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Demjanjuk

[ 67 ] March 17, 2012 |

I’m not sure a RIP is exactly in order here, but let it be known that John Demjanjuk, one of the last (possible?) links to Nazism and the Holocaust is no more.

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  1. Roy Edroso says:

    He was some kind of man. What does it matter what you say about people?… Adios! — O. Welles

  2. AlexD says:

    BIH is more like it.

    nearly 67 years since the fall of the thousand year Reich, and its last apparatchniks are finally dying off. Good riddance.

  3. DrDick says:

    At least he won’t be cold.

  4. LosGatosCA says:

    Sorry St Patrick’s Day for Pat Buchanan.

    http://buchanan.org/blog/the-persecution-of-john-demjanjuk-4743

    They will be roommates in Hell.

  5. Jon H says:

    This is where Gawker’s “And Now He’s Dead” tag is appropriate.

  6. Joey Maloney says:

    I got to refresh my memory about the twists and turns of Demjanjuk’s case; I had forgotten that his original conviction was overturned by the Israeli supreme court who decided that there was insufficient evidence that he was Ivan the Terrible, while affirming that he was most likely Ivan the Really Really Bad.

    o/t, Eric, do you have a take on the TAL retraction of the Daisey show?

  7. Corey says:

    It is very odd that a historian would just-about jump to the conclusion that Demjanjuk was guilty of the crimes he was accused of, 40 and 60 years after the fact.

    • Warren Terra says:

      I read an article in a recent magazine about Demanjuk – I think it was the next-to-most-recent Harper’s – and there just isn’t any real question that he was a guard at Sobibor, which was exclusively an extermination camp. How he came to be there is more complicated, but doesn’t seem to offer a strong case for exculpation.

    • Erik Loomis says:

      Hasn’t everyone already said around here that I construct my own reasons to justify anything I happen to think that day. This must be one of those times.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      Well, you’d think a historian might at least have a grasp of the history involved, and may very well not be jumping to conclusions in the same way that, say, Nancy Grace does.

      • Corey says:

        My point is that it is goddamn near impossible to establish – beyond a reasonable doubt – a serious case for any one non-public figure being anywhere at any given time, particularly 40 years (and later, 60 years) after the fact, particularly in the context of World War II and one of the biggest human migrations in history.

  8. If you believe in this sort of thing, Demjanjuk has a new home, and it’s a warm one.

  9. c u n d gulag says:

    This won’t be popular, but let me make a case for Demjanjuk:

    There were Eastern European guards at a lot of Nazi camps – Ukrainians, Latvians, Russians, Lithuanian, etc.

    Some WANTED to be involved in the extermination of the Jews (and Gypsies, Gays, Communists, Socialists, and whoever else didn’t go along with, or were targeted by, the Reich).

    And some didn’t, but were forced into it, with death threats to them, and/or their families.

    I know I wouldn’t willingly do what he’s accused of doing.
    And I’d like to think that if they pointed a gun at me and threatened my life, that I wouldn’t help murder innocent people, and instead, take a bullet – or join them on their way to the death chambers.

    But I can’t say for sure (especially if I was a teenager), that if they threatened family members with death if I didn’t help, how I’d react.

    I think I have a very strong moral compass, but I can’t say with 100% certainty that I’d value the lives of strangers to make a moral point, and then watch my family join the line to be exterminated, followed shortly after, by me.

    What point would I be making, and to whom?

    Now, maybe the problem was that enough people didn’t do that – make moral points to themselves, and a handful of people who were certain to die shortly, in front of some of the most amoral/immoral people in history. But no one can say that that’s an easy choice to make.

    Sure, some of us can say what we think we’d do – from the safety of our homes, sitting in front of our PC’s and laptops. But put yourself in the people’s shoes who actually HAD to make that choice. “You, and/or your family, or them?”

    Now, maybe Demjanjuk was one of those who wanted to help in the extermination – in which case, he’s a monster.

    But if he and his family were threatened with the same punishment as the Jews, which was often the case, then he’s not some amoral/immoral monster.

