Which POWs were/are typically treated the worst?

This is a historical *and *contemporary modern-day question.

More than one person has commented that flamethrower operators were probably treated the most brutally when/if captured by the enemy.

What about downed bomber/fighter pilots? Captured special-forces commandos?

How do you define a POW? How far do you go back? To the Dark Ages where people might be tortured, impaled, etc.? Or since we started using the term “POW”?

Let’s say beginning with the year 1900.

The Soviets considered their soldiers captured by the Germany as traitors during WWII, that’s pretty harsh treatment.

In WW II the Germans treated the Russians much worse than the Americans because the Soviet Union treated German prisoners worse - and I think did not subscribe to the Geneva Convention. So, tit for tat counts.

OK, but I mean treated badly by the enemy.

The Japanese straight-up ate POWs. By which i mean murdered them for the purpose of eating them, not just eating ones that died of other causes. So there’s that. Although doesn’t look like they chose particular specialities.

In his book the Great Escape, author Paul Brickhill (who was a POW at Stalg Luft III) claimed that the air services prisoners (they were the ones interned at Stalag Luft III) were treated better than many other prisoners at first. The camps were ultimately under the command of Hermann Goering, who was in charge of the Luftwaffe and had been a pilot in WWI. According to Brickhill, he had a soft spot for other airmen.

But it didn’t last. The bombings on Germany took their toll and dried up any goodwill that might have been there, so as the war progressed their treatment got harsher. In addition, as the war progressed there were fewer supplies and less food.
The play (and later movie) Stalag 17 was about a non-Luftwaffe POW camp, written by Donald Bevan and Edmund Trzcinski, who had been imprisoned at the actual Stalag 17.
Kolditz Castle was the POW camp for the “hard cases” (Despite what the script for The Great Escape says about Luft III being the camp for the “rotten eggs all in one basket”). It was set on solid bedrock, so tuinnelling out wasn’t as straightforward an option as at the other camps, although there were numerous escapes (see the books by Pat Reid, and the movies based on it. The most spectacular escape – by glider – never happened, because they were liberated first). Kolditz was for officers. They were apparently treated relatively well.

I seem to recall someone here posting the factoid that at the end of WWII, Japan had to return the Chinese prisoners of war it still had. All 56 of them :eek:

So, as far as a percentage survival rate, that HAS to rank WAY up there as sucky treatment…and probably going a good darn way back in the past for that matter.

The Germans treated the Soviet POWs much, much worse than the other way around. About 57% of Soviet POWs made by the Germans died, versus about 14% for German POWs made by the Soviet Union.

The treatment of the POW’s on the Burma Railroad was a whole other level of cruelty.

14% is the official Soviet figure, but is highly suspect. The number of missing German soldiers on the Eastern Front was huge, and it’s generally thought that a very large proportion of those in fact died as POW’s. FWIW, the wiki page has an estimate of 36% and that’s conservative compared to what some historians think the true number is.

Of course there was also the issue of POW’s being kept as forced labor for up to a decade after the war, which is a whole other aspect of “bad treatment.”

There are countless instances of prisoners straight up being shot out of hand in WWII on both sides, though some instances were more common than others.

As mentioned in the European theatre Soviet POWs taken by Germany were probably treated the worst, POW ‘camps’ no more than barbed wire stockades where prisoners were simply left to starve, succumb to disease or the brutal whim of a guard. The first prisoners gassed at Auschwitz were Soviet POWs.

Stalin’s Order No. 270 rejected even the concept, Stalin commenting “There are no Soviet prisoners of war, only traitors.” This included his own son, who died in Sachsenhausen. The case of Mikhail Devyatayev demonstrates the attitude towards POWs back in the USSR, extraordinarily he escaped Nazi slavery by stealing an aircraft. When the NKVD got hold of him they imprisoned him for the remainder of the war, his papers marked him as a criminal for allowing himself to be captured in the first place. He was only cleared in 1957.

Hitler’s 1942 Commando Order mandated that any captured Allied commandos, even in uniform, should be executed without trial in a concentration camp.

Similar to flamethrower troops, I’ve read that snipers were loathed as ‘personalising’ the impersonal business of war and often executed out of hand.

