01 March 2014

Deaths of Soviet POWs and Forced Laborers


Soviet Prisoners of War in German Custody

G.F. Krivosheyev reports that official records list 3.4 million Red Army personnel as missing. He himself calculates an additional 1.16 million missing personnel from units that were encircled and could not send out reports to the center. This nets a total of 4.56 million missing, but Krivosheyev estimates 500,000 of these never entered into captivity, but were killed beforehand. On the other hand he supposes that 500 reservists who were called up were captured by the enemy before they could be integrated into their units. This he allows for 4.56 million Soviet prisoners of war.

German estimates of Soviet prisoners taken, however, run up to 5.7 million. The huge discrepancy may be partially explained by German double counting and partially by the fact the Germans took captive thousands of militiamen and police not counted on Red Army rolls, and even more crucially — rounded up numerous civilians on the presumption some could be encircled Soviet troops attempting to avoid capture by shedding their uniforms, or else mobilized conscripts on their way to their units. For example, in the Kiev encirclement the Germans reported capturing 665 thousand prisoners of war. However, the entire Southwestern Front defending Kiev had only 627 thousand men on its rolls, of whom tens of thousands had successfully slipped out of the cauldron and therefore avoided capture, as well as another 150 thousand who had never been encircled by the German pincers in the first place. The 5.7 million figure of Soviet POWs is without a doubt an overestimate of actual captured Soviet soldiers and almost certainly still an overestimate of Soviet citizens captured by the German armed forces and treated as POWs.

In any case, the number of Soviet citizens who the Germans considered to be captured combatants (by no means had all actually been combatants, nor were they actually afforded the protections of a POW status) and who perished in German custody is most often given as 3.3 million. The figure stems from a German historian Christian Streit who arrived at the figure by taking the estimated 5.7 million captured as his starting point and then subtracted from it the number of those who were known to be still alive in German custody in January 1945 (930,000) and those who may have been released (1 million) or liberated (0.5 million).[13]

Streit's figure is problematic because he uses the inflated 5.7 million figure as his starting point. Starting instead with a different contemporary German estimate of 5.2 million total captives his method could result in a much smaller estimate of 2.8 million deaths of Soviet POWs in German custody. However, in the same way that Streit inputs an overestimate of total captives he could be using too high figures for those released and those liberated. Indeed he states that "at most" 1 million were released implying the number is easily smaller. Additionally the estimate of those liberated or escaped is from the Army High Command, which is the same body that produced the inflated 5.7 million estimate of the total. Using 5.2 million as a starting point and lowering the release and liberated figures by 20% Streit's method would result in a point estimate of some 3.1 million deaths among Soviet POWs in German hands, which is easier to defend.  

Soviet Prisoners of War in Finnish Custody

Soviet POWs suffered mass mortality not only in German custody, but also in Finnish POW camps as well. Between 1941 and 1944 Finland took about 64,000 Soviet troops prisoner of whom just over 19,000 perished in Finnish custody. The majority of these succumbed to disease in the period between November 1941 and September 1942. Unlike the Germans, the Finns had not planned to let their Soviet POWs die in advance, however, they did treat captured Red Army soldiers with neglect. The miserable conditions the Soviet soldiers in Finnish hands were kept in, particularly those in the largest POW camps, were the cause of the mass mortality among them.[14]

Forced Civilian Workers in German Hands

Germans rounded up numerous civilians in the Soviet Union for forced labor in Germany and German-occupied Europe. For a long while the generally accepted estimate of such deportees stood at 2.8 million established by Alexander Dallin in the 1950s. This figure has been recently modified however. Mark Spoerer, a German historian specializing in the subject of forced labor in the Third Reich, puts the number at 2.9-3.1 million, but without including Polish forced laborers who were citizens of the Soviet Union in this figure. The Russian historian of forced population transfers, Pavel Polian estimates the number of all civilian forced laborers from the Soviet Union at 3.2 million.[15]

