Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Secret archive reveals how Russia showed huge support for 'Christian crusader' Nazi invaders who had come to fight 'godless communists'

A group of Russians captured by the Nazis during Operation Barbarossa: Documents from secret archives have revealed how some Soviets believed the Germans were Christian crusaders come to throw of the yoke of communism.

By Allan Hall
An extraordinary secret archive has revealed for the first time how thousands of Soviet citizens collaborated with Nazi invaders during World War II.

The cache of documents, some retrieved from the files of the KGB, shows how many viewed the Germans as Christian liberators – and their own masters as godless Communists.

This view was reinforced when the soldiers of the Third Reich opened up 470 churches in north-western Russia alone and reinstated priests driven from their pulpits by Stalin.

In turn, the clergy co-operated closely with S.S. death squads in betraying Communist officials, Jews and partisan resistance groups.

Perhaps most astonishingly, the Germans even shipped numerous mayors, journalists, policeman and teachers back to the Reich to show them the ‘German way of life.’

Russia has always portrayed the war against the Germans as a historic struggle which cost 27million lives but ultimately defeated the Nazis forever.

Until now, there has been little examination of the extent of collaboration by Soviet citizens with the invaders.

And there is no doubt that there many Russians detested the Nazis who inflicted mass atrocities on the civilian population.

But the archive, assembled by Professor Boris Kovalyov of the University of Novgorod, undermines the one-dimensional nationalist view of Soviet history.

Unsurprisingly, the research has already triggered a huge debate in Russia about attitudes to the Nazis.

‘The files give an extraordinary glimpse into a country that was deeply divided and not at all as heroic as Stalin made out,’ Prof Kovalyov, who teaches historical jurisprudence, said.

‘They show how local journalists strove under S.S. supervision to present to their compatriots the Nazis as friends of the Russians.

‘There was even praise in newspapers edited by former Communists for Alfred Rosenberg, the chief racial theorist for the Nazis who had made speeches in the past talking of the “sub-humanity of the Russians.”

‘Of course these newspapers were all collected and burned, or locked away, when the tide of war turned.  And those who wrote the articles were executed.’

The Nazis marched on Russia in summer 1941 after Hitler put plans for the invasion of Britain on hold.

He had met heavy resistance and had become increasingly paranoid about the Soviets grabbing valuable natural resources as they expanded their empire.

The campaign was code-named Operation Barbarossa and plunged the Third Reich into a catastrophic situation of war on all fronts.

Troops were given stark rules of engagement. They were to press ahead with a ‘war without rules’ that would see the merciless execution of millions.

But the freshly rediscovered archives reveal a far more complex situation.

In many instances, the Nazi commanders attempted a 'hearts and minds' campaign to win over civilians already oppressed by Communist dictates which included a ban on religious worship.

The propaganda war had considerable success, with newspapers and collaborators praising the Germans.

 ‘We pray to the all-powerful that he gives Adolf Hitler further strength and power for the final victory over the Bolsheviks!’ ran one article in the newspaper 'For the Homeland!' that was printed in Pskow in December 1942.

Clandestine tours of Germany were also hugely effective for provincials who had never travelled ten miles beyond their birthplace, never seen indoor plumbing or central heating, such trips worked wonders.

When they returned to the Soviet Union, said Professor Kovalyov, they were ‘deeply impressed"’ and worked hard to undermine the stiffening Soviet resistance to the Nazi armies.

Even in January 1943, as the fate of the German Sixth Army was being sealed at Stalingrad - and with it the war - many Russians still enthused about the charms of Nazism.

Ian Borodin, a village mayor from Piskowitschi, wrote that month: ‘Germany is a country of gardens, first class steelworks and autobahns. It has exemplary order.  We should fight for it!’

In the end it was the Nazis themselves who squandered the opportunity to rally an entire people to its cause.

As news of German atrocities spread and the Soviet Red Army began pushing the invader back, the population that had been initially so enthusiastic for Hitler now began to turn against him.

The Nazis were eventually driven out of Russia and the Red Army pressed on to Berlin, routing Hitler's forces on the way.

For those tens of thousands who had shown disloyalty to Stalin during the occupation there was only death awaiting them or long years in the gulag.

Professor Kovalyov intends to publish a book based on his research next year.

Good Comment
After Hitler came to power in 1933 the order was given to demolish a rundown part of Berlin that had been notoriously 'Red' and an area the Nazis never had any serious support in. The residents thought they were being punished, but instead their flats were rebuilt with central heating and other improvements - how to win hearts and minds..... By 1939 living standards had increased to the point where Russian civilians visiting Nazi Germany would have been greatly impressed. It's said that when US troops entered Germany in 1945 towards the war's end it was the first time many of them had come across bathrooms with showers and indoor flushing toilets since leaving the USA, and yes that included those who had been stationed in 1940's England! Good article - and illustrates how the German's lost the opportunity to bring the critical mass of Soviet citizenry 'on side'. Had they done so I don't doubt they would have defeated Stalin and forced the Western powers to accept a negotiated peace.

- A Richards, London

Brotherhood of Veterans of the 1st-Division of the Ukrainian National Army


The purpose of this Web page is to present the factual and true information concerning the Galician Division, which fought against the Soviet Union within the framework of the German Army, during the Second World War. Since the end of the war the information media has been repeatedly maligning this military unit, accusing it of misdeeds and war crimes, without giving it a forum for the presentation of the true account of its activities. The information on this Web page is offered as a means to set the record straight.

The Division was established in Western Ukraine in the spring of 1943. During the course of its existence, its name was changed several times. Known at first as the 14th SS Riflemen Division Galizien, it later became Waffengrenadier Division Galizien, der SS Ukr. #1, and finally, First Ukrainian Division of the Ukrainian National Army.

The idea of creating a distinctly Ukrainian military force came to fruition soon after the outbreak of the German-Soviet war and was widely supported by the Ukrainian population in Western Ukraine. In the spring of 1943 it was reinforced by the viewpoint that the Ukrainians urgently needed to establish a nucleus of Ukrainian power, and to build it up by whatever means possible, before the Nazi collapse. It was argued that only if and when Ukrainians become a power factor, could they expect recognition from the Western powers.

Much as they abhorred the Nazis, the Ukrainians hated and feared the Communists even more. Following the Stalingrad debacle, it became apparent that the prospect of a German victory was extremely remote. Many Ukrainian leaders envisioned a protracted struggle in which both totalitarian powers would be so weakened, that they would be forced to surrender their domination in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians were also convinced that in accordance with either the dictum of the Atlantic Charter, or the elementary principles of the balance of power, Great Britain and the United States would prevent the Soviet Union from completely occupying Eastern Europe. They anticipated a period of power vacuum, like that of 1918, during which it could be possible for a nation possessing a strong, organized military force, to assert itself.

The recruitment campaign to form a Ukrainian military division attracted mostly young people who had been raised cherishing the ideals of a sovereign and independent Ukraine. The campaign also attracted veterans of Ukrainian military units from the First World War. The process of organizing the unit and the training of the recruits took a full year. In July 1944 the Division was ready for combat.
It first encountered the Red Army, with its overwhelming superiority in manpower, armor, and air power during the Soviet's most successful offensive against the Germans. Near the town of Brody, in Western Ukraine, the Division together with the German XIII Army Corps was encircled and decimated. Only 3,000 Division troops were able to escape. Eventually they formed the nucleus of the new, reorganized Division. Following retraining, the Division again faced the Red Army in Austria, near Feldbach.

Before the end of the war the Division separated itself from the German Armed Forces, and was renamed the First Division of Ukrainian National Army. Its officers and soldiers swore allegiance to Ukraine, thus becoming a truly Ukrainian national military unit.

The Division was a par excellence combat unit. It only engaged in military action against the Soviet forces -- never against the Western Allies. This was a condition demanded by Ukrainians prior to the creation of the Division. During the course of its existence the Division was never engaged in any police action or in any actions against the civilian population. During its first year the Division's troops spent their time in various training camps, mostly in Germany. Then came the fateful battle of Brody, which was followed by a period of replenishment in Germany, Slovakia and Yugoslavia, as well as the final battles in Austria.

The accusations, which contend that the Division participated in the extermination of the Jewish population are baseless. In Ukraine, by the summer of 1943 the activities promoted by the extermination policies had run their course before the Division even existed. Also baseless is the accusation that the Division took part in the suppression of the Warsaw uprising in 1944. At that time the Division was undergoing a replenishment and restoration in Germany, after fateful battle of Brody and no soldier of the Division ever set foot in Warsaw at that or any other time.

