Saturday, January 23, 2016

HE WILL SOON LOSE THAT SMILE…



…whether sharing a joke with his comrade or just happy to have survived…so far…

The war between Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia (1941–1945) was arguably the largest and most brutal theater of land warfare in the twentieth century. Fueled by bitter ideological antagonism, the enormous cruelty at the front extended directly into the treatment of prisoners of war on both sides. Of 5.7 million captured Red Army soldiers, about 3.3 million died in German captivity—a staggering mortality rate of 57 percent. By comparison, the mortality rate of British and American POWs in German hands lay between 3.5 and 5.1 percent. On the other side, almost one-third of up to 3 million German and Austrian prisoners of war perished in Soviet captivity. And Germany’s allies fared little better: 2 million of their soldiers, mainly Hungarians, Rumanians, Czechs, and Italians, were captured by the Red Army during the war and suffered mortality rates at times comparable to that among the Germans. In Soviet and German POW camps, years of hard labor and almost unbearable living conditions shaped the lives of those who were to survive. Facing this prospect, many soldiers on both sides decided to fight to the bitter end rather than to give up, thus intensifying and prolonging what already was a savage war.


In the early morning hours of 22 June 1941, the German Wehrmacht (armed forces) and its allies invaded the Soviet Union. Taken by surprise, the Red Army initially offered only sporadic resistance. In the first week of July alone, the German army encircled and captured over 320,000 Russian troops at Biasystok and Minsk. Heading further east, it continued to capture huge numbers of Soviet soldiers, most notably at Smolensk, Kiev, and Bryansk. By the time the Wehrmacht’s advance came to its first significant standstill near Moscow in December 1941, over 3.2 million Soviet soldiers had fallen into German captivity. By February 1942, 2 million of them had lost their lives. This mass death had been clearly premeditated. Prior to the German attack, in March 1941, Hitler had relieved his troops from allegiance to the traditional code of military honor: “The Communist is from first to last no comrade. It is a war of extermination.” And despite occasional criticism out of its ranks, the Wehrmacht generally complied with the regime’s genocidal premises.


Thus, for many Soviet soldiers, death came immediately after their capture: according to German orders, political officers (commissars) were to be shot on the spot and others, especially Jewish soldiers, were handed over to SS execution squads. Undernourished and liable to be shot if they were physically unable to carry on, tens of thousand then perished during the seemingly endless marches from the front to camps in Poland and Germany. Prisoners who made it to their permanent camp locations usually found nothing but a barren field surrounded by barbed-wire. For shelter, they were forced to dig holes into the ground. With no sanitary facilities, these “camps” soon became breeding grounds for typhus and dysentery. Then the coming of winter hit the inmates in their makeshift shelters. The most common cause of death among the POWs at that time, however, was starvation. In order to maintain the food supply of their own troops and that of the German civilian population, the leadership of the Third Reich had decided to induce a “natural” decimation of the Russian prisoners, whom they branded “subhumans” and “worthless eaters.” Some Soviet POWs even became the first victims of the gas chambers at a number of concentration camps, including Auschwitz. Clearly, the treatment of the Soviet POWs in 1941–1942 fell into line with Nazi designs of a racist war of conquest and annihilation in which no rules, be they legal or ethical, were recognized.



In early 1942, however, pressure mounted to make use of prisoners of war in industry and agriculture. Following the anticipated victory, the German leadership had initially planned to demobilize large portions of the Wehrmacht in order to create a manpower pool for the defense industry. But with the advance stalled, demobilization became impossible. Instead, a first batch of 400,000 Soviet prisoners in Germany were forced to toil on projects such as highway construction and mining. Requiring a healthy workforce, the labor program led to the gradual betterment of the prisoners’ living conditions. In the spring of 1942, the death rate in the POW camps began to drop, though this was not entirely due to sudden German benevolence: by now, so many prisoners had died that in many cases the meager allotments of food became sufficient for those who remained. Yet, not until July 1944 did the food supply for the working Soviet prisoners reach a level comparable to that of other Allied prisoners in German captivity.


