4. The universally recognized rules of international
law are accepted as integral and obligatory parts of the law of
the German Reich.
From the Constitution of the German Reich, 1933 effectively repealed by the Nazi government.
After the takeover of power in 1933 the Nazi party stopped a continuous legal tradition of general civil rights for every citizen that had been lasting for over 100 years in Germany. The Nazis started a criminal policy by not accepting equal human rights for all citizens. Exactly this policy was the main precondition for all the catastrophic developments in Germany in the following years. Conservation and strengthening of power for parts of the population became the motivation to refuse basic civil rights to others, imprison them and finally even kill them. Especially political enemies, Jews, pacifists, gay people, Romani, physically or mentally handicapped people , but also deviants of their own nationalist movement were among the persons suppressed by the Nazis.
In the time between 1933 and 1939 the Nazis focused on persecution of opponents and certain parts of the population in the interior of Germany. The Munich Pact in 1938 and the start of World War 2 in 1939 marked the extension of this inhumane policy to areas outside the German Reich.
The consequences for Germany, Europe and other parts of the world were catastrophically. Millions of casualties, murdered civilians and war invalids, expelled people, destroyed countries, disrupt societies, famine, misery, suffering and grief.
The Mannschafts-Stammlager IVB (Stalag IVB) near Mühlberg-on-Elbe was one of the largest prisoner of war camps in Germany. It was designed for about 16,000 soldiers. Actually it had sometimes more than 30,000 inmates. The prisoners came from more than 40 countries, among others from the Soviet Union, France, UK, Poland, USA, the Netherlands, Serbia, Italy, Belgium, Canada, South Africa, Denmark, Australia and New Zealand. In total, approximately 300,000 soldiers, women and even children were confined between 1939 and 1945 for shorter or longer time in Stalag IVB. Many of the prisoners were sent to other Stalags or for work in labour commands in the near or wider vicinity of the camp. Due to the bad conditions and maltreatment by the guards about 3,000, most of them Soviet POWs, died in Stalag IVB. The Soviet Union did not sign the Geneva Convention, as a consequence the Germans did not allow to support Soviet POWs by Red Cross parcels, in contrast to the treatment of prisoners from other countries. The number of victims among those POWs who have been in Stalag IVB and were sent to other places, is not exactly known. It can be definitely said that it is at least several tens of thousands.
As a consequence of the criminal conquest of Europe by the Nazis, the other countries united their forces in the fight against Germany. At the same time, the German army was weakened by the hazardous German strategy. As a consequence of Nazi politics, Germany was occupied by the allied troops in 1945. The power in Central and East Germany was taken over by the Soviet Union under Stalin´s leadership. Long before World War II, ruling by terror was the governing principle in the Soviet Union and formed the basis of communist power there.
The Soviet authorities and their German supporters did never intend to restore in their occupation zone a policy of guaranteed civil rights for everybody. In the contrary: in order to establish a Stalinistic system in Germany, people from all parts of society that could possibly interfere with Soviet politics were imprisoned and in most cases referred to the special camps without a trial for indefinite time on the base of order 00315 of the NKVD. This happened continuously during the final weeks of the war, but was especially strong in summer and autumn 1945, months after the end of the war. The imprisoned people were interrogated, often under torture, and had then to sign a confession in Russian language. The allegation was at the same time the proof of guilt. In most cases, there existed no further verdict. The Soviet special camp 1 was erected for the new prisoners in Schwiebus in the East of Brandenburg, now belonging to Poland. In the end of August 1945, it was relocated to the area of the former POW camp Stalag IVB close to Mühlberg/Elbe.
To the outside world, the incarcerations were declared as prosecution of Nazi crimes.
False allegations by other Germans were a common reason for imprisonment.
The share of people in the special camp Mühlberg who were actually tried by a soviet military tribunal was below 1%. Many of these sentences were revoked after 1991 by Russia, since they were obviously contradictory to the then accepted Soviet jurisdiction.
In total more than 21,800 persons have been imprisoned in the NKVD special camp Mühlberg. More than 6,700 of them died due to bad sanitary conditions, malnutrition and lack of basic medical service in the camp. Among the prisoners were 1 319 teenagers born after 1926-1933, 111 of them died in the camp. Many of the survivors were brought to Siberia for forced labor.
