Execute the POW’s…

Stalin’s treatment of returning Soviet POWs

In spite of his personal triumph, Stalin was, if anything, more paranoid at the end of the war than at the beginning. His suspicions of real or imagined enemies had grown, not weakened. The tragedy was that he was helped in this by the Western Allies. At the Yalta and Potsdam Conferences in 1945, the victor nations had agreed in principle that all released prisoners of war should be returned to their country of origin. In central and eastern Europe these included many Soviet citizens who had fought for Germany against the USSR in an attempt to break free of Stalin. They were terrified at the prospect of what awaited them and pleaded with their Allied captors not to be sent back. However, in the face of Stalin’s insistence, the Allies gave in and forcibly repatriated the prisoners they held. There were heart-rending scenes as British troops forced Soviet prisoners at rifle and bayonet point to board the waiting trucks.

The consequences were as appalling as the prisoners had anticipated. Mass executions took place on Stalin’s orders. What deepened the horror was that the victims were not only fightingmen. On the grounds that whole communities had supported Hitler’s forces, whole communities were made to suffer. It was at this time that the Cossacks as a people were virtually destroyed in retribution for their support of the German armies during the war.

Stalin was no gentler on the Soviet POWs who returned from German captivity. Believing that their very survival indicated that they had collaborated with their captors, he treated them with contempt. It was not uncommon in 1945 for prisoners to be released from German prison camps, only to be transferred directly into Soviet labour camps.” (Lynch, 2008, p.99).


Lynch, M. (2008) Stalin’s Russia, 1924-53. 4th Ed. London: Hodder Education.


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