The Russians

The information below is mainly extracted from a History of Stalag 18A written by Barbara Stelzl-Marx of the Ludwig Boltzmann Institute for Research on War Consequences in Graz (Address: Schoergelgasse 43, 8010 Graz, Austria).

The photographs come from two sources: Peter Eastwood, son of Staff Sgt William Eastwood, RAC, and Mike Riddle, son of Private Alfred Riddle of the Black Watch.

It seems obvious to me that the majority of the photographs were taken on the same occasion: the arrival of a group of Russian POWs, possibly in late 1941. It also seems obvious that whoever took the pictures was certainly not a British POW.

Known to be present

Peoter Leniz died 1.11.41
Vassili Mostovoi died 1.11.41
Grigorii Yevtoschenko died 3.11.41
Nikolai Ljealin died 3.11.41
Petro Vesolovski died 6.11.41
Petr Lotozki died 7.11.41
Vladimir Deryagin died 8.11.41
Feodor Nasarov died 10.11.41
Alexei Morosov died 11.11.41
Stefan Nemey died 11.11.41
Mikolai Vakuluk died 13.11.41
Grigori Levkov died 15.11.41
Ivan Yershov died 18.11.41
Timofei Selesniov died 18.11.41
Alexander Dietschenko died 20.11.41
Yemelyan Novikov died 20.11.41
Vladimir Bandarenko died 21.11.41
Ivan Kiss died 22.11.41
Ivan Rasputin died 22.11.41
Ivan Baranov died 23.11.41
Ivan Kiritschenko died 26.11.41

The arrival of the Russians

The following is an extract of an account written by Warrant Officer I.H. Sabey, AIF and printed in The Sydney Morning Herald in February, 1944.

British prisoners of war in Germany have been eye-witnesses of the grossest cruelties and sadistic treatment accorded to Russians by Nazis. When the time comes for the British to make their charges, their factual evidence of wrongs will pale into insignificance beside that provided by tortured, starved bodies of Russians lying in great pits around the stalags. Let me tell of what I saw myself in Austria on an October morning in 1941. The snow had begun to fall on the town of Wolfsberg, and the temperature was a little above freezing point. Our camp, Stalag XVIIIa, lay just outside the township about half a mile from the railway line. We had been told that the first consignment of Russian prisoners had arrived at dawn and would reach the camp after 9 a.m. Guards had been doubled outside and trebled inside the camp. Friendly Austrians told us that all civilians in the vicinity had been confined to their houses. Shortly before l0 o'clock the gates of the stalag were swung open. All the sixteen thousand men in captivity had gathered at the wires to watch the event. With a whirl of snow the head of the procession turned into the stalag roadway. The first thing all of us noticed was the slowness of the marching. It took a long time to cover even a few yards. The next was a long, low cry of rage that swept up from the usually indifferent but bitter French quarters. At first we thought it was a demonstration against the newcomers, but when German soldiers rushed over to stop the noise we knew that it was against the Germans. Bit by bit the head of the procession emerged into view. Half a dozen men in front were supporting each other. We had no need to be told that they wore suffering from dysentery: they were so emaciated that their features were more animal than human. 

The procession stumbled into the square. As the marchers swung into column of line, it was now the British prisoners' turn to shout with anger. No man in that long, wavering, bent back line was standing by himself. The strong man supported others. Carts conveyed dead who had succumbed on the short trip from the railway line. They were thrown up on these like bundles of straw. Gradually the square filled up, and regularly a man dropped out of the ranks to slump to the ground, too exhausted to finish his tragic journey. The British prisoners were chased Into their huts by the guards, so ominous was their attitude, and many were glad to get away from the sickening scene. The first arrivals were made to strip naked, and go under hot showers. Others stood for half an hour in the snow, waiting-naked, their bones sticking almost through their infested skins, ordered about by guards with whips, kicked and manhandled. The hot shower rooms in the delousing shed finished off scores that morning. By evening these sheds were blocked up with the dead, and the British, who had been refused all offers, both medical and otherwise, now pushed the guards aside and stepped in. They started to remove both living and dead on stretchers. With a British sergeant-major, I carried many stretchers in on that dreadful occasion. We could place three of the naked, starving men on a stretcher, and carry them over to their compound, so light were they, just a skinful of bone. Too weak to stand, they had to be lifted on to their straw beds in the huts set aside for the dying cases. We found no medical attention being given to the men, either by the Germans or the Russians. Already dying men had crashed from their beds on to the concrete floor, and passed on in huddled childish positions. There was one smell that arose above the others, and I told my companion that I had smelt it in China. It was typhus. The Germans were relentless in their cruelty to those either lying, or standing. Whips cracked in the crowds as thin soup was being distributed. I found a Russian who spoke French.He told me the party had been six weeks on tour through Germany without being allowed out of their cattle trucks for sanitary purposes, starved, beaten, and given a minimum of water to keep them alive. Of 1,200 on the hell-train, a quarter had died on the journey.

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Stripping for showers

The Typhus Epidemic

 Unfortunately they brought typhus into the camp and many  prisoners died of the disease before it could be brought under control by the British doctors. Russia was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention and so these prisoners received no Red Cross parcels or gifts from home. Every day a sack would be circulated around the British compound for any food that could be spared but this was far too little for so many. Sometimes the Russians would line up for food with a dead man held up in his coat, in order to get his ration.

Compared to the other nationalities the Russians were without exception more badly treated. For instance, the bread issued to the Russians, known as 'Russenbrot',  was of inferior quality and quantity. Half of it consisted of red rye, the rest comprising 20% sugar waste, 20% mealie and 10% straw meal or foliage, resulting not just in malnutrition but deterioration of the digestive system. The 'soup' also provided, called 'Balanda', consisted of bone, buck-wheat, turnip and uncleaned, usually rotten potatoes.

The death rate in the Russian compound outstripped the supply of coffins. This problem was solved by putting two bodies into each coffin.

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Two bodies to one coffin Loading the coffins Corpses Burial

The National Socialist ideology forbade any recognition of the Soviets as human beings and consequently no preparations were made for the injection of Russian work parties. Indeed, the heavy workload imposed, together with the lack of food, points to the intention to work them to exhaustion and death. As a result, 60% of the 3.5 million Russian prisoners died in 1941.

The arrival of the Russians was to have a long-lasting effect upon my father. One of these POW's struck him on the head with a lump of wood, so severely that his life hung in the balance for some days. Soon after the war, Dad began to suffer from epilepsy and required medication for the rest of his life. He died at the age of 58 from a stroke.

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