The internal management of the camp was organized by German prisoners. There are many reports on cooperative behaviour among the prisoners. On the other hand, a hierarchical clannish system was established, where the prisoners fought relentlessly for sparse resources, for the few jobs with better nutrition and in the end for life or death. The Soviet camp guards stood on the sidelines watching their prisoners dying, while the numbers of dead were exactly registered.
Only a part of the surviving prisoners could return home after the closure of the special camp Mühlberg in 1948. Thousands of others had to suffer more in other camps in Germany or in the Soviet union. The last special camps in the Soviet occupation zone were closed in 1950. Meanwhile, the East German communists had formed a new state, the German Democratic Republic (GDR), in 1949. A part of the remaining prisoners of the Soviet special camps were handed over to GDR justice in1950. The GDR government prolonged the injustice for many of them with the Waldheim trials.
The POW victims of stalag IVB
were buried in single graves at the cemetery Neuburxdorf. In 1944
stone was erected there by French POW. However, Soviet POW
victims were buried without ceremony in mass graves. In 1946 the
Soviet victims have been reburied to Elsterwerda,
where a memorial site was erected.
Fear and terror remained a constant of communist rule in East Germany
Due to the large number of affected persons, the experience of stalinistic terror was despite (or even caused by ?) the silence order deeply burnt into the awareness of people in the GDR. Already in June 1945 Erich Mielke was head of the department “justice and police” in the central committee of the Communist Party of Germany (KPD). In 1946 a formal precursor of a political secret police was formed with the German Administration of the Interior (Deutsche Verwaltung des Innern), Mielke being its vice president and closely collaborating with the Soviet NKVD. Later, Mielke was minister for state security (head of the Stasi) until 1989. The strategy was to convince people by terror and threat to support the ruling communist party, the SED. This was successfully demonstrated by the fact that in 1950/51 about 175,000 former members of the Nazi party or former Wehrmacht officers had joined the communist SED. That were more persons than those having been detained in Soviet special camps. In contrast to communist propaganda, it was possible to make a career in communist ruled GDR being a former Nazi activist.
At the same time, the SED did never protest against or even oppose the system of Soviet special camps. By prolonging the Soviet practice of injustice, they based their government for the next 40 years on arbitrary imprisonment and psychical and physical destruction of mispleasant persons. Between 1967 and 1989 more than 80 000 citizens of the GDR have been listed in the so-called „Vorbeugekomplex“ (preventive complex). Within days these persons could be brought to constantly prepared isolation camps. In the GDR far too many persons knew: Who does not act according to the rules of the SED can be taken away at any time. Fear governed the political activity of the people.
In the UK, in France, in the Netherlands and in the USA, organisations of former POWs in Stalag IVB were formed soon after 1945. Some of them are still active today.
In West Germany, the history of POW camps was only hesitantly discussed. Especially the former POW camps in the Soviet occupation zone and further East were not in the focus of discussion.
Soviet special camps have been an issue of discussion under conditions of the cold war in the late 1940ies and 1950ies in Western Germany. Since then the topic dried out and was only sparsely mentioned until 1990.
Former prisoners of Stalag IVB and of special camp Mühlberg formed in 1990 the Initiativgruppe Lager Mühlberg e.V. With the support of many volunteers an impressive memorial area listing the names of the dead of special camp 1 and commemorating the POWs of Stalag IVB could be established. The Land Brandenburg and the municipalities of Mühlberg and Bad Liebenwerda contributed financially to the memorial site. In April 2015, the newly opened municipal museum of Mühlberg will also host an exhibition on Stalag IVB and Soviet special camp 1.
Now, also survivors in East Germany are able to communicate their experiences in a number of books and essays. Many details and statistics concerning the history of camp Mühlberg have been collected in a book by Achim Kilian, a former prisoner of the Soviet special camp 1.
However, official activities on the area of Lager Mühlberg cannot be found neither in the memorial concept of the Land Brandenburg nor in the remembrance and commemoration plan of the German government. Also, many counties and local communities in Germany prefer to keep silence on the history of POW camps and special camps, to downplay the cruelnesses or even to falsify history. This failure of public remembrance and discussion represents nowadays an indirect support for the antidemocratic argumentation lines both of neo-Nazis and radical leftists.
With the dwindling number of contemporary witnesses, new forms of commemoration have to be found nowadays in order to remember the many victims from all countries and the strategies of the perpetrators as well as to draw the necessary lessons from history.
© Uwe Steinhoff & Heike Leonhardt 2011-2014