Fate of the Soviet Prisoners of War – COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY

Fate of the Soviet Prisoners of War – COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY


The Soviet Union was utterly unprepared for
a war with Nazi Germany when Operation Barbarossa was launched against it on June 22, 1941.
Millions of Soviet troops were captured during the chaos of the months that followed as the
Germans swiftly thrust eastwards, through the Ukrainian and Belarusian Republics and
into the heart of European Russia. I am your host David and this is the Cold War. Allow us to thank our sponsor of the great
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on the link in the description below. These devastating losses were not just the
result, however, of a surprise attack but part of the effects of severe morale and confidence
issues in the wake of the Stalinist purges in the military through the 1930’s. Joseph
Stalin, paranoid at the best of times, had consolidated and reinforced his grip on power
by eliminating anyone who he saw as a threat. This meant that any military leader who showed
talent or independance was a potential rival and was duly targeted and eliminated. What
this meant however was by the time of the Nazi invasion, the vast majority of Red Army
commanders who remained were both talentless and unwilling to take independent risks in
the field. By the time the German offensive was halted
in the outskirts of Moscow, over 3 million Red Army troops had been killed or taken prisoner.
Entire armies had surrendered to the advancing Germans, including over 325,000 Red Army troops
at Minsk, approximately 300,000 troops at Smolensk, and over 400,000 at Kiev. The Soviet
leadership, despite the circumstances of these surrenders, took an extremely negative view
towards any soldier who was taken prisoner. On August 16, 2941 Order 270 was issued, ordering
all soldiers to “fight to the last”. Order 270 not only all but banned commanders from
surrendering but also set out penalties for anyone considered either a deserter or being
derelict in their duty. This was all meant to increase discipline and prevent further
surrenders by changing the mentality of all soldiers that it was a fight to the death
and not-a-step backwards would be tolerated. NKVD units, the precursor to the KGB, were
often stationed behind regular Red Army units with orders to shoot anyone who attempted
to retreat. Although Order 270 helped to stabilize the front, it created the legal basis for
the post-war persecution of Soviet soldiers who had been made Prisoners of War by the
Germans and her allies. Until the wars end in May of 1945, it is estimated
that 5.7 million Soviet soldiers and civilians were captured by the Germans. Of those, upwards
of 3.3 million of them died while in captivity. It is very important to note the difference
with which Soviet captives were treated in comparison to POWs from the Western Allies.
Captives from the Western Allied nations were treated according to the rules of the Geneva
Convention and the mortality rate of these prisoners was estimated at approximately 3.5%,
or about 8,300 of 231, 000 POWs. Even Jewish POWs from the Western Allied nations, although
they were separated into separate camps and were treated more harshly than non-Jewish
POWs, suffered quote-unquote “only” a 20% mortality rate. Germany used the excuse
that the Soviet Union was not a signatory to the Geneva Convention so therefore the
‘rules’ did not apply, however, the treatment metted out by the Nazi’s was well in line
with Nazi ideology. Slavs were considered to be subhuman and therefore did not deserve
to be given food or shelter which could be used for other purposes. Hitler also issued
the infamous Commissar Order before Barbarossa was launched, ordering that all Political
Commissars, the backbone of both discipline and morale in the Red Army, were to be summarily
executed if captured, as they were considered the epitome of Jewish supported Bolshevism,
the antithesis of Naziism. It is also noteworthy to point out that the
Soviet Union refused to work with the Red Cross in providing help and support for Soviet
POWs. The Red Cross put forth the offer to Moscow to send aid to Soviet POWs but no reply
was ever given. Likewise, the Soviets ignored an offer that was made by the Vatican to help
mediate an aid agreement for Red Army prisoners. This was all part of a cold-blooded Soviet
strategy to inform their own soldiers that if they were caught or surrendered, they were
on their own and no help or support would come for them.
Soviet prisoners, both soldiers and civilians who were rounded up and shipped west in labour
gangs were forced to work in German agriculture, mining and other industrial projects. It is
estimated that at least 200,000 POWs died due to forced labour. Many more died as a
result of starvation, disease, and even summary execution. Many captured Soviets were even
forcibly conscripted into the German Wehrmacht and were used as auxiliary troops. In late
1944, the Germans began to organize what became known as the Vlasov Army, a 10 division army
commanded by a defecting Soviet General, Andrey Vlasov, comprised of captured Soviet soldiers.
Clearly, the feeling of having been abandoned by the Motherland produced no loyalty to it
from these soldiers and was likely one of the contributing factors in their collaboration
with the Germans. So despite the inhumane conditions for Soviet
prisoners in the notorious stalags of the German camp system, the eventual liberation
of those prisoners did not usually mean the end of their suffering. What happened to them
after their liberation? It often depended where they were when that liberation happened.
Soviet citizens were being held in camps all over the Reich and as a result, some found
themselves being liberated by the advancing Red Army while others were freed by the Western
Allied armies. In anticipation of this, the 11 February 1945 Repatriation Agreement had
been implemented, where both sides agreed to return prisoners of war to their respective
countries of origin. This meant that Soviet prisoners freed by the British and American
forces were transported back to Soviet controlled territory, irrespective of the POWs wishes.
This was done despite the Western Allies knowing full well the hardships and repressions those
freed prisoners were likely to face. This remains a controversial, and to many outrageous,
act where the West sacrificed its principles of liberty and freedom in the name of political
expediency, not wanting to antagonize the Soviets. It has also been argued that the
