Saturday, December 31, 2016


…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


Catherine Andreyev
"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

" 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.

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


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.
Glantz, David. 2003. Before Stalingrad: Hitler’s Invasion of Russia, 1941. Stroud: Tempus.
Overy, Richard. 1999. Russia’s War. London: Penguin.

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.
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.
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.

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.
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.

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.”


Monday, March 14, 2016


Alongside the RONA was the Russkaya Natsionalnaya Narodnaya Armiya (RNNA – Russian Nationalist National Army) led by a “White” Russian émigré called S. N. Ivanov. The unit was formed at Ossintorf near the Orsha-Smolensk rail line. It was organized along Russian lines, being equipped entirely with captured Soviet arms. Its personnel wore Red Army uniforms with tsarist-type white, blue and red cockades. The unit’s Russian members, along with many other Russian units in German service, wrongly assumed that they were the nucleus of a future great Russian “liberation” army. They therefore decided (without prior German approval) to name their embryonic formation the RNNA. By the end of 1942, the formation numbered 7000 men organized into four infantry battalions, an artillery battalion and an engineer battalion. Recruits came mainly from POW camps, the volunteers joining to escape starvation. Some émigrés also decided to join the RNNA, including Lieutenant V. Ressler, Lieutenant Count G. Lamsdorff and Lieutenant Count S. von der Pahlen.

The formation’s first major engagement took place in May 1942, in the Yelnia area east of Smolensk. Some 300 RNNA men were assigned the task of probing the positions of the encircled Soviet Thirty-Third Army, an operation that took several weeks. By December 1942, the RNNA was approximately the size of a German brigade and was a well-trained formation. Feldmarschall Hans von Kluge, commander of Army Group Centre, having personally inspected the unit, was impressed by what he saw but issued an order that stipulated that the formation be divided into individual battalions and assigned to separate German units. These actions were in line with Hitler’s order to keep all the units of Russian nationals no larger than battalion size.

The RNNA almost mutinied in protest, since the order destroyed any idea that they were an embryonic Russian army of liberation. The matter was resolved when several RNNA officers were promoted and the formation was not broken up (though neither was it sent to the front). However, the damage had been done and the RNNA soldiers no longer trusted the Germans. Those who remained were later incorporated into the ROA formation.

In parallel to the RNNA were the so-called Eastern Legions (Ostlegionen). In late 1941, Hitler was visited by General Erkilet of the Turkish General Staff, who urged the Führer to intervene on behalf of Red Army POWs of Turkic nationality. Hitler, eager to recruit Turkey as an ally, granted permission in November for the creation of a Turkistani legion. The experiment was such a success that by the end of the year three more Eastern Legions had been formed, the Caucasian Moslem Legion (later split into the North Caucasian Legion and the Azerbaijani Legion), Georgian Legion and Armenian Legion. In addition, by mid-1942, the Crimean Tartar and Volga Tartar Legions had been raised. Hitler, wary of this rapid growth, stipulated that the legions be organized into units no larger than a battalion and then widely dispersed among German Army formations to prevent them being a security hazard. An exception, as a gesture to court the Turks, was the formation of the Turkistani 162nd (Turkish) Infantry Division in May 1943 to serve as the parent unit for the various legion battalions.

The most interesting legion was the Sonderverband Bermann, formed by Abwehr chief Admiral Canaris and composed of Georgians, Armenians, Azerbaijanis and other Caucasian POWs. The plan was to parachute the unit behind Soviet lines to act as a “fifth column”. Nothing came of the idea, though, and its two battalions ended up fighting at the front.

In August 1942, General Ernst Köstring was made Inspector General of Turkic and Caucasian Forces; by September 1944, he had thousands of legion members under his command. In the legions and replacement battalions were 11,600 Armenians, 13,000 Azerbaijanis, 14,000 Georgians and 10,000 North Caucasians. These nationalities formed a further 21,595 men in pioneer and transport units, 25,000 in German Army battalions and 7000 in Luftwaffe and Waffen-SS formations. This gave a total of 102,195 men.

