‘Special Treatment’ for some Soviet prisoners

The Germans kept their Russian prisoners of war in the most primitive conditions, although in 1942 they began to supply them with food, as they began to be seen as a useful source of labour.

Henry Metelmann was fighting with the Wehrmacht in Russia when he was wounded in the spring of 1942. He spent some time in a field hospital being well cared for by Russian doctors.

He was released in the early summer before the main offensive of the year got under way. Not yet fit enough to rejoin his unit, he was sent for a period of time to guard Soviet prisoners of war:

I was sent to join a unit which was guarding a prison camp somewhere between the Donetz and the Dniepr. In flat country the large camp had been set up in the open. Kitchen, stores etc. were under canvas, while the uncounted thousands of prisoners were left with nothing to cover themselves with but what they could lay their hands on. Their rations were very meagre, and so, though not quite as bad, were ours.

However, the summer weather was fine and the Russians, used to living rough were able to withstand the conditions. The whole camp was bounded by a large circular trench, which the prisoners were not allowed to approach.

Within the camp, at one side, was a Kolchose consisting of a number of buildings. The entire Kolchose was ringed by rolls of barbed wire and had only one entrance which was guarded. Together with about a dozen other semi-fit invalids, I was assigned to guard this inner compound.

Guard duty generally was considered by most active soldiers as a mind-killing exercise and a punishment. Above all it was boring, and the goings on in the Kolchose compound were a decidedly strange affair. The clue, I suppose, was to be found in Hitler’s infamous ‘Kommissar Befehl’ according to which all political prisoners, Politruks (Political Anny officers) and other members of the Communist Party were to be shot.

For the Communists, the ‘Kommissar Befehl’ was what the ‘Final Solution’ was to the Jews. I suppose that at that time most of us accepted that Communism was a crime, that Communists were criminals, and that there was no legal necessity to prove any further individual guilt. It dawned on me that I was now guarding a camp which had been set up to erase the evil of Communism.

Of all the prisoners who walked into the Kolchose compound, none walked out again. Whether they knew this would be their fate, I am not sure. Quite a number of them had been given away by their fellow prisoners in the large outer camp, and even in doubtful cases, when they claimed that they had never belonged to the Party or were not Communists at all, or even that they were anti-Communist – they did not walk out again.


Having soaked up a full Nazi ‘education` at school and in the Hitler Youth, this first experience of direct contact with Communists in the flesh was very baffling. The prisoners who were daily brought into our compound, either alone or in small groups, were very different types of person from what I had expected. Indeed, they were different from the masses of the prisoners outside who on the whole looked and behaved like typical East European peasants.

What struck me most about these Politruks and Party members was their intelligence and pride. I never, or hardly ever, noticed any of them whining or complaining, and they never asked for anything for themselves. When their time for execution came, and I saw many go, they did so with their heads held high.

Henry Metelmann was to radically revise his views after settling in Britain after the war. See Henry Metelmann: Through Hell for Hitler

Henry Metelmann died in 2011, read his obituary in the Guardian.

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