Western Allied may have violated the terms of the Geneva Convention by forcibly transferring
back to Soviet control Soviet citizens who had served, either voluntarily or by conscription,
in the German Wehrmacht. So why did the Western Allies do this? What
would make them violate their own central principles? The main reason was that they
knew that their own citizens were being held as POWs in camps that would be liberated by
the Red Army, citizens they were duty bound to bring home. The second reason was to ensure
continued cooperation, however strained at times, between the Soviet Union and the Western
Allies while the fight against the Germans continued.
The process of repatriation for either side was not always smooth. The Americans initially
placed Soviet citizens who had served in the Wehrmacht in the same internment camps as
native Germans, while they went through the process of verifying each soldiers nationality.
In response to these delays, the Soviets refused to acknowledge the existence of American POWs
behind Soviet lines, especially those in Poland. As Soviet troops and civilians were liberated
from German captivity, they were transferred into special filtration camps, where they
were individually screened to decide if they would return home, be further resettled, deported,
re-conscripted into the army or arrested. The filtration camps, often located in former
POW or even German concentration camps, had two main purposes.The was the continuation
of the Stalin’s machine of repression. Simply because the Soviet Union had triumphed in
the Great Patriotic War did not mean that the pre-war repressions would be ended. The
filtration camps were run by the NKVD and they were there to enforce Order 270; anybody
who had surrendered or been captured was a criminal in the eyes of the law and they were
declared Enemies of the People. The second key function of the filtration
camps was to identify any Soviet citizens who had come into contact with the Western
world. As many Soviet prisoners had been in contact with citizens and soldiers from the
Western Allies, the Soviet leadership was concerned that some of the POWs might have
been recruited by intelligence agencies of the capitalist West. There was also a more
general concern that these former prisoners could have become “deceived” and even
“infected” by bourgeois attitudes and ideas, which would constitute a threat to
the Soviet State. The actual process in the filtration camps
consisted of the NKVD conducting a thorough investigation of each returning POW. Identification
documents were checked against the records held by police authorities in the persons
area of registration. Keep in mind that that Soviet citizens even in peacetime, were required
to be registered with the regional authorities where they lived and were not allowed to leave
that region without proper authorization. So the NKVD were checking for actual identity
and past criminal records, if any. The returning POWs were heavily interrogated in the hunt
for collaborators, defectors and potential spies. They also underwent rigorous medical
tests to identify anyone with any potentially infectious diseases.
Returning POWs were also required to attend classes on communism, virtues of the Soviet
state and critiques of capitalism. ONly those who were deemed “safe” for the state were
allowed to return home, but still had to register with their local police authorities as returning
POWs. In terms of the numbers of how many prisoners
were allowed to go home vs other fates, there is a fair amount of debate as the records
are potentially not entirely accurate. According to declassified Soviet figures, by March 1,
1946 eighty percent of civilian prisoners had been released and allowed to return to
their homes, while five percent were conscripted into the Red Army. A further ten percent were
sent to labour battalions run by the Ministry of Defense and two percent were sent into
the Gulag system. The remaining prisoners continued to wait for their fate to be decided,
and were forced to work as directed by military units who held them.
So those are the civilian numbers. There is a significant difference in the numbers when
looking at military prisoners. Only eighteen percent of returning soldiers were allowed
to go home, while fourty-two percent of these prisoners were re-conscripted back into the
Red Army. twenty-two percent, more than double the civilian number, were sent to Ministry
of Labour work battalions and up to fifteen percent of POWs were sent into the Gulag.
As an interesting side-note, of the 57 Soviet generals who were liberated from the German
camps, twenty-nine received military awards while the other 28 were sentenced to varying
prison terms. Those are the official numbers. There is some
conjecture however, over their accuracy as many believe that the numbers of prisoners
allowed to return to normal life was actually quite inflated and were being used by Moscow
as a propaganda tool. Or if not propaganda, at least to help hide the repressive nature
of the government. Even if the official numbers are accepted to be true, they still strongly
point to the level of distrust the returning POWs endured. Officially, they were not recognized
as participants in the Great Patriotic War and the stigma towards them from the general
population was quite high. Those who were filtered into the Labour gangs
were made to work on the massive reconstruction projects being undertaken after the war. The
treatment they received was akin to modern slavery, with terrible working and living
conditions. They were forced into mining operations in the Kuzbass and Donbass as well as the
building of canals and other major infrastructure projects and a great deal of the post-war
Soviet economic recovery was made on the backs of these prisoners.
Can you imagine surviving the horrors of the German concentration camps after surrendering
through no fault of your own, only to find yourself trapped in the Soviet camp system,
forced to work under similar conditions, not trusted by your own government or even people?
This was the fate of hundreds of thousands. It was not until after the death of Stalin
in 1953 and the subsequent ds-Stalinization process undertaken by Khrushchev that pardons
and actual rehabilitation of former prisoners began to occur. We will discuss it all in
our future videos, so make sure you are subscribed to our channel and have pressed the bell button.
We rely on our patrons to create these videos, so consider supporting us via www.patreon.com/thecoldwar.
This the Cold War channel and we will catch you on the next one.

