Soldier Are Not Equal

World War II saw a lot of atrocities.  The Nazis in particular seemed to favor ill treatment of any person, citizen or soldier, that did not fit in their narrow view of the true and proper race.  Although Jews are most well known for persecution from the Nazis, Russian POWs are the second largest group to suffer at the hands of the Germans. German treatment of Soviet POWs differed drastically from German policy towards POWs from Britain and the United States, countries the Nazis regarded as racial equals to the Germans. The United States Holocaust Museum said the following of the number of Russian POWs: “Existing sources suggest that some 5.7 million Soviet army personnel fell into German hands during World War II. As of January 1945, the German army reported that only about 930,000 Soviet POWs remained in German custody. About 57 percent of those taken prisoner, were dead by the end of the war.”

View of a camp for Soviet prisoners of war, showing the holes dug into the ground that served as shelter. The camp was located south of Hamburg in northern Germany. Wietzendorf, Germany, 1941–1942.
Soviet prisoners of war in the Mauthausen concentration camp. Austria, January 1942.

The Soviet POWs were actually the first prisoners in Auschwitz to have their identification
numbers tattooed on them.  They were forced to do labor, demolition and dismantling existing structures, laying down brick and foundations, and drainage in the marshy areas. The Soviet POWs were treated very poorly and had insufficient clothing, nutrition, and shelter.  The Auschwitz memorial said the following of how the Nazis reported the deaths of their Russian prisoners; “the causes of death were written in Latin or German; the most frequent ones were heart attack, circulatory failure, enteritis, hyperasthenia, nephritis, pneumonia, collapse, phlegmon, heart defect, and bronchial pneumonia. These fictional causes of death were chosen from a list prepared for the purpose. The prisoners that did not make it through their harsh imprisonment were buried in a mass grave in the Birkenau camp.”

I really do not find it hard to believe that they made up these causes of death but at the same time it is still shocking. I do not understand how humans could treat others so poorly.  The Russian POWs really had a hard time in captivity and were treated less than other soldiers that were taken prisoner.  That just goes to show how utterly brainwashed the Nazis were. They thought that one race was truly superior and those that did not fit perfectly in their little mold was less than human. The Russian POWs were soldiers just like them but somehow that fact did not resonate with them.

However, not all Germans were immune to the inhumane treatment of the soldiers.  Some of them even took account of what they saw.  Just to give you a small glimpse of the state of some of the Russian POWs, here is an account from Benno Zieser, a German Soldier, in his novel Road to Stalingrad:

We suddenly saw a broad, earth-brown crocodile slowly shuffling down the road towards us. From it came a subdued hum, like that from a beehive.

Prisoners of war. Russians, six deep. We couldn’t see the end of the column. As they drew near the terrible stench which met us made us quite sick; it was like the biting stench of the lion house and the filthy odour of the monkey house at the same time.

But these were not animals, they were men. We made haste out of the way of the foul cloud which surrounded them, then what we saw transfixed us where we stood, and we forgot our nausea.

Were these really human beings, these grey-brown figures, these shadows lirching towards us, stumbling and staggering, moving shapes at their last gasp, creatures which only some last flicker of the will to live enabled to obey the order to march ?

All the misery in the world seemed to be concentrated here. There was also that gruesome barrage of shouts and wails, groans, lamentations and curses which combined with the cutting orders of the guards into a hideous accompaniment.

We saw a lone man shuffle aside from the ranks, then a rifle butt crash between his shoulder-blades and drive him gasping back into place.

Another with a head wound lost in bloodstained bandages ran a few paces out with gestures almost ludicrous in their persuasiveness to beg one of the nearby local inhabitants for a scrap of bread. Then a leather thong fetched him a savage lash round his shoulders and yanked him, too, back into place.

2 thoughts on “Soldier Are Not Equal

  • March 20, 2017 at 3:08 pm
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    This is super interesting, the detail you gave really mad the atrocities come to life. I was surprised to hear that so many Russian POW’s died as well, but it makes sense due to the hatred between the states. Great job!

  • March 21, 2017 at 1:41 pm
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    Very well written post! In light of the recent events not just here at VT but around the nation, it’s important to revisit history and honor those who perished in this horrible fashion. Tragic histories are meant to be remembered and reflected upon, so kudos for tackling this issue

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