    Can you honestly say with 100% certainty how you’d react?
    I can’t.
    I’d like to think I’d do the “right thing,” but would I?
    Would you?

    So, I won’t judge Demjanjuk, because it’s not my place to judge.

    • Dave says:

      It works for me. I find the widespread tendency to mix and match broad structural explanations and moralistic denunciations of individual behaviour to suit whatever present point needs to be scored to be a particularly worthless mode of expression.

    • Furious Jorge says:

      I was initially going to respond by pointing out that this was exactly the same weak case made by many Catholics when it came out that their new Pope had, in fact, been a Nazi in his youth.

      But then I remembered that Demjanjuk never actually tried to become God’s Representative On Earth, which does kinda make the two cases a bit different.

      Even so, I don’t know if I can agree with this line of reasoning, any more than I could agree with the argument that we can’t judge Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson because they were fucked in the head, and how do we know how we’d react if we’d had the horrible upbringing they had?

      Maybe some of us would do the same thing Demjanjuk (probably) did, if faced with some of those pressures he may have been faced with. Fine. That may be a legitimate reason why one would participate – however unwillingly – in murdering thousands of defenseless people, but it’s certainly not an excuse.

      One thing I can say about myself, had I been in Demjanjuk’s situation – I would have expected to pay for it one day. If caught, I would have said yes, that was me, and I did it to save the lives of my own family (or whatever). He didn’t – he denied, denied, denied.

      Because of those constant denials, I see the question is not one of extenuating circumstances, but is in fact a question of straight-up guilt or innocence. It was either him or it wasn’t.

      And from what I’ve read – which by definition is not the complete factual record – there is a lot of evidence saying it was in fact him.

      • c u n d gulag says:

        I appreciate your position.

        And I agree, that if I felt I had no choice, and was put into a position that involved evil, like killing people, I, too, would have expected to be asked to explain why – and then taken any punishment meted out. That would at least be some form, however tiny, of mitigation for what I’d helped to do.

        Ultimately, while “there is a lot of evidence saying it was in fact him,” there’s also enough evidence to create some reasonable doubt.

        And, having taught in a Maximum Security Prison in NY, I found that, while not everyone who ‘denies, denies, denies,’ is innocent, neither are all of them guilty – as we can see by the people being released from Death Row, because of DNA evidence. Some people deny, deny, deny, for a reason – they didn’t do what they’re charged with doing.

        I was trying to explain what happened in those camps, and has happened, and is happening, in other places in the world, in other conflicts – even into the present day:
        There was a book that came out a few years back, by one of the boy soldiers who helped kill people in the fairly recent Civil War in Sierra Leone.
        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael_Beah

        So I wasn’t looking to excuse Demjanjuk, I was trying to give a sense of ‘There, but for the grace of God, go I…”

        Members of all sides of my family came from Russia and Ukraine. They all spent time IN those camps (though we’re not Jewish). The horrors that they lived through are unimaginable to those who weren’t there. I have heard their stories my whole life.

        My father and his family, were forced to work on the V-2 rockets – which they only found out later. They had to do whatever work they were given. Nothing was explained to them. Not what they were working on, not why, not anything. The only choice they were given was to work, or to die.

        If there’s a God, let Him/Her/It judge Demjanjuk.
        I was just trying to put things into perspective for people who may not know a lot about that era.
        Yes, there were truly evil people – dedicated to evil, and who were the architects of the evil that was done.
        But there were other people, compliant, if not complicit, in helping them do the evil. Those are not the same things.

        If Eichmann was an example of “the banality of evil,” then maybe Demjanjuk, if guilty of committing evil, but not a willing and/or enthusiastic participant, will prove to show the possibility (probability?/susceptibility?) of an individual doing evil, when the only options left to that individual are, a quick death (their own, and/or their families), or a choice of doing only evil things.

        • Scott P. says:

          My father and his family, were forced to work on the V-2 rockets – which they only found out later. They had to do whatever work they were given. Nothing was explained to them. Not what they were working on, not why, not anything. The only choice they were given was to work, or to die.