In addition to labor, service in the German army seemed to offer a way of survival for Soviet prisoners. In 1942, the Wehrmacht and the SS began to recruit volunteers among the POWs. Appealing to anticommunist sentiment and the will to survive among the captives, their efforts had some success. Tens of thousands of former Soviet soldiers served in special German-led battalions, in the army of Lieutenant General Andrei Vlasov, a former Red Army commander who had switched sides, and in German work battalions. The total number of former Soviet prisoners in the German armed services is unknown, with estimates ranging from 250,000 to about 1 million. The remaining POWs became part of the gigantic slave labor pool that propped up the Third Reich’s industry in the later years of the war. Their living conditions remained harsh, and another 1.3 million perished in German captivity between 1942 and 1945. Furthermore, in spite of Allied victory, the plight of many Soviet prisoners did not end in 1945. Of approximately 1.8 million prisoners eventually repatriated to the USSR, 150,000 were sentenced to six years forced labor for “aiding the enemy,” and almost all others experienced the hostility engendered by Soviet leader Josef Stalin’s infamous Order 270, which had called all Red Army soldiers who allowed themselves to be captured alive “traitors to the motherland.”

To fall into enemy captivity on the eastern front turned out to be highly perilous for German soldiers as well. Here too, legal considerations made no impact. Even though the USSR had not signed the Geneva Convention, it had indicated that it would observe the Hague Order and the Second Geneva Convention for the protection of the wounded. Nevertheless, retreating Red Army forces more often than not executed their wounded POWs. But during the Wehrmacht’s initial advance in 1941 and 1942, the number of German soldiers in Soviet hands remained relatively low. Until the battle of Stalingrad, which ended in January 1943, the number of German POWs did not exceed 100,000. At Stalingrad, however, another 93,000 fell into Soviet captivity, of whom barely 6,000 were to survive their internment. The mortality rate among German POWs at the time rose to 90 percent, as the majority never made it to permanent prison camps. But unlike their Soviet counterparts in 1941–1942, the German prisoners were not subjected to a policy of systematic mass murder. Instead, they fell victim to the unorganized state of the Soviet POW camp system (GUPVI), to the chaotic conditions of a country ravaged by war, and to individual acts of retaliation. In addition, after months of winter fighting, many German soldiers went into captivity in pitiful physical state, at least one-third of them in need of medical attention, which the Russians generally failed to provide.


Following the defeat at Kursk in the summer of 1943, the German army began its final retreat from Russia. The rising number of POWs now entirely overwhelmed Soviet capacities. The number of base camps in the Soviet Union tripled from 52 to 156 in 1944, yet scarcities remained everywhere, especially in food provision, winter clothing, and medical supplies. At the end of the war in May 1945, another 1.5 million Axis soldiers who had failed to reach American or British front lines flooded into Russian temporary POW camps. Once in camps in the Soviet Union, they were put to work to reconstruct the war-torn country. In fact, the USSR’s first five-year economic plan after the war depended heavily on POW labor. For many years and under often gruesome conditions, German and Austrian prisoners built power plants and railway tracks, the Metro in Moscow, defense industries in the Ural mountains, gold mines in eastern Siberia, and much more. Even the Russian atomic bomb program owed much to the labor and technical expertise of German prisoners of war.


Given their suffering, the German prisoners showed little positive reaction to Soviet propaganda efforts. Attempts to organize them into an opposition to Hitler’s regime largely fell on deaf ears, even though small groups such as the National Committee for a Free Germany served as recruiting grounds for administrative personnel for the Soviet occupied zone of Germany after the war. The majority of the prisoners, however, experienced Soviet political influence as oppressive. Most infamous were the camp hierarchies established by the Antifa, groups of antifascist, mainly communist, German POWs who had been handpicked by Soviet authorities in order to control their fellow inmates. Usually, these selected prisoners occupied privileged positions in the camps and could be easily identified among their undernourished comrades by their healthy, well-fed appearance.


The living conditions in Soviet captivity failed to improve after the war. Constant hunger, slave labor, and a lack of medical care led the prisoners to develop specific strategies of survival. The German prisoners adopted the “plenny-step,” a mode of slow movement designed to conserve the body’s energy that soon turned the camp inhabitants into a mass of bent, crawling figures. The “hunger winter” of 1946–1947, which followed a Russian crop failure, took yet another heavy toll on them. Soviet authorities had to declare a state of emergency for the entire GUPVI camp system in order to battle the dramatically decreasing labor output and the surging mortality rates. And given the importance of prisoner labor, repatriations began only gradually. In mid-1947, when the first mass repatriations of Austrian and Hungarian prisoners commenced, there were still over 1 million German POWs in the Soviet Union whose repatriation did not begin until a year later. By 1950, their number had slowly dropped to 30,000.


