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Ulrike Goeken-Haidl

Split Memory

The Fate of Soviet Victims of National Socialism


From: Stimmen der Zeit, 1/2010, P. 29-46
webmaster's own, not authorized translation


    The return of former Soviet prisoners of war (POWs) and forced labourers after World War II to their homeland is a dramatic but largely unknown chapter of postwar history. The Nürnberg historian Ulrike Goeken-Haidl examines the story of over two million Russian soldiers and their relatives.


Dachau, 19 January 1946: 400 American sentries and officers of the 3rd U.S. army had the order to evacuate the two barracks of the former concentration camp. Men had barricaded themselves in it who as Soviet prisoners of war in those days had for the sake of survival defected to the Wehrmacht. By using tear gas the GIs gained access to the camp. They saw nine men who had hung themselves. Others had tried to slash their wrists with razors or to cut through each other's throats with iron hooks. One man died shortly later from the self-inflicted strangulation with a makeshift rope. Twenty one men with heavily bleeding wounds were transferred to a military hospital where one of them died shortly afterwards from the incised wound.


Under Coercion back home

On 19 January 1946 368 men were loaded then into trains that should go to the demarcation line Hof / Plauen resp. Bebra / Eisenach where the former Soviet citizens had to be extradited routinely to the on-duty representative of the Red Army. Two days ago the U.S. sentries had already tried for the first time to get the men into the trains. Some had voluntarily climbed into the waiting waggons, others had thrown themselves into the cold snow, removed their jackets, and bare-chested in heavy snow fought it tooth and nail to be loaded into the waiting railway wagons. The loading was terminated, and the desperate men had returned to the barracks. About half of them went on hunger strike in order to lend weight to their refusal to be extradited to the Soviet institutions.

The Soviet repatriation officer who was supervising the loading of the men strode up and down the train and meticulously recorded the text of their statements. He protested sharply when the American camp administration decided at the last minute to remove eleven displaced persons (DPs) from the trainload, because they had been mistaken for Soviet citizens and could therefore not be extradited. The mood was tense.



The Soviet repatriation representative seemed unimpressed by the dramatic scenes round the barracks. During this action he carefully inquired names, ranks and duties of the Western Allied functionaries who were present.

The political background of this difficult extradition was the Treaty of Yalta in February 1945. It planned everywhere in Europe the exceptionless extradition of all so-called "soviet displaced persons" from Western Allies' hand at the demarcation line between the territory of the Western Allies and the Soviet Union.

On the evening of 19 January 1946 about 23 clock the Soviet officer reported to his superior, Major General A. M. Davydov, the head of the Soviet repatriation mission in the American zone. In his letter to the repatriation authorities in Moscow Davydov summarized his unease in view of the publicity of what happened in Dachau:

„In my opinion it was no coincidence but almost typical that on the territory of the camp and during the loading representatives of UNRRA and the Red Cross were present. They watched everything that was going on. There came also photographers and took pictures." {1}

The Soviet participants, both in Germany and in the Kremlin saw a problem solely in the fact that the publicity, which the action had got by the presence of staff of the International Red Cross and the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration (UNRRA), could be obstructive to other comparable extradition operations.

A large number of transports that delivered the Soviet displaced persons to Soviet military authorities faced similar problems. In Plattling, Kempten, Lienz (East Tyrol) and in POW camps in the United States of America, as e.g. Fort Dix, New Jersey and Camp Rupert, Idaho, Soviet displaced persons cut their throats and wrists, hanged themselves to Barack beams and bunk beds, leaped on the way to the waiting Soviet representatives off bridges, writhed into human blocks on the ground, and could neither by the use of batons nor of tear gas be induced to betake themselves voluntarily into the hands of the Red Army.

1700 inmates of the extradition camp Plattling had on 6 January 1946 signed a resolution to the U.S. government:

„We are ready to live and work under any conditions and on whatever place of the globe, except in the Soviet Union and its spheres of influence, because we want to be free men. We unanimously and categorically declare that we prefer to die here to being subjected to the cruel and degrading mockery and to dying in Soviet prison walls. {2}



The American and British military personnel that attended to the repatriation were stunned. It was reported to the U.S. War Department that American soldiers had been crying while they were driving with rifle butts the people in front of them into railway wagons. In the war they had seen a lot, but such a disgusting job should not be demanded from them, British and American soldiers alike revolted. And French workmen at Le Bourget airport were always shocked when in the night people who were desperately fighting against it were dragged into Soviet airplanes that had just arrived. France had long since given up checking the Soviet aircraft movements {3}.

After the successful loading of the, in Soviet officialese, so-called "Vlasovzy" (followers of Soviet defector, General Andrei Vlasov) the mood was tense. A considerable number of U.S. soldiers had accompanied the train in order to prevent further suicides. When they had reached the Soviet side of the demarcation line Red Army soldiers began to unload the former POWs. The Soviet soldiers threatened the American escorts that also wanted to get out for some exercise to shoot them if they should try to leave the train. The mistrust between the two former allies of the anti-Hitler coalition had reached the troops level. The U.S. Army called the increasing confrontation at the lowest military level "depressing".

