This post is about Nazi Germany’s murder of millions of Russian prisoners of war. A mass murder to compare with the concentration camp killings.
In Summer 1941 Germany launched Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of the Soviet Union. In the following months they won a series of battles of encirclement. Few in the West have heard of these but they were military victories on a scale that the world had not seen before and has not seen since. They were only possible between such unmatched foes and in the vast steppes of Russia.
These victories produced huge numbers of prisoners of war.
Vyazma and Bryansk 512,000
During the war in Russia German forces captured 5,700,000 Russian POWs. About 3.3 million of the POWs died in German camps, 2.8 million of them in the short period between the start of Barbarossa and the Spring of 1942.
About half a million escaped from the camps or were liberated by the advancing Red Army. About a million were taken as forced labour when manpower shortages started to hit the German economy. Finally, some 930,000 more were found alive in the camps after the war.
Some were shot or gassed. In Gross-Rosen concentration camp the SS killed more than 65,000 Soviet POWs by starvation. In Flossenbürg, they burned Soviet POWs alive. In Majdanek, they shot them in trenches.
However, the vast majority were killed in Dulags [POW transit camps] and Stalags [POW camps] by starvation, desease and exposure. The Germans set up a number of camps, usually by doing nothing more than stringing up some barbed wire. Prisoners were herded inside and then left in the open with little or no food, sanitation or shelter. Starvation, exposure and epidemics (especially typhoid and dysentery) did the rest.
Two trains from Hungary have arrived at Auschwitz Birkenau extermination camp and selection is taking place. Sometimes those capable of working are separated and sent to one of the many satellite work camps. The rest, most women, the old and children, are sent for immediate gassing. At other times everybody on a train is gassed.
Walking to the gas chamber
Clearing up afterwards. A crematorium chimney is visible in the background.
What a happy group.
Auschwitz guards at a rest centre.
Stutthof concentration camp was located in the north of Poland, near Danzig. Some 85,ooo prisoners died in the camp. The Russians and Poles held four trials of former guards and kapos , charging them with crimes against humanity. The first trial was held against 30 ex-officials and kapos. Eleven of them, including five female guards, were sentenced to death. The executions were carried out at Biskupia Górka on the 4th July 1946.
Both Steinhoff and Barkmann were reported as being involved in the selection of women and children for gassing.
The above Stutthof guard photographs are from this page.
Albert Pierrepoint, the British executioner, hung a total of 202 German war criminals between 1945 and 1949, including Irma Grese for crimes at Bergen-Belsen concentration camp and Auschwitz (aged 22), Elisabeth Volkenrath (Bergen-Belsen and Auschwitz), and Juana Bormann (Auschwitz). The execution of Grese and some other war criminals was portrayed in the 2006 film Pierrepoint.
Some years ago I visited the site of Dachau concentration camp. The photograph below was on display. It shows prisoners being punished by pole hanging. Prisoners were handcuffed behind their backs and then they were hung from a hook for one or two hours. This would be what the American Government would call a stress position [but definitely not torture].
This was such a common punishment at Dachau that a room was devoted to it with hooks along walls and on support pillars.
Pole hanging appears to have been used in many Nazi concentration camps. This photograph shows poles at a camp near Berlin.
Pole Hanging Sachsenhausen
When I visited Dachau recently all references to pole hanging had disappeared. The photographs and exhibits in the camp museum appear to have been sanitised over the years.
Mauthausen Concentration Camp was part of a group of Nazi concentration camps built near the village of Mauthausen, about 20 kilometres (12 mi) east of Linz in Austria. It is less than two kilometres [uphill] from the Danube and is often visited by people cycling along the Danube Cycle Path. Much of the camp has been preserved and is open to the public.
Mauthausen and nearby Gusen I, were the only two camps to be labelled as “Grade III” and were intended to be the toughest camps for the “Incorrigible Political Enemies of the Reich”. Mauthausen was used to kill the ruling classes of conquered countries through hard labour and mistreatment.
The photograph above shows the entrance to the camp. Unlike other concentration camps which used barbed wire to contain prisoners Mathausen has granite walls and administrative buildings. The granite came from a nearby quarry and working in that quarry was the main way in which inmates were tormented and killed. The camp had a small gas chamber but mainly employed the extermination through labour (Vernichtung durch Arbeit) policy of the Nazis.