The story of those last 30,000 German prisoners constitutes the final chapter of the sad history of POW internment on what had been the eastern front. Stripped of their status as prisoners of war and instead considered as convicted war criminals, these internees became a lever used by the Soviets in the Cold War, particularly with respect to the newly established Federal Republic of Germany. While some of these former German soldiers had undoubtedly committed war crimes, many others had received their original sentences—25 years of hard labor—for petty offenses or simply out of bad luck. For another five years, German prisoners toiled in the Soviet Union until that country finally repatriated them in 1955–1956 in exchange for the establishment of diplomatic relations with the Federal Republic. The last German POW did not return home until 1956, more than 10 years after the end of the war.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

BEST BOOKS




Catherine Andreyev
Review
"Her main aim is to synthesize and comment on the political ideas of the Russians and others associated with what she properly calls not simply the 'Vlasov movement' but the Russian Liberation Movement....Her book includes a comprehensive and judicious survey of what others have done, full citations to sources, and an extensive bibliography. The writing is clear, graceful, and precise." American Historical Review

"...an elegant, authoritative but highly readable book." The Journal of Soviet Military Studies

"Andreyev's book is likely to become the standard reference work on an important movement whose leading figures were hanged in Moscow in August 1946" Journal of Ukrainian Studies
#
Every so often a text appears which dispels the conventional wisdom of what we come to accept as history. Catherine Andreyev's "Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement" is such a work. This narrative tells the story of one of the strangest, yet most compelling episodes in the history of the Second World War. In July of 1942, a Soviet Army general, Andrei Vlasov was captured by the invading German Army. He later came to lead a non-existent force known as the ROA, or Russian Liberation Army. Although this force had never existed, he was in fact the ideological leader of an estimated 800 million Russians who were opposed to Stalin and served in various capacities during the war. Throughout the war it was clear that the movement was not, as their opponents had charged, blind collaboration with the Nazi forces but a political movement in its own right. The goal of Vlasov and his group was none other than a free and democratic Russian state. In the course of the movement, it was in fact the Nazis themselves that provided the strongest opposition to the goals of the ROA. They, in fact had desired to use Vlasov only for the purpose of propaganda against the Soviets. Andreyev's story tells the story of the various individuals in the movement and the tragic outcome of this movement. Particular emphasis is placed on different factions involved. In this story we learn about the soldiers themselves who were mostly Russian prisoners of war, as well as the civilian émigré groups who supported the ROA. We also see the internal struggle between the Vlasov's group who sincerely wanted to liberate their homeland and the Nazi hierarchy who considered the Russians as being racially inferior and wanted to use them as puppets. In short this is an excellent story of an idealistic, but doomed group of people and their struggle.
Tom Pierce


Product Description
This book deals with the attempt by Soviet citizens to create an anti-Soviet Liberation Movement during the Second World War. The Movement's ultimate importance lies in its expression of grass-roots opposition to the Soviet regime, the first substantial such efflorescence since 1922. The motivation of its titular leader, Vlasov, is examined in detail, as is its fundamental ideology, analyzed within the context not merely of wartime but of prewar Soviet and Russian emigré society.


Die Geschichte der Wlassow-Armee (Einzelschriften zur militarischen Geschichte des Zweiten Weltkrieges)
Joachim Hoffmann
Publisher: Rombach (1984)
Language: German
ISBN-10: 3793001865
ISBN-13: 978-3793001867
“Die geschichte der Wlassow-Armee" is best on the military history of the ROA.

Against Stalin and Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941-1945
Author: Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt
Publisher: Macmillan
Published in: London
Year: 1970

"It can be argued that it was Hitler's idiotic policy towards Russia and Russians that lost him the war in the East, and, incidentally ensured the survival of the Stalinist regime. By the summer of 1944 when Himmler (of all people) sponsored a change of course it was already too late. In the event the German armies were overwhelmed, and the Russian Liberation Movement under General Vlasov became one of the might-have-beens of history. The Movement, however, has a significance of its own, apart from the moving human story of its leaders and its followers. Here we have an authentic account from the man best qualified to give it..."-----from the Foreword by David Footman.


The author was on the staff of Field Marshall von Bock, commander of the Central Group of Armies in Hitler's invasion of Russia. He kept a full diary from then till the end of the war, and it is on this that he has based this book. An account of the Russian Liberation Movement under the leadership of General Vlasov. The author was closely associated with Vlasov. Hitler failed to exploit the readiness to co-operate among the populations of Russia which greeted his troops when they first advanced into the Soviet Union. This one is good if you want to know the person Andrej Andrejevich Vlasov and his ideals.