100 Comments on "Fate of the Soviet Prisoners of War – COLD WAR DOCUMENTARY"


  1. I always cringe at "we will catch you on the next one". It just doesn't fit the theme at all.

    Reply

  2. That's why the germans gladly surrended to americans at the end of the war instead to russians! Mucho antagonism to dato.

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  3. My grandfather was captured in the early stages of war, then he ran away when pow were transported and then lived for a year in his village which was occupied. Than all his family was killed after airstrike and he returned back to army. He was miracliosly not been executed and sent to stalingrad to sthrafbatallion(unit for convicted soldiers)

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  4. People complaining about this video being biased and anticommunist, this is as far as I can tell historically accurate, so perhaps history just looks that way.

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  5. hAvE yOu SeEn EnEmY aT tHe GaTeS ??

    I'm really fucking disappointed you guys. I had my fingers crossed for this series after a really strong start.

    Reply

  6. "Soviet citizens were being held in camps all over the Reich." The same could be said about Soviet citizens all over the Soviet Union.

    Edit 1: "heavily interrogated" = tortured for days on end.

    Edit 2: There is no chance in hell that only 15% of returning Soviet POWs ended up in the gulags. Those are "offical" soviet documents you say? Oh that explains it then.

    Edit 3: good job guys I enjoyed this one!

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  7. "The Soviet Union was utterly unprepared for war with Nazi Germany" – this first phrase is a common misconception of WWII. In fact, Germany was utterly unprepared, and had to strike first, therefore getting war on two fronts. The German-Soviet war started not by Stalin's plans, but by Hitler's. The offence initiative was overtaken by Nazi. That is the main reason for the Soviets defeat at the start. But being just "unprepared for war" is not actually the case.

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  8. It is a very big misconception saying that Stalin eliminated any military leader who seemed a rival. That is not true, in fact. Stalin's purges were directed toward NKVD, which was the most powerful structure in the Soviet political system. As you know Stalin kept Zhukov by his side, although the latter was one of the most influential leader. He also promoted the most talented generals, which afterwards were planning the best military operations. The purge was just the setting up the primary ruling group of people, coming from Russian Civil war – there were two of them and only one remained after the Purge.

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  9. Russia will never be great when they treat their fighting men as traitors….always #2

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  10. Order 240 was designed to stop commanders from retreating and there were no NKVD units gunning down retreating footsoilders on mass like they said in this video.

    These inaccuracies are not making me have faith in the team who made this.

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  11. NKVD didn't shoot retreating soldiers.Get your facts straight.And my country fully experienced the western values of liberty and freedom or better death and reppression

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  12. Ah the Russian paid trolls are at large again when there's topic about shooting their own soldiers pops up. Pathetic, sad state that has to pay people to twist history. Germany took a different route and look at them now – they in good relationships with everyone, despite beign the aggresors. Russians on the other hand will never admit the attrocities they commited, and rather use online squads and propaganda, but they can only fool the western "usefull idiots", like Lenin used to describe them, not people they have "freed" from the Nazis in the past.

