Nazi Germany and the Soviet prisoners

The history of the Soviet prisoners of war in the Auschwitz concentration camp can only be understood within the context of Nazi Germany’s official state policy aimed at invasive, predatory and exterminatory character of war 1941–1945 against the Soviet Union.

For this very reason the German political and military authorities regarded the Soviet prisoners of war as being members of an inferior race and enemies of the Third Reich. The intentions behind the orders and guidelines regarding the treatment of the Soviet prisoners of war issued before and during the war came down to their mass extermination and decimation. The rules of international conventions did not apply to them. In practice the significant part of prisoners of war (Jews, political officers, in some cases even commanders) would be separated from the rest and annihilated on the spot.

During the war between 4,559,000 and 5,700,000 Red Army soldiers went through the German POW camps and SS concentration camps, including Auschwitz.

Over 60% of them died as a result of inhumane treatment and hard labor.

Directive No. 21 («Barbarossa» plan). Cover and front page. Berlin. 18 December 1940.

Directive No. 21 («Barbarossa» plan)

The plan of the German invasion of the USSR. It presupposed a blitzkrieg attack and defeat of the main Red Army forces to the west from the Dnieper river and Western Dvina river, followed by the occupation of Moscow, Leningrad and Donbas and further ingress to Arkhangelsk, Volga and Astrakhan


«Kill the Jewish political officer, his face is asking for a brick!»

Leaflet. Germany. 1941.

«Kill the political officers, kill the Jews!».
Such propaganda leaflets, which called for Soviet citizens to lynch Red Army political officers and Jews and then defect to the Germans, were widely circulated by the Wehrmacht in combat areas in the territory of the USSR.

Leaflet pass. Germany. 1941

«You are surrounded! But there is a way out: defect to the Germans and in this way save your lives for the sake of your country»
Such leaflets were circulated by the Wehrmacht in combat areas in the territory of the USSR. They acted as passes for Red Army soldiers to yield themselves up as prisoners.

Supreme Command of the Armed Forces Decree
“On the jurisdiction of martial law and on special measures of the troops in the ‘Barbarossa’ zone”



Decree of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces “On the jurisdiction of martial law and on special measures of the troops”

General Headquarters May 13, 1941
Top Secret

The primary purpose of the jurisdiction of court martial is the maintenance of military discipline.

The wide extent of operational space in the East, the forms military action will take as the result, as well as the specific characteristics of the enemy make it necessary that courts martial should undertake only those tasks that can be accomplished with a small staff during military action, and until the conciliation of the conquered districts; i.e. they should limit their jurisdictions to the framework that is necessary for their primary task.

However, it will only be possible if the troops will defend themselves mercilessly against any kind of threat from the civilian population.

In accordance with this the following rules are established for the Barbarossa zone (area of armed hostilities, hinterland and the area of political government):


Treatment of criminal acts committed by enemy civilians

  1. Criminal acts committed by enemy civilians are withdrawn from the jurisdiction of courts martial and summary courts until further notice.
  2. Partisans and guerilla fighters must be mercilessly destroyed by the troops in battle or in pursuit.
  3. All other attacks by enemy civilians against the Wehrmacht, its members and service personnel must also be repelled by the troops on the spot by the most extreme measures up to the destruction of the attackers.
  4. Where measures of this kind were missed or were initially not possible, suspicious elements are to be immediately delivered to an officer. He is to decide whether or not they will be executed. As far as towns and villages, where the troops were insidiously or treacherously attacked, are concerned, an officer (not lower than a battalion commander in rank) is to give orders to implement collective retributive measures, if the circumstances do not permit a speedy apprehension of individual culprits.
  5. It is expressly forbidden to detain the suspects to hand them over to the court after such courts are introduced for the local population.
  6. In areas that are sufficiently conciliated, commanders of army groups have the right to establish the jurisdiction of courts martial over civilians, with the agreement of corresponding commanding officers of the Navy and Air forces. In districts of political government such orders are issued by the Chief of Staff of Supreme Command of the Armed Forces.