After the war, the Division troops who surrendered to the British forces were interned by them in POW camps in Italy, where they were screened by the British and Soviet authorities alike. No charges of war crimes were levied against them. In 1947 they were transferred to England and freed, and in 1950 some of them immigrated to Canada. The Division soldiers who surrendered to the Americans were freed in Germany. Following thorough screening and full disclosure of their war-time activities, some were allowed to immigrate to the United States.

Today, it is unfortunate that quite often rumors as well as slanderous and false information about the Division are being made public through various vehicles of the media, including through the Internet. Mainly, these false allegations stem from the legacy of the recently defunct Soviet Union and its powerful KGB. This infamous secret police was known to have effectively spread all kinds of disinformation, poisoning public opinion with the aim of discrediting their enemies and achieving political goals. There are countless examples of their tactics. During the Cold War period even the Western Powers were repeatedly victimized in this manner. (See, for example: KGB, John Barron, Readers Digest Press, 1974).

The Division Galicia was the only Ukrainian military unit fighting the Soviet Union during the Second World War with the ultimate aim of freeing the Ukrainian people from communism and achieving independence for Ukraine. Therefore, the Division, understandably became a target of the false and vicious attacks launched by the Soviets, who hurled accusations of various misdeeds and crimes designed to defame the Division and its veterans in the post war period. In a similar manner, the Ukrainian émigré community and its efforts aimed towards liberation from communism, were also targeted for disinformation and slander. It must be unequivocally stated that these libelous assaults are baseless and have no historical proof. There are no credible sources of information to back up these false allegations, except the Soviet archives, which are generally considered as sources of disinformation.

This falsehood was greedily picked up by the enemies of the Ukrainian people and by those who are against Ukraine as an independent and sovereign country. We, therefore challenge all those, who are spreading these lies, to provide any credible evidence substantiating their assertions.

Latest News, November 1998:

Justice Minister Hon. Anne Mclellan clears the Ukrainian Galicia Division of any wrongdoing in war and confirms the conclusions reached by the Commission of Hon. Justice Jules Deschenes in December 1986. For further information please read the following press releases of the Ukrainian Canadian Civil Liberties Association:
Judge's remarks praised by Ukrainian Community -- November 16th 1998.

Justice minister clears Ukrainian division of any wrongdoing in war -- November 19th 1998.

Soviet prisoners-of-war

“Next to the Jews in Europe,” wrote Alexander Werth, “the biggest single German crime was undoubtedly the extermination by hunger, exposure and in other ways of . . . Russian war prisoners.” Yet the murder of at least 3.3 million Soviet POWs is one of the least-known of modern genocides; there is still no full-length book on the subject in English. It also stands as one of the most intensive genocides of all time. The large majority of POWs, some 2.8 million, were killed in just eight months of 1941–42, a rate of slaughter matched (to my knowledge) only by the 1994 Rwanda genocide.

The Soviet men were captured in massive encirclement operations in the early months of the German invasion, and in gender-selective round-ups that occurred in the newly occupied territories. All men between the ages of 15 and 65 were deemed to be prisoners-of-war, and liable to be “sent to the rear.” Given that the Germans, though predicting victory by such epic encirclements, had deliberately avoided making provisions for sheltering and feeding millions of prisoners, “sent to the rear” became a euphemism for mass murder.

“Testimony is eloquent and prolific on the abandonment of entire divisions under the open sky,” writes Alexander Dallin:
Epidemics and epidemic diseases decimated the camps. Beatings and abuse by the guards were commonplace. Millions spent weeks without food or shelter. Carloads of prisoners were dead when they arrived at their destination. Casualty figures varied considerably but almost nowhere amounted to less than 30 percent in the winter of 1941–42, and sometimes went as high as 95 percent.

Hungarian tank officer who visited one POW enclosure described “tens of thousands of Russian prisoners. Many were on the point of expiring. Few could stand on their feet. Their faces were dried up and their eyes sunk deep into their sockets. Hundreds were dying every day, and those who had any strength left dumped them in a vast pit.” Cannibalism was common. Nazi leader Hermann Goering joked that “in the camps for Russian prisoners of war, after having eaten everything possible, including the soles of their boots, they have begun to eat each other, and what is more serious, have also eaten a German sentry.”

Hundreds of thousands of Soviet prisoners were sent to Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz, which was originally built to house and exploit them. Thousands died in the first tests of the gas chamber complex at Birkenau. Like the handicapped and Roma, then, Soviet POWs were guinea-pigs and stepping-stones in the evolution of genocide against the Jews. The overall estimate for POW fatalities – 3.3 million – is probably low. An important additional group of victims comprises Soviet soldiers, probably hundreds of thousands of them, who were killed shortly after surrendering.

In one of the twentieth century’s most tragic ironies, the two million or so POWs who survived German incarceration were arrested upon repatriation to the USSR, on suspicion of collaboration with the Germans. Most were sentenced to long terms in the Soviet concentration camps, where tens of thousands died in the final years of the Gulag. Most were sentenced to long terms in the Gulag, with hundreds of thousands consigned to mine uranium for the Soviet atomic bomb; “few survived the experience.” As Solzhenitsyn noted sardonically: “In Russian captivity, as in German captivity, the worst lot of all was reserved for the Russians.”

Collaboration with the Axis Powers

The Soviet Union
Nazi Germany terminated the Non-Aggression Pact signed by Joachim von Ribbentrop and Vyacheslav Molotov with its invasion of the Soviet Union at 3:15 am on June 22, 1941. Large areas of the European part of the Soviet Union would be placed under German occupation between 1941 and 1944. Soviet collaborators included numerous Russians and members of other ethnic groups.

The Germans attempted to recruit Soviet citizens (and to a lesser extent other Eastern Europeans) voluntarily for the OST-Arbeiter or Eastern worker program; originally this worked, but the news of the terrible conditions they faced dried up the volunteers and the program became forcible.

Before World War II, Ukraine was divided primarily between the Ukrainian SSR of the Soviet Union and the Second Polish Republic. Smaller regions were administered by Romania and Czechoslovakia. Only the Soviet Union recognised Ukrainian autonomy, and large numbers of Ukrainians, particularly from the East, fought in the Red Army.

The negative impact of Soviet denationalisation policies implemented in the 1930s were still fresh in the memory of Ukrainians. These included the Holodomor of 1933, the Great Terror, the persecution of intellectuals during the Great Purge of 1937-38, the massacre of Ukrainian intellectuals after the annexation of Western Ukraine from Poland in 1939, the introduction and implementation of Collectivisation.

As a result, the population of whole towns, cities and villages, greeted the Germans as liberators which helps explain the unprecedented rapid progress of the German forces in the occupation of Ukraine.

Even before the German invasion, the Nachtigall and Roland battalions were set up and trained as Ukrainian battalions in the Wehrmacht, and were part of the initial invading force.

With the change in regime ethnic, Ukrainians were allowed and encouraged to work in administrative positions. These included and the auxiliary police, post office, and other government structures; taking the place of Poles, Russians and Jews.

Ostlegionen (literally "Eastern Legions") or Osttruppen ("Eastern Troops") were conscripts and volunteers from the occupied eastern territories recruited into the German Army of the Third Reich during the Second World War.

The staff of the disbanded 162nd Infantry Division in Poland was charged with the raising and training of the six Eastern Legions. It eventually raised and trained 82 battalions. A total of 98 battalions were raised with 80 serving on the Eastern Front and in the Balkans. 12 were later transferred to France and Italy in 1943


Yugoslavs, Greeks, and other minor Allies suffered harm commensurate with their ethnic ranking in the perverse Nazi racial view of Europe, and with the degree of resistance offered to Nazi occupation of their home countries. The worst treatment of enemy prisoners, by far, was reserved for enemies of Germany wearing the uniform of the Red Army. BARBAROSSA saw the capture of millions of Red Army prisoners, then their deliberate starvation, massive ill-treatment, and malign neglect by the Wehrmacht. Out of 5.7 million Red Army men taken prisoner during the war about 3.3 million died in German captivity, most in the first eight months of the war in the east: 2.8 million of the first 3.5 million captured died, or 10,000 per day over the first seven months of the German–Soviet war. Some 250,000 were shot outright. Many of the executed were Jews and Communists pulled out of primitive enclosures for immediate murder. Ukrainian and Belorussian peasant conscripts were encouraged by German guards to point out politruks and identify Jews. The selection process led to several hundred thousand executions by the end of 1941. The rest were left to huddle together against killing-cold temperatures in barbed-wire enclosures left open to winter elements, to sleep on frozen ground without shelter beyond hard-packed snow, and to perish en masse from hunger and virulent camp epidemics. Starvation was so extensive in the eastern Dulags and Stalags —POW transit and holding camps, respectively—that there were outbreaks of cannibalism in some. Non-Slavic prisoners fared somewhat better than Slavs, mainly because of spurious Nazi race theories that saw non-Slavs as a higher class of humans. In addition, the Germans pursued a policy of deliberate extermination through starvation of most of the Slavic population of occupied territories. The mass deaths of Soviet military prisoners in its care was the single greatest war crime of the Wehrmacht, and perhaps the gravest war crime in all military history: total deaths of helpless soldiers in German hands was exceeded only by the mass murder of unarmed Jews.