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  13. The more that I learn about WW2, the more I see what treacherous hypocrites Roosevelt and Harry were. Patton was right, not marching right on into soviet territory was a mistake. The real monster only fully died in 1991, not without leaving several twisted creations behind like the CCP and North Korea. The world could have been freed of communism if only the US did not cooperate with the Soviets as much (if at all after 1942) and then used their resource, industry and technological edge to erase the Comintern. Edit: to be fair, it all started going bad when the allies did not invade the USSR in 1919… The soviets were so close to being defeated then.

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  14. Please make a video on the Soviet withdrawal from northern Iran, which was the first issue of the Security council. Truman allegedly threatened USSR with Nuclear Bombs!

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  15. Order 270 was not the "Not one step back" order, that was Order 227. And that didn't even have a large number of ordinary soldiers shot for retreating. It mainly punished commanders and officers for retreating when not given permission.

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  16. please do some American figures.and compare them with soviets.otherwise it looks like a one sided propaganda…

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  17. Millions and Millions of Stories, about their're war experience from Soviets solders, but due to Russia backwards laws so 99.999% of them died without telling a single word about their're experience fighting in the Eastern European Front, the loss pain and suffering, of their're fighting war stories, it's a shame that the best WW2 stories about the War in the east were written by Authors in the West.

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  18. 10:20 Man, I thought Cold War movies from the 80s being asked for "Your papers" was just a joke or something. Why would you need papers to travel in your home country? Wow…

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  19. I believe that both Nazis and Soviets were equal in what they did, both did massive genocides, had no respect for prisoners or their people

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  20. This channel is honestly very lame. I thought it would be like Kings and Generals but I was very much mistaken.

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  21. Germany Russia and japan are all responsible for terrible atrocities during the war and America and Britain aren't exactly on the moral high ground cause they bombed non industrial or military cities with the sole intention of murdering innocent people so all in all just a terrible war altogether

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  22. and here something on the order 227: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Order_No._227

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  23. horrific fate for prisoners on both sides. whoever the dictator, it is always the 1's at the bottom who suffer.

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  24. Communism glossed over and polished up for explanation to free people. The bare truth is, Soviets out brutalized the nazi's, during and especially after the war. They practiced every single evil thing the nazi's were vilified for, long after WW2.

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  25. you fell for the order 227/270 lie man, blocking units almost never just shot random soldiers who retreated. it was typically only used on officers who abandoned their posts without orders or good reason, or against men who tried to instigate defections or routs. the idea that NKVD gunned down all retreating troops is cold war propaganda

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  26. Great animations! It's good you guys shed some light on a very large group of people not often mentioned when discussing WW II or Cold War history.

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  27. For what ever fucked up reason socialism is still strong in the West. Imagine if those people gain in popularity. We could face a Stalin of our own…

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  28. The British betrayal of the Cossack division was particularity heartrending and vile…many committed suicide rather than be handed back. I also understand General Vlasov was tortured horribly upon his 'return'…

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  29. Trump would have never surrendered, he would have fought to the death, not like some weak US senator I think we all know.

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  30. Order 227 was for officers and Penal troops not regular Red Army enlisted personnel

    https://youtu.be/JOKAIDpOY80

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  31. Order 227 was for officers and Penal troops not regular Red Army personnel

    https://youtu.be/JOKAIDpOY80

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  32. Soviet Union totally unprepared!? What a dick. They had MILLIONS of troops on the border and forward airfields!!!

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  33. nowadays standards for far past… what a lisrble bustard… at the same time in US black ppl considered as sub humans. my grand mother was doing the same job as pow coz that was the only way to keep living not only fo her but to the hole coutry. and now you teaching me to hate thous ppl cos they dont mach todays standarts of living or what??? they make decision to make it no matter of what it costs and some moral impotent will tell me that they did a bad things? woud you please go f*ck your self please.

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  34. Not covered is the fact that many Germans were murdered before they could be registered as POWs, or the many who perished in the brutal forced march to the camps, which explains much of the POW discrepancy. For instance the Soviets boasted about how many Germans surrendered at Stalingrad, but only a fraction of those survived to reach the camps. A video on the German expulsions, or the Soviet conduct in the Baltic republics, are topics that deserve attention.

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  35. Hmmmm…liberty and freedom in the west was not a principle they were willing to share with soviets. Probably knowing that once prisoners were turned over to the soviets they would be killed one way or another. The west’s view? At least we won’t have to fight them……..better the USSR whacks their own. My personal feeling, less commies the better.