At the turn of the year 1946/47 U.S. Military Governor, General Joseph T. McNarney résuméd:

„In Germany and Austria a mass of people has established itself, which is one of the hardest and most emotional issues in the context of reconstruction in Europe. Within Germany the DP problem is very serious in economic and human terms, because the presence of the foreign group of a million people is the tragic human legacy of Nazi Germany. More than half of them are from Eastern Europe." {4}

About 250.000 of the displaced persons who the Soviet Union had declared to be Soviet citizens stayed in the Western zones {5} and migrated later in the framework of the so-called "resettlement program" of the United Nations above all to the U.S. and Australia.


Censorship - Alleged Subversion

With what was a former Soviet POW faced when he returned home? The 27-year old Pavel Filipowitsch Velikodnov, Russian, partyless, a pioneer in the Army, Sergeant, and lab technician in civilian life, was in 1942 arrested by Army units in the Leningrad region and was deported to the camp for prisoners of war (Stalag IV A) in Hemer, near Iserlohn.



There, he was freed by the Americans and then brought across the demarcation line and handed over to Soviet troops. As a warehouseman, he had worked in the commercial section of the Allied authorities "Komendatura Magdeburg." On July 30, 1946 he was transferred to the "Camp for freed Soviet citizens" in Brandenburg, where he in September 1946 wrote to his relatives in a village in the area Tschkalovska, Stanzija Orsk, in Russia:

„"The path I go does not correspond to my wishes. I have no life here, and I will never regain it. I am despised. Threefold barbed wire with electric current surrounds me. I see it from the moment of my liberation up to this day, and when it will come to an end, I do not know. I've grown so terribly tired of my life. Why am I to continue my life? When I ask this question, it seems to me as if I've already gone through everything that a man can experience. I do no longer need anything. I've already stopped to build my life because I no longer need it. Please, do not wait that I return home. The path of return is cut off; it has been shattered by fate." {6}

The original of his letter is stored in the files of the Soviet Military Administration (SMAD), because it was intercepted by the military censorship of the Ministry for State Security (MGB), and its depressed basic tenor attracted the attention of the officials working there. The military prosecutor received this letter with the urgent request to take the "appropriate measures". In parallel, the head of the repatriation authorities of the Soviet military administration in Karlshorst was informed. He in turn activated his operational staff. With a pencil memo across the letter, he ordered: "Check personally the confessions regarding their core and report back!" {7}

Confessions? A categorization that implicates the state-institutionalized attitude of distrust towards all Soviet citizens returning home. The investigations revealed that Velikodnov was already on his way to his home country by freight train. He had, virtually, slipped through the Soviet authorities' fingers on German soil. The repatriation commissioner justified himself in his letter to the head of the military censorship of the Ministry of State Security, "Since I received the Velikodnov letter so late, it was no longer possible to take action." - What action? An arrest for defeatism? Generally asking, is it possible to classify pessimism about the future as "confession"? Or was even suspected a counter-revolutionary mind-set behind Velikodnov's statements? The latter seems likely, because the constant scent of alleged subversion in the private lives of Soviet citizens was typical of Stalinism, as the British historian and specialist in Russian history, Orlando Figes, recently again demonstrated very impressively in his book "The Whisperers" {8}.



Investigation and Filtration

All 5.35 million Soviet citizens who after the war were returning from Germany - now as freed POWs, concentration camp prisoners and slave labourers - to the Soviet Union had already in the Soviet Zone of Germany gone through so-called "investigation and filtration camps". In the camps the first steps of the filtration process took place. This included a thorough check on the identity, the accuracy of their information about the whereabouts, status and activity in recent years in Western Europe as well as careful screening of the family and social environment before 1941. The "social class affiliation" was also of importance, and was inquired just like all other information and verified by enquiries with the local authorities {9}.

For every "repatriate", so the Soviet diction for returnees from captivity and forced labour, a so-called filtration file was created during the "filtration process" and sent ahead the returnees, and so the intelligence agencies at the place of destination were already informed in detail about the new arrivals. This task had been entrusted to the People's Commissariat of Internal Affairs (NKVD), since March 1946 the Ministry of Internal Affairs (MVD), the People's Commissariat for State Security (NKGB), since March 1946 Ministry for State Security (MGB) and to "SMERSH" ("Death to Spies"), the Counter-Intelligence Department of Defense. It was their task "to unmask traitors to their fatherland, spies, traitors and other dubious individuals".

For the future of the returnees was crucial whether "compromising material" could be obtained during the interrogation or already existed. This material provided a usable handle against the returnees and was sufficient as justification for a deportation in "special camps" or "screening filtration camps", in labour battalions or in banishment. Only in prominent cases, for example, against General Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov and his supporters lawsuits were started. The majority of the returning Soviet citizens were arrested partly until 1956 without a legal process. The concrete guilt of the individual person was only to a limited extent of importance.


Collective Collaboration Suspicion

The directives and orders of the NKVD and the State Defense Committee from 1941 to 1945 leave no doubt that the five million Soviet citizens who returned home from captivity and forced labour in Germany and other countries occupied by the Nazis were collectively suspected of collaboration with the enemy.