The Germans generally respected the Geneva Conventions with regard to Western prisoners, but refused to honor its provisions concerning Soviet POWs. Among the first experiments using poison gases to “exterminate” large populations were those carried out on Red Army prisoners of war. Some German officers worried that such gross mistreatment of prisoners in the east would have negative military consequences. And so it did: Red Army men fought increasingly desperately, often to the death, once they learned what surrender and German captivity really meant. By mid-1942 the Germans also realized that Soviet prisoners represented a huge pool of potential forced laborers. Therefore, even after the worst excesses of malign neglect over the winter of 1941–1942 stopped, more prisoners were worked to death as slaves. Altogether, about 55 percent of all krasnoarmeets taken prisoner from 1941 to 1945 died in German hands. As German casualties mounted in the east through 1943 the Wehrmacht looked to recruit low-grade military replacements and frontline workers among anti-Soviet prisoners. Men agreed to serve as “ Hiwi ” (Hilfswilliger) in return for food and shelter, or to join so-called “legions” of Baltic, Cossack, Georgian, or Turkmen fighters as Osttruppen, or to serve with the Waffen-SS. Until the great military reverses of 1943, Red Army prisoners were kept near the German front lines. By the end of the war, over half were no longer crammed into Stalags but worked on German farms, in mines or factories, or served as Hiwis with Wehrmacht units. During 1944–1945 German treatment of POWs improved as larger numbers of Landser were captured by the Red Army, and fear of reprisal mounted within the Wehrmacht as defeat clearly loomed in the east.


Strictly speaking, the Vlasov armies were those World War II Soviet troops who switched sides while German prisoners to join former Soviet general Andrei Vlasov in the war against the Soviet Union, thereby serving as a German propaganda weapon to undermine support for the regime of Joseph Stalin. More broadly, the term applies to Soviet citizens, numbering perhaps in the millions, who served Germany in some capacity during World War II.

From the first months of the German invasion of the Soviet Union, the German army had relied on Soviet auxiliaries for manual labor and personal service. These ‘‘volunteer helpers’’ (Hilfswillige, or Hiwis), while not officially sanctioned, were vitally necessary to hard-pressed German units. As casualties mounted, the German military relied more heavily on Osttruppen, Soviets under arms in German service. Because of Adolf Hitler’s adamant opposition on racial and ideological grounds to arming Slavs, they served on an ad hoc basis under German officers, as individuals or units of battalion- size or smaller. Primarily intended for security and antipartisan warfare, some did see frontline combat.

By 1942, a growing number of German officers and officials believed that victory might be more easily won by moderating German occupation policy and making the war, either in propaganda or reality, a struggle not to conquer Russia but to end the tyranny of Stalin and Bolshevism. The undoubted usefulness of Soviet manpower, together with the support of Alfred Rosenberg (1893–1946), Hitler’s minister for occupied territories in the east, and Joseph Goebbels (1897– 1945), his propagandist, meant Soviet-manned units became more widespread and officially approved in late 1941 and 1942. Many served garrison duty in the west, freeing German troops for the eastern front.

These included a variety of national legions for Armenians, Georgians, Azerbaijanis, and Tatars, and still others for Baltic nationalities. Slavs presented greater difficulties, as Nazi racial theories consigned them to subhuman status. As a result, the German military and later the SS (Schutzstaffel) strove to avoid calling Slavic units by Slavic names. Russians and Ukrainians, for example, were enrolled in large numbers into ‘‘Cossack’’ units.

What drove so many Soviets to support the German war aimed at enslaving or exterminating their own people? For most rank-and-file, the goal was escaping starvation in a German prisoner-of-war camp. By contrast to British and American prisoners, generally treated by Nazi Germany in accord with international law, Soviet prisoners suffered appalling treatment that killed them by the millions and encouraged many to join the Germans merely to survive. Others saw German service as a means to get close enough to Soviet lines to escape to their homeland. They had little idea that returned Soviet prisoners of any sort were treated as traitors by Stalin’s regime. For still others, including Vlasov, the chief motivation was genuine anticommunism.

A fundamental contradiction lay at the heart of German policy in the east. Germans wishing to enlist Soviet support found more humane occupation policies and political concessions were utterly at odds with the ravenous territorial aggression that led Hitler to launch the war. Recruiting laborers from prisoner-of-war camps did little to solve the German propaganda problem of winning Soviet support for a German war of conquest and extermination. By 1942, German officials were already wishing for a ‘‘Russian de Gaulle’’ to unify and inspire anti-Stalin Soviets. They found their de Gaulle in Andrei Vlasov.

Born a peasant, Andrei Andreyevich Vlasov (1900– 1946) joined the new Red Army in 1919. Serving with skill and distinction, he enjoyed a successful career, and spent 1938–1939 as a Soviet military advisor in China. He returned to the Soviet Union and developed a reputation as a master at turning bad units into showpieces of discipline and training.

When Germany attacked the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941, Vlasov commanded the 4th Mechanized Corps, part of the Soviet southwestern front. In the first disastrous weeks, Vlasov was one of the few relatively successful Soviet commanders, and repeatedly fought his way out of German encirclement. Promoted to command of the 37th Army, Vlasov was caught in the great German encirclement of Kiev, which cost the Soviets six hundred thousand men. Vlasov again escaped the trap. Based on this success, he was transferred to command the Soviet 20th Army outside Moscow, where he joined the massive December 1941 counterattack that drove German troops away from Moscow and saved the Soviet Union.

Now one of Stalin’s top commanders, Vlasov was sent north and in April 1942 given command of the 2nd Shock Army, one hundred thousand Soviet troops fighting behind German lines to break the siege of Leningrad. After two months of desperate combat without adequate support, reinforcements, or supplies, Vlasov’s embattled forces collapsed. Vlasov himself was captured by the Germans in July 1942.

Imprisoned in a special camp in Vinnitsa, Ukraine, Vlasov soon wrote a memorandum with Colonel Vladimir Boyarsky proposing a Russian national movement to fight alongside the Germans against Stalin. German sympathizers made Vlasov the centerpiece of propaganda to encourage Soviet desertion to the Germans. Leaflets in Vlasov’s name, falsely denying German mistreatment of Soviet prisoners and aggressive intent toward the Soviet Union, were scattered among Soviet troops.

On 27 December 1942, as chairman of the ‘‘Russian Committee,’’ Vlasov signed the ‘‘Smolensk Declaration,’’ calling on Russians and other nations of the Soviet Union to abandon the Stalinist dictatorship in favor of Germany’s Europe ‘‘without Bolsheviks and capitalists.’’ The declaration mixed outright falsehood—claiming Hitler’s Germany had no designs on Russia—with a platform to redress the worst grievances of the Soviet people, a platform that remained remarkably consistent over time. It called for eliminating collective farms and forced labor while restoring private enterprise and freedoms of speech and religion. It promised broad guarantees of social justice and security for working people. The declaration announced its own Russian Liberation Army (RLA). The German military believed that Vlasov’s appeals increased desertion, and the Soviet government saw his message as a danger. In its condemnation of Vlasov, during the war and for fifty years after, it never revealed Vlasov’s platform to the Soviet people.

Vlasov’s message was powerful; his new Russian Liberation Army was fictitious. Hitler’s adamant opposition to a Russian army meant the RLA was only an idea to rally Soviet troops entirely subordinate to German control. Nonetheless, it remained a powerful symbol, and many Soviets in German service wore its insignia.

Change in steadfast Nazi opposition to any genuine anti-Stalin Russian movement came in 1944. With Allied forces in France, and especially the destruction of Germany’s Army Group Center in Belarus, Germany’s position was desperate. As a result, on 16 September 1944, the SS chief Heinrich Himmler (1900–1945) met with Vlasov and made a series of landmark concessions. Himmler agreed to a new Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia as a provisional government for Russia, should Germany ever regain control of any Russian territory. Himmler also allowed, in principle, Russian troops under Vlasov’s command, though he quickly limited their numbers.

As Nazi Germany’s collapse accelerated, the Committee’s first meeting in Prague on 14 November 1944 maintained Vlasov’s line of a democratic and socialist Russia without Bolsheviks. Military units under Vlasov were also forming. Germany was, however, hard-pressed to equip its own soldiers, let alone Soviet troops. By spring 1945, though, Vlasov had two divisions and perhaps fifty thousand soldiers nominally under his command, the strongest the 1st Division under Sergei Bunyachenko.