Booklist:
Fischer, George: Soviet opposition to Stalin. 1952.
Dwinger, Edwin Erich: General Wlassow, eine tragödie .. 1951.
Steenberg, Sven: General Wlassow, verräter oder patriot. 1968.
English translation Vlasov, traitor or patriot.
Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfrid: Gegen Stalin und Hitler. 1970.
English translation Against Stalin and Hitler. The John Day Company. 1973.
Thorwald, Jürgen: Die illusion: Rotarmisten in Hitler´s heere. 1974.
English translation The illusion:..1975.
Hoffmann, Joachim: Die Geschichte der Wlassow-Armee. 1984.
Andreyev, Catherine: Vlasvov and the Russian Liberation Movement. Cambridge University Press. 1987. Contains a list of literature, much in Russian.
Drobjasko, S.: Russkaja osvoboditelnaja armija. 1998. Soldat series no. 5.
Okorokov, A.V.: Materialy Po Istorii Russkogo Osvoboditel Nogo Dvizheniya, three parts 1997-99. Moscow.
To read of the repatriation to the Soviet Union:
Tolstoy, Nicolay: Victims of Yalta. Hodder & Stoughton. 1977.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Glossary

BARBAROSSA, OPERATION
Hitler’s code name for his invasion of the Soviet Union, launched on 22 June 1941. It was the greatest military conflict of the modern era and the greatest land invasion in the history of modern warfare. It was also one of the greatest betrayals of history, since Stalin had obviously believed that Hitler’s commitment to the Hitler- Stalin Pact was genuine. Placed under the aegis of the great German medieval emperor Frederick Barbarossa, it was intended to signal Hitler’s determination to assert German imperium over Slavdom. It was also meant to demonstrate the superiority of the Germans, members of the master race, over the Slavs, considered in Nazi racial theory to be Untermenschen—“subhumans.” Special orders were given as to the treatment of captured Russians and Russian civilians, for whom the normal rules of war were not to apply.
References
Glantz, David. 2003. Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud: Tempus.
Overy, Richard. 1999. Russia’s War. London: Penguin.


DRANG NACH OSTEN (“DRIVE TO THE EAST”)
Hitler’s expression for the Reich policy of conquering Slav territories to the East of Germany in order to satisfy Germany’s supposed need for more Lebensraum— “living space.” In Mein Kampf, whose fourteenth chapter is dedicated to “Eastward orientation,” Hitler argued that an increase in her living space was essential if Germany were to rise to the status of world power; the only place where “new territories” could be found was in Russia, so Ostpolitik (“Eastern policy”) actually meant “the acquisition of the necessary soil for the German people.” This acquisition of territory in the East, which Hitler saw as his “historic mission,” along with the annihilation of the Jews, formed a favorite theme of his speeches and monologues. He associated a racist ideology of the “inferiority” of the Slavs with the economic concept of a ruthless exploitation of the resources of Eastern Europe. The peoples of the East must be set to work: “Slavdom is a born mass of slaves that cry for a master”; since the Slavs “were not destined to a life of their own,” they must be “Germanized.” In the context of his “European territorial ordering,” the brutal achievement of which he entrusted to Himmler and the SS in 1942, Hitler planned the settlement of 100 million persons of German origin in the East. According to the plans made by Hitler and Himmler, the “persons of German origin” settling in Russia were to “organize” the native Slav populace into an army of slaves and servants.
References
Leitz, C. 2004. Nazi Foreign Policy, 1933–1941: The Road to Global War. London: Routledge.
Meyer, Henry Cord. 1996. Drang nach osten: Fortunes of a Slogan-concept in German-Slavic Relations, 1849–1990. Berne: Peter Lang.