The interrogation was the core of their screening and was traditionally always repeated in the same form - at always changing day and night times - to extort thus their confessions and information about other individuals and groups. In addition, questionnaires were designed to explore the "treacherous" behaviour of others.

This ensured that a close-meshed net of mutual denunciation and mistrust formed among the returnees. The threat that they for a long time would be unable to escape from the (concentration) camp situation forced a large number of returnees to serve as spies. They developed into informers who incriminated each other. Everyone could be both victim and perpetrator. Each individual took part in the production of terror that permanently threatened to strike him. Thus, without any evidence, numerous cases of disloyalty, espionage, sabotage and treason against the Soviet state were suspected, and forced upon the repatriates as a general suspicion. Crimes were invented, fictional confessions extorted and downright absurd accusations fabricated by the use of spies {10}.

Until 1992 the grandchildren's generation is confronted with the captivity of their grandfathers. Every administrative act - as e.g. applying for a passport, giving notice of an intended marriage or registering with the police - required to fill in a questionnaire of the local administration, which also contained the question: "Was a relative of your family during the Great Patriotic War prisoner of war or in the German-occupied territories?" The persons concerned could not avoid the truthful answer. Their data were verifiable by the KGB and still are - up to the present day: The filtration file of Pavel Filipowitsch Velikodnov is at present in the archives of the Federal Security Service (Federalnaja sluzba bezopasnosti, FSB, the successor organization to the KGB) of his place of residence and is, like millions of other personnel files, still kept safe there.

What motives were the basis of the control measures developed in the camps? One explanation is that in Germany and the Western world the POWs and forced labourers had gained a standard of comparison by which they would have been able now to disprove the Soviet propaganda efforts from personal experience. In the eyes of the Soviet government this knowledge meant dynamite for the state structure. The notorious paranoid vigilance of the government regarded the returnees as potential members of the opposition. The appropriate remedy for this danger seemed to be the well-tried means of isolation and intimidation. "The main enemy comes from abroad," formulated Raisa Orlova Kopelew, and this became apparent once again in the treatment of these five million people.



Already during the "Great Patriotic War" Soviet military tribunals passed sentence on more than 994.000 military personnel, 157.000 of them were condemned to death. More than 50 percent of the verdicts were decided 1941/42, i.e. in the time of the greatest military defeats of the Soviet Army. The majority of the convicts had been prisoners of war or for a short time encircled. Since the first days of the war "suspicious persons and dubious elements", i.e. soldiers who had been scattered and returned to their unit, were shot even without an investigation or litigation. During the Battle of Stalingrad alone 13.500 executions of military members of the Soviet army took place, partly summarily, partly subsequent to verdicts of military tribunals. The military commissioners who controlled the execution of death sentences under this category equally subsumed military members who had retreated without orders or maimed themselves, had deserted, or were accused of "anti-Soviet activities". In 1956 Marshal Georgy K. Zhukov, who was head of a rehabilitation commission, gave a summary on the legal background of those repressions of Soviet prisoners of war {11}.


Article 58 of the Criminal Code - Treason and Espionage

Legal basis for these sentences to death by firing squad or to ten years in the camps was the Criminal Code of the Russian Soviet Federated Socialist Republic (RSFSR) from 1926. A few days on the other side of the front were sufficient to fabricate an indictment for treason and espionage (Article 58-1b and 58-6). Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who shortly before the end of the war was also sentenced under Article 58 for the prison camp, cynically commented:

„The all-pervasive and tirelessly vigilant organs drew the entire energy for their many years of service from a SINGLE section of the in all one hundred forty-eight, listed in the special part of the Criminal Code of 1926. It is the big, powerful, sumptuous, widespread, versatile section 58; it is sweeping away everything, and was able fully to fathom this our world not so much by its formulations, but rather by its dialectical and most generous interpretation. Who among us has not felt its global embrace? There is certainly no crime under the sun, no intention, no deed and no inactivity, which could not be reached and punished by the stern arm of the section 58." {12}

In the infamous "Order No. 270 of August 1941 the "Stavka", the High Command of the Red Army with Josef Stalin at the head, had ordered to fight up to the last drop of blood: One last cartridge should be kept for the necessary suicide {13}. In addition, a following command decreed that family members of the "traitor" should be treated as hostages and be brought as a "substitute" into banishment or prison camps.



Pursuant to Order no. 270, "surrender oneself" („sdaca v plen") in war captivity was excluded as a possible result of a combat. From the sole fact that a Soviet soldier could become a war prisoner, the Soviet government in its ideological perspective deduced a disloyal attitude of the soldier towards the Soviet Union and the Soviet people.

Under the term "treason" both deliberate desertion or refusal to obey orders and war captivity or the situation of encirclement of a Soviet soldier was subsumed. In the eyes of the party, army and state leaders the border-lines between these categories were fluid. A differentiation was politically inopportune. Prisoners of war were regarded as traitors, regardless of the circumstances under which they were taken prisoner. They were accused of collaboration due to the mere fact of survival.