In April 1945, Vlasov’s troops went into action for the first time. Bunyachenko’s 1st Division was mauled in a failed assault on a Soviet stronghold on the Oder River. Deciding there was little point to sacrificing his soldiers in a losing cause, Bunyachenko disregarded German orders and marched his troops south through war-torn Germany toward relative calm in Czech lands. By the end of April 1945, Vlasov and Bunyachenko’s 1st Division were both outside Prague. Hoping to reach an accommodation with the western Allies, Vlasov’s forces were in close contact with the Czech resistance.

Czech plans for a last-minute revolt against the Germans were disrupted by a spontaneous, premature uprising by the population of Prague on 5 May 1945. As the German military began reprisals, Vlasov and Bunyachenko intervened on the Czech side in an episode that remains quite mysterious. After two days of confused fighting that expelled the Germans, Vlasov’s troops headed out of Prague, hoping to reach American lines. When American permission to cross over was denied, Vlasov’s forces disintegrated, most (including Vlasov) falling immediately into Soviet hands. Vlasov and his associates were tried secretly and executed in summer 1946. His soldiers, like the many Soviet prisoners who had suffered loyally in German captivity, were dispatched into Stalin’s network of prison camps.

Official Soviet historiography always portrayed Vlasov as a cynical opportunist, a traitor motivated solely by personal ambition. Many Soviet dissidents and émigré’s viewed him more sympathetically, as a man caught between and betrayed by two totalitarian dictatorships. Russia in the early twenty-first century is no nearer a consensus on the man and his movement.

BIBLIOGRAPHY Andreyev, Catherine. Vlasov and the Russian Liberation Movement: Soviet Reality and E´ émigré´ Theories. Cambridge, U.K., 1987. Dallin, Alexander. German Rule in Russia, 1941–1945: A Study of Occupation Policies. 2nd ed. London, 1981. Fischer, George. Soviet Opposition to Stalin: A Case Study in World War II. Cambridge, Mass., 1952. Strik-Strikfeldt, Wilfried. Against Stalin and Hitler: Memoir of the Russian Liberation Movement, 1941–5. Translated from the German with a foreword by David Footman. London, 1970.


In February 1945, Major Denis Hills, an officer of the British Eighth Army in Italy, was given command of a POW camp at Taranto containing 8,000 men of the 162 Turkoman Infantry Division, classified as ‘repatriates’. His charges had been conscripted into the Red Army, been captured on the Eastern Front by the Germans, and had endured starvation and cannibalism under arrest before volunteering for service with the Wehrmacht. Having sailed with them to Odessa, whither they were transported under the terms of the Yalta Agreement, he had no doubts that all such Soviet repatriates were being sent home to be killed.

In subsequent assignments, Hills repeatedly faced the age-old dilemma of a soldier whose conscience did not match his order. In the case of the SS Fede, which was trying to leave La Spezia for Palestine with an illegal shipload of Jewish emigrants, he advised his superiors that regulations should be waived to let them sail—which they did. ‘I had wished to extinguish a small glow of hatred before it grew into a flame.’

During Operation Keelhaul (1946–7), Hills was given 498 ex-Soviet prisoners for screening in a camp at Riccione. His orders were to repatriate to the USSR (1) all persons captured in German uniforms, (2) all former Red Army soldiers, and (3) all persons who had aided the enemy. By inventing spurious categories such as ‘paramilitaries’ and by privately urging people to flee, he whittled down the number of repatriates to 180. When they left, the Russian leader of the group told him: ‘So you are sending us to our deaths … Democracy has failed us.’ ‘You are the sacrifice’, Hills replied; ‘the others will now be safe.’

In the case of Ukrainians from the Waffen-SS Galicia Division held at Rimini, Major Hills was one of several British officers who personally rebuffed the demands of the Soviet Repatriation Commission. When the Division was reprieved, he was sent a letter from the division’s CO, thanking him ‘for your highly humane work … defending the principles in the name of which the Second World War has been started’. According to international law, the Galicians were Polish, not Soviet citizens.

Hills admitted that he ‘bent the rules’. Shortly afterwards, he was court-martialled and demoted on a charge of unseemly conduct, having been caught doing cartwheels and handsprings at dawn in the city square of Trieste.

The Allied policy of forcibly repatriating large numbers of men, women, and children for killing by Stalin and Tito has been called a war crime. In the Drau Valley in Austria, where in June 1945 British troops used violence to round up the so-called Cossack Brigade and their dependants, it provoked mass suicides. But it was well hidden until a report written by Major Hills came to light in the USA in 1973, and the opening of British archives. Solzhenitsyn called it ‘The Last Secret’. It only reached the wider public through books published thirty and forty years after the event.

More recently, an unusual libel trial in London awarded £1.5 million damages against Count Nikolai Tolstoy, author of The Minister and the Massacres, who had written of an official British conspiracy and cover-up. The plaintiff was not the minister accused of ordering the handover of the Cossacks, but a British officer who, faced with the same problem as Hills, had pursued a different policy. He did not receive a penny of his award, as the defendants fought on in the European courts.

POWs – A Comparison of Treatment

The Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS took 232,000 British, Commonwealth, and American prisoners during the war, most in the course of the last year of fighting in Italy and France. The short duration in captivity of most, along with the prospect of pending Allied victory in the west, meant they enjoyed relatively decent conditions in the Stalags in 1944–1945. That permitted most Western prisoners to survive captivity, though there were individual cases of brutality and murder of Westerners by German or other Axis guards. The Germans shackled over 1,000 Canadian POWs after the failed Dieppe raid, during which the Germans discovered British orders to bind the hands of prisoners to prevent destruction of documents. The British and Canadians retaliated immediately by chaining German prisoners, leading to a riot by several hundred Germans in Canadian POW camps. Mutual shackling lasted for a year before everyone backed down. More deadly abuse of British prisoners by the Germans followed a commando raid on the Channel Islands. That led to Hitler’s issuance of the commando order of October 18, 1942, to shoot all commandos taken prisoner. Still, only about 3.6 percent of Western prisoners died while in Axis captivity, a rate that was highly favorable compared to other classes of Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS prisoners and which included captured wounded.

It is noteworthy that Jews in the armies of the Western Allies, in particular captives from the Jewish Brigade of the British Army, were not singled out or killed, not even after the Schutzstaffel ( SS) took over the Stalags. That was not the case for Jews in the Red Army, who along with Communist political officers ( politruks and Commissars ) were pulled out and murdered from the first days of the war in the east. The main reason for the discrepancy was that the Germans were desperate to arrange a prisoner exchange with the Western powers for several thousand Wehrmacht medics and doctors held by the British and Americans, whom they needed to treat mounting numbers of German wounded. Four large prisoner exchanges occurred between the Western Allies and the Germans during the war. They were carried out using the Swedish passenger liner “Gripsholm,” with the physical exchanges made in Lisbon and Goteborg. Germany proposed a still larger exchange, looking to recover men for combat on the Eastern Front. The British were interested in helping long-term captives in German camps, but the Americans rejected the offer: they had few prisoners in German hands before June 1944. The worst experiences of these Western prisoners came in 1945, when they were force marched westward to prevent their liberation by the Red Army.

Yugoslavs, Greeks, and other minor Allies suffered harm commensurate with their ethnic ranking in the perverse Nazi racial view of Europe, and with the degree of resistance offered to Nazi occupation of their home countries. The worst treatment of enemy prisoners, by far, was reserved for enemies of Germany wearing the uniform of the Red Army. BARBAROSSA saw the capture of millions of Red Army prisoners, then their deliberate starvation, massive ill-treatment, and malign neglect by the Wehrmacht. Out of 5.7 million Red Army men taken prisoner during the war about 3.3 million died in German captivity, most in the first eight months of the war in the east: 2.8 million of the first 3.5 million captured died, or 10,000 per day over the first seven months of the German–Soviet war. Some 250,000 were shot outright. Many of the executed were Jews and Communists pulled out of primitive enclosures for immediate murder. Ukrainian and Belorussian peasant conscripts were encouraged by German guards to point out politruks and identify Jews. The selection process led to several hundred thousand executions by the end of 1941. The rest were left to huddle together against killing-cold temperatures in barbed-wire enclosures left open to winter elements, to sleep on frozen ground without shelter beyond hard-packed snow, and to perish en masse from hunger and virulent camp epidemics. Starvation was so extensive in the eastern Dulags and Stalags —POW transit and holding camps, respectively—that there were outbreaks of cannibalism in some. Non-Slavic prisoners fared somewhat better than Slavs, mainly because of spurious Nazi race theories that saw non-Slavs as a higher class of humans. In addition, the Germans pursued a policy of deliberate extermination through starvation of most of the Slavic population of occupied territories. The mass deaths of Soviet military prisoners in its care was the single greatest war crime of the Wehrmacht, and perhaps the gravest war crime in all military history: total deaths of helpless soldiers in German hands was exceeded only by the mass murder of unarmed Jews.