THE SLAVS, (and Germany)
Denotes a variety of ethnicities and nations in Central, Eastern, and South-East Europe whose tongues belong to the Slavic language group: “the Slavs” were seen by the Nazis as inferior peoples. In comparison to the Jews however, they occupied an indeterminate position in the Nazi racial hierarchy. They were collectively or separately characterized as fremdvölkische (“nationally alien”), Untermenschen, or “Asiatic,” and constituted the majority of victims of Nazi annihilation, deportation, and exploitation policies from 1938 to 1945. Nevertheless, representatives of all three Slavic subgroups—Western, Southern, and Eastern—were, at one point or another, accepted as German allies. A number of Nazi publications considered parts (and some all) of the Slavs as belonging to the original “Nordic” or “Indogermanic” peoples. The Third Reich’s attack on Eastern Europe may have been primarily determined by motives other than anti-Slavism, such as anti-Bolshevism and the quest for new Lebensraum. Yet implementation of the latter aims accounts only partly for the deaths of the millions of Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, and other Slavs who perished not only in combat against, but primarily under the occupation of, the Wehrmacht and the SS during World War II.


Nineteenth-century German public opinion and research on Eastern Europe and Russia showed, along with certain russophile tendencies, strong currents of anti-Slavism that continued earlier negative stereotypes about Poles and Russians. Views of Slavs as “unhistorical,” “cultureless,” or “barbaric” were voiced by representatives of both Right and Left—including Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. In the völkisch discourse of late Imperial Germany, Slavs were described as “racially mixed” or “mongolized.” A significant minority of nationalist and racist publicists with influence on the Nazi movement, including Houston Stuart Chamberlain, did, however, write positively about the Slavs. The Slavs played a relatively minor role in interwar German racist discourse in general and Nazi racial thinking in particular. Both official statements and unofficial procedures of the Third Reich regarding Slavic people continued to be marked by contradictions and shifts right down to 1945.




Although the Czechs were viewed by Hitler in the 1920s more negatively than the Poles, German occupation policies in the Reichsprotektorat of Czechoslovakia were more permissive and less violent than those in the Generalgouvernement and other annexed Polish territories. Whereas “only” 40,000 or so Czechs perished during Nazi occupation, the overwhelming majority of the 1.8 to 1.9 million Polish civilian victims of World War II were killed by Germans. In spite of manifest SS anti-Polonism, Himmler’s Generalplan Ost of 1942 made a distinction between eindeutschungsfähige Poles (“those who can be Germanized”) and Poles who were to be deported to Siberia within the next decades. Earlier, the greater part of the Czech population had become regarded as assimilable by the Nazis, while the Slovaks had been allowed to form their own satellite state.


Whereas in the Balkans Orthodox Serbs were among the nations least respected by Hitler, Orthodox Bulgarians (seen as being of Turkic origin) occupied a relatively high position in the Nazi racial hierarchy and were referred to by Joseph Goebbels as “friends.” Bulgaria was permitted to abstain from participation in the attack on the Soviet Union and to pursue an independent policy with regard to its Jews. The Soviet people were labeled “beasts,” “animals,” “half-monkeys,” “hordes,” and the like. Among the approximately 10 million Soviet civilians who perished under the Nazis, there were 3.3 million POWs, most of them Eastern Slavs. Yet, as the German advance into Russia halted, the Waffen-SS recruited, among other soldiers from the USSR, a specifically Ukrainian division (“Galicia”) and a Byelorussian unit. Impressed by the phenotype of the Ukrainians, Hitler, in August 1942, proposed the assimilation of Ukrainian women. Toward the end of the war, German troops were assisted by General Andrei Vlasov’s Russian Popular Army of Liberation, consisting of tens of thousands of Russian POWs and emigres. The Cossacks— though being Eastern Slavs—were even seen as “Germanic.” Shortly before his suicide, Hitler described the “Slavic race” as stronger than the Germanic one— whose destiny it was to succumb.
References
Connelly, John. 1999. “Nazis and Slavs: From Racial Theory to Racist Practice.” Central European History 32, no. 1: 1–33.
Laffin, John. 1995. Hitler Warned Us: The Nazis’ Master Plan for a Master Race. Dulles, VA: Brassey’s.
Schaller, Helmut. 2002. Der Nationalsozialismus und die slawische Welt. Regensburg: Friedrich Pustet.
Volkmann, Hans-Erich, ed. 1994. Das Russlandbild im Dritten Reich. Köln: Böhlau.
Wippermann, Wolfgang. 1996. “Antislavismus.” Pp. 512–524 in Handbuch zur Völkischen Bewegung” 1871–1918, edited by Uwe Puschner. München: Saur.