Of course, there has been collaboration in the occupied areas and also among the prisoners of war: One assumes at least one million deserters. It is understandable and naturally that the figures of the Russian scientists turn out to be much lower. Soviet prisoners of war often went in the service of the Wehrmacht in order to secure the very survival (to avoid e.g. starvation in the camps for prisoners of war or forced labour), or to wait for an opportunity for returning somehow to their own ranks. An indication of this is that a high percentage of defectors came from the camps for prisoners of war.

In its totality, however, the practice of the general accusation - imposed by the state leadership - missed the reality. In the hands of the Germans - in the army, the local employment agencies or simply by the German "masters" in an industrial enterprise or in agriculture - millions of Soviet citizens experienced a treatment which indicated that their physical destruction was politically intended by the Nazi leadership, for ideological reasons. They had the choice between adaptation and death. What from the view of the Soviet government looked like treason, was for most of them the bitter German reality, of which both the Kremlin leaders and their frighteningly incompetent executioners, i.e. the investigation and filtration commissions of the NKVD, SMERSH and NKVD, had neither an idea nor experience.


Transportation to the East

The young military nurse Nanijewa, a convinced Communist, experienced the long-awaited liberation in January 1945 in a labour camp in southern Poland by the Red Army as a bitter disappointment:



"Well, your whores? Mattresses! Have you painted the town red?" {14} After being interrogated by SMERSH her fate was sealed; she was sentenced to six years Gulag and banishment for life to Siberia because of her "treason under Article 58-1 b".

The previously described filtration in specially built camps all over Europe was followed by the transport to the east. About it remarkably detailed statistics still exist: 5.352.963 Soviet citizens had to be repatriated. Of these 5.038.977 people (94%) were repatriated from assembly points (SPP) of the various groups of Soviet occupation forces (where also filtration took place) and transported home from the various fronts. By ship transports from the U.S. and from the UK, 313.986 (6%)) Soviet citizens were by "foreign states" directly conveyed to the border points of Murmansk, Odessa, Vladivostok, Petropavlovsk / Kamchatka, Vyborg, Baku and Jassy and from there back home.

In the early stage of repatriation, i.e. during the months of October to December 1944 1.079.500 Soviet citizens were repatriated. "Foreign countries" - mainly the UK and USA - transported 111.913 people to the ports and frontier stations Murmansk, Odessa, Vyborg, and Baku. 967.587 were found on Soviet territory and transferred by front and hinterland units of the armies of the Red Army. In the heart of Europe at the demarcation line the situation was more complicated: Immediately after the signing of a handover plan between the Western Allies and the Soviet Military Administration in late May 1945 in Halle an der Saale, the "Supreme Headquarters of Allied Expeditionary Forces (SHAEF) started the extradition of Soviet displaced persons from their custody and handed them over to the Soviet institutions along the demarcation line. In the first five days after the agreement came into effect more than 100.000 people were already transferred to the Soviet sphere; after 19 days, the one million mark was exceeded {15}. This corresponded to a daily rate of over 52.000 people! On 10, 11 and 12 June the daily rate was virtually increased by twice: Every day more than 101.000 Soviet citizens were handed over to the Soviet forces. On 4 July 1945 1.5 million Soviet citizens had been transferred {16}, and on 2 August 1945 the number was already 1.66 million {17}, and on 31 March 1946 exactly 2.352.686 Soviet citizens {18}.

Already at the beginning of planning in October 1944, besides the use of trains and motor vehicles, the repatriation by walking was taken into consideration and after an respective decree of the Kremlin of 16 June 1945 several tens of thousands of returnees marched off. But the NKVD, whose orders were decisive during the entire repatriation, favoured the transportation by train. From July 1945 until February 1946, according to the proud reports of the persons responsible, 2.828.570 Soviet citizens were repatriated in the borders of the Soviet Union: 65 per cent by trains (spread over 95.904 carriages, i.e. about 20 people in a wagon), and 35 per cent by trucks.



By order of the competent repatriation authorities, the action was planned and implemented by the administration of the hinterland and the Red Army's Central Administration for Military Transport. If one compares these impressive success figures with the individual reports of returnees, it is clear that here, too, virtually nothing has gone according to plan.


In the Reception Transit Camp

During the summer months of 1945 at the border to the Soviet Union a rise in numbers of dangerous proportions occurred. The reception transit camps (Priemnoperesyl'nye punkty, PRP), which were built in the early summer of 1945 on the orders of the Council of People's Commissars in Belarus and Ukraine, were hopelessly overcrowded. New train transports from the West with thousands of returnees increased the pressure. On the one hand the Kremlin towards the Western Allies insisted on an immediate transfer of its citizens, on the other hand it was obviously not prepared adequately for the repatriation of these people. Moreover, Moscow was not able to eliminate the resulting organizational deficits: The provision of means of transport for the transfer of the people, or at least the creation of decent living conditions in the transit camps was an unsolvable task for the Kremlin. To make matters worse, there were the filtration and control intentions of the NKVD with its intelligence service. The fact that the NKVD in the transit camps insisted on a complete filtration procedure with the protracted drawing up of the relevant documents significantly aggravated the blockage situation at the borders.

