In Soviet times, they tried not to advertise the maintenance and use of German prisoners of war and their allies after the war. Everyone knew that the former soldiers and officers of the Wehrmacht were used to rebuild cities destroyed by the war, at Soviet construction sites and factories, but it was not accepted to talk about this.
In total, during the war years and after the surrender of Germany, 3 soldiers of Germany and its satellites were taken prisoner and, according to official data, were in camps in the Soviet Union, including 486 Germans (prisoners of war and internees from various European countries, civilians Volksdeutsche). To accommodate them in the structure of the Main Directorate for Prisoners of War and Internees under the NKVD (GUPVI), more than 206 special camps were created throughout the country, accommodating from 2 to 388 people. In captivity, 443 German prisoners died, or 300% of their number.
However, according to German data, there were almost 3,5 million prisoners in the USSR. And this was due to several reasons. After the capture, not all of them ended up in the NKVD camps, at first they were held at the collection points of prisoners of war, then in temporary army camps and from where they were transferred to the NKVD. During this time, the number of prisoners decreased (executions, death from wounds, escapes, suicides, etc.), some of the prisoners of war were released at the fronts, mainly prisoners of war of the Romanian, Slovak and Hungarian armies, in connection with which the Germans called other nationality. In addition, there were conflicting data on the registration of prisoners belonging to other German formations (Volsksturm, SS, SA, construction formations).
Each prisoner was repeatedly interrogated, the NKVD officers collected testimonies from his subordinates, residents of the occupied territories, and if evidence of involvement in crimes was found, he was awaited by a military tribunal's verdict - execution or hard labor.
From 1943 to 1949, 37 prisoners of war were convicted in the Soviet Union, of which about 600 were convicted in the first years of captivity, and about 10 in 700-26. By the verdict of the tribunal, 1949 people were sentenced to death, the rest - to hard labor for up to 1950 years. They were kept in Vorkuta and in the Krasnokamsk region. There were also Germans, suspected of having connections with the Gestapo, of atrocities against people, and saboteurs. There were 263 German generals in Soviet captivity, of whom 25 returned to Germany, and 376 died (277 of them were hanged as war criminals).
German prisoners of war did not always obey meekly, there were escapes, riots, uprisings. From 1943 to 1948, 11403 prisoners of war escaped from the camps, 10445 were detained, 958 people were killed and 342 prisoners managed to escape. In January 1945, a major uprising took place in a camp near Minsk, the prisoners were dissatisfied with the poor food, barricaded themselves in the barracks and took the guards hostage. Barak had to be taken by storm, the NKVD troops used artillery, as a result, more than a hundred prisoners died.
Content of prisoners
The Germans were kept in captivity, of course, far from being in sanatorium conditions, this was especially felt during the war. Cold, cramped conditions, unsanitary conditions, infectious diseases were common. The mortality rate due to malnutrition, injury and disease during the war and in the early post-war years, especially in the winter of 1945/1946, reached 70%. Only in subsequent years this figure was reduced. In Soviet camps, 14,9% of prisoners of war died. For comparison: in fascist camps - 58% of Soviet prisoners of war died, so the conditions there were much more terrible. Do not forget that there was a terrible famine in the country, Soviet citizens perished, and there was no time for the captured Germans.
The fate of the surrendered 90-strong German group at Stalingrad was lamentable. A huge crowd of emaciated, half-naked and hungry prisoners made winter crossings of several tens of kilometers a day, often spent the night in the open air and ate almost nothing. By the end of the war, no more than 6000 of them survived.
In the diary of General Serov, sent by Stalin to organize the accommodation, food and treatment of prisoners of war after the completion of the liquidation of the boiler near Stalingrad, an episode is described how the Soviet escorts treated the captured Germans. On the road, the general saw the often come across corpses of German prisoners. When he caught up with a huge column of prisoners, he was amazed at the behavior of the escort sergeant. The one, if the prisoner fell from exhaustion, simply finished him off with a pistol shot and, when the general asked who ordered it, replied that he himself had decided so. Serov forbade the shooting of prisoners and ordered to send a car for the weakened and bring them to the camp. This column was marked out in some dilapidated stables, they began to die en masse, corpses were sprinkled with lime in huge pits and buried with tractors.
All prisoners were used in different jobs, so it was necessary to feed them at the very least to maintain their working capacity. The daily ration of prisoners of war was 400 g of bread (after 1943 this rate increased to 600-700 g), 100 g of fish, 100 g of cereals, 500 g of vegetables and potatoes, 20 g of sugar, 30 g of salt. In fact, in wartime, the ration was rarely given out in full and was replaced by the products that were available. Nutrition rates have changed over the years, but have always depended on the production rates. So, in 1944, 500 grams of bread were received by those who produced up to 50% of the norm, 600 grams - those who completed up to 80%, 700 grams - those who completed more than 80%.
Naturally, everyone was malnourished, hunger spoiled people and turned them into animals. The formation of groups of the healthiest prisoners, the theft of food from each other, and fights with the weaning of food from the weakest became common occurrences. They even knocked out gold teeth that could be exchanged for cigarettes. The Germans in captivity despised their allies - Italians and Romanians, humiliated them, took away food and often killed them in fights. Those in response, settling down in food points, reduced their rations, passing the food on to their fellow tribesmen. For a bowl of soup or a piece of bread, people were ready for anything. According to the recollections of the prisoners, cannibalism was also encountered in the camps.