LEBENSRAUM
Roughly translates from German as “living space”; particularly associated with the imperialistic ideology and population policies of Nazism, although there was an equivalent expression in Italian Fascism (spazio vitale). In policy and prosecution, the Nazi pursuit of Lebensraum involved the massive transfer—and violent uprooting— of indigenous populations in Central Eastern Europe. Forming a significant aspect of Hitler’s Weltanschauung as illustrated in Mein Kampf, and put into violent practice during World War II, the quest for Lebensraum can be seen to underpin a number of actions undertaken by the Third Reich: the invasions of Poland and Soviet Russia, massive population resettlements and “evacuations,” and the Holocaust. All were defended as a means to secure Germanic hegemony in Europe by control of natural resources (such as grain and oil) as well as forcible depopulation of vast territories— including some 50 million Eastern Europeans— construed as indispensable to the resettlement and functioning of a European “New Order,” or “thousand year Reich,” dreamed of by Nazi planners.


On the eve of World War I, völkisch Pangermanism, military expansionism, and increasingly explicit racism became more closely associated with the doctrine of the established idea of Lebensraum, which had generally been used to cover colonial expansionism such as was practiced by all the major European powers in the nineteenth century. Friedrich von Bernhardi in particular explicitly advocated territorial seizures to the east of Germany, and the issue of the progression from Bernhardi via German militarism in World War I to Nazi conceptions of Lebensraum has been hotly debated, especially after the so-called Fischer Controversy in the 1960s concerning the continuity (or otherwise) of postunification German expansionism. Although the Third Reich’s expansionist policies between 1933 and 1939 in areas such as Czechoslovakia and Austria may be viewed as the first shots in the battle for Lebensraum, that battle is generally considered to have begun with the onset of World War II in Europe. Following the conquest of Poland, massive population transfers of ethnic Germans and “non-Aryans” alike were prioritized by Nazi functionaries, and following the invasion of the Soviet Union efforts were made to depopulate vast areas through murdering millions in Central Eastern Europe.
References
Burleigh, Michael. 2000. The Third Reich. Basingstoke: Macmillan.
Fischer, Fritz. 1986. From Kaisserreich to Third Reich: Elements of Continuity in German History, 1871–1945. London: Unwin Hyman.
Housden, Martyn. 2003. Hans Frank: Lebensraum and the Holocaust. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Friday, July 24, 2015

The First Eastern SS Legions Part I




In October 1941, when German victory still seemed certain, Professor Wolfgang Abel of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Anthropology Human Heredity and Genetics led a team of race examiners (Eignungsprüfer) lent by the SS Race and Settlement Office (RuSHA) to occupied Poland to conduct studies of some of the millions of Soviet POWs held in sprawling, open-air German camps. It was a journey into hell. Historians now believe that the German army killed 2.8 million prisoners through starvation, gross neglect and execution. This barely remembered slaughter has been called the Forgotten Holocaust. Historian Karel Berkhoff argues:

I submit that the shootings of the Red Army commissars and other Soviet POWs, along with the starvation of millions more, constituted a single process. It was a process that started in the middle of 1941 and lasted until at least the end of 1942. I propose to call it a genocidal massacre. It was a massacre because it was ‘an instance of killing of a considerable number of human beings under circumstances of atrocity or cruelty.’

This genocidal massacre was also a turning point in the evolution of German racial pseudoscience.

After the German invasion of the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Soviet soldiers surrendered to the Germans. Any identified as Jews or ‘Bolshevik Commissars’ were immediately executed according to Hitler’s notorious Commissar Order. They also killed Muslims and ‘Asiatics’ who were discovered to be circumcised and mistaken for Jews. Completely indiscriminate killing ended in September, when Nazi officials ordered that North Caucasians, Armenians and Turkic peoples, as well as Ukrainians and Belorussians, should be spared. After this spasm of killing, German troops and SS units began marching the Soviet captives to temporary camps known as ‘Dulag’ and then on to permanent ‘Stalag’ camps. During these forced marches, prisoners received minimal rations or none at all; guards often shot dead civilians who tried to supply food as the pitiful columns of starving, brutalised men passed through villages and towns. The Germans executed any stragglers who fell behind, even by a few metres. The survivors finally ended up penned inside an archipelago of vast, windswept camps enclosed by rudimentary barbed wire fences. Inside this cruel world, chaos ruled. Or seemed to: German policy was perfectly clear. In the words of Field Marshall Keitel, the purpose of this murderous internment was the ‘destruction of a Weltanschauung’ – meaning the Bolshevik world view that allegedly infested the minds of the prisoners.

