Russian treatment of Germans, Eastern Front, WW2.

I has always assumed that both German civilians and soldiers were treated badly by the Russians on the Eastern Front during WW2, but I can’t find any websites detailing just how badly they were treated. All references to abuses are references to German brutality against the Russians.

Did the Russians reciprocate? If so, how bad was their treatment of Germans?

I am no expert (but one will be along shortly), but many of the Germans taken as POWs were never returned to Germany. Some of the lucky ones were returned as late as (IIRC) 1955.

Stalin’s government did not accept Red Cross visits and so conditions for these guys were no monitored by a Protecting Power.

My understanding is that brutality was common on both sides of the Eastern front. According to “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich”, when the German 6th Army surrendered at Stalingrad: “91,000 Germans who began the weary march into captivity that winter day, only 5,000 were destined to ever see the Fatherland again”.

Make of that what you will.

Towards the end of the war in Europe, many Germans risked their lives to flee West, knowing full well they’d be better off surrendering to the Allies. The Russians, having almost lost their country to the savage invasion of the Germans, were pissed to say the least. They were getting payback as they advanced West across Europe.

Not the topic of the OP, but one of the shows I watched on Hitler Channel about the race for Berlin made it clear that being an E. Prussian or other woman during these days was not so much fun when the Red Army arrived. If they’re raping the womenfolk, I have to assume the soldiers they found were just killed on the spot, but I go look for cites. Also, as other posters have noted, the fate I’ve heard of for lots of German soldiers (and civilians) was simply “taken to the East.” Not very transparent, Stalin’s government, and even the current Russian govt. has been far from forthcoming about events such as Katyn. I’m not sure they ever really bought into the whole “war crime” notion (well, other than as massive perpetrators of said crimes).

For what it’s worth, I once knew a man who had been a German artilleryman on the Eastern Front. In addition to the usual amazing/horrifying stories told by combat vets from that generation, he told me that the way he ended up living in South Florida was his eagerness not to be captured by the Russians.

He just ran west until he saw doughboys, and then surrendered. According to him, there was simply no question about where you wanted to wave the white flag.

I should add that the Red Cross had about zero credibility during that time. They inspected some of the Concentration Camps too.


The Fall of Berlin 1945 by Antony Beevor has some pretty horrifying passages.

Additionally, the Russian’s treatment of their own repatriated soldiers wasn’t much better than the way they treated captured German soldiers. Because they had been “tainted” by the West and/or because they had been “cowardly” enough to surrender, those that survived the German POW camps were then sent to the Gulags. And you thought you had bad luck.

In Eastern Germany, i.e. the part that became the Soviet occupation zone and finally ended up being the socialist German Democratic Republic, there were many accounts of Soviet soldiers plundering the property of Germans and raping German women; there’s a bunch of East German jokes about it, and rumor has it that the famous picture of the Red Army soldier flying the Soviet flag on the Berlin Reichstag (which was posed for anyway) was retouched because one of the soldiers in it was wearing two watches - watches were popular prey for the Soviets.

In general, it is known that there was Soviet abuses against German prisoners of war, see for example this Wikipedia entry; a fact that is unfortunately being used by German neo-fascist groups to try to excuse the German army’s cruelties against Soviet civilians and POWs (“What the Wehrmacht did was wrong, but the others did just the same things”).

Anecdotal input: My grandmother, who is still alive, says that my late grandfather was extremely lucky at the end of the war. He had been a member of one of the SS units that were fighting on the Eastern front, but the bureaucratic machinery somehow forgot to tattoo his blood type on his arm, as was mandatory for SS men. When the war was over, he managed to get rid of his uniform and get civilian clothes, so when he was captured, he could not be identified as an SS member. He was sent to a forced labor camp in Poland and released four years later; my grandmother says that if he had had the blood type tattoo, he might probably have received much worse treatment, probably not surviving captivity.

My father was in the British Army during WWII. His unit was part of the rearguard at Dunkirk, trying to slow down the Germans while the main body of Britsh troops made their escape. He was captured and spent the rest of the war in prison camps, mainly in Poland.
I always remember him talking about the Russian prisoners-of-war he encountered and how sorry he was for them. The German guards treated the British as comrades (unless, of course, they were black or Jewish), laughing and joking with them, etc. The Russians they sneered at as ‘untermennschen’, treating them abominably and feeding them next to nothing. My father told me in particular of the Russian prisoners gathered at the fences when Red Cross parcels were distributed to the Allied troops (chocolate, cigarettes, etc), their eyes full of longing. The Russians, of course, got nothing (I don’t think they were signatories to the Geneva Convention, although even if they had been I’m sure it would have made no difference.)
Going off-topic, I recall another story my father told me. When they were captured the men in my father’s unit were disarmed and then lined up while a German lieutenant strode through their ranks, stopping and chatting with an occasional soldier. He asked my father where he was from, and on learning that he was from Glasgow the lieutenant told him how much he liked Scotland, and how he had stayed in Edinburgh before the war.
He then moved on to the man standing next to my father and his whole demeanour changed. The soldier was a cheerful Scouser, a real character. He was of West Indian descent.
“Where are you from?”, the lieutenant said quietly.
“From Liverpool, mate”, the man replied.
This answer enraged the German officer. Without batting an eye he withdrew his pistol from its holster and shot the man in the head. My father, who could scarcely comprehend what had just taken place, heard the young German officer muttering about ‘Schwarzer’ as he strode away.
My father died peacefully some seven years ago. I always think of his story when the subject of racism arises. That scene in a small village outside Dunkirk sums it all up for me.

Jesus. That’s horrifying.