          It’s worth pointing out that the quality of production from those slave labor plants was often very shoddy, in large part because of deliberate sabotage on the part of the workers. They knew that they were working for the Nazis, they knew that saboteurs would be shot, yet they did so anyways.

      • NBarnes says:

        Even so, I don’t know if I can agree with this line of reasoning, any more than I could agree with the argument that we can’t judge Ted Bundy or John Wayne Gacy or Charles Manson because they were fucked in the head, and how do we know how we’d react if we’d had the horrible upbringing they had?

        My brain doesn’t entirely work the way it’s supposed to. I’m pretty well aware of the limitations of our nominal ‘free will’, and I think, sometimes, about what being compelled to be… like that would be like. To have that kind of obsessive compulsive demon in my head pushing me, despite my own strong commitments to, you know, life and love and justice and happiness and all that. And because I know that free will is sometimes oversold, I try not to judge.

        Protecting oneself and others from someone who is sick is not judging, it’s protecting.

        One of the ways I think of it is the instruction ‘Love others as you would love your brother’. Well, if my brother were… ill, in such a fashion as to do such things, would I hate him? I, at least, would not. He doesn’t need punishment or pain, he needs help, and part of that help is he needs to be, as gently as possible, kept from hurting others or himself while he gets that help. Both he and the people he would hurt if left alone deserve that help.

      • John says:

        Are you really comparing being a member of the Hitler Youth (something that all boys in Nazi Germany were required to do) as a child to actively participating in the Holocaust?

    • John says:

      I think this is bad history. The term for what Demjanjuk was is a Hiwi, which in German is an abbreviation for “volunteer.” I’ve never heard any particular evidence that there was coercion to force people to act as guards in Nazi Extermination camps. Initially, there was a policy of starving Soviet POWs to death. After that policy was abandoned, they were basically used for a variety of work efforts. Most were employed in menial labor, under bad conditions and with not as much food as they should have had. To get better treatment, you could volunteer to work as an auxiliary for the Germans, which is what Demjanjuk did.

      Demjanjuk may not have been an evil anti-Semite who wanted to murder Jews. But he was certainly someone who volunteered to participate in mass murder in order to get better conditions for himself.

      And I’d see no reason why you would think that his decision had anything to do with threats to his family. Demjanjuk was a POW, and would have had no knowledge of his family’s situation. And why would the Germans even bother to do that? They had plenty of volunteers for what they needed to get done.

      • John says:

        (I should add that the policy of starvation of prisoners had been abandoned before Demjanjuk’s capture.)

      • c u n d gulag says:

        John,
        You bring up a very good point.
        I hadn’t thought of Demjanjuk being a POW, with no family.

        With the exception of my Uncle (my Father’s sisters husband), who was a captured Red Army paratrooper, everyone I know from the Ukrainian and Russian communities in the NY Tri-state area, were in the German labor and concentration camps with either their whole, or parts of, their families. Maybe because the Nazi’s figured this gave them greater control?

        I’ll have to ask my Uncle what happened to him, since he was also a lone POW?
        He was reunited with his mother after the war at a relocation camp, because she was taken as slave labor when she was forced to leave Ukraine (in some respects, it was a miracle they ended up in the same US camp for displaced persons). But I’m not sure he’ll tell me. What I’ve found is that there are people who went through what they did and were/are willing to talk about it, and those who didn’t/won’t. I think he falls into the latter group, since he’s never shared his stories with me.

    • joe from Lowell says:

      The guards at Nazi death camps were SS volunteers. No one was drafted into the SS, and SS members who objected to death assignments were reassigned.

  10. MikeJake says:

    If you were a Red Army soldier captured by the Nazis, you had about a 1 in 3 chance of ever making it back alive. Given that, I could understand if John Demjanjuk had willingly abetted the holocaust at Sobibor. But that’s not what Germany prosecuted him for. They prosecuted him for merely being present at the camp as a guard, which I consider a highly questionable theory of culpability, especially when you consider that it was the Germans who put Demjanjuk (and many other Soviet soldiers and citizens) into such an impossible situation to begin with.

