The Other Nazi Atrocity
In the film Mein Krieg, a German WWII veteran recalls the logistical nightmare facing the German Army as it raced through the Soviet Union in lightning speed: “It’s always a problem, no manual says what do you do with 90,000 prisoners? How do to shelter them, feed them?” (1) The short answer is the Nazis did neither.
The Nazi blitzkrieg in the fall of 1941 was so effective that millions of Soviet soldiers were encircled, cut off from supplies and reinforcements and forced to surrender. The United States Holocaust Museum says only the Holocaust itself was worse than the treatment doled out by the Nazis to Soviet prisoners of war. Some 5.7 million Soviet military personnel fell into German hands during the war. About 3.3 million of them were dead by the end of the war. (2) The mass killings of Soviet POWs was a deliberate Nazi policy. As Spielvogel and Redles point out, “In accordance with Nazi ideology, the major purpose of German conquest was to find living space that would enable the German race to expand and grow.” (3) This meant “clearing” the land of not only Jews, but Slavs as well.
In contrast, the German treatment of American and British prisoners of war was markedly different. Of the 231,000 British and Americans held by Germans during the war, only about 8,300 —3.6 per cent—died in German custody. The Holocaust Museum says this disparity could be explained by the Nazi belief that the Americans and British were racial equals. The Nazi treatment of Soviet prisoners of war might explain the brutality the Germans experienced when the Soviets advanced on Berlin.
(1) Mein Krieg
(2) “Nazi Persecution of Soviet Prisoners of War” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum http://www.ushmm.org/wlc/en/article.php?ModuleId=10007178
(3) Jackson Spielvogel and David Redles, Hitler and Nazi Germany: A History, 7th eds. (New York: Pearson, 2014). 223.
Distribution of food, Ukraine, 1941 https://www.google.com/search?site=imghp&tbm=isch&q=Soviet%20POWs&tbs=sur:f#imgrc=tFO3ievZeGSRZM%3A