M.Soleim (Norway)

Soviet Prisoners of War in Norway 1941-1945:
Organisation of the camps and treatment of the Prisoners

During the years of the Second World War nearly 84 000 Soviet Prisoners of War (POW) were sent to Norway. About 75 000 of these prisoners were soldiers of the Red Army and the rest (about 9000) were so-called «Ostarbeiter» or «Fremdarbeiter». The people of these two categories were Soviet citizens who were driven into forced labour for the Germans in Norway. Most of the soldiers were first sent to Stettin in Poland after they were taken prisoner and then packed together on cargo boats and sent to Norway.

Central administration of the POWs   

An investigation of the German administration of the POW camps reveals who had the responsibility for the prisoners and how the camps were organised both in Germany and in the occupied areas. The development of the administration of the POWs (Kriegsgefengenenwesen) from Berlin gives the background for this research of the administration of the camps in Norway. A survey of the different positions and institutions of the POW administration in Norway gives an answer on whether the system here was the same as in the central administration in Berlin. The Commandants in the POW camps in Norway received their orders from OKW (High Command of the armed Forces) in Norway. It was the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Norwegen who gave the orders concerning the POWs in Norway.

The Chief Command of Wehrmacht in Norway was responsible for the military part of the German administration. The Chief of Wehrmacht in Germany, General Wilhelm Keitel gave the instructions for Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Norwegen on 7 April 1941. [1] These instructions stipulated Wehrmachtbefehlshabers task in the «Fall Barbarossa». «Barbarossa» was the Code word for the German attack on the Soviet Union on 22 June 1941. Hitler made clear to all that he was planning the coming war in the east as a Vernichtungskrieg, an ideological war of destruction, in which all the conventional rules of war concerning prisoners, occupation and so on were to be disregarded, political commissars shot out of hand and the civilian population made subject to summary execution and collective reprisals.

General Keitel put the main focus on a reliable safety of the whole Norwegian area. Norway belonged to the OKW-area and therefore Wehrmachtbefehlshaber were responsible for the organising of the POWs in Norway. OKW in Germany appointed the number of POWs who should be sent to Norway. They were also in charge of the transportation of the POWs. Wehrmachtbefehlshaber in Norway got the responsibility for the POWs when they arrived to Norway and he received orders directly from OKW or OKH (High Command of the Army).

OKW in Berlin, Chief of the POWs, gave the instructions of guarding the prisoners, the division of the prisoners in different labour battalions and the distribution of the prisoner’s effort of work. The general staff of the Army and the «Generalquartiermeister» were responsible for the food-supply to the POWs. The general staff were also in charge if the accommodation of the POWs. Supplies of clothes to the POWs were carried out by «Chef der Heeresrüstung und Befehlshaber des Ersatzheeres». [2]

The prisoners in Norway who belonged to Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine were in the same way as in the OKW-and OKH-area under the High Command in Berlin.

Local administration of the POWs

A lot of Soviet prisoners of war were sent to Norway in the autumn 1942 and the number of prisoners was steadily increasing. Because of the high amount of Soviet POWs the tasks of the German administration got to extensive. As a result of this there were established a new position inside the OKW. This was the «Kriegsgefangenen Bezirkskommandant» or the POWs district-Commander. The district-Commander received his orders from the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Norwegen and was attached to the instructions of the Army inside OKW. The Commander was in charge of all the POWs in Norway. Under his command were all the POWs from the different Stalag and those that were divided into work-battalions. He had also the responsibility of the POWs who belonged to Luftwaffe and Kriegsmarine. [3] The Commander co-operated with the «Quartiermeister» (Quartermaster) and several employers, which used POWs as workers. The district-Commanders   headquarter was situated in Olso. Afterwards as the POWs were put to work the German divisions at the different places were in charge of the guarding, food-supply and accommodations. After a reorganising of the central POW administration in September 1944 the SS got the superior responsibility of the POW administration in Norway. In spite of this the Wehrmacht was still in charge of supplies and administration. [4]

The work-instructions of the district-Commander in Norway are not in the source material of the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Norwegen. Therefore it is necessary to use the instructions of the district-Commander in Finland. In principle these two Commanders had the same sort of work-instructions and they followed the same orders from Berlin.

The district-Commander had following instructions: His work included both a supervising and advising role. His main tasks were a) maintaining and increasing the POWs working effort, b) prevent the escape of POWs, c) restrict the number of soldiers as guards.

He had the power to give orders to all Commanders of the POW Camps and the soldiers in charge of guarding POWs.

He should also give supervision with all the POWs according to: a) order and discipline, b) the POWs work ability, c) the health conditions of the POWs, d) the hygienic conditions in the camps, e) questions about accommodations, f) questions about food-supply and clothes.

The district-Commander should also supervise all the precautionary measures to prevent sabotage and escape among the prisoners.

Stalags

When the Soviet POWs arrived to Norway they were sent to one of the four main camps called Stalag. Each Stalag had a number that corresponded to their location. The four Stalags in Norway were: Stalag 303 at Lillehammer, Stalag 380 at Oppdal/Drevja (Trøndelag), Stalag 322 at Kirkenes and Stalag 330 situated in Alta at first and moved in 1944 to Narvik. At the time of the liberation of Norway the number of sub-camps attached to the different Stalags were as follows: Stalag 303 with 87 sub-camps in the south of Norway, Stalag 380 with 76 subcamps in the middle of Norway and Stalag 330 with 121 sub-camps in the north of Norway. The POWs in Stalag 322 at Kirkenes was probably sent to Stalag 330 in Narvik after the withdrawal of the German Army from Northern-Norway in autumn 1944.