    I find it extremely distasteful that Germany would drag this old man over there to answer for the crime of “being there”, when countless Germans would have been culpable under such a theory. Of course, most of them died without facing any kind of judgment. How convenient for Germany.

    • John says:

      Demjanjuk was tried in Israel, not Germany. And he was accused not of “being a guard at Sobibor” (something which would have inevitably involved participating in the Holocaust, since Sobibor was a camp whose entire purpose was to murder Jews) but for being “Ivan the Terrible,” a guard at Treblinka who actually operated the gas chambers. It seems now that Demjanjuk was not Ivan the Terrible, but the idea that one could be innocent while working at Sobibor is ridiculous.

      I’d add that most of the Soviet POWs who died of starvation did so before the time of Demjanjuk’s capture by the Germans. By 1942, when Demjanjuk was captured, Soviet POWs were still treated badly, but they weren’t simply being starved to death. Demjanjuk chose to maximize his own chances of life by participating in the Holocaust rather than working as a slave laborer for the Germans. That’s probably a choice that many people make, but that doesn’t exonerate him.

      • MikeJake says:

        Demjanjuk’s recent conviction was in Germany for being an “accessory” to over 28,000 murders at Sobibor. He was residing in Germany pending his appeal.

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/05/12/john-demjanjuk-convicted-_n_860960.html

        They couldn’t pin anything specific on him, so they prosecuted him for being there. And the fact that the previous prosecution for being at Treblinka fell apart under scrutiny suggests that it’s hard to say with certainty what Demjanjuk’s activities were in the time after he became a POW.

        Additionally, I highly doubt that being pressed into forced labor was much of an improvement over being deliberately starved. It’s pretty easy to wag our fingers at people like Demjanjuk when we weren’t faced with his dilemma.

        • Warren Terra says:

          It’s worth keeping in mind that while there may be a defense Demanjuk could have made that he had no choice about being a guard at Sobibor, and certainly there was inequality in his being prosecuted for his participation in that atrocity when so many others were not, his actual principal defense was to deny having been there, a denial that’s been rather conclusively disproven. In doing so he destroyed his credibility for his subsidiary defense that he agreed to work for the SS to escape awful conditions as a POW and had no choice but to work at Sobibor, where he personally did nothing of consequence. This latter argument makes some sense – but not so much after he’s put forward the other.

          • MikeJake says:

            Considering that Germany was prosecuting him under the novel legal theory of simply being a guard at the camp, perhaps Demjanjuk’s attorney concluded that arguing duress would be a non-starter. The prior prosecution for being at Treblinka had already fallen apart because of mistaken identity, so maybe they thought that would be their best defense. I have no problem with Demjanjuk forcing the prosecution to meet their burden of establishing his presence at Sobibor.

        • Spud says:

          The problem with the “pressed into service” idea is that the death camps were not run by conscripts or those press-ganged into it. They depended entirely on the willing support of its workers because they were considered officially secret in nature.

          The kind of regular dehumanizing activity required a certain level of zeal and foreign workers for it were chosen on that basis. The numbers of non-german collaborators willing to commit mass murder were legion. It usually put them in a position of authority and comfort unseen by their countrymen.

          The foreign “conscripts”, those who were basically forced into service tended to be used as cannon fodder or for labor battalions. They certainly were not adjuncts to SS operations. The people committing mass murders may not have all been anti-Semitic sadists, but they were all willing participants.

          He was there because either it was a desire to be there or because it was an opportunity he believed worth taking.

          • MikeJake says:

            You’ve presented a false dichotomy. The choice wasn’t between resigning yourself to the typical fate of a Soviet POW and participating in the Holocaust with “zeal.” And you have absolutely no grounds for concluding that he had a “desire to be there.”

            Like I said, it’s awfully easy to judge someone faced with dire circumstances none of us could even dream of.

            • Scott de B. says:

              You should read Goldhagen’s Hitler’s Willing Executioners.