Meanwhile, local officials and the leaders of the camps in the border areas sent time and again 'fire telegrams' to Moscow and tried repeatedly to bring the situation at the borders to the Kremlin's attention. In mid-August 1945 there were 55.000 returnees in the area of Kovel, Ukraine. In the city alone that now counts about 75.000 inhabitants additional 41.000 people crowded. 152.000 returnees lived in the camps around L'vov, Ukraine: "30.000 of them in solid houses, 70.000 in shed-like buildings and 52.000 in holes in the ground {19}. 60 per cent of them got exclusively unboiled food. This means that the remaining 40 per cent got no food at all.

Mid-September, similar news arrived from Brest: 51.000 people were waiting for their repatriation, 35.000 of them lived directly in the city. 15.000, including many children, camped in continuous rain in the open. Outside Brest, there were twelve train transports each with 1000 to 2000 inmates, who only left the train when they were looking for food.



In Brest, the bread supply had collapsed. Despite repeated requests, no trains were provided for the continuation of the transports. G. M. Malenkov, secretary of the CPSU Central Committee in Moscow, repeatedly promised to organize more trains, but this only happened within a month. Comparable rises in numbers formed time and time again. Still in November 1945 large crowds of returnees were reported, who - because of the onset of winter - were waiting under even more dramatic circumstances for the continuation of the transports.

When the journey finally continued and the trains of the returnees went further east, many hardships were waiting for them also on this section: Anastasia Gulej, survivor of Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, was transported back home in a freight train. The train first went to Baranovichi / Belarus and stayed there for two weeks on the rails outside the station in a bog area. It then went on to the outskirts of Poltava, Ukraine, where the train stopped for such a long time that the repatriates swarmed out and entered service with neighbouring farmers, in order not to starve in the wagons. During the train ride back home another former forced labourer suddenly realized what fate was in store for her. She took her repatriation in hand:

"I immediately knew that the place of destination was somewhere else, for we had long since passed Kiev. I waited for the right moment and jumped off the train."


Return in Quotas

What was the place of destination of those returnees? The goal of their repatriation was most closely associated with the outcome of their filtration. On the basis of Soviet archival documents a classification of returnees in different categories can be established.

The so-called special contingent was numerically the largest category. Within this according to the statistics two groups crystallized. First, the 1.2 million "former military personnel who had been in captivity or encirclement by the enemy". These were soldiers who were accused of offences that were not sufficient for an execution. Their affiliation to the Red Army ceased to exist. They were henceforth called "ex-military personell". After the war, all liberated Soviet POWs were subsumed under this term. The second group consisted of 140.000 civilians to whom was imputed collaboration in the by Hitler occupied territories (police, community leaders, etc.).

Since the recording of this category in January 1942, the Soviet Union maintained for these people 30 special camps, which were later renamed "verification filtration camps".



There the living and working conditions were extremely poor. Stories about the life in these camps are also present in German living rooms: Inmates of the Soviet Special Camp did not seldom forced labour side by side with captured German soldiers. Against this background, it is not surprising that former German prisoners are familiar with the fate of Soviet prisoners of war and the Stalinist logic of classifying "prisoners of war as traitors". "The former Russian prisoners of war were the poorest devils. Poorer than we former enemies."

With its general suspicion of Soviet POWs the government could rely on the local base. As can be proved, one of the largest special camps was in the city Schachtinsk in the Donetsk Basin. The minutes of a meeting of the Party leaders of the city of 5 March 1945 mirrors the cynical attitude of the present commandant of the Special Camp 048 Chochlov, when the local party secretary told of an execution by shooting simulated by the guards in a factory:

"I want to say something about the work of the special contingent. It is the largest group within the production. Allow me a reproach to the address of the comrades of the camp leadership of the special camp for prisoners of war. What have their security guards done? They have done coarse mischief with the special contingent. In the mine two soldiers of the convoy troops have mustered the special contingent in front of a wall. Then they have said that they will shoot now. Have there been signals and how many for something like this in the past? And what has Chochlov, the camp commander, said about this: 'Make no fuss about it'." {20}

This record is a sample from the year 1945, in which particularly many people had gone through the camp of Schachtinsk. Presumably, similar incidents were discussed also in other regions during the meetings of the local Communist Party.

Another category were those young men who had been as forced labourer in Germany and had meanwhile reached the conscription age. They were integrated into so-called labour battalions, and had under camp conditions to do such work that was least popular among the Soviet population. Also female civilians who had in one way or another aroused suspicion came in these "rabocie batalony", which comprised a total of 608.000 people.

Former prisoners of war of the lower ranks (1.056 million) were mobilized anew by the Red Army in special divisions, which were not seldom deployed in Far East war theaters. The conditions in the units of those re-mobilized persons were comparable to that in the penal battalions, yet they are to be considered separately.



About 100.000 repatriates did dismantling and other work in the Soviet zone in Germany. Approximately 136.000 people were relegated to "remote areas": these were "members of the German army and special German formations, Vlasov supporters and police." After their filtration 58.000 repatriates were directly delivered to the educational and correctional labour camps resp. colonies of GULAG.

