Saturday, December 31, 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.

Tuesday, December 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.


Sunday, December 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, August 5, 2016

The Forgotten (and Bloody) History of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

The Forgotten (and Bloody) History of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army

THINGS ARE HEATING UP IN UKRAINE. With the collapse of the Moscow-friendly presidency of Victor Yanukovych following months of popular unrest, the Russian military now appears poised for what may turn into an armed confrontation in the former Soviet Republic.

Hitler’s Foreign Legions – Nine Non-German Units That Fought for the Nazis in WW2

Hitler's Foreign Legions - Nine Non-German Units That Fought for the Nazis in WW2

IT WAS IN the bombed-out ruins of the Berlin, just a few hundred meters from Hitler's notorious Führerbunker , that the dying Third Reich decorated one of its last (and most unlikely) heroes.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Another Russian View: General Vlasov and Us

From the Editor – We continue our discussion of the extraordinarily controversial figure of General Andrei Vlasov, a discussion which began on the Russkiy Mir Foundation website with the publication of Vasily Andreev’s article “General Vlasov: Permanent Renaissance.” In his article Alexei Eremenko attempts to answer the question as to why Vlasov’s name once again rattles the minds of journalists and historians after a period of seemingly complete oblivion.

In September General Vlasov became the subject of a new public discussion, which periodically passed into squabbles and scandals. At first glance, there is nothing new here, although if one thinks about it, it really is quite strange. Why the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia raised the issue of Vlasov is not difficult to understand, but what is far more curious is that a wide swath of Russian society also began to discuss it enthusiastically – even with the economic crisis at the doorstep and Americans abandoning missile defense, for example. Why are we so concerned about the events of sixty years ago?

Of course, Russia is a country with an unusual history, and many events from the past hold an undying relevance for us. This argument, however, while just in itself, ultimately explains nothing. In principle, we perceive the past only when it correlates with what is happening now, when characters and events from the past take on parallels, albeit imperfect, to what is happening in the present. This unconditioned historical perception reflex simply does not happen any other way. But then the million-dollar question: what in the life of General Vlasov is relevant to us today?

Vlasov is important for two reasons. First, he was a dissident – one in a long series that began with Prince Andrei Kurbsky and Avvakum and went right on down to Sakharov and Solzhenitsyn. Secondly, the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia is absolutely right: his acts cannot be given an unambiguous assessment and can only be assessed through an obligatory “but.” With our level of public debate this is, unfortunately, like a red rag in front of a bull. Inevitably, in trying to leave only one dimension – or hero, or villain – we ignore the obvious fact that reality is slightly more complicated.

There is, however, another consideration, which cannot simply be dismissed. Vlasov took an oath and violated it. It is a dubious step to take during peacetime, but during the largest war in history it is a crime punishable under the laws of war, which is exactly what happened. From a legal standpoint there is nothing to discuss in particular, but we, that is modern society, are still occupied by something other than this most obvious aspect of the Vlasov story.

The dictatorship of the proletariat had many weaknesses – on the ideological, social, and national levels. Many of these problems persisted after the war, eventually causing the death of the Soviet Union. Some of the consequences we continue to feel to this day. The figure of General Vlasov, despite all the efforts of the official ideology to present a given period of Russian history as a triumph of patriotic unity (is this not a typical feature of any official newspaper?), does not allow us to forget that our main problems have not disappeared and are more relevant now than ever. Even war is powerless to undo certain things.

Vlasov, de facto, was fighting against the identity of the state and country or, rather, was trying to speak against the government while defending the people. In this sense, his story should not be compared with the pro-Nazi liberation movements in the Soviet republics, but rather with the Civil War that he, despite all the eventual utopianism, was trying to build in place of World War II.

Whereas it would have been possible to brush off from the Banderists or the forest brothers as if from “foreigners,” it was difficult to do the same when it came to a Russian combat general who preferred Hitler to the Soviet authorities. Sincerely or not – we do not know – although this is not so important now, Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Army in any case have become symbols of discontent with the Stalinist regime (whether this is justified or not is, again, a separate matter).

At the same time, Vlasov’s dissidence was poisonous and harmful. For the short period of 1941-1945, the country and state did indeed merge, and attempts to fight against the leadership brought about objective harm to the most ordinary of people that the general wanted to save from the “Bolsheviks.” Substituting the foreign war with a civil war was impossible, and good intentions led to where they normally lead. Caught between patriotism and his dislike of the Bolsheviks, Vlasov fit with remarkable accuracy the archetype of the tragic epic hero who is doomed because he is unable to do the right thing: whatever you do, everything will be bad.