              • MikeJake says:

                That book is about ordinary Germans. What does that have to do with a Ukrainian POW?

              • calling all toasters says:

                I’m not even betting on a dog in this fight, but Raul Hilberg has characterized Goldberg’s book as “worthless,” and the consensus among Holocaust historians (as best I could tell at the time) was overwhelmingly negative about the book.

              • John says:

                That’s a terrible book. Read Browning’s Ordinary Men or something else worthwhile.

              • c u n d gulag says:

                Scott,
                I read the book when it went to paperback.

                To refresh my memory, I looked up the Wikipedia entry, and it had this gem:
                “Goldhagen argued that this “eliminationist antisemitism” was the cornerstone of German national identity, that this type of antisemitism was unique to Germany and because of it, ordinary Germans killed Jews willingly and happily…”

                And remembered I had problems with that premise when I read the book.

                Almost all of Eastern Europe had tendencies towards “eliminationist antisemitism.”
                Examples:
                In Russia, Ukraine, and Poland, among other countries, they had “pogroms,” which were smaller-scale, localized, versions of what the Nazi’s did.

                Part of the success of the Nazi’s when they went into Eastern Europe, was that they came for their Jews.

                Hitler’s mistake was when he started to treat the rest of the population without the deference they felt they deserved, and basically treated “them” the same way they had treated the Jews.

                If Hitler had just come for the Jews, and left the rest of the population alone, he might have been better off in the long run.

                But, like today’s Conservatives and their attitudes towards women and minorities, he just couldn’t help himself, and acted against his own best interest – because the Slavs were just a notch above the Jews in his hierarchy of low-lives.

                That was the problem I had with the book.
                It wasn’t only Germans who were ‘Hitler’s Willing Executioners.”
                He had tons of help from other nations.
                His problem was that he turned on that help.

                And the rest of the world should remain thankful that he was so short-sighted.

            • John says:

              The choice was between forced labor under miserable conditions and getting much better conditions to help murder Jews – with or without zeal. Because a lot of POWs wanted the better conditions, the SS was in a position to pick and choose those ones who seemed the most zealous for the job of helping to murder Jews, and, by all accounts that I’ve read, this is exactly what they did.

            • Spud says:

              You’ve presented a false dichotomy. The choice wasn’t between resigning yourself to the typical fate of a Soviet POW and participating in the Holocaust with “zeal.” And you have absolutely no grounds for concluding that he had a “desire to be there.”

              The grounds for concluding he was a willing participant is that the death camps were manned only by people willing to do it. It was dependent on people who were willing to play to the nominal ideas of secrecy behind what was going on. The SS had to be selective over the foreigners it chose to bring into that environment.

              C u n d Gulgag correctly notes that the choice for POWs between miserable conditions in camps and conscription was an easy one for most to make. However, he blurs the distinction between the differences between the military and the SS when it came to how they handled foreigners.

              The overwhelming majority of POWs were never given any choice. Most were shunted into the military to fill out depleted ranks in all services. Very few of them were formed into distinct units. Most were used as replacements within German ones or in construction units.

              Having the ability for a non-german to even be a death camp guard was something that had to be sought, usually through the local collaborators. It was a position of authority which carried benefits beyond most people living in occupied territories. It was not something the SS recruited for lightly, nor something people were forced into by necessity.

        • Happy Jack says:

          The record doesn’t show much doubt about where he was. See here. There is, however, nothing to show what he did while he was there.

      • losgatosca says:

        Life is not fair. It wasn’t fair to the 50 million people who died in Europe between 1925 – 1945 by the designs of Hitler, Stalin through genocide, state terrorism against it’s own citizens, and war against the citizens of other countries.

        Neither Hitler nor Stalin, to the extent I’m aware, ever pulled out a gun and shot any single individual. It’s all the people who followed the orders under duress or not that enabled the catastrophic effects of their goals and decisions.

        Being forced to make a unfair choice between dying or living without humanity should certainly be viewed sympathetically. But when the wrong choice is made, the judgment cannot be a pass.