Treatment of criminal act committed by members of the Wehrmacht and its service personnel against local population

  1. Prosecution for actions committed by members of the Wehrmacht and its service personnel against enemy civilians is not necessary even if these actions constitute a military crime or offence.
  2. While discussing such actions one must take into account at each stage of the process that the defeat of Germany in 1918, and the subsequent period of suffering of the German people, as well as the struggle against National Socialism that led to countless casualties was the result of the Bolshevik influence, and no German has forgotten it.
  3. That is why the chief of the court must conduct a thorough investigation and decide whether a disciplinary action or legal prosecution is necessary in that case. The chief of court recommends legal prosecution only in case it is necessary to maintain military discipline and to ensure safety of the troops. That applies, for example, in the case of serious acts that result from the loss of sexual restraint, are derived from a criminal disposition, or are a sign that the troops are threatening to run wild. Sentences for senseless destruction of premises and goods and other trophies to the damage of our own troops are not, as a rule, to be alleviated. Suggestion of criminal prosecution must in each case come from the chief of court with his signature.
  4. In the process of sentencing it is necessary to be very critical of the veracity of the testimony of enemy civilians.


Responsibility of commanding officers

Commanding officers within their powers are responsible for the following:

  1. ensuring that the officers of all units under their command receive timely and thorough instructions on the basics of Paragraph A of this order;
  2. ensuring that their legal counselors are timely informed both of this order as well as of the oral instructions of the Commander-in-Chief regarding the political intentions of our leadership;
  3. approving only such sentences that conform with the political intentions of our leadership.


Degree of secrecy

After the end of the period of concealment this order remains classified as top secret.

On behalf of

Chief of Staff
of the Supreme Command
of the Armed Forces

SARF, collection 7445. register 2, folder 166,
pp. 65‒70. Translated from German

Guidelines for “The treatment of political commissars”
by the Headquarters of the Operational Command of the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces
Berlin. 6 June 1941.



Supreme Command of the Armed Forces Operational Command Headquarters, Department of defense of the country LIV/Qu No. 44822/41 Top Secret Headquarters of the Führer June 6, 1941
(For commanding officers only) To be handed through an officer only

In addition to the order of the Führer about military jurisdiction in the Barbarossa zone the following “Instructions for treatment of political commissars” are attached. In our struggle against Bolshevism we cannot count on our enemy adhering to the principles of humanity or international law.

In particular the treatment of those of us who are taken prisoner in a manner full of hatred, cruelty and inhumanity can be expected from the political commissars of every kind as the real pillars of resistance.

The troops must be aware of the following:

  1. In the current war mercy towards those elements and observation of international law as far as they are concerned are inappropriate. They constitute a threat to our safety and to the rapid liberation of the population of the occupied territories.
  2. Political commissars are the source of barbaric Asian methods of warfare. That is why they must be acted against immediately, without any delay and without any mercy. If they offer armed resistance, they must be destroyed immediately by firearms.

As for the rest, the following instructions also apply:

I. In the front areas

  1. Political commissars, acting against our troops, must be treated according to the “Decree of the jurisdiction of the courts martial in the Barbarossa zone.” The same applies to commissars of all kinds and ranks, even those only suspected of resistance, sabotage, or inciting such actions.
  2. Political commissars are recognizable by their special badge—a red star with a golden woven hammer and sickle on the sleeves. They must be separated from the prisoners of war immediately, i.e. already on the battlefield. It is necessary to deprive them of the opportunity to influence the captured soldiers. These commissars are not to be recognized as soldiers; they are not subject to the international rights protection. After the sorting is completed, they must be exterminated.
  3. Political commissars who are not guilty of any hostile actions or are merely suspected of such are not to be liquidated immediately. It will only be possible after further penetration of the country to decide whether remaining functionaries may be left in place or are to be handed over to the Sonderkommandos. The aim should be for the latter to carry out the assessment themselves. While deciding whether or nor a commissar is guilty, personal impressions are of more importance than the actual crime that in all probability cannot be proved.
  4. All the above mentioned measures must not delay the conduct of military operations. That is why systematic searches and cleansing operations are forbidden to field troops.

II. In the rear area of the front

Political commissars arrested in the rear areas due to suspicious behavior must be delivered to Einsatzgruppen or Einsatzkommandos of the Security Service.

Please send only to Army and Air Force Commanders; other commanding officers are to be briefed orally.

On behalf of the Chief of Staff
of the Supreme Command of the Wehrmacht
Warlimont /signature/