The Germans generally respected the Geneva Conventions with regard to Western prisoners, but refused to honor its provisions concerning Soviet POWs. Among the first experiments using poison gases to “exterminate” large populations were those carried out on Red Army prisoners of war. Some German officers worried that such gross mistreatment of prisoners in the east would have negative military consequences. And so it did: Red Army men fought increasingly desperately, often to the death, once they learned what surrender and German captivity really meant. By mid-1942 the Germans also realized that Soviet prisoners represented a huge pool of potential forced laborers. Therefore, even after the worst excesses of malign neglect over the winter of 1941–1942 stopped, more prisoners were worked to death as slaves. Altogether, about 55 percent of all krasnoarmeets taken prisoner from 1941 to 1945 died in German hands. As German casualties mounted in the east through 1943 the Wehrmacht looked to recruit low-grade military replacements and frontline workers among anti-Soviet prisoners. Men agreed to serve as “ Hiwi ” (Hilfswilliger) in return for food and shelter, or to join so-called “legions” of Baltic, Cossack, Georgian, or Turkmen fighters as Osttruppen, or to serve with the Waffen-SS. Until the great military reverses of 1943, Red Army prisoners were kept near the German front lines. By the end of the war, over half were no longer crammed into Stalags but worked on German farms, in mines or factories, or served as Hiwis with Wehrmacht units. During 1944–1945 German treatment of POWs improved as larger numbers of Landser were captured by the Red Army, and fear of reprisal mounted within the Wehrmacht as defeat clearly loomed in the east.

After the Soviet Union invaded Poland on Sept 17, 1939, the NKVD murdered many thousands of captured Polish Army officers at Katyn, Kharkov, and Tver. From the start of the German–Soviet war in mid-1941 the Red Army and NKVD also murdered or badly mistreated many German POWs, usually spontaneously and quickly in hot blood, before they got to rear area camps. Official Russian figures thus record that only 17,000 German prisoners were in Red Army hands in June 1942, a figure reflecting a low survival rate in captivity. Killing and mistreatment was more selective from the end of 1942 through 1945, a period in which the Red Army took ever larger numbers of German and other Axis prisoners. By mid- 1943 there were nearly 540,000 German and Axis prisoners in Soviet POW camps. By mid-1944 another 340,000 were added, with 950,000 more taken prisoner in the second half of 1944. German historians have calculated that of the 3,155,000 Germans taken prisoner by the Soviets, about 1,186,000 died in captivity. Most of those died of cold, disease, and hunger, for a death rate of about 38 percent. Prisoners from the lesser Axis states fared no better: of 49,000 Italians taken by the Red Army, 28,000 died in some NKVD camp. Unlike the Germans, who recruited prisoners for combat or combat-support units, the Soviets recruited among Axis prisoners primarily for propaganda purposes. An exception was the “Tudor Vladimirescu Division,” which was formed from Rumanian POWs and saw extensive fighting against Germans and Hungarians. The Nationalkomitee Freies Deutschland (NKFD) served a mainly propaganda function, with some late-war air drops of small espionage and guerrilla units into East Prussia. The NKFD comprised hundreds of captured Wehrmacht officers, including many generals and Field Marshal Friedrich Paulus.

Hundreds of thousands of German POWs, and some Allied prisoners and civilians liberated from the Germans, were detained in the Soviet Union for many years after the war; in some cases for the rest of their natural lives. German prisoners were kept as a form of unilateral reparations, put to forced labor beyond the Urals or in reconstruction work in the western Soviet Union. Winston Churchill predicted this would happen in a letter to Franklin D. Roosevelt in November 1944: “[Stalin] certainly contemplates demanding two or three million Nazi youth, Gestapo men, etc. doing prolonged reparation work.” He added: “and it is hard to say that he is wrong.” Many Germans died in postwar captivity in Soviet work camps. Most were not allowed to return to Germany for upwards of 10 years, until after Stalin died in 1953. Others married local women and settled down somewhere in the Soviet Union, lost to earlier lives and families. Stalin’s treatment of his own returned men was not much better. Having suffered severe torments in German captivity, liberated krasnoarmeets faced draconian punishment at the hands of the NKVD upon going home. Some Americans and Western civilians were kept by Moscow for narrower reasons pertaining to Soviet policy in Poland and the Baltic States, and refusal to recognize a legal right of expatriation and foreign naturalization. Those questions related to the start of the Cold War rather than to animosity from World War II. The Western Allies also retained Germans for forced labor. The Americans released most fairly quickly. The British and French retained German prisoners to clear up the vast disorder left by the war, to de-mine and perform other necessary, dirty postwar tasks.

The greatest travesty to befall World War II prisoners was suffered by Soviets returning home upon liberation in 1945. In the desperate days of massive losses and surrenders by Red Army men in August 1941, Stalin issued Order #270 decreeing that surrender was treason. As he later put it: “There are no Russian prisoners of war, there are only traitors.” Neither time nor looming victory tempered the brute in the Kremlin’s lust for vengeance on those who dared surrender during the vast Kesselschlacht (“cauldron battles”) of 1941–1942. The Soviet constitution was even rewritten during the war to make surrender a capital crime, although the men of the NKVD hardly required legal justification for their many summary executions. On May 11, 1945, two days after the German surrender to the Red Army, Stalin issued a decree establishing 74 clearing camps for former prisoners of war liberated in what became Soviet-occupied eastern Europe, with a further 69 camps ordered erected inside the Soviet Union. These camps and others were used to detain liberated Red Army POWs until Smersh and the NKVD could vet them (“filter” was the official term) for anti-Communist or anti-Russian nationalist views, and for other suspect categories of political or social “crimes” defined by the Soviet state. About 1.8 million returning POWs (“repatriant”) were being processed in Smersh “filtration camps” (“filtratsionnyy lager”). Out of five million surviving Soviet prisoners repatriated from Nazi captivity after the war, including hundreds of thousands liberated by the Western Allies and forcibly returned to Stalin’s grasp at gunpoint, some 1.1 million were either executed or sent directly to forced labor camps in Siberia. Others were sent back into the Army. Only 18 percent were allowed to go home. All suffered social and economic discrimination for decades, as did their families, until they were finally and officially “rehabilitated” in 1994, three years after the state they served and saved had itself expired.

Barbarossa – German Arrogance

On 22 June 1941, at 0330 hours, mechanised Wehrmacht divisions, supported by Luftwaffe fighter-bombers, poured across the Niemen River into Russia. The date had been carefully chosen for its historical significance. Exactly 129 years before, on 22 June 1812, an apparently invincible Napoleon Bonaparte had also crossed the Niemen to attack Russia. However, Hitler should have studied his history a little more closely; Napoleon was forced to begin his disastrous retreat only six months after invading, eventually losing 95 per cent of his troops to combat and the Russian winter. Although it would take longer, and cost even more lives, a similar fate would befall the German invaders.

Despite its having started late - the original launch date was May - 'Operation Barbarossa' initially made fantastic progress, raising expectations of a repeat of the Blitzkrieg against Poland. Hitler's plan, which he had been formulating since shortly after the signing of the Russo-German Pact, called for 120 German divisions to annihilate Russia within five months, before the onset of the winter. Hitler wasn't the only one so confident of a German victory. In July, the American General Staff had issued 'confidential' memoranda to US journalists that the collapse of the Soviet Union could be expected within weeks.

But Russia, a vast country tremendously rich in natural resources, manpower, and a fierce patriotism, was far from finished. If unprepared for the precise moment of the German attack, the Red Army was neither as small, as ill-equipped, nor as lacking in fighting spirit as the Nazis' ideology proclaimed it to be. A month and a half into the campaign, on 11 August, the Chief of the German General Staff, Franz Halder, wrote in his diary:
'It is becoming ever clearer that we underestimated the strength of the Russian colossus not only in the economic and transportation sphere but above all in the military. At the beginning we reckoned with some 200 enemy divisions and we have already identified 360. When a dozen of them are destroyed the Russians throw in another dozen. On this broad expanse our front is too thin. It has no depth. As a result, the repeated enemy attacks often meet with some success.'
Not only had the Germans underestimated the sheer number of forces available to the Red Army, they had also underestimated how well equipped it was. Many of the Wehrmacht's best generals reported with astonishment and a large amount of fear on the appearance of the Russian T-34 tank, the existence of which German intelligence had not an inkling. So well-constructed and armoured that German anti-tank shells bounced off it, the T-34 instilled in the German soldier what General Blumentritt later called 'tank terror'. These kinds of intelligence miscalculations would plague the Germans throughout the rest of the war.