        Hero or goat. Sometimes there is no in between. I cannot know what I would do never having been in the situation, but the fact is that people give up their lives to save others on a regular basis – in the military, in dangerous situations like 9-11, etc.

        When others have lost their humanity, it’s not just not good enough to say, me, too – it’s a crime.

  11. Gusen-2 says:

    A few years ago, I met a wizened Ukrainian who had fought in the Red Army and survived Mauthausen.

    Postwar repatriation, he had, like all POWs, been officially suspect in the USSR. Among the things he was supposed to do as part of his reintegration was look at lineups of suspected camp personnel.

    He said one of the guys in the lineup had actually been a guard … but he told the authorities that he recognized nobody. “I figured he was just trying to survive the war, the same as me.”

    • c u n d gulag says:

      A lot of people don’t know this, but many of the Soviet POW’s at the end of the war, instead of being sent home, were sent to Gulag’s.

      They had been “corrupted” by coming in contact with Western people and ideas, you see.

      Even thought they helped save Stalin’s ass, he still sent theirs off to freeze – sometimes, to death.

      • NBarnes says:

        I think everybody in this thread can get together around the idea that Joseph Stalin is high on the list of History’s Worst People.

        • Spud says:

          I think everybody in this thread can get together around the idea that Joseph Stalin is high on the list of History’s Worst People.

          True enough, but the guy had a certain level of evil panache.

          The guy kept Hitler’s skull as a paperweight. That’s kinda cool in a twisted sort of way.

      • Mike Schilling says:

        It’s fairly shocking if most people don’t know this, since one of them was named Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn, and he’s been quite good about getting the word out.

        • c u n d gulag says:

          Mike,
          Ask anyone in American who’s under 40 who Alexsandr Solzhenitsyn is.

          I’ll be shocked if 5% know.

          Most Americans don’t know, or aren’t interested enough, to know AMERICAN history.

          Expecting them to know Soviet history, or to have read Russian writers, is asking a bit too mush of them, I’m afraid.

  12. Matt McKeon says:

    An enduring myth of the personnel who perpetrated the Holocaust is that they were somehow forced into it, and if they didn’t commit mass murder, they themselves were be murdered. Its a myth repeated upthread with a straight face.

    There is no record of a concentration camp guard, SS member or anyone else being executed, or even punished for refused to participate in the Holocaust.

    Browning’s classic “Ordinary Men” is mentioned above. Browning’s conclusion from his study of Police Battalion 101 was that the perpetrators of the Holocaust were volunteers.

    Being a concentration camp guard at a place like Sobidor: a facility that existed for the sole purpose of murdering mass numbers of men, women and children, had its distasteful side. But in most respects the guard had a safe, comfortable job, with opportunities to line his pockets with loot.

    • Anonymous says:

      I think Cund gulag and Browning are talking about two different things. Browning is talking about German police men in the Ordnungpolizei who were given options in this matter. Cund Gulag is talking about Soviet POWs joining German organized military units in order to secure release from the camps.

      There were numerous cases of Soviet POWS being given the choice of joining German organized military units or remaining in the camps. Since some two thirds of Soviet POWs in German camps died from poor material conditions a lot of people took the option to join German military units. Some 1.3 million Soviet citizens fought on the German side from all nationalities, but mostly Russians and Ukrainians. A large number of these men were recruited by the Germans from POW camps.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        Oops that was me. The site didn’t log my name on again for some reason.

        • c u n d gulag says:

          I think you’re probably talking about Vlasov’s Army.

          My father remembers a couple of Ukie guys who, when they came around and asked for volunteers for it at the camp he was at, were SOOOOOO tired of starving, that they agreed. They said, “If I’m going to die anyway, it’s better to die on a full (or, fuller) stomach!”

          No one, unsurprisingly, ever heard from them again.

          And Stalin was merciless with those survivors of Vlasov’s Army who survived, and were caught.
          My father remembers a couple of them being taken (traded?) from the US Zone in Germany after the war, and being sent back to the Russians.
          I’d be shocked if any of them lived to see the following year.