SS men were often wont to massacre prisoners and were repaid in kind. In Normandy there was mutual loathing between Canadians and the 12th SS ‘Hitlerjugend’, following an SS massacre. Following the liberation of Dachau, American troops executed a number of SS guards. Speaking of the SS, their black uniforms caused lethal instances of mistaken identity for panzer crews, also clad in black.

Allied bomber crews were depicted as monsters, and there are multiple instances of downed RAF and USAF crews being beaten, shot or even lynched in enemy captivity.

Japanese treatment of POWs has already been mentioned, including keeping prisoners as meat on the hoof. The fate of any prisoner who found themselves on one of the notorious Hell ships is also a grim one. Kept in crowded, stinking holds with the additional fear that Allied subs could torpedo the unmarked ship.

My father, a Sergeant in the Buffs (Royal East Kent Regiment) was captured at Dunkirk - he had the bad luck to be in the rearguard - and spent the entire war in captivity at Lamsdorf. The German guards treated them well but there were many Russian POWs who were partitioned separately and my old man used to tell me he really felt sorry for those guys. The guards regarded them as Untermensch, undermen, and they would be abused, beaten and killed with impunity. I’d say the Russians were definitely among the worst-treated POWs of the war. And of course all they could look forward to on liberation was a bullet or imprisonment by their own people.

One Liberal Democrat MP ( post-war ) had dined on American Airman Liver — fortunately neither the Yanks nor the Japanese held grudges against him and the latter erected a statue to him in Kaga.
Pace that old jewish ex-commie, Arthur Koestler, who didn’t rate French ( non-POW ) Camps very highly at all, I would prefer to be caught in order by the Canadians/British/Americans/Germans/French/Soviets/Japanese.

I might even choose suicide like Mr. Koestler before being caught by the last two.

The Germans treated soviet POWs utterly appallingly the first year, then it settled down and they were just over-worked instead of starved to death. Soviet treatment of POWs was in accord with the long tradition of Gulag bestiality, and instead of labelling many dead, they were labelled ‘missing’. Communist language was completely deceptive even when there was no reason to be deceptive.

Arthur Dodd was a British soldier captured in WWII and sent to Auschwitz along with a number of his compatriots. In his biography, he mentioned that he and the others figured the reason they were sent to Auschwitz after their capture in North Africa was because of a prank they played soon after being taken prisoner. They had been asked by the Germans to write down their peacetime trade or occupation. IIRC, he wrote, “cat burglar” and his pals made up other similarly silly avocations. So, it looks jokers may have been “typically treated the worst”.

For those interested, his book about his experience at Auschwitz is called ‘Spectator in Hell’. It used to be available free on-line (where I read it some years ago) but the publisher has since removed it. It is still for sale, though.

Of the 11,000 French Foreign Legion POWs captured at Dien Ben Phu by the Vietnamese only 3,300 survived to be repatriated, a 30% survival rate.

To dissuade any international condemnation of these losses the Vietnamese made up the story that most captured were former German Waffen SS soldiers to make them political undesirables to defend, despite the FFL actively discouraging SS recruitment for the very same reasons.

I was going to mention snipers as well; very few snipers ever made it to POW cages. The distinction should be made that this is referring to actual snipers, there is a tendency to refer to all sporadic small arms fire as ‘sniper fire’. For Germans being captured with a scoped rifle was a virtual death sentence, at least from Normandy onwards in the ETO during WW2. From here: (warning, pdf)

Such treatment even had the support of American high command:

No, the German mistreatment of Soviets clearly came first as the Germans captured millions of Soviet POWs in the first year of the war. From Mr Kobayashi’s link:

US naval airmen captured by IJN ships would be hauled out if the water, interrogated and then killed.

The Japanese were scheduled to kill the 100,000 Allied POWs in August, 1945, but the war ended first.

How “active” that discouragement was was a variable thing. A LOT of the FFL at the time of Dien Ben Phu were formerly German soldiers: Wehrmacht, Waffen SS, and regular SS. It was easy and common for an SS soldier to turn the blood group tattoo on their left arm in to just a scar. And it’s not like the FFL recruiters did much of a background investigation of the prior military service of an applicant who claimed to just be a Wehrmacht soldier. They probably didn’t have to present a paybook and probably got rid of their SS dagger.

Very rare was the Special Operators’ bars in Nam that didn’t have “Lili Marlene” in the juke box.