But possibly the Germans' greatest miscalculation was their ideologically driven belief that Slavic soldiers would be no match for the 'Aryan' Germans and that the Soviet Union, once attacked, would disintegrate into chaos and revolution. 'We have only to kick in the door,' Hitler assured his generals, 'and the whole rotten structure will come crashing down.' Instead, the German invasion - launching what the Russians still call 'the Great Patriotic War' - loosed among the peoples of the Soviet Union a tremendous surge in patriotism, both Soviet patriotism and Russian, Ukrainian, Georgian and other national patriotisms. At this point, nearly a quarter century after the revolution, and just after the terrible purge years of 1934 and 1940, there could have been little naiveté about the nature of the Communist regime. Despite a tremendous amount of resentment and antipathy towards the Communist leaders, the peoples of the Soviet Union remained, for the most part, passionately committed to the sovereignty of the state, as well as to the individual nations of which it was made up. This was a fact which westerners have never properly understood, and the Germans were to pay dearly for their misunderstanding.


A generic term for partisans and intelligence agents actively opposed to Axis occupation. Winston Churchill initially placed great hopes in local resistance to Nazi occupation, but this rarely materialized in the West. For instance, in Belgium the main emphasis was on providing intelligence to the Western Allies and aiding downed pilots and crews, not on occasional shootings of Wehrmacht or Schutzstaffel (SS) personnel—that only brought swift Gestapo reprisals. In Norway, Italy, and the south of France armed resistance was marginally more than an minor irritant to the Wehrmacht or to local fascists, though it had psychological and political importance postwar as a vehicle of restoration of collective dignity and national pride. That was true decades later even in Germany, where individual and isolated acts of resistance came to be seen by some as salvaging a glimmer of national conscience about the events of the war and the daily and active collaboration of so many Germans with evil. Everywhere in Western Europe, damage done by active resisters was strategically minor and paled when compared to the price the Gestapo or SS exacted in savage and often indiscriminate reprisals.

Resistance was more extensive but still largely ineffective for most of the war in Yugoslavia. In that ethnically torn country massacre, reprisal, and active armed resistance was hardly distinguishable from civil war. The only strategically significant resistance in the German rear occurred along the Eastern Front, where large partisan units formed locally or were joined by thousands of former Red Army troops, cut-off by the Germans during earlier campaigns. . The Polish Home Army and Ukrainian nationalist resistance groups also carried out many acts of military sabotage and ambush. The Wehrmacht and Waffen-SS retaliated everywhere in the most savage manner they could imagine, making German rear areas a world unto themselves, places shorn of pity or mercy on either side, with only torture, mutilation, and abundant death.

Soviet subjects in German-occupied territory recruited into the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS, mostly from among prisoners of war but some directly from the civilian population. Most of the Soviet citizens who served in the German armed forces in some capacity were non-Russian: Cossacks, Tatars, Turkmen, Armenians, Georgians, and men from several Muslim communities from the Caucasus; along with Balts, Belorussians, Poles, and Ukrainians. Perhaps 800,000 served the Germans in some military capacity. Most were formed into battalions and assigned to German divisions, although some division-sized units fought in the Waffen-SS. Some Osttruppen battalions fought partisans in Italy and Yugoslavia. Sixty battalions faced the Western Allies in Normandy. Most were used by the Germans as cannon fodder on the Eastern Front.

Armenians, Azeris, Georgians, Tatars, Turkmen, and others from several small Muslim ethnic groups from the Caucasus who fought in “legions” alongside the Wehrmacht or Waffen-SS.

Auxiliary police drawn from the local, non-German population who worked with German occupation authorities in eastern Europe, especially the Sicherheitspolizei.

Book Review: The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945.

Klaus Gensicke. The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis: The Berlin Years, 1941-1945. Edgware: Vallentine Mitchell, 2010. 256 pp. $74.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-85303-844-3.
Reviewed by Norman Goda (University of Florida)
Published on H-Judaic (December, 2011)
Commissioned by Jason Kalman

The Riddle of the Mufti

The enduring nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the attacks of September 11, and the antisemitic rhetoric of Mahmud Ahmadinejad and other extreme Islamists has produced contemporary interest in the history of antisemitism in the Arab/Muslim world. Specifically, scholars and journalists have asked whether there exists a link between Nazi thinking on the Jewish question and current discourse in the Arab/Muslim world on Jews and on Western modernity. These questions are of great importance. Current “anti-Zionist” rhetoric is said to center on anticolonial narratives, which carry moral authority with many on the political left in Europe and in formerly colonized regions. But this moral authority would vanish should the roots of anti-Israel thinking be shown to have its roots in Nazism.

Scholars have tackled the problem from many angles.[1] But a key piece to the puzzle is Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem from 1921 to 1948. In 1941 the mufti, having triggered failed revolts against the British in both Palestine and Iraq, gravitated to Berlin, where for four years he tried to tighten bonds between Nazi Germany and the Arabs and Muslims of the Middle East. After Germany’s defeat he fled to Paris, then Cairo, then Beirut, while styling himself as a nationalist and anti-imperialist. Was the mufti’s policy in Berlin simply a question of anti-British pragmatism? Or was he the missing link between the Nazis’ war against the Jews and more extreme forms of Muslim antisemitism today? And whom did the mufti ultimately speak for in the Middle East?
The complex of issues is the subject of Klaus Gensicke’s Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten (2007), now translated and updated as The Mufti of Jerusalem and the Nazis. The book is based primarily on German and British records and shows that the mufti’s role in Berlin was multilayered yet telling. On the one hand, he never convinced the Germans to back his geopolitical aim of an independent Middle East under his own leadership. On the other, he endorsed Nazism’s war against the Jews on ideological grounds, and contributed where he could to the Jews’ destruction.

Amin al-Husseini was initially a clan leader and uncompromising political agitator. He worked against the Balfour Declaration from the moment it was issued in 1917 and helped trigger riots against the settlement of European Jews in the 1920s. The British hoped to co-opt him and the Husseini clan by making him the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem in 1921. The position made Husseini responsible for Islamic holy sites, but Husseini used it to argue that the Jews were trying to control the al-Aqsa Mosque and to augment his political standing. By 1936 he was head of the Arab Higher Committee, a position from which he claimed to speak for all Arabs. The revolt he triggered in Palestine from 1936 to 1939 sought to end British rule and to eliminate the mufti’s more moderate Arab political opponents.

Husseini adopted an uncompromising antisemitism that viewed Jews not just as Western interlopers in Palestine and not just as religious infidels, but as an existential threat as per the modern European antisemitic tradition. He rejected British partition schemes for Palestine in 1937 as well as the 1939 White Paper, which sharply limited Jewish immigration and was accepted by the more moderate Nashishibi faction. Instead the mufti courted Nazi Germany from the moment Hitler came to power in part because Hitler, at least when it came to Jews, spoke his language. Husseini argued to German interlocutors that, “Current Jewish influence on economics and politics is injurious all over and has to be combated” (p. 29). Living in exile in Baghdad after his failure in Palestine, he further demanded the expropriation of the 135,000 Jews there--who were hardly part of the European Zionist movement--and he instigated the pogrom that eventually erupted in Baghdad after the failed anti-British revolt in 1941.

Most crucial is the mufti’s period in Berlin from 1941 to the end of the war. On the one hand, Husseini hoped to win Hitler’s support for an independent Middle East while outflanking his Arab rivals in Berlin, namely Rashid Ali al-Kailani, who led the coup against the British in Iraq and whom the Germans hoped they might return to power there. On the other, he hoped to enlist the Germans to help with the eradication of the Jews in the Middle East. It was one of the mufti’s great disappointments that Hitler, realizing Italian aims in the Middle East and viewing the Arabs as another inferior Asiatic race, refused to back Arab independence openly. Husseini was sure that such a statement would deliver the Arab world to the Axis while cementing his own position in the Arab world. But Hitler and the mufti were in full accord that when Germany defeated the British, the Jews of Palestine would be destroyed. The mufti knew what this meant. When he met personally with Hitler in November 1941, Nazi propaganda on the Jews had been clear for two decades, and the Germans, with local help, had been killing Jews in the Soviet Union for four months.

Here indeed was the crucial link between the mufti and the Nazis. Unable to agree on Middle Eastern geopolitics, they could agree that Jews controlled the governments in Moscow, London, and Washington, and that murder was a desirable policy by which to eradicate Jews from the Middle East. The mufti was pleased to broadcast this message to the Arab world through the use of German radio facilities, and the Germans were pleased to have him do so, particularly after June 1942 when it looked as though the Afrika Korps, with an attached SS murder squad, would break through British defenses. As late as December 1942, with the Allies having taken the offensive in North Africa, Husseini, on the opening of the new Islamic Central Institute in Berlin, proclaimed that “the Holy Koran ... is full of evidence of Jewish lack of character and their insidious lying and deceitful conduct” and that the Jews “will always remain a divisive element in the world ... committed to devising schemes, provoking wars, and playing people off against one another” (p. 108). As scholars have pointed out, the tone and content of Arab propaganda from Berlin, speaking as it did of Jewish global conspiracies, has much in common with extreme Arab narratives today.