In 1946 and 1947 150.000 repatriates who had returned from the American and British occupation zone were additionally arrested as "American" or "British" spies. The new bipolar constellation at the global political level was therefore also reflected in the political conditions within the Soviet society. The Soviet authorities launched a new purge, under the slogan of "Servility to the West" and the "Anti-cosmopolitan Campaign." A former female "Ostarbeiter" e.g., who had been liberated in Munich by the U.S. army and repatriated, was arrested because she had her shoes - found during a house search - unfortunately wrapped up in an American newspaper. {21}


Dismissal to the Hometown

Similar chaotic as the recruitment, deportation and geographical and definitional displacement of the returnees was the dismissal procedure. As the various categories of returnees often worked together in different sectors of industry and lived together in collective accommodations, the result was endless bureaucratic confusion. During the time in the camps a part of the special contingents was transferred into so-called "permanent cadres of the enterprise", but the persons concerned were not informed about it. Most people did not know their real status. What all had in common was that they had not seen their families for years. That's why a recurrent topic of conversation was the speculation about when and how the dismissal was to be expected.

The People's Commissariats to which they were assigned according to the nature of their work, however, had different ideas and requirements concerning the duration of the employment of their contingents. The People's Commissariats for coal and fuel, for example, wanted to keep their labour battalions for further three months, whereas the People's Commissariat of Ferrous Metallurgy needed its work groups still for an entire year. The requested deadline was granted all commissariats.



Thus, there is a lack of comparable figures about the date of dismissal of the individual categories. Also the calculations, which since 2000 were compiled by Russian, Belarussian and Ukrainian authorities as part of the compensation payments of the federal government to former Nazi slave labourers, brought no satisfactory results in this matter. The presumption is that about 90 per cent of returnees in late 1947 finally reached their home towns.

According to Soviet statistics about 5.35 million people were repatriated until March 1946. From the mere fact that they had been during the war in Western Europe, 57 per cent or 3, 067 million returnees had to suffer various isolations and sanctions - including those mobilized into the Red Army. 43 per cent (2, 283 million) returned without those measures to their home, where they - except for summons by the local NKVD and possible damages to the career, remained untouched by the penal organs of the intelligence agencies.

The former prisoner of war, however, remained in the places of banishment or in the GULAGs. After Stalin's death, they hoped for a rehabilitation. In numerous letters and petitions they appealed to the Central Committee of the CPSU, the Supreme Soviet, the Defense Department and other bodies; they reported to them on the discriminations to which they had been exposed on the part of local authorities. The amnesty on the occasion of the "victory over Nazi Germany" on 7 July 1945 included formally also the former prisoners of war with the rank of an ordinary soldier up to sergeant but had no practical consequences.


Veiled Repression and Arbitrariness

Under Stalin's regime the Soviet system was characterized by corruption, incompetence and inhumane living conditions. They shaped the life in the Soviet village of Pinsk / Belarus to Magadan / Eastern Siberia alike, and were the rule both in the civilian life and the daily life in the camps of the GULAG. The life of the returnees was further aggravated by the attitude of contempt and ideological biases demanded by the Soviet state leadership. The classification of the returnees as dangerous was already suggested to the involved military personnel, party officials, the security personnel and the population by the fact that the secret service without delay and comprehensively dealt with them. What automatically resulted in the belief that the returnees were a new kind of "enemies of the people", who do not deserve humane treatment and trust.

The Soviet authorities had coined the term "enemy of the people" during the forced collectivisation and the Great Purges; it was thus introduced and had an "intimate" sound. The subordinate Soviet institutions had already internalized and established the distrust of the returnees from Western Europe dictated from the highest governmental level.



The suspicion of disloyalty was, as it were, passed from top to bottom. The treatment on the spot, the "veiled repression", is only indirectly measurable. But there are a number of testimonies about it.

The secretary of the personell department of the Woroschilovgrad area / Ukraine e.g. said to the Control Commission from Moscow, "They are traitors. Those who have not wanted it have not gone away. They went voluntarily to Germany." - The Regional Committee of the Party in Bryansk (about 380 km southwest of Moscow) regarded the "suspicious attitude of many Soviet citizens who had returned from Germany and were enthusiastic about the 'German order' as alarming, and announced "operative measures". - With regard to the question of who should get a trainee post in a technical college, said Sergei Akakiev, secretary of the Komsomol of Schachtinsk about candidates who had just been released from a special camp:

"Those people have lived in occupied territory and committed some crimes for which we do not punish them now, but we should refrain from opening our schools to such a category of people. After all, we have really enough young people here who have not defiled themselves as those people did; these we should admit to the institutes. When we as employees of the Regional Commissariat of the party are now sitting together in this committee, it makes sense to discuss whom we want in our technical colleges. I am of the opinion that it is not the time to fill the training facilities with such people." {22}

The discriminatory attitude towards the returnees could be articulated so openly, because one could be sure of the backing by state institutions. This came mainly from the local intelligence agencies, which shortly after their return began to summon the repatriates at irregular intervals to "conversations." Not seldom, these summons took on the character of a strict interrogation. The filtration file had already been received by the authorities and was used as starting point for further questions on the alleged disloyalty to the Soviet state. After six months the local re-filtration commission considered whether "there is any possibility of issuing passports to such persons." If this request was judged favourably, the returnees were summoned again, examined by the secret service and, where appropriate, the passport was issued.