According to the ethos of the German camp system, providing more than a few ladles of watery lentil soup was theft from the German people. Starvation was camp policy. Quartermaster General Eduard Wagner (who had negotiated the ‘Einsatzgruppe agreement’ with RSHA chief Reinhard Heydrich) insisted that the prisoners ‘should starve’. Provision of food, according to Keitel, was ‘wrongheaded humanity’. This German army policy reflected a radical ministerial strategy that had been formulated by SS-Obergruppenführer Herbert Backe which assumed that ‘the war can only be continued if the entire Wehrmacht is fed from Russia’. As a consequence, ‘there can be no doubt that tens of millions of people will die of starvation’. One Ukrainian official was told bluntly: ‘The Führer has decided to exterminate Bolshevism, including the people spoiled by it.’ Mortality rates varied from camp to camp, but, taken as a whole, were shockingly high. In some camps, over 2,500 prisoners died every day. This was the realm of hunger. To live a few days longer, starving, lice-tormented prisoners would eat anything, including bark. Some resorted, inevitably, to cannibalism. Alexander Solzhenitsyn provided this account of a German camp in The Gulag Archipelago: ‘around the bonfires, beings who had once been Russian officers but had now become beastlike creatures who gnawed the bones of dead horses, who baked patties from potato rinds, who smoked manure and were all swarming with lice. Not all these two-legged creatures had died as yet.’ There was just one way out: to be selected for service in the auxiliary police or for labour service, digging mass graves or rebuilding roads and bridges in the most gruelling conditions. Few Germans who discovered what was taking place in the camps protested – with one surprising exception. The German ‘eastern expert’ Alfred Rosenberg sent letter after letter to Keitel complaining about the murderous treatment of Soviet POWs. He recognised that Germany was squandering a reservoir of potential good will since many Soviet minorities hated Stalin. Now they were dying like flies in German camps. Rosenberg’s appeals fell on deaf ears.

Now in October, the prisoners who remained alive in the hellish German camps would be preyed on by German scientists led by anthropologist and SS officer Wolfgang Abel. Although the camp administrators referred to the prisoners as ‘Russians’, they came from every corner of the Soviet Empire; for Abel, the gulag was a tainted human treasure trove. The ‘Abel mission’ examined more than 42,000 prisoners from many different ethnic groups, which included Russians, Turkic peoples, Mongolians and various Caucasians. Abel’s team measured, photographed and blood tested their subjects. Then they returned to their spacious offices in Berlin. When they processed their data, Abel was astonished. Their captive subjects revealed that the ‘Slavic Untermenschen’ of the east exhibited a markedly higher level of ‘Germanic’ characteristics than he and his colleagues had anticipated. The new findings troubled Abel and other RuSHA race experts. His findings provided powerful evidence that ‘Asiatic peoples’ had, during periods of German expansion, been ‘strengthened by Germanic blood’; the colonisers, to put it another way, had enjoyed sexual congress with the colonised. History, as geneticist Steve Jones puts it, ‘is made in bed’ – or the wheat field. The troubling consequence, Abel realised, was a kind of biological theft: German blood had been stolen from its rightful bearers.

The findings of the Abel mission echoed Himmler’s remarks about ‘harvesting Germanic blood wherever it might be found’. Now he had scientific backing. Traditionally many German anthropologists had regarded the mixing of races or miscegenation as a weakening process. That was certainly the view of Adolf Hitler. But a number of German race experts came to more nuanced conclusions. One was Alfred Ploetz, who argued that racial mixing of peoples ‘not too far apart’ was a means of ‘increasing fitness’: he cited the Japanese as an example. Head of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Anthropology, Human Heredity and Eugenics, Professor Eugen Fischer had come to similar conclusions when he had studied the so-called ‘Rehobother Bastards’. Fischer recommended that the offspring of unions between Aryans and Jews or Africans should be compulsorily sterilised. But in cases where the two parents had closer ethnic bonds, then their offspring might be treated more leniently. This implied that, as Himmler put it, Germanic blood lines in non-Aryan peoples were a resource that might be ‘harvested’. When the Abel mission published its conclusions, the existence of far flung Germanic blood reservoirs had scientific backing. The time had come to exploit these prized corpuscles. The Abel mission to the German gulag would soon have a decisive impact on Waffen-SS recruitment strategy. For Himmler and the SS recruitment experts the question was where to start.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Cossacks WWII

General Helmuth Pannwitz and his Cossack body guard regiment.



