The Nizkor Project: Remembering the Holocaust (Shoah)

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Archive/File: holocaust/ussr pow.001
Last-Modified: 1994/10/06

From: (Danny Keren)
Date: 4 Oct 1994 06:40:23 GMT
Message-ID: <36qtcn$8p7@cat.cis.Brown.EDU>
References:   <36kbkj$9fm@cat.cis.Brown.EDU> 

The following are extracts from the book "A Mosaic of Victims",
edited by M. Berenbaum. The article was written by Christian Streit,
a German scholar who wrote books and essays about the fate of
Soviet POW's in Nazi captivity.

   Among the different groups that fell victim to the Nazi politics of
   extermination, the Soviet prisoners of war must be accorded a
   special place.  After the Jews, they were numerically the largest
   group of victims, and there are close ties between their fate and
   that of the Jews.

   What happened to the Soviet prisoners of war in the years between
   1941 and 1945 has been largely ignored.  A total of approximately
   5.7 million Red Army soldiers were taken prisoners between June 22,
   1941, and the end of the war.  In January 1945, there were some
   930,000 Soviet POW's left in the prison camps of the Wehrmacht.
   About 1 million more had been released from captivity, most of them
   as so-called Hilfswilligen, that is, "helpers of the Wehrmacht".
   According to estimates from the German Army staff, another 500,000
   of the prisoners either had escaped or were eventually liberated by
   the Red Army.

   The remaining 3.3 million or about 57 percent of the total number,
   had perished by 1945.  To make these figures more meaningful, they
   should be compared with statistics on the British and American
   prisoners of war.  Of the total of 231,000 such prisoners in German
   hands, 8,348, or 3.6 percent, died before the end of the war...

   The state of health among the prisoners became desperate in
   September 1941.  Numerous reports show that the despairing
   prisoners turned to eating raw grass and leaves.  In spite of the
   rapidly climbing death rates in the camps, Army Quartermaster
   General Eduard Wagner, following the demands of Herman Goering,
   ordered the drastic reduction of rations for the prisoners in the
   front areas.  This reduction particularly hurt the weaker
   prisoners, because nonworking prisoners were restricted to 1,500
   calories a day.

   The decimation of large numbers of prisoners was accelerated by
   winter because the prisoners were without any protection.  Even in
   the Reich area and in occupied Poland, the prisoners had often been
   left for months to vegetate in trenches, dugouts, or sod houses...

   If prisoners were carried by train, an order from the Army High
   Command permitted only the use of open freight cars.  This order
   did not merely limit the transportation available; it also caused
   enormous losses when temperatures began to drop below the freezing
   point.  In the rear area of the army group center, transportation
   in closed cars was not permitted until November 22, 1941, after
   more than three weeks of severe frost.  The immediate cause for the
   change was the fact that out of the transport of 5,000 prisoners,
   1,000 had frozen to death...

   In dealings with the Soviet POW's in Auschwitz, Camp Commandant
   Rudolph Hoess, and his deputy, Karl Fritzsch, discovered the means
   that made industrialized murder feasible.  In early September 1941,
   some 600 Soviet prisoners who had been selected for execution by
   the SS arrived at Auschwitz.  Anxious to avoid the task of shooting
   such a large group, Fritzsch decided to use the pesticide Zyklon-B
   to gas them and another 250 camp inmates selected as "unfit for
   work".  He thus found the way to kill thousands with minimum


-Danny Keren.

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