In his 2001 book Spoerer estimated 170,000 deaths among the approximately 3 million forces laborers from the Soviet Union or "Ostarbeiters". The figure is easily uncertain since in an article Spoerer himself penned a year later he speaks of a "10 percent death toll" of Eastern Workers which would imply a far higher number of deaths instead.[16]

To this figure we should also add deaths among children born to civilian Soviet forced laborers in captivity. As they were of no use to the German war effort mortality among the newborn was extremely high, Spoerer speaks of it being between 25 and 50 percent. In majority of cases after December 1942 the newborns were taken from their mothers and unloaded at “boarding homes for foreign children” where more than half of them starved to death. Reich Interior Ministry in mid 1944 estimated there was a total of 75,000 Ostarbeiter children in Germany. [17] This can easily indicate one hundred thousand births overall and between 20 and 50 thousand of Ostarbeiter children who did not survive the war.

Taken together there were probably more than 200 thousand deaths among Soviet forced laborers and the children born to them.

Summary


Soviet POWs and civilian forced laborers constituted by far the largest groups of Soviet citizens in Axis (overwhelmingly German) custody. Some 8 million people at one point in time counted as either a Soviet POW or a captive civilian laborer. Taken together there were some 3.3 million deaths among them.

Of these the most numerous by far were the deaths of captured Red Army men in German hands. Most of these died when they were deliberately left to starve in 1941 and 1942 in Wehrmacht's POW camps in the western Soviet Union, or were killed in death marches en route to such camps. Others died later when employed as forced laborers in Germany. A portion were also handed over to the SS and the police to be shot. Another large group, whose deaths may have numbered in the hundreds of thousands, were civilian men who were captured as suspected or potential fighters and eliminated in Wehrmacht's POW camps along with captured soldiers. Finally there were an additional 200 thousand deaths among Soviet civilian forced laborers in Germany and their children.

Table of Contents


13. Christian Streit, “Soviet Prisoners of War in the Hands of the Wehrmacht” in War of Extermination: The German Military in World War II, ed. Hannes Heer & Klaus Naumann (Berghahn Books, 2000), 81.

14. Lars Westerlund, "The Mortality Rate of Prisoners of War in Finnish Custody between 1939 and 1944" in Prisoners of War Deaths and People Handed over to Germany and the Soviet Union in 1939-1955: A Research Report by the National Archives, ed. Lars Westerlund (Helsinki: Nord Print Oy Ab, 2008) 31, 63-65.

15. Christine Glauning, "Ostarbeiter" im Deutschen Reich citing Alexander Dallin, Deutsche Herrschaft in Russland 1941-1945 (Düsseldorf: 1958), 465. Mark Spoerer, Zwangsarbeit unter dem Hakenkreuz (Stuttgart/München: Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, 2001), 79, 32, 34. And Pavel Polian, "Sowjetische Staatsangehörige im "Dritten Reich" während des Zweiten Weltkrieges" in Wir sind die Heren dieses Landes: Ursachen, Verlauf und Folgen des deutschen Überfalls auf die Sowjetunion, ed. Babette Quinkert (Hamburg: 2002), 148.

16. Glauning, "Ostarbeiter" im Deutschen Reich citing Spoerer, Zwangsarbeit unter dem Hakenkreuz, 228. Mark Spoerer “Forced labor under the Nazi regime: Recent findings and an Agenda for Future
Research.” in Revisiting the National Socialist Legacy. Coming to Terms with Forced Labor, Expropriation, Compensation, and Restitution, ed. Oliver Rathkolb (Innsbruck: Studien-Verlag, 2002) 77.

17. Mark Spoerer, Forced Labor in the Third Reich (Frankfurt am Main: J.W. Goethe-Universität / Fritz Bauer Institut, 2010) 15. Bernhild Vögel, "Entbindungsheim für Ostarbeiterinnen" Braunschweig, Broitzemer Straße 200 (PDF-Ausgabe 2005) 86.

No comments:

Post a Comment