During the Second World War, ethnic Cossacks fought on both sides of the conflict. Cossacks who had emigrated to the USA and the UK served with their military forces. Many Cossacks joined the Resistance. Though some Cossacks joined German armed forces, they did so usually to defect either to the western allies or to the Resistance, to liberate their co-patriots and family members from Nazi work and concentration camps.

The vast majority of the ethnic Cossacks fought against the Nazis in the ranks of the Red Army and of the Red Navy on all war theaters. Their service was crucial on the Southern theater of the Eastern Front. They were used for frontal patrols and logistics on the open prairies (steppes), which they knew well. The first Cossacks units were formed as early as 1936; by 1942 there were 17 Cossack corps units in the Red Army (as opposed to two in the German forces). Later these corps units were increased in size and reduced to eight. Their distinction in battle eventually led all to be merited as Guards. Oka Gorodovikov formed 49 Cossack cavalry divisions during the war. Many ethnic Cossacks served in other divisions of the Red Army and in the Navy, including Boris Shaposhnikov, Markian Popov, Aksel Berg, Arseniy Golovko, Oka Gorodovikov, Lev Dovator, Pavel Belov, General Dmitry Karbyshev, Dmitry Lavrinenko, pilot Grigory Bakhchivandzhi and engineer Fedor Tokarev. A Cossack detachment of the 4th Guards Corps marched in Red Square during the Moscow Victory Parade of 1945.

A substantial number of Cossacks served with the Germans, in response to the harsh repressions and genocide that their families had suffered under the policies pursued by Joseph Stalin. Like other people of the Soviet Union who suffered persecution under Stalin, some Cossacks mistakenly greeted the advancing German army as "liberators" from Stalinism.

While some Cossacks in German service were former White Army refugees or related to them, many Soviet citizens, including rank-and-file Cossacks, defected from the Red Army to join the "Cossack units" of German armed forces. Native Cossacks usually served as officers. As early as 1941, the German leadership formed the first Cossack detachments from prisoners of war, defectors and volunteers. The Dubrovski Battalion formed of Don Cossacks in December 1941 was reorganised on July 30, 1942 into the Pavlov Regiment, numbering up to 350 men. The Germans used Cossacks for anti-partisan activity in the rear of the German army.

The Cossack National Movement of Liberation hoped to gain an independent Cossack state, to be called Cossackia, after the war. In 1943, after the 1st Cossack Division was formed under the command of General Helmuth von Pannwitz, Cossack émigrés such as Andrei Shkuro and Pyotr Krasnov took leading positions in the movement. The 2nd Cossack Division, under the command of Colonel Hans-Joachim von Schultz, formed in 1944, existed for a year. Both Cossack divisions were made part of the XV Cossack Cavalry Corps, totalling some 25,000 men. They wore regular Wehrmacht uniforms and not Waffen-SS ones, as has occasionally been incorrectly alleged. Although in 1944 General von Pannwitz accepted loose affiliation with the Waffen-SS in order to gain access to their supply of superior arms and equipment, together with control over Cossack units in France, no pagan SS features had ever been implemented to respect the Christianity of Cossacks and the Corps command, structure, uniforms, ranks, etc. remained firmly Wehrmacht.

The Corps contained regiments of different Cossack groups, who were Don, Kuban, Terek and Siberian Cossacks who had been fighting Tito's guerrillas, the Ustashi and Domobranci in the former Yugoslavia. At the end of the war in 1945, they conducted a fighting retreat north-eastwards over the Karavanken Mountains into Carinthia, where they surrendered to the British Army in Allied-administered Austria. They hoped to join the British to fight Communism. At the time the Cossacks were seen as Nazi collaborators and they were reported to have committed atrocities against resistance fighters in Eastern Europe. As part of Operation Keelhaul, the British returned Cossack prisoners of war to Russia.

On 28 May 1945, told they would be resettled in Canada or Australia, the Cossacks were transferred to SMERSH custody at the Soviet demarcation line at Judenburg. Also included in the transfer were civilian members of the Kazachi Stan, consisting of old folk, women, and children, as well as about 850 German officers and non-commissioned officers of the Corps. At the end of the war, the British repatriated between 40 to 50 thousand Cossacks, including families of military, to the Soviet Union. Many of those were reported as never having been Soviet citizens. An unknown number were subsequently executed or imprisoned. This episode is widely known as the Betrayal of the Cossacks.