The different Stalags functioned therefore as a main camp for a determined district. The administration of each sub-camp was the Stalags responsibility. In the Stalags the POWs were first divided into companies or working-battalions and then sent out to the sub-camps that required workers. The transport lists of the Wehrmachtbefehlshaber Norwegen shows that a large number of the Soviet POWs already were divided into work-battalions before they arrived to Norway. These battalions were usually sent directly to the sub-camps. In the source material there is a distinction between a Stalag and a work-battalion. Most likely were the Soviet POWs in the Stalag at Wehrmachts disposal and the POWs in the work-battalions at the Organisation Todts disposal. The Organisation Todt was a semi-military organisation and became one of Germanys most valuable instruments in the War. The Organisation Todt had the character of an enormous building firm that carried out Hitler's plans. They were among others responsible for projects as the building of the Railway and the main road in Norway. In these projects a huge number of Soviet POWs were at their disposal. The organisations work and administration in Norway is very complex and extensive.

Treatment of the Soviet POWs in general and in Norway

The surrender of huge numbers of Soviet troops – 3 355 000 prisoners were taken in the six months of 1941– points to widespread defeatism and disaffection in the Soviet forces, even if the Germans were impressed by the stubbornness with which other units resisted. The NKVD was instructed to imprison or even to shoot as deserters any Soviet prisoners who escaped and fell into their hands. But those who remained in German hands were no better treated. The German army, expecting a short war, had made no proper preparations for such overwhelming numbers of prisoners. If the organisation was inadequate, the German attitude was also shaped by the Nazis` Untermensch  propaganda: they were dealing not with human beings like themselves but with a subhuman race. An OKW directive of 8 September 1941 on the treatment of prisoners of war declared that they had forfeited every claim to be treated as an honourable enemy, and that the most ruthless measures were justified in dealing with them. Large number were shot out of hand, without any pretext, in order to relieve the army of the burden they represented.

Hundreds of thousands were forced to march until they dropped and died from exhaustion or were herded into huge improvised camps and left without food, medical aid for the wounded, shelter or sanitation. According to a German report of 19 February 1942, almost three million out of the four million prisoners taken by that date had perished. The Geneva Convention was no help to the Soviet prisoners, since the Soviet Union had never ratified it, and this left the Germans free to ignore its provisions. Stalin was no help either, taking the view that any soldier who fell into German hands, was ipso facto a traitor and not entitled to protection from his government. The brutality with which the Germans treated both prisoners and the civilian population drove many to take to the forests and join the partisans.

The living conditions of the Soviet POWs differed from camp to camp in Norway, but in general the POWs had far too little to eat. There are many stories about Soviet POWs and their desperate attempts to get some food. Either by mutual exchanges, utilizing everything that was eatable or engaging in illegal exchange with the local population. It was mainly in such situations that the Norwegians became acquainted with the Soviet POWs. The former POW Ivan Pasjkurov wrote in his book «lost years» about the packets they found containing bread, potatoes and fish in the most peculiar places. He writes: These packets meant more than just food. They gave strength, courage, hope and inspiration.

The fact that the Soviet Union did not approve the Geneva Convention of 1929 caused a lot of suffering for Soviet POWs during the Second World War. According to this the Germans asserted that they were not bound by the reglements of this Convention. In the second article is the treatment of the POWs appointed as follows: They shall at any time be treated with humanity and be protected against violence, insult and public curiosity. Reprisals against the POWs are forbidden. [5] According to a view of human rights the Germans were bound to follow the Convention since they had approved the Convention. In article number 25 the reglement states that the countries are bound to this Convention despite that some countries in war has not approve of the Convention. The brutality had no limits during the War and therefore the Germans usually paid no attention to the Convention in the question of the treatment of the Soviet POWs. Factors as ethnicity, the German and Norwegian guards at the POW camps and their attitude towards POWs and whether the POWs belonged to the Vlasov's liberation Army or not. These become important factors for the POWs living conditions in the camps and the treatment they got in Norway.

Especially in the Northern-Norway a high number of the Soviet POWs were suffering because of different diseases and malnutrition. In this area there were a lot of POWs who died as a result of bad treatment and a minimum of food-supply. The Germans decided that the food-supplies to the Soviet POWs in Norway should be kept at a minimum of cost. The food-rations should be below what was normal for non-Soviet POWs in Germany. But, the rations should be sufficient for maintenance of their ability to work. One days ration consisted of 750 gram of bread, 750 gram of potatoes, and in addition 100 gram of fish three or four times a week. And they should receive 20 gram fat three to four times a week. [6]

Approximately 13 000 Soviet POWs died in Norway during the War. The Soviet authorities claimed that the number of missing soldiers in Norway was 16 000. The German source material gives a number on about 7000 perished Soviet prisoners in Norway.



[1] Kriegstagesbuch des Oberkommando der Wehrmacht 1940-1945, Hans-Adlof Jacobsen, bd.I/2, 1940-1941. München 1982: 1011.

[2] RA, DOBN, eske 0008. 4.9.1945.

[3] RA, DOBN, Deutsche Verwaltung alliierter KGF. 4.9.1945.

[4] War Crimes Investigation Branch, Norway. Report. London 1946: 35.

[5] Genevekonvensjonene av 27.juli 1929 om behandling av krigsfanger, Oslo 1945.

[6] AOK Norwegen, RH 26-214/33, Anordnung über den Einsatz russischer Kriegsgefangener in Norwegen und Behandlung sowjetischer Kriegsgefangener. 1941.