Gensicke points out, however, that the mufti was more than a propagandist while in Berlin. He conducted his own diplomacy, acting as a mediator between Berlin and King Farouk of Egypt in 1942. He tried to create an Arab legion with French POWs from North Africa to help the Germans and he also helped with the recruitment of the Bosnian Muslim SS division in 1943 that fought against Josef Tito’s partisans in Yugoslavia. Berlin’s desire to use him for German ends rather than place him at the head of an Arab independence movement infuriated him. Yet as Gensicke points put, the mufti openly committed himself to the Germans past the point of no return. Besides, the German Foreign Ministry kept him in opulent comfort, providing him with immense sums for his work and living expenses.

And regardless of the mufti’s frustrations with Hitler, the Jews remained his existential enemy. In spring 1943 when gas chambers in Poland murdered Jews from all over Europe, the mufti engaged in quiet diplomacy with the Romanian, Bulgarian, and Hungarian governments, urging them not to allow a few thousand Jewish children to travel to Palestine as was then being discussed in London. The Jews would be better off, the mufti said, in Poland where the Germans could keep an eye on them. Husseini enjoyed a close relationship with Heinrich Himmler and knew what awaited deported Jews. The mufti never drove the Final Solution--Himmler was unwilling to allow Jews to escape in any event--but he worked to ensure that as many Jews were killed as possible. In the meantime he tried to fuse Islam with Nazism, creating seven new “pillars” that included the thesis that, “In the struggle against Jewry, Islam and National Socialism come very close to one another” (p. 149).

Gensicke points out that Husseini could easily have been tried for war crimes, particularly in Yugoslavia where Bosnian Muslims he recruited engaged in various excesses. But following his escape to France in the war’s final days, neither then French nor the British wished to inflame radical Arab opinion by extraditing him. The mufti’s apologists in Palestine and Egypt could thus claim that he tried to use the Germans for anticolonial aims rather than collaborating with them. Moreover, his role in the Final Solution did not come up in postwar trials. The distortion had immediate effects in Cairo, where Arab nationalists launched a pogrom to celebrate his arrival in 1946. It also had effects in Palestine, where as a hero with bona fides he effectively agitated against 1947 UN partition schemes, called for the immediate destruction of the Jews once the British left, and branded Arabs who accepted the partition as traitors. It all backfired. “The Mufti,” concludes Gensicke, “bore much of the blame for the naqba,” by which the attack on Israel in 1948 created throngs of Arab refugees (p. 189).

After 1948 the mufti waned into political insignificance. The new generations of Arab leaders such as Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser were committed to destroying Israel. So was the new generation of Palestinian students who came of age in the 1960s and formed the PLO. A former clan based-leader Arab leader whose Nazi collaboration sullied an anticolonial narrative and was surely yesterday’s man. Still none openly condemned the connection between Husseini and Hitler. Yassir Arafat was among Husseini’s mourners when he died in exile in 1974, and he referred to Husseini as “our hero” as late as 2002 (p. 203). And as Gensicke shows in this important book, the mufti threw a long shadow as a precursor to the Arab and Muslim factions who reject all compromise with Jews in the Middle East and whose brand of antisemitism borrows much from the Western traditions that they otherwise despise.

[1]. See especially Matthias Küntzel, Jihad and Jew Hatred: Islamism, Nazism and the Roots of 9/11 (New York: Telos, 2007); Klaus-Michael Mallmann and Martin Cüppers, Nazi Palestine: The Plans for the Extermination of the Jews in Palestine (New York: Enigma, 2010); Ian Johnson, A Mosque in Munich: Nazis, the CIA, and the Rise of the Muslim Brotherhood in the West (Boston: Hoghton Mifflin, 2010); Jeffrey Herf, Nazi Propaganda for the Arab World (reprint, New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010); and Jeffrey Herf, ed., Anti-Semitism and Anti-Zionism in Historical Perspective: Convergence and Divergence (London: Routledge, 2006).

Himmler and Vlasov

On 16 September 1944 Himmler, now commander of the Reserve Army, came to an agreement with General Vlasov on the deployment of Russian troops alongside the Wehrmacht. The photograph taken afterwards showing the men shaking hands was purely for show, as in private Himmler had never concealed his contempt for the general.

Prisoners of war were also Himmler’s responsibility as commander of the Reserve Army, though he delegated this area to Berger. Now that Soviet POWs fell within his field of responsibility the Reichsführer-SS was once more confronted with an initiative that he had hitherto rejected vehemently, namely, the recruitment of Soviet POWs as a separate auxiliary force of the Wehrmacht. In his speech in Posen on 6 October the previous year he had called General Vlasov, the main advocate of this idea among the Russians, the ‘Russian swine’. In July 1944 he nevertheless decided to cooperate with Vlasov as a result of mediation on the part of Gunter d’Alquen, the editor-in-chief of Das Schwarze Korps and commander of the SS-Standarte for war reporting. That same month, after his first contact with Vlasov, Berger set up a ‘Russian operations centre’, the head of which acted as Himmler’s liaison officer with Vlasov.

On 16 September Himmler received the Russian general personally for talks. At the very beginning of the interview Vlasov raised the matter of Himmler’s theory of subhumans; the latter was evasive and immediately declared himself willing to have the brochure entitled The Subhuman that he had had circulated withdrawn (and indeed, Himmler did shortly after issue an internal instruction for all propaganda against subhumans to be stopped). Himmler and Vlasov agreed to establish a ‘Committee for the Liberation of the Russian Nations’, and Himmler made Erhard Kroeger, former leader of the ethnic German population in Latvia, who had been in command of an Einsatzkommando in 1941, political appointee responsible for the Vlasov initiative and put Gunter d’Alquen in charge of psychological warfare. He then had himself photographed with Vlasov.

Vlasov, whose activities were supported by Ribbentrop and Goebbels, was given the opportunity on 14 November 1944, in a ‘Prague Manifesto’, of issuing a call to liberate his homeland. Meanwhile Himmler cannily had Vlasov’s troops established under the umbrella of the Wehrmacht, by contrast with the Galician or Ukrainian SS volunteer units; he had not revised his position so radically that he was willing to integrate them into his Waffen-SS. In April 1945 Vlasov, who on 28 January 1945 was officially appointed supreme commander of the Russian forces, would have more than 45,000 men at his disposal. As far as the course of the war was concerned that was no longer of any significance.

Vlasov and the Nazis

By 1944 defeat stared Germany in the face. Goebbels's propaganda machine did its best to counter the deterioration of morale, especially emphasizing the bleak prospects with which the "unconditional surrender" slogan confronted the German people. On July 20 a few army officers and government officials attempted to kill Hitler and overthrow the Nazi regime, but the plot miscarried and merely resulted in the liquidation of the chief non-Nazis anywhere near the summit of power.

Opportunely for Goebbels came Allied publication of lists of "war criminals," the mass proscription of the German General Staff, and the approval of the "Morgenthau Plan," which envisaged the destruction of German industry and the conversion of all Germany into "a country primarily agricultural and pastoral in character," at the second Quebec conference in September 1944. Goebbels declared, "It hardly matters whether the Bolshevists want to destroy the Reich in one fashion and the Anglo-Saxons propose to do it in another." Doubtless the Morgenthau Plan did much to confuse those Germans who might be thinking of surrendering to the West while holding out against Stalin,, and thus Stalin could only profit by its dissemination by the U.S. and Britain.

At virtually the same moment that the Allies were endorsing the Morgenthau Plan at Quebec, the Nazi regime turned in desperation to a weapon which, if used earlier, might indeed have had great effect on the outcome of the war, but what the Nazis did with it in 1944 was too little and much too late. General Vlasov, who had been captured two years earlier, was to be transformed from a pawn of Nazi propaganda into the leader of a real Soviet anti-Stalinite army and government.

Vlasov, who was born in 1900, the son of a peasant family of Nizhnii Novgorod, had risen in Red Army ranks. A Party member since 1930, he had been Soviet military adviser to Chiang Kai-shek in 1938-1939, decorated in 1940, and in the autumn of 1941 one of the chief army commanders in the defense of Moscow. Apparently he possessed great personal magnetism, integrity, and ability. Not at all the opportunist and Nazi hireling he was accused of being, Vlasov "stressed his nationalism and strove to preserve the independence of the Movement," writes the most recent Investigator. Of the most influential men who joined his cause, probably the ablest was the brilliant but mysterious Milenty Zykov, who said he had been on the staff of Izvestiia under Bukharin and for a time had been exiled by Stalin. When captured he claimed to be serving as a battalion commissar, but it was suspected that he was much more.