          • J. Otto Pohl says:

            Vlaslov’s army was only as small part of the overall picture. Although it was one of the few units organized specifically as a Russian army. Many ethnically Russian units organized by the Germans were denoted as Cossack units. In addition almost every other nationality including the Ukrainians had their own German organized units. There was a Ukrainian SS unit that saw combat.

            Most Vlaslovites did survive both the war and their six years as special settlers on construction sites. Again look at the data presented by people like Zemskov and Berdinskikh. The Vlaslovites were treated far, far better than Red Army soldiers that never collaborated among the Volga Germans and other racially stigmatized nationalities.

            The worst conditions for forcibly repatriated people were reserved for ethnic Germans with Soviet citizenship that had been evacuated westward to the Warthegau. Numbering a little over 200,000 of which over 60,000 were children they ended up in the worst regions of the Soviet Far North and Far East including Kolyma as well as in Kazakhstan and Central Asia. Almost all of the ethnic Germans that lived in Tajikistan during the Soviet era were descended of these repatriates. They were condemned to permanent internal exile.

            • c u n d gulag says:

              If caught, I doubt the Soviet’s would have been kind enough to send my immediate family members into permanent internal exile. A few family members were – all of those who stayed, and didn’t leave with the retreating Germans.

              My Grandfather on my Mother’s side, was a foreman at the Red Army Tractor Plant in Stalingrad, and he had a death penalty waiting for him if he were ever caught, for abandoning his job, and leaving with the Germans with his wife and family. My Grandmother was ‘Halb Deutch,” and they felt that leaving with the Germans gave them their best chance of surviving. My Grandfather was well aware of the death penalty as they left. A former co-worker told him when he spotted him. That co-worker did a noble thing, because he would probably have been rewarded if he turned him in.

              And on my Father’s side, his Mother, brother, and sister also had a death penalty if they were ever returned to the Soviets. My Grandfather on my fathers side was a fairly high-level commissioner in Ukraine, who was executed in ’37. They wanted to punish the family for leaving with the Germans.
              We found out about this years later, when we were allowed to write to relatives, after Stalin’s death.

              • J. Otto Pohl says:

                The number of executions in the USSR after 1937-1938 is rather limited. I can not comment on the particulars above. But, the vast majority of Soviet citizens repatriated to the USSR at the end of WWII were not executed, nor did they die in Gulag camps, although quite a few of them experienced various degrees of punishment. The most severe punishments were meted out on an ethnic (actually racial) basis. All repatriated Germans, Crimean Tatars, Kalmyks, and Chechens were punished with internal exile. This was not the case with all or even most repatriated Russians and Ukrainians. Even among those Russians that were punished there is a huge difference between most of their sentences and those of persecuted minorities. Actual Russian traitors in the ROA got off with only six years as special settlers in the vast majority of cases. Volga Germans that fought at Brest against the Nazis got sent to GULag camps in the Urals as members of the labor army while their families starved as special settlers in Siberia and Kazakhstan. A sentence that was made ‘navechno’ on 26 November 1948. A similar dynamic was at work with many Kalmyks, Crimean Tatars, and others.

                • c u n d gulag says:

                  I’m only saying what I was told.

                  But I’m pretty sure those are the facts as my family knows them.
                  We’re not the type to embellish things. Or, to draw attention to ourselves – I think that comes from having my Father’s Father executed in Ukraine in 1937, and a few of my Mother’s Uncles in Russia in 1939.
                  In the old USSR the squeaky-wheel got shot. And sometimes, the quiet one next to it did, too.

                • J. Otto Pohl says:

                  I believe your story is probably true. But, it is not typical. On a statistical basis only a small minority of people repatriated back to the USSR were actually shot. The vast majority of executions in the USSR took place in 37-38, about 800,000. After that Beria moved towards incarceration and exile as the preferred punishments.

  13. Benedict XVI says:

    Poor John. I would have vouched for him years ago, but I had a papacy to attain.

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