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  36. Purges were the result of Kirov murder.. The investigation bring on light of a plot lead by nazi secret services… It is a bit more complicated.

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  37. NKVD troops behind soviet lines did not shoot ALL of the retreating soldiers – most of them were just returned to their regiments, some were send to disciplinary batalions and just small amount was shoot. The number is estimated about only 5% of all soldeirs were shoot. It looks like this channel is totally biased and do not check facts, before publish them.

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  38. Your bias is too strongly mark. This series instead of been a critique of the cold war, is a critique to the USSR, disappointing. I would love to watch videos explaining the human crimes usa made in the struggle with the "communist menace".

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  39. I still don't understand why Nazi Germans thought that Slavs were inferior? The Russian Empire had crushed different Prussian Kingdoms many times in war; Berlin was not captured the first time by Russia in 1945…

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  40. Only communists regimes treat their own people like animals. Even worse than fascist regimes.

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  41. David from what i have seen so far you are really criticizing USSR History and not talking Cold War History. USA Vs. USSR and all the proxy satellite wars and slash and dagger stuff.

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  42. Tbh I never understood Stalin… It's like he did everything to make his own people hate him, to see where the limits of the Soviet citizens would go before they had enough.

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  43. You should do a documentary on German POW's & their fate immediately after the war. Especially from the Soviet POW camps.

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  44. half were murdered by hitler and the other half were murdered by stalin after getting 'em back when the war ended….. Nazi = commie…….

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  45. My grandfather who was a romanian POW in Siberia( from 1944) told my family that the Russian prisoners were equal to the germans in number and equally treated( badly) .He returned home on his own means in 1950 when the Germans were released . But the russians remained in the camp.Poor souls! My grandfather told my uncle gruesome stories but only when he was drunk . My uncle had nightmares even with some stories( he was in his 20s), imagine the reality! Even he refused to tell us all that he heard.

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  46. I can't criticise the thoroughness of the research (although without sources who knows?) but after watching 4 videos I can't stand the Western bias.
    It seems only the Western Cold War era texts were used for the sources with much Cold War propraganda history coming through.
    The research methodology obvious lacks a process of challenging your first conclusions from the perspective of the opposing actor.

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  47. Unsubbed.
    No sources provided
    Too superficial. No depth, nothing I haven't read, seen many times before.
    An intentional or unintentional western bias
    Research methodology isn't critical enough

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  48. curious as stalyn accused of cowardly soldiers when surrendering to be surrounded and without ammunition and food while he was comfortable at his desk.

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  49. Surprise attack? Fark Stalin knew since 38 the invasion was inevitable… Soviet full mobilisation was ordered may 20th 41.

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  50. The Soviet Union was "unprepared" for the German invasion because the Communists had been working hand in glove with the Nazi regime. The deaths of so many Soviet citizens are on Stalin.

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  51. I love how communist apologists energetically talk how ruthless and barbaric the Germans were on their POWs, but then "forget" to mention how the same prisoners were treated by Stalin after their return, or how the Soviets ignored any possible aid from the Red Cross…

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  52. Its so sad nations are almost always ran by psychopaths and sociopaths. Literally no nation leader even today are mentally stable.

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  53. I soviets withheld thousands of Allied POWS after WW1, WW2, Korea, Vietnam and Cold War period. They always looked for diplomatic concessions in return for the prisoners. If nothing was paid, than the POWS were never seen or heard from again.

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  54. Attitudes towards POWs
    USA: POW MIA Never forget ✊
    UK: RVLE BRITANNIA chaps! Welcome home!
    USSR: 🤔 idk, you look like you desire western toasters GULAG!!!

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  55. The purges were not Stalin's "paranoia", this is a western misconception. The purges were the result of secret services failures.
    Amidst the whole chaos and confusion, the then government decided that it is a good idea to make people tell on each other. This was the first step to purges. The second is that foreign secret services used this to insert fake reports about generals and other valuable people, which worked like a charm.
    After the revolution, many still tried to bring back the Tsardom and made it seem problematic for the new government. Bad choices were made to resolve this problem which brought the whole tragedy.
    Had to dislike because of the representation of only one side of the story.

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  56. These idiots are seriously speaking about NKVD shooting in the backs of those, who were unwilling to fight. What a fucking morons, saying myths as a fact and still try to look serious

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  57. Paton was correct taking our the Commies was the best thing to do .They were Neanderthals who should be eliminated ,brain dead ass holes

    Reply

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