Executing Soviet POWs

Adolf Hitler believed that the war with the Soviet Union would decide Germany’s destiny. Even before the invasion on 22 June 1941, Hitler and his generals agreed that Germany would fight a war without mercy towards Soviet civilians and soldiers. Within months, hundreds of thousands Soviet POWs had died in German captivity, mostly from hunger and cold. Others were executed as political enemies, many “commissars” among them. Suspects identified in POW and labour camps inside the Third Reich were regularly executed in concentration camps.

071 – The High Command of the Wehrmacht orders executions of Soviet “commissars”, 6 June 1941

In the struggle against Bolshevism we cannot expect the enemy’s behaviour to be in accordance with the fundamental precepts of humanity or of international law. In particular, we must expect the political commissars of any kind as the real cadres of the resistance to treat our prisoners in a hateful, cruel and inhuman manner. The troops must be aware that:

  1. In this struggle applying mercy and considerations of international law to these elements is wrong. They represent a threat to our security and to the rapid pacification of the conquered territories.
  2. The political commissars are the originators of barbaric, Asiatic methods of fighting. They must, therefore, be dealt with immediately, without hesitation and with the utmost severity.

Source: H. Buchheim et al., Anatomie des SS-Staates (Munich, 1994), pp. 501–2

Translation: Lesley Sharpe and Jeremy Noakes