the start of the invasion of russia, named operation barbarossa, by nazi germany Hitler enacted the commissar order. This act ordered the einsatzgruppen to execute any communist party member, people with communist political views or enemies of the state. The latter also included Jews and slavs in general. Many of the massacres commited by the einsatzgruppen had both Jews and POWs as victims. Later on an severity order was placed in practice by von Reichanau. This order told that also the wives and kids of the enemies of the state were to be executed.

At the start of operation barbarossa the germans captured many russians POWs. They did not want to ship them al back to germany because of the logistical strains this may cause. Therefore, they striped the POWs of the main clothing and equipment and either let them being shot by the einsatzgruppen or send on deathmarches to the POW camps (stalags). The deathmarches involved marching to their stalag, without any food or supplies. Many of the POWs already died or were severly weakened by these marches.

soviet pow death march


special stalags were established for russian POWs, see map. These were called russenlagern. In these camps the condition were very harsh. Some camps contained as many as 100.000 POWs, others were only guarded barbed wired stretches of land. In these camps prisoners only received around 600 calories of food a day, were too dig holes in the ground to shelter them from the outside conditions and victim of abuse by the guards. Russian POWs were also send to concentration camps and even extermination camps. Furhermore, some stalags were transformed into concentration camp themselves.

At a later stage the germans needed a larger workforce to keep their economy running. Therefore the treatment of sovier prisoners started to improve and the total amount of prisoners alive rose from 150.000 in 1942 to 600.000 in 1944. Many of these prisoners were enrolled in the mining, agriculture and steel industry. An estimated amount of 200.000 prisoners died during their forced labour.

soviet POW in camp
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