The legion movement was a success in that large numbers of recruits were raised, which freed up regular German units to undertake combat duties. However, when it came to frontline combat duties they were less useful. Often poorly armed, trained and motivated (especially when they were located away from their region of origin), they were unreliable and next to useless. For example, the 797th Georgian Battalion simply refused to fight when ordered to do so.

No study of Russian units in German service would be complete without mention of the Cossacks. Contrary to popular legend, and despite anti-communist sentiments nourished by many Cossacks and the cracking-down on many aspects of Cossack traditions by the communist regime, the overwhelming majority of Cossacks remained loyal to the Soviet Government. That said, substantial numbers of Cossacks did fight for the Germans in World War II.

On 22 August 1941, while covering the retreat of Red Army units in eastern Belarus, a Don Cossack major in the Red Army named Kononov (a graduate of Frunze Military Academy, veteran of the Winter War against Finland, a Communist Party member since 1927 and holder of the Order of the Red Banner) deserted and went over to the Germans with his entire regiment (the 436th Infantry Regiment of the 155th Soviet Infantry Division), after convincing his regiment of the necessity of overthrowing Stalinism (among the few incidences of a whole Soviet regiment going over to the Axis during World War II). He was permitted by local German commanders to establish a squadron of Cossack troopers composed of deserters and volunteers from among POWs, to be used for frontline raiding and reconnaissance missions. With encouragement from his new superior, General Schenkendorff, eight days after his defection Kononov visited a POW camp in Mogilev in eastern Belarus. The visit yielded more than 4000 volunteers in response to the promise of liberation from Stalin’s oppression with the aid of their German “allies”. However, only 500 of them (80 percent of whom were Cossacks) were actually drafted into the renegade formation. Afterwards, Kononov paid similar visits to POW camps in Bobruisk, Orsha, Smolensk, Propoisk and Gomel with similar results. The Germans appointed a Wehrmacht lieutenant named Count Rittberg to be the unit’s liaison officer, in which capacity he served for the remainder of the war.

By 19 September 1941, the Cossack regiment contained 77 officers and 1799 men (of whom 60 percent were Cossacks, mostly Don Cossacks). It received the designation 120th Don Cossack Regiment; and, on 27 January 1943, it was renamed the 600th Don Cossack Battalion, despite the fact that its numerical strength stood at about 2000 and it was scheduled to receive a further 1000 new members the following month. The new volunteers were employed in the establishment of a new special Cossack armoured unit that became known as the 17th Cossack Armoured Battalion, which after its formation was integrated into the German Third Army and was frequently employed in frontline operations.

Kononov’s Cossack unit displayed a very anti-communist character. During raids behind Soviet lines, for example, it concentrated on the extermination of Stalinist commissars and the collection of their tongues as “war trophies”. On one occasion, in the vicinity of Velikyie Luki in northwestern Russia, 120 of Kononov’s infiltrators dressed in Red Army uniforms managed to penetrate Soviet lines. They subsequently captured an entire military tribunal of five judges accompanied by 21 guards, and freed 41 soldiers who were about to be executed. They also seized valuable documents in the process.

Kononov’s unit also carried out a propaganda campaign by spreading pamphlets on and behind the frontline and using loudspeakers to get their message to Red Army soldiers, officers and civilians. Unfortunately for Kononov, the behaviour of the Germans in the occupied territories worked against his campaign. But Kononov’s Cossacks continued to serve their German “liberators” loyally, and were particularly active with Army Group South during the second half of 1942.

Aside from Kononov’s unit, in April 1942, Hitler gave his official consent for the establishment of Cossack units within the Wehrmacht, and subsequently a number of such units were soon in existence. In October 1942, General Wagner permitted the creation, under strict German control, of a small autonomous Cossack district in the Kuban, where the old Cossack customs were to be reintroduced and collective farms disbanded (a rather cynical propaganda ploy to win over the hearts and souls of the region’s Cossack population). All Cossack military formations serving in the Wehrmacht were under tight control; the majority of officers in such units were not Cossacks but Germans who had no sympathy towards Cossack aspirations for self-government and freedom.