How arbitrary and different the treatment of the returnees and its impact was in their hometown is reflected in the statements of a female forced labourer and of a partisan. After months of staying in a filtration camp in Brest, Valentina Gureeva from Gorlovka / Donetsk area arrived home in December 1945. Her parents were still alive, her two brothers had been killed in the war. She at first got a temporary residence permit for six months.



Valentina Gureeva was 20 years old, had a school leaving certificate but no training. "We have virtually completed our youth in Germany." It was not easy for her to contact again the young people of the village. The feeling of stigmatization through the time in Germany accompanied her many years:

They did not receive me well there. I was always afraid to tell that I have been in Germany. When the young people in the village sat together and I arrived, I often heard something like 'And that girl was in Germany,' and the circumstances immediately changed. They grumbled about me. I had been in Germany, and that explained everything. They looked differently at me than at others. The war has hampered many people in private life. This was also the case in professional life and other areas. I say it honestly: workbenches have always fascinated me since I've worked in factories in Germany. I would have become a good engineer." {23}

She became an accountant and worked 36 years in this profession. Also Mikhail Gusev from Nova Praga / Ukraine - he had been arrested as a partisan - returned to his native village after a detention in a filtration camp. There he met his parents. His brother was regarded as missing since the fighting near Brest. After his return, in the local NKVD one had made clear to him that he had virtually to be considered as a traitor because he had broken his military oath, and had lived in Germany. Practical problems, however, he had not felt later, said Gusev. But he had not had "great ambitions".

Especially the families of former prisoners of war were also involved in the repressive practices. For example, the daughter of a POW was not permitted to undertake official trips to western countries. In many cases, the career opportunities of the children were impaired.


Late Recognition and Rehabilitation

On 17 September 1955 on the basis of a governmental decree of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet an amnesty was granted for Soviet citizens who had served in the German army, police force, the Russian National Liberation Army and the national legions, as e.g. the Cossacks and Turkmen legion. But there was said nothing about the restoration of the legally guaranteed rights of former prisoners of war, who had been sentenced because of their (supposedly) "voluntary captivity" [Gefangengabe], and who had already served their sentence or were still serving it. The hope of the former soldiers was then set on the in 1956 appointed commission, which was led by Defense Minister Marshal Georgy Zhukov.

At the beginning of its work the Commission found clear words. But for political reasons the final report did not contain the promise of rehabilitation and reinstatement of their civil rights, desired by the parties concerned.



They were still not recognized as war veterans. This meant that they were excluded from the privileges granted to the war veterans, such as the right to free medical treatment and medication, free use of public transport, additional food rations, etc. They also had to learn that they are completely ignored in the official remembrance of the "Great Patriotic War", which is up to this day a central point of identification even for the post-Soviet society.

Many Soviet victims of Nazism have been living for 50 years as stigmatized in their homeland. On 24 January 1995 Boris Yeltsin signed a government decree entitled "On the restoration of the lawful rights of Russian citizens - former Soviet POWs and civilians who have been repatriated during the Great Patriotic War and the postwar period." Nevertheless, many had a strong feeling that they had received a "mark of Cain" during the war - stigmatized for life.



{1} A. M. Davydov, Report of 21 January 1946 to Major General Basilov, deputy commissioner of the Council of People's Commissioners for Repatriation Affairs, Moscow, in: AVP RF (Archive of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Moscow) 082, op. 30, p. 128, d.11, p. 43.

{2} Memorandum with 1700 signatures of 6 January 1945, DP camp Plattling, attachment 7 in the report of Davydov to A. A. Smirnov (Head of the Third European Department of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs MID) of 21 January 1946, About the Course of Repatriation of Soviet citizens, in: AVP RF 082, 1945/46, 30, 128, 11.

{3} See, M. H. During, Memorandum for the Officer in charge, G-2 Section on 13 March 1946 an 970'h CIC Detachment Team 107, CIC Field Office Paris, p. 1 ff., in: NARA (National Archives and Record Administration, College Park/Maryland) RG 319 box 104, NND 941260.

{4} See, Report of the General Board United States Forces, European Theater (Frankfurt Germany 1.1.1947) on Displaced Persons in American Occupied Germany. United Nations Displaced Persons, Expellees, Refugees, prepared by G-5 Division, in: NARA RG 338, Box 107 b.

{5} Basilov, Report of 15 January 1947 to A. A. Smirnov, in: AVP RF 082, 34, 147, 14, pp. 14-34, 34; the Soviet repatriation authorities ascertained these figures by means of "explanatory work", i.e. they evaluated from time to time the camp registries.

{6} See A. Novik, assistant of the military prosecutor of the group of the Soviet military administration in Germany (SVAG), lieutenant colonel of the judiciary on 7 October 1946 to the head of the repatriation administration of SVAG, in: GARF (State Archive of the Russian Federation) 7317, 20, 56, pp. 376-379, 377.