With the surrender of Germany, many lost their courage and lost heart, realizing the hopelessness of their situation. There were frequent cases of suicide, some mutilated themselves, chopping off several fingers on their hands, thinking that they would be sent home, but this did not help.
Using the labor of prisoners
After the war devastation and colossal losses of the male population, the use of the labor of millions of prisoners of war really contributed to the restoration of the national economy.
The Germans, as a rule, worked conscientiously and were disciplined, German labor discipline became a household name and gave rise to a kind of meme: "Of course, it was the Germans who built it."
The Germans were often surprised by the unfair attitude of Russians to work, and they learned such a Russian concept as "trash". The prisoners received a monetary allowance: 7 rubles - for privates, 10 - for officers, 30 - for generals, for shock work there was a bonus - 50 rubles a month. However, officers were forbidden to have orderlies. The prisoners could even receive letters and money orders from their homeland.
The labor of prisoners was widely used - at construction sites, factories, logging sites and collective farms. Among the largest construction projects where the prisoners were employed are the Kuibyshev and Kakhovskaya HPPs, the Vladimir Tractor Plant, the Chelyabinsk Metallurgical Plant, pipe-rolling plants in Azerbaijan and the Sverdlovsk Region, and the Karakum Canal. The Germans restored and expanded the mines of Donbass, the Zaporizhstal and Azovstal plants, heating mains and gas pipelines. In Moscow, they took part in the construction of Moscow State University and the Kurchatov Institute, the Dynamo stadium. The highways Moscow - Kharkov - Simferopol and Moscow - Minsk were built. In Krasnogorsk near Moscow, a school, archive storage, the city Zenit stadium, houses for the factory workers and a new comfortable residential town with a house of culture were built.
From the recollections of early childhood, I was struck by the nearby camp, which contained the Germans who were building the Moscow-Simferopol highway. The motorway was completed and the Germans were deported. And the camp was used as a warehouse for the products of the nearby cannery. The time was hard, there was practically no sweets, and we, children of 5-6 years old, climbed under the barbed wire inside the camp, where wooden barrels with jam were kept. They knocked out a wooden plug in the bottom of the barrel and picked out the jam with a stick. The camp was enclosed in two rows with barbed wire, four meters high, dugouts were dug inside about a hundred meters long. In the center of the dugout there is a passage, on the sides about a meter higher than earthen bunks covered with straw, on which the prisoners slept. It was in such conditions that the builders of the first Soviet "Autobahn" lived. Then the camp was demolished and a microdistrict of the city was built in its place.
The highway itself was also interesting. Not wide, even narrow by modern standards, but with a well-developed infrastructure. I was impressed by the construction of rain outlets (3–10 meters long) from the road into the crossed ravines. It was not a gutter for water: as the height fell, horizontal concrete platforms were erected, connected to each other, and the water fell down in cascades. The entire drain was flanked on the sides by a concrete balustrade painted with lime. I have never seen such an attitude to the road anywhere else.
Driving now in those parts, it is impossible to see such construction beauty - everything has long been demolished with our Russian carelessness.
In large numbers, the prisoners were involved in the work of dismantling the rubble and restoring the cities destroyed by the war - Minsk, Kiev, Stalingrad, Sevastopol, Leningrad, Kharkov, Lugansk and a number of others. They built residential buildings, hospitals, cultural facilities, hotels and urban infrastructure. They also built in cities not affected by the war - Chelyabinsk, Sverdlovsk and Novosibirsk.
Some cities (for example, Minsk) were rebuilt by prisoners by 60%, in Kiev they restored the city center and Khreshchatyk, in Sverdlovsk whole districts were erected by their hands. In 1947, every fifth worker in the construction of ferrous and non-ferrous metallurgy enterprises was captured, in aviation in industry - almost every third, in the construction of power plants - every sixth.
The prisoners were used not only as brute physical force, in the camps of the GUPVI system, qualified specialists were identified and registered in a special way to attract them to work in their specialty. As of October 1945, 581 different specialists of physicists, chemists, engineers, scientists with degrees of doctors and professors were registered in the camps of the GUPVI. Special working conditions were created for specialists by order of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, many of them were transferred from camps and provided with housing near the facilities where they worked, they were paid salaries at the level of Soviet engineers.
In 1947, the USSR, USA and Great Britain decided to repatriate German prisoners of war, and they began to be sent to Germany at their place of residence in the GDR and FRG. This process stretched out until 1950, while prisoners convicted of war crimes were not subject to return. At first, the weakened and sick were sent, then those employed in less important jobs.
In 1955, a decree of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR was adopted on the early release of convicted war criminals. And the last batch of prisoners was handed over to the German authorities in January 1956.
Not all prisoners wanted to return to Germany. Oddly enough, a significant part of them (up to 58 thousand people) expressed a desire to leave for the newly proclaimed Israel, where, with the help of Soviet military instructors, the future Israeli army began to form. And the Germans significantly strengthened it at this stage.