The 1942 German offensive in southern Russia yielded more Cossack recruits. In late 1942, Cossacks of a single stanitsa (Cossack settlement) in southern Russia revolted against the Soviet administration and joined the advancing Axis forces. As the latter moved forward, Cossack fugitives and rebellious mountain tribesmen of the Caucasus openly welcomed the intruders as liberators. On the lower Don River, a renegade Don Cossack leader named Sergei Pavlov proclaimed himself an ataman (Cossack chief) and took up residence in the former home of the tsarist ataman in the town of Novoczerkassk on the lower Don. He then set about establishing a local collaborationist police force composed of either Don Cossacks or men of Cossack descent. By late 1942, he headed a regional krug (Cossack assembly) which had around 200 representatives, whom he recruited from the more prominent local collaborators. He also requested permission from the Germans to create a Cossack army to be employed in the struggle against the Bolsheviks, a request that was refused.

The Galician Division

Galicia’s governor-general, Otto Wachter, approached Himmler with a proposal to create a frontline combat division from Galician recruits. After speaking with Hitler, Himmler gave Wachter the go-ahead and ordered the creation of the 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division Galicia. Despite Himmler’s position as the head of the SS, he encountered opposition to the idea. Erich Koch, Karl Wolfe (Waffen-SS liaison officer on Hitler’s staff) and SS General Kurt Daleuge (Reich Protector of Bohemia and Moravia) believed that the weapons supplied to such a unit would be turned on the Germans. Himmler stood firm, though, and the Galicia division was established. He had two reasons for doing so: the loss of manpower after the defeat at Stalingrad meant the Reich desperately needed new formations; and he had a fear that disaffected Ukrainian youths would join the underground movement, i.e. the UPA.

The 14th Waffen-SS Grenadier Division was formed in mid-1943 from 80,000 applicants. The best 13,000 were selected and the rest were used to form police regiments. From its inception, UPA members infiltrated the unit. Despite this, it was trained and equipped and passed out with a strength of 18,000 men. Like other Slav units, the division’s commander, SS-Brigadeführer Fritz Freitag, and his officers were all German. In June 1944, the division was part of Army Group North when it was committed to its first and only major battle – in the Brody-Tarnow Pocket – which almost destroyed it. Following this engagement, the division numbered only 3000 men. After a period of rest and refitting, the division participated in several half-hearted anti-partisan operations in Slovakia and Slovenia before surrendering in Austria in May 1945.

Other Ukrainian units were formed by the Germans from Red Army POWs. This was the case with the Sumy (Ukrainian) Division, created in late 1941 and early 1942, which was nearly destroyed during the fighting at Stalingrad in 1942–43. In 1944, its remnants were attached to Vlassov’s ROA.

As a result of Ukrainian complaints, all Ukrainian units were separated from the ROA and reorganized as the Ukrainian Liberation Army in the spring of 1943. Its original strength was around 50,000, but by the end of the war this had increased to 80,000. However, it was short of arms and other supplies, and took heavy casualties fighting the Red Army. The remnants ended up in Czechoslovakia in May 1945.

In a typical German response to the dire situation in the East, in early 1945 all Ukrainian units or their remnants were brought together under one command, when the Ukrainian National Committee, headed by General Pavlo Shandruk, was established in Berlin. In addition, the Germans finally agreed to the creation of the Ukrainian National Army (UNA). The core of the army was to be the reorganized Galician Division, which was to become part of the UNA’s 1st Division. Although this plan was never fully realized because of Germany’s defeat, the Germans’ consent to Ukrainian control of these units gave the Ukrainians a free hand to negotiate with the Allies at the war’s end.

Once removed from the Eastern Front, i.e. for garrison duties in Western Europe, the Ukrainian units were often unreliable. For example, two guard battalions of the 30th SS Infantry Division, composed of Ukrainian forced labourers in Germany who were pressed into service, were sent to fight the French underground. In late 1944 these units deserted to the French and became part of the resistance. The units were first named the Bohoun and Chevtchenko (Shevchenko) Battalions, and later became the 1st and 2nd Ukrainian Battalions. Both battalions were dissolved at the request of the Soviet authorities at the end of 1944. Another unit, led by Lieutenant Osyp Krukovsky and composed of the remnants of three battalions of the Galician Division sent to the West for training, also tried to desert to the French resistance. The attempt was thwarted by the Germans but a small group managed to escape in 1944. The rest were shipped back to Germany.