{7} See V. Verschinin, Head of the Department for Repatriation and Search for citizens of United Nations of SMAD in Germany, Potsdam, 12 October 1946, to the Head of the military censorship of MGB, in: GARF 7317, 20, 56, p. 379.

{8} O. Figes, Die Flüsterer (Berlin 2008).

{9} See, Order of the NKVD No. 00706/00268 of 16 June 1945: About the procedure of the examination and filtration of Soviet citizens who returned, resp. were repatriated to their native country in their place of residence, in: GARF 9408, 1s, 2;



see also, Order of the people's commissioners of the NKVD Berija and of the NKGB Merkulov May 1945: About the measures of a profound screening by the NKVD's support of spies, in: GARF 9808, ls, d. 7, pp. 152-155.

{10} See the report of Major General Kuznezov, leader of the NKVD troops for the surveillance of the hinterland of the central group of the Soviet troops, and by Ivanov, leader of department „F" of the NKWD about the results of the check-up and filtration of Soviet citizens from October to December 1945, in: GARF 9408, 1,19, pp. 1-30.

{11} See G. K. Zukov, E. A. Furzeva, K. P. Gorschenin and others in the Central Committee of the CPSU, lecture note of 4 June 1956 about the camps of former prisoners of war, from the archive of the president of Russian Federation (AP RF), in: L. Reschin: Über die unvollendete Schlacht von Marschall Zukov. Über die Rehabiliterung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener 1954-1956 [About the incomplete battle of Marshal Zukov. On the rehabilitation of Soviet prisoners of war], in: Historic Archive („Istoriceskij archiv"), Mai 1995, 108-127, 117.

{12} A. Solschenizyn, Archipel Gulag (Bern 1974) 68 et sequ.

{13} See, Order of the People's Commissariat of Defence of the USSR No. 270 of 16 August 1941 on the liability of military personnel for their volontary captivity [Gefangengabe] and the handing over of weapons into the hands of the enemy (translation), in: Prikazy glavnogo komandovanija (Orders of the High Command) 1941-1945, Komplekt dokumentov iz fonda RGVA (document collection from the stock of the Russian State Military Archive).

{14} Interview by L. Rees, in: the same, Hitlers Krieg im Osten (München 2000) 222.

{15} See M. J. Proudfoot, European Refugees 1939-52. A Study in Forced Population Movement (London 1957) 210 and Table 11, The Transfer of Soviet Nationals From the SHAEF Area and the Western Zones of Germany and Austria to Areas under Soviet Control: 22 May 1945 to 30 September 1945.

{16} See, Report of the General Board United States Forces, European Theater: Displaced Persons, Refugees, and Recovered Allied Military Personnel, G-5 Section, Study Number 35, File: R 383.7/2 TGBSY. The Library of Dwight D. Eisenhower, Abilene, Kansas, p. 56 (23 May 1945 - 10 July 1945).

{17} See also Proudfoot (note 15) 210 and Table 11, 211.

{18} See „Otcet o vypolnenii resenij Pravitel'stva Sojuza SSR po provedeniju repatriazii grazdan SSSR i grazdan inostrannych gosudarstv" (report on the fulfilment of the decisions taken by the Soviet government on the repatriation of citizens of the USSR and other countries) of the repatriation administration in Moscow of March 1946, in: GARF 9526ss, op. iss, d.1118, pp. 223-230.

{19} See Golikov's report (No. 005676) of 24 September 1945 to G. M. Malenkov (secretary of the ZK VKP b) on the results of the tour of inspection of 15 high officers through Belarus and Ukraine from 6 to 29 August 1945, in: RZCHIDNI (today RGASPI — Russian State Archive of Socio-Political History, the former party archive of the CPSU) f. 17, 122, 117, pp. 44-55, 48.

{20} Comrade Schibaev, secretary of the town committee of the VKP (b), shorthand text of the meeting of the party committee of the town Schachtinsk on 5 March 1945, in: RZCHIDNI 17, 45, 1470, pp. 3-6; in RZCHIDNI all minutes are stored of meetings of the party throughout the Soviet Union.

{21} About the characterization of the various categories see U. Goeken-Haidl, Der Weg zurück. Die Repatriierung sowjetischer Zwangsarbeiter u. Kriegsgefangener während u. nach dem Zweiten Weltkrieg (Essen 2006) 429-470 and 545-550 (with statistical tableaus and archival proofs).

{22} Shorthand text of the speeches during the meeting of the party committee of the town Schachtinsk of 22 November 1945, in: RZCHIDNI 17, 45, 1470, p. 47 et sequ.

{23} It is about a audio recording (2800 minutes) of 28 interviews with former Soviet concentration camp inmates in Bergen-Belsen. It was produced in 1997 within the framework of a project of the University of Hannover under the supervision of Hans-Heinrich Nolte. In August 2003 Ulrike Goeken-Haidl has translated and put into writing the essential part of those records on behalf of the memorial site Bergen-Belsen; see also: Häftlinge aus der UdSSR in Bergen-Belsen. Dokumentation der Erinnerung, edited by H.-H. Nolte (Frankfurt 2001).


Link to 'Public Con-Spiration for-with-of the Poor'