By the end of 1942 Captain Wilfried Strik-Strikfeldt of the German army propaganda section was planning to establish a Russian National Committee led by Vlasov at Smolensk. The plan was vetoed from above, but in December the formation of the committee was proclaimed on German soil Instead. Vlasov published a statement of his aims, and he was allowed to tour occupied Soviet areas, meeting a considerable popular response. In April 1943 an anti-Bolshevik conference of Soviet prisoners opposed to Stalin's regime was held in Brest-Litovsk. After Vlasov declared that if successful he would grant Ukraine and the Caucasus self-determination, Rosenberg was persuaded to support the committee. However, in June 1943 Hitler ordered that Vlasov was to be kept out of the occupation zone, and that the movement was to be confined to propaganda—that is, promises which Hitler could ignore later—across the lines to Soviet-held territory.

During 1943 Vlasov's circle, under the protection of Strik-Strikfeldt's section at Dabendorf just outside Berlin, was allowed to carry on remarkably free discussions about a future non-Communist government for Russia and to publish two newspapers in Russian, one for Soviet war prisoners and another for the Osttruppen. The political center of gravity at Dabendorf fluctuated between the more socialist-inclined entourage of Zykov and the more authoritarian-minded group close to the emigre anti-Soviet organization, N.T.S. (Natsionalno-Trudovoi Soiuz or National Tollers' Union). Of course political arguments among Soviet emigres were nothing new; what was new was the hope of imminent action, utilizing the five million Soviet nationals in Germany, to overthrow Stalin—either with Hitler's support or, if he should fall, perhaps in conjunction with the Western Allies. Despite arguments, a fair degree of harmony was maintained among the Russians at Dabendorf. Especially noteworthy was the extent to which Vlasov and his followers succeeded in preventing themselves from being compromised by Nazi Ideology and in maintaining the integrity of their own effort to win Russian freedom.

Until 1944, however, the Vlasov circle was confined to discussion and publication. Although the phrase, "Russian Liberation Army," and Its Russian abbreviation, ROA (for Russkaia Osvoboditel'naia Armiia), were much used in propaganda— with Hitler's approval—there was in fact no such army. "ROA" was only a shoulder patch which the Osttruppen, scattered in small units throughout the Nazi army, were permitted to wear. In the summer of 1944 the ablest Intellectual of the Vlasov group, Zykov, was abducted and almost certainly murdered forthwith by the SS.

Nevertheless it was Himmler, chief of the SS, who not long afterward achieved the reversal of Nazi policy toward Vlasov. In a meeting with Vlasov in mid-September 1944, Himmler agreed to the formation of a Committee for the Liberation of the Peoples of Russia (Komitet Osvobozhdeniia Narodov Rossii or K.O.N.R.), which would have the potentiality of a government, and an actual army. It appears that Hitler consented to Himmler's new policy chiefly because his suspicion of other Nazi officials who opposed it was by 1944 greater than his fear of arming enemy nationals—a fear which, it must be said, was justified from the Nazi standpoint. The concrete results of Himmler's decision were meager, largely because the Russians could not, amid the disintegration which overtook the Nazi system during the last months of the war, obtain the material aid they needed to implement their plans.

However, in November 1944 in Prague the K.O.N.R. was officially established at a meeting which issued the so-called "Prague Manifesto." This document, declaring that the irruption of the Red armies into Eastern Europe revealed more clearly than ever the Soviet "aim to strengthen still more the mastery of Stalin's tyranny over the peoples of the USSR, and to establish it all over the world," stated the goals of the K.O.N.R. to be the overthrow of the Communist regime and the "creation of a new free People's political system without Bolsheviks and exploiters." It proclaimed recognition of the "equality of all peoples of Russia" and their right of self-determination as well as the intention of ending forced labor and the collective farms and of achieving real civil liberties and social justice. If such a document had been widely disseminated two or three years earlier and given some substance in Nazi occupation policy, the results might have been important or even decisive; coming in 1944, it had no observable effect on the Soviet peoples.

The Prague meeting did stimulate certain Nazi officials to make efforts to put the minorities into the picture with political committees and armies. A year earlier the Nazis had finally organized a Ukrainian SS division which bore the name "Galicia," but although it fought hard and well at the battle of Brody, on the Rovno-Lvov road, in July 1944, when it was finally overrun there, it dispersed to join Ukrainian partisan forces behind Red lines. In October an SS official, Dr. Fritz Arlt, attempted to secure the consent of the Ukrainian nationalist leaders to the formation of a Ukrainian national committee. To avoid being overshadowed by Vlasov, Bandera and Melnyk agreed to the setting up of such a committee, nominally headed by General Paul Shandruk. Melnyk protested the Prague Manifesto, but many Ukrainians nevertheless joined the Vlasov movement, along with representatives of other minorities.

In January 1945 the formation of the Armed Forces of the K.O.N.R. was announced; however, only two divisions were actually activated and mobilized. The First Division, under the command of a Ukrainian, General S. K. Buniachenko, was committed in April on the front near Frankfurt on the Oder, but the unit refused to fight under existing circumstances, and amid the Nazi military collapse moved south toward Czechoslovakia. At the call of the Czech resistance leaders in Prague, the division moved into the city and on May 7, with Czech aid, captured it from the Nazis.

However, in the Europe of the spring of 1945 there was no place for an anti-Soviet Russian army. The generals, including Vlasov, were turned over to the Soviet command by American and British forces, with or without authorization to do so. In February 1946 the remainder of the army was handed over by U.S. authorities without warning to Soviet repatriation officers at Plattling, Bavaria. In August Pravda announced the execution of Vlasov and his fellow officers, describing them as "agents of German intelligence" and failing to inform the Russian people that they had organized a movement to overthrow Stalin.

Forced labour

The Nazis planned to make the eastern colonies an agrarian appendage of the German empire. They preserved kolkhozes, believing that agrarian reform could disrupt production, whereas the collective farm system might ease the transfer of peasants from Communist to German serfs. German Minister of Agriculture Herbert Backe remarked that had the Soviets not established collective farms, Germans would have had to invent them. An agrarian reform announced by the Reichsminister Alfred Rosenberg in February 1942, as Alexander Dallin writes: 

… was nullified by procrastination in application and by the impression of deceit that it evoked. … The very plan for making the East into a gigantic colony, and the corresponding methods and attitudes of the German officialdom doomed the agrarian policy to failure. … Both by their plans and their practices the occupying authorities aroused against themselves the largest segment of the Soviet society. 

Because few kolkhozes existed in the frontier provinces, the German failure to eliminate them affected the borderlands less than the old Soviet territories. However, in western Ukraine and Belorussia, the new invaders set higher taxes than had the Soviet regime and they engaged in endless requisitions. Erich Koch, Reichskommissar of Ukraine, believed that “if this people [Ukrainian] works ten hours daily, it will have to work eight hours for us.” In many regions, the Germans doubled the 1941 Soviet quotas of obligatory agricultural deliveries.  

The German administration established a mandatory two-year labour duty in Germany. Initially, it recruited young labourers on a voluntary basis, but as that flow quickly dried up, it resorted to the conscription of whole age groups. This caused universal resentment and draft evasion. In Ukraine and Belorussia, Germans burned down entire villages if men and women failed to report. In total, 2,792,669 Soviet labourers were shipped to Germany; including 2,196,166 from Ukraine – of those, 400,000 were from its western regions. This draft affected all but the Polish farmers more than the Soviet deportations of 1940–1941. By July 1944, 75,000 labourers were conscripted in Lithuania, four times as many as the Soviets had deported in 1941, and 35,000 in Latvia, twice the number of Latvians exiled by the Soviets.

The Germans quickly wasted the amount of the good will they enjoyed initially. Having found themselves in the midst of a fierce fight between two totalitarian states, the people of the borderlands had to choose sides. While most focused on their own survival, a part of the politically active minority collaborated with the Germans, another part attempted to pursue nationalist goals, and some supported the Red partisans who increasingly penetrated the borderlands beginning in 1942. The proportion of those who collaborated with the Germans, the Soviets, and the nationalists varied by region and time and depended on the contrast between Soviet and German regional occupation policies, the strength of local nationalism, the social strain accumulated before World War II, the relative prosperity of the people, and the situation on the fronts. Despite the disappointment with the Germans, many Ukrainian and Lithuanian nationalists and most Latvian, Estonian, and Belorussian nationalists cooperated with Germany throughout the war. Although some did so wholeheartedly, most simply regarded the Nazis as the lesser evil.