Sixty-five years later the naivete of the Vlasovist hopes is, of course, obvious. But the main thing for us is not that hindsight is 20/20 but rather the fact that the problems that brought Vlasov and his men to despair, as before, continue, albeit in a slightly different form – social injustice, the manipulation of public consciousness and, most important, an internal war for supremacy between the government and the public. Should the people serve the state or the state the people? As before, the answer in Russia is not clear.

It is precisely the problems of 2009 that force us to passionately discuss what, in general, was not the most significant episode in the Great Patriotic War – the Vlasov movement. Today it is enough to even slightly apply an ideological “photoshop” (in any direction) so that this history can be seen as a reflection of today. Disciples of strong power see an absolute sinner in Vlasov, but those who grumble at the leadership are ready to accept the general as a martyr almost in the spirit of Saints Boris and Gleb. Both look skewed, and a more balanced approach appears only when the public and the authorities are no longer strangers to each other and are able to establish normal life in the country. So far this heavenly time has not yet come, and Vlasov, as before, will continue to be adapted to fit one or another point of view. People’s mouths will foam and spears will break.

A Russian View: General Vlasov: Permanent Renaissance

From the Editor – Vasily Andreev’s article on the Russkiy Mir Foundation site opens our discussion on a topic raised by a recent statement from the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia on the role of General Vlasov. Perhaps the discussion is beginning somewhat belatedly insofar as the statement has already been commented on by a number of people – representatives of the Russian Orthodox Church, political figures, as well as a number of popular and less popular bloggers. Some of the statements have been quite emotional, while others just after the first wave of comments subsided, addressing this topic has become even more necessary, as the issue of how to relate to the subject of General Vlasov’s role in Russian history does not suddenly disappear after the last comment on the church’s statement. have tried to avoid emotion and find a more balanced expression. However, The emotion found in many of the assessments confirms that this issue is not merely an abstract historical problem. So, in arguing about attitudes to Vlasov, we are by and large arguing about how we relate to the history of the 20th century, and we are answering the question “what is ‘good’ and what is ‘bad’” – a question which, fortunately, cannot always be reduced to simple responses.

 “Contrary to the intentions of Hitler, General Andrei Vlasov, with the help of German friends, as head of the de facto and de jure independent Russian Liberation Army, was able to rise up against Stalinist despotism. He is not forgotten in Russia, and today, moreover ... Vlasov in Russia, it seems, is experiencing a true renaissance.” These words were written in 2001 by the eminent German historian, now deceased, Joachim Hoffmann. The “renaissance” continues to this day: another indicator of this can be considered the well-known statement by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia concerning the publication of a book by Archpriest Georgy Mitrofanov, professor at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy. The book is entitled “The Tragedy of Russia. ‘Forbidden’ Subjects in Twentieth Century History.”

This book, which is a collection of Archpriest Georgy’s articles and sermons, attempts to justify Vlasov and turn him into a hero. It has caused widespread resonance in the public and particularly in the media, which in turn has given rise to the adoption of the statement by the Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia. Among other things, this statement says: “We are saddened by the bitter disputes, by the non-peaceful and troubled spirit that some opponents of the book have shown.”

However, the Synod’s statement and the open letter by its members to Archpriest Georgy have only heightened passions even further. Both documents were highly controversial. First of all, they in fact fail to distinguish between Vlasov himself and “Vlasovists” who are understood not so much as the general’s supporters or even those who served in the Russian Liberation Army itself as collaborators in general. Meanwhile, Soviet collaboration during the war years was an extremely difficult and ambiguous phenomenon, one that requires close examination, although not in clear “black and white” terms. This is something the authors of the statement acknowledge themselves; nevertheless, they try to give just such an assessment. “In particular, calling General Vlasov's acts a treason is, in our opinion, a flippant simplification of the events that took place,” the document states. Such an approach can be fully applied to the assessment of collaboration in general. Declaring everyone who served in the “volunteer” forces of the Wehrmacht and SS during the war years to be war criminals and traitors to the motherland is the same extreme as to consider them only as “freedom fighters” and against “Stalinist tyranny.” After all, writes Sergey Drobyazko, a contemporary Russian historian, “very different people found themselves in the ranks of the Russian Liberation Army – idealists who sincerely believed in the validity of their own, as they believed it, ‘liberation struggle,’ victims of the Soviet government who were guided above all by a sense of personal vengeance, those who in any situation strive to achieve material benefit and, finally, those for whom the main goal was simply to survive.”

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