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Thursday, 17 December 2015

The Russian POWs

After Germany declared war on Russia, it was not long before Russian POWs were sent to Germany for internment and forced labour. The first of these to arrive at Stalag 18A in Wolfsberg were from the Ukraine.

John Nowel gives his account of what occurred. It's probable that John didn't witness the event himself - he was interned at Klagenfurt at the time. However Walter Tollinger (more about him in the next post) supplied photographs of the event and probably told John, with whom he had a good relationship) of what he witnessed.

This commentary was written by John Nowell in October 1943. He carried this document until the end of the war. Some minor edits were made to the punctuation.

When Hitler started his offensive against Russia in the spring of 1941, the first territory to fall to the Germans was the Ukraine. What Russians who were not killed were transported to Germany to work in slavery for the Reich, not only men but women and children some only 12 years old and some who were taken as their mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters lay dead in their home.

These photos were taken by a German guard at the British POW camp Stalag 18A in Wolfsberg, Austria and were done so at the risk of his own life as he was a bitter anti-Nazi. From Russia, these POWs were transported in railway vans through all the main towns and cities in Germany as propaganda. After a trip of many weeks they were eventually moved to the British POW Camp, Stalag 18A.

On the unforgettable morning the train arrived, British POWs were compelled to empty the trucks. Such a nightmare will never be forgotten. They were crammed like cattle 80 to a truck, no sanitation and had been without food or drink practically since leaving Russia. The ones who were alive were lying on the dead and the dying. After being in camp a short period, typhus broke out and many of them died; some falling and dying in the compound.

British POWs were given a horse and wagon as well as crude German coffins and so the British boys buried their unfortunate allies sometimes three and four to a coffin. I could not give a current estimate of the number of deaths but if I said 300 I’m sure it would not be enough. Thanks to the good health of our boys and the work of the International Red Cross no British POW lost their lives as a result typhus.

PS. The photographer who printed these photos (F. [sic] Tollinger of Klagenfurt) was later shot by the Gestapo for